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College Math


A propos my post below, many readers point out a flaw in Zac Bissonnette’s argument that college is a giant waste of money:

Not to be pedantic, but the article you cite in your “Subprime education” post is incredibly misleading. Obviously the fact that 54% of college entrants hadn’t earned a degree six years later does not imply that 46% of money is wasted – college tuition is not paid in full up front, if all of those students did drop out, then they certainly spent less than the graduates. From personal experience, college students generally drop-out for one of three reasons – lack of drive, which is normally sussed out within the first two semesters; personal problems (alcoholism, family trauma) which are rare; and better opportunities out-side of college, which the student could not have accessed without the networking a university provides. 


If 46% spend only 1 year before dropping out, and 54 go all 4 years,  (54*4) + (46*1) = 262, so the waste is 46/262, or a bit over 17%.

But it would be interesting to know on whom the burden of that financial loss falls. If the people who make it all the way are mostly the ones who would have anyway (under a traditionally restrictive university system), the drop-out rate falls disproportionately on those using programs such as FAFSA or those who wouldn’t have gone were it not for a culture determined to send them to college whatever. Which means that the tab for college’s 50 per cent failure rate is picked up by taxpayers and by people who can least afford to take the hit — or, at any rate, could have done something more productive with the money, like start a business. If you think America is flush enough to tie up so much dough to no good effect, fair enough. But recent headlines propose otherwise.

The fetishization of universal college is very bizarre. If you recall the opening of Timothy Egan’s incredibly pompous New York Times column the other week:

The unlicensed pipe fitter known as Joe the Plumber is out with a book this month, just as the last seconds on his 15 minutes are slipping away. I have a question for Joe: Do you want me to fix your leaky toilet?

I didn’t think so.

:As a licensed typist, Mr Egan is mocking Joe’s lack of qualifications for writing a book — no Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Writing or whatever. But look at it this way: If your toilet starts leaking this weekend what are your chances of getting a plumber out on a Sunday evening? On the other hand, if you’re looking for a condescending column on why Joe the Plumber shouldn’t be writing a book, there are untold thousands of highly trained yet mysteriously under-employed writers who’d be delighted to write it this Sunday (even for the peanuts the Times pays). We require more and more over-credentialed professions in order to justify the fetishization of mass college.

In related news: The New York Times is tipped for collapse in 2009.


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