Yesterday, the Manhattan Institute and the Pope Center sponsored a debate over higher ed. The question was, “Do Too Many People Go to College?” I argued the affirmative and Peter Sacks the negative. You can read our prepared statements here.
One notable aspect of the debate, I think, was the continuing confidence of Sacks (and other defenders of the higher-ed establishment) in what “the research shows” on the purported “returns to higher education.” Nobody is paid just for having sat through courses — with the exception of a few government employees who get automatic raises if they complete various degrees. People are paid for using productive skills. If you learn something that improves your productive skills, you stand to earn a return on that education. The trouble is that for a large percentage of American college students, what work they do in college does little or nothing to enhance their productivity. What sense does it make to talk about “the return to education” for a college grad with weak basic skills and a job serving coffee?