In this extensive Inside Higher Ed piece, Rich Vedder responds to criticism by Anthony Carnevale, who takes issue with Vedder’s argument that many college graduates derive no financial benefit from their degrees.
I will just add a bit regarding the notion that there is a “college wage premium.” Carnevale (like other higher-ed-establishment defenders) keeps asserting that employers “pay a premium for college education.” Not true. The guy with a college degree working at Starbucks is not paid more than the barista next to him who dropped out of high school. The college (or even law school) graduate who ushers you to a seat in a theater is not paid more than the usher in the next aisle who only finished high school.
Yes, on average people who have college credentials have higher earnings than people who don’t, but that should not lead to the conclusion that a college degree is so valuable that employers pay extra to those who possess one.
The establishment’s defense line on the alleged college premium was always weak, but the revelations in Arum and Roksa’s new book Academically Adrift really ought to cause it to retreat. If, as they find, many college students gain almost nothing from their coursework, why should anyone believe that they are nevertheless significantly more valuable to employers than those who did not go to college? Many schools are eager to recruit and retain students who have very poor academic preparation and scant interest in rigorous work. They string them along with easy courses where no one ever fails. These poor kids are not adding to their human capital; they’re just adding to their indebtedness. We should stop luring them into college with talk about the wage premium they’ll allegedly enjoy.