Phi Beta Cons

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”

jobs.

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.

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