Bryan Caplan Counterattacks Against David Leonhardt

George Leef

  • Article
  • June 28, 2011

I suspect that there will be quite a few posts regarding David Leonhardt’s NYT hit piece on those of us who argue that we have oversold college and ought to stop promoting the notion that it’s a good "investment" for almost everyone.  Bryan Caplan takes issue here with Leonhardt’s closing line about the supposed evils of “elitism.”

The “elitism” charge, I must add, is scurrilous. Those of us who oppose the college for everyone mania are not opposed to people improving themselves through education, much less singling out various groups of people and saying, “You should just be happy where you are.” Instead, our argument is that pursing a college degree is for many individuals, a very costly and ineffective means of achieving that goal. Young Americans whose K-12 years have left them academically weak and disengaged (no matter whether they’re from rich or poor families) and who need to master basic skills if they’re going to fare well in the working world, will often do better by not enrolling in college. That’s because many schools will take their money, pass them along through easy courses (just as in K-12) and award them with a piece of paper that doesn’t necessarily indicate the slightest human capital gain.

There are better options. It is not “elitist” to say so. Leonhardt is awfully quick to level a rude accusation at people he doesn’t know and whose case he doesn’t really understand.

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