Doug French, president of the Ludwig von Mises Institute argues that much of the apparent increase in the “need” for people with college degrees was due to the growth of employment in government since 1990 and growth in the finance industry, fueled to a large extent by federal interventions to keep interest rates artificially low. French also disputes the notion, recently pushed by David Leonhardt of the New York Times, that college is a good investment even if you wind up washing dishes because you’ll enjoy an earnings boost.
New York University economics professor Edward N. Wolff is another liberal who doesn’t agree that the nation will benefit, either in rising productivity or greater equality (and inequality bothers him a lot) by pushing more students into college in hopes of increasing our level of “educational attainment.”
In last week's Pope Center Clarion Call, I analyze the recent paper published by the Georgetown Center for Education and the Workforce, "The Undereducated American." It is an attempt to regain momentum for the More People Must Go To College crusade, but it fails to do that. There are more problems in the paper than I had space to address, but I'll tack on one more here. The country doesn't "produce" college graduates any more than it produces accountants or oboe players. Individual decisions are determinative here. So why is it that, despite entreaties from leaders from Obama on down, copious subsidies, and repeated admonitions to students that college will give them a big earnings premium, the college enrollment stats have been flat for some 15 years? I think it's because lots of marginal students doubt that they will benefit from college. Maybe they've heard from friends or family members that many graduates wind up with low-level jobs anyway. Even if they believe that college might eventually help them earn more than average as a cashier or dishwasher, it's not worth the time and expense.
In this week's Pope Center Clarion Call, I write about the new book In the Basement of the Ivory Tower by "Professor X." He's an adjunct who teaches English at two lower-tier schools and the book is highly revealing. Many of his students are barely literate and can't write coherently, but there they are in English 101, having gotten through the remedial filters. They have little interest in learning and are in college just for the credential. If we try to expand higher education the way President Obama and many in the higher education establishment want, the increase in student numbers will come almost entirely from students like these -- and even weaker ones. The author sees the parallel to the housing bubble. We already have lots of "students" who are very dubious candidates for mortgages; next we'll have to go to the college equivalent of "liar loans." College education still has a mystique for many people. Supposedly it does much to impart needed knowledge and skills. It's said to be our "best investment." Read this book and you'll find out it ain't necessarily so.
Inside Higher Ed ran a story on an AEI conference where the subject was the “completion agenda.” That is, do we really need to get lots more young people into and through college as Obama says we should? After the presentation of a paper by Arthur Hauptman that was skeptical, Lumina Foundation’s Dewayne Matthews commented that “there’s no real debate here that more people need college degrees.” Sorry, but there IS a great debate over that.
By and large, until say, 1945, the expansion [of education] was fairly harmless. Unfortunately, however, there came to be established the misconception that being in school was the only appropriate was of being educated. Now, the majority are being cruelly miseducated and hoaxed; they will not get jobs relevant to what they have been put through.
In today's Pope Center Clarion Call, I write about the recent study released by the Goldwater Institute on administrative bloat in higher education. Almost everyone laments the increasing cost of going to college, but they usually ask next, "How can we help students afford it" when the question should be, "Are resources being spent wisely?" Is the profusion of new administrators (generally paid quite nicely to boot) doing much to better educate students? Or is it more the case that they're hired because non-profit institutions must spend all the revenue that comes in and the decision-makers are inclined to spend it in ways that makes life better for them? The Goldwater study introduces a "public choice" element into the analysis of higher education and that's welcome.
Theodore Dalrymple comments in the Telegraph on a government requirement that new nurses in the UK will have to hold a degree-level qualification beginning in 2013. Dalrymple sees no intrinsic reason why nursing can't be taught at university. But he questions whether our whole ideal of university training hasn't become culturally distorted. Here's a quote:
Unfortunately, power and status – unlike wealth and knowledge – are zero-sum games. The importance of power and status to the leaders of nursing became clear to me when I read the coursework a state enrolled nurse had to do for conversion to state registered nurse (in the days when these two levels of nursing still existed). The coursework had almost nothing in it of a technical nature: it was all a subdivision of what might be called resentment studies. Foucault was more of an influence than Florence Nightingale.
BTW, according to Amazon, Dalrymple's new book is supposed to be out any day. But you can read an extract from the book here.
Last Thursday, NRO published an article that took me aback, "Send More Students to College" by Marcus Winters of the Manhattan Institute. I have been arguing for years that we have oversold higher education and was surprised to see the title. Had I overlooked something important demonstrating that, to the contrary, we haven't done enough to promote it? Without having read it, I posted a brief skeptical rejoinder and after having read it, this lengthier counterattack. If you don't want to take the time for the posts, here's my key argument, as I wrote at the John Locke Foundation's blog: The central difficulty in the Winters article (and many others like it) is the assumption that because, on average, college educated people earn more than those who don't have degrees, college is responsible for adding the "human capital" that makes them more productive. Although it's true that on average the college educated earn more, that is in large measure due to the fact that over the last few decades, opportunities for people who ended formal education with high school to get into entry-level jobs that lead to high-paying positions have been steadily decreasing. That's because of credentialitis: employers screen out the presumably less reliable and trainable people who don't have degrees. Some young Americans go through college, learning a great deal, and augmenting their knowledge and skills considerably, but we also know that many others just loaf through college, taking easy courses that require little intellectual exertion and graduate with very weak skills in reading, writing, and math. If they get jobs that pay above average, is it due to the "human capital" they gained in college, which is awfully hard to discern, or is it due to the fact that they have benefited from the way employers use credentials as a raw screening mechanism? I think my argument better accounts for the facts.
Those of us who have criticized the worst excrescences of political correctness in academia, such as the cult of cosmetic diversity that is oblivious to the benefits of intellectual diversity, have sometimes consoled ourselves by the thought that academia is just a self-contained entity, removed from the rest of American society by the sheer inanity of the ideas it generates. Once students have graduated, we have reassured ourselves, they will rejoin the mainstream and rid themselves of all the nonsense their professors have drilled into them. Those who believe this underestimate how easily academics can influence public policy even if only a small percentage of their students bring to the larger society the mostly left-wing ideology these students have absorbed. To my profound regret one such student has now ascended to the presidency. Barack Obama, in the domestic and foreign policies he has enunciated, has shown himself to have internalized, first in college and then in law school, many of the most pernicious postulates of “multiculturalism,” which for many of its advocates is little more than ideological justification for trashing America – which is forever tainted by the original sins of slavery and racism - while either rationalizing or ignoring the far more egregious transgressions of America’s enemies. Indeed, President Obama is our first multicultural president – with the adjective preceding the noun referring to what he thinks rather than his race, which should be irrelevant to any consideration of his policies. After receiving degrees from Columbia and Harvard, two citadels of multicultural education, our current president went on to even more radical post-graduate training from a “faculty” consisting of Mssrs. Wright, Ayers, Khalidi and Flueger. The result is an ethical universe in the White House in which Rush Limbaugh evokes more indignation and hostility than the genocidal anti-semitic mullahs in Iran. My point is not to bash President Obama. Rather it is that we in academia who share the operative principles of the National Association of Scholars should not stop fighting for these principles because of a psychologically comforting, but empirically groundless belief that academics who mindlessly mouth the platitudes of multiculturalism really have no influence outside the academy and for that reason can be dismissed as harmless cranks. Alas, they are much worse, and more dangerous, than that!