Phi Beta Cons

Wharton School Prof’s Book Supports Case that College has been Oversold

It is going to be harder for the higher ed establishment cheerleaders to keep on saying that anyone who decides against college today is “irrational” after Professor Peter Cappelli’s new book Will College Pay Off? Cappelli carefully examines the statistics and logic supporting the smiley face “College is good for everyone!” notion and concludes that a large number of young Americans would be better off if they do something other than pursuing the good old BA after high school. I write about his book in this week’s Pope Center Clarion Call.

While the book is a solid effort, it doesn’t go far enough in one important respect. Cappelli, for reasons I can only guess at, laments the decline of union-sponsored training and apprenticeship programs and claims without any evidence that such training programs run by companies are of poor quality. Actually, according to Department of Labor stats, apprenticeship programs have been growing rather rapidly. As for the claim of low quality, that assumes that firms are content with undertrained workers, but that would have serious costs. The unions would like to monopolize such training and make it take unnecessarily long. Their grip is loosening. In any event, apprenticeship and occupational training programs seem to be even better an alternative to college than Cappelli suggests.

One of his most important arguments is that the narrow, occupationally-focused programs offered by many colleges are a bad idea. The student who goes through such a program, say in casino management, is apt to have a very hard time finding employment if the casino business is in a downward cycle after he graduates. Rather than devoting college to what amounts to little more than job training, students should aim for a broad education that will serve them well in many possible fields. Cappelli also counsels them to try to get some work experience since many firms care more about that than the particulars of their college studies.

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

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