Phi Beta Cons

Senator Alexander’s Glaring Mistake

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Tennessee’s senior U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander has an op-ed piece entitled “College Too Expensive? That’s a Myth.”

The most annoying thing about the piece is that Senator Alexander breezily repeats that absurd “million dollar earnings boost” statistic in his effort at showing that college is really a great investment. I sent the editor this letter in response.

There are some problems with Senator Alexander’s piece claiming that it’s a myth that college is too expensive, but the most glaring is his assertion that college degrees “appreciate” in value and “increase an individual’s lifetime earnings by $1 million, on average.”

If there were a Hall of Fame for Misleading Statistics, that would undoubtedly be among the first admitted.

How much, on average, people who received college degrees in the past earn compared with those who did not doesn’t have the slightest bearing on an individual who is today trying to decide whether going to college makes sense. No one is average and labor market conditions are not the same as they were decades ago. The simple truth is that we already have an enormous glut of people in the labor force who have college credentials (if not necessarily college educations) and many of them can only find work that could be done by high school students.

Great numbers of young Americans have been lured into college with irresponsible talk about the huge earnings boost that a degree supposedly brings. Politicians should stop using that million dollar figure. They should stop talking about any college “premium” at all because the costs —even with all the subsidies — exceed the benefits for many.

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

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