Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

More Higher-Ed Overselling


In an op-ed in today’s Raleigh News & Observer, two young writers who work for Campus Progress give us a typical piece of the sort of overselling that the higher-education crowd loves to engage in.


First, we get the assertion that the GI Bill, by subsidizing college
education, “helped spur the rise of the middle class.” It will be news to
the two writers, but there was a large and growing middle class prior to
World War II.  Most of the people in it (like my grandparents) did not have
college degrees, but they took their high-school learning (probably
equivalent to if not superior to today’s college education) and combined it
with learning on the job (where most useful education has always taken
place) to lead lives that were far more comfortable than those their parents
had known.  The GI Bill didn’t create or even do anything to expand the
middle class. What it did was to make an additional four years of formal
education more commonplace. The primary effect of that has been tremendous
credential inflation, with employers now insisting on BAs or even master’s
degrees for entry-level positions that bright high school grads could learn
to do.


Second, we’re told that college is becoming prohibitively expensive for lots
of students. Supposedly, lots and lots of them are choosing to forego
college. There is no proof offered for that assertion and the evidence that
does exist, a study by Jay Greene and Greg Forster, found that in 2001, hardly any
student who was qualified to enroll in college did not do so. Now, it’s true
that because higher-ed costs have risen faster than government subsidies for
it, students are accumulating more debt than previously. All right, but why
is that a matter of political concern? So it takes longer and requires more
belt tightening on the part of students to pay off their loans — how does
it follow from that that other people should be compelled to foot part of
the bill?


Third, the authors want to have government toss more money into higher-
education subsidies. It doesn’t seem to occur to them that this will cause
colleges to further up their tuition rates. It certainly doesn’t occur to
them to suggest that we ought to find ways to lower the inflated cost of a
college education.


Finally, the piece carries an implicit assumption that it’s a good thing for
everyone to have more education; that a college education is a “tool kit for
building a better life.” They should tell that to the large and growing
number of kids with college degrees (and big debts and wasted years) whose
low literacy and cognitive skills enable them to get only “high school”


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