Phi Beta Cons

Higher Ed is Too Big and Too Important to Fail!

So argues UCLA chancellor Gene Block in this Huffington Post piece.

This is a pitiful effort at convincing people that we face imminent danger unless we reverse the trend of declining government spending on higher ed and get more young people through college to their degrees. It reminds me of the arguments we’ve heard about the auto industry — that some disaster will befall the country unless we “save” it with government help. What Block overlooks is that, just like the auto industry, the parts of our highered system that are good are not in trouble. Students who want to learn useful things can easily do so. Moreover, there is still plenty of room for cost cutting in the many parts of higher ed that produce little if any value. As for his argument that we need to keep up with other countries in output of college grads, or else we’ll suffer, that assumes two false ideas. First, it assumes that there is a direct link between educational attainment and national prosperity. There is no such link. Lots of people who have advanced degrees produce little, while many others who have no degrees produce much. Second, it assumes that college grads are pretty much the same here as in other countries. I doubt that. In Korea, for example, education is taken much more seriously than it is here. You don’t find hordes of semi-literate college (or high-school) grads there. It might make sense for the Koreans to try to put more people through college (although I don’t know), but it certainly does not make sense for us to do so. We already have large numbers of badly educated college grads scrounging for a living in low-skill jobs.

George Leef is the director of research for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

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