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Dec 24, 2008

Why College Is A Waste Of Money

Not Everyone is College Material
12/23/08 - DailyBeast by Zac Bissonnette
(via Subprime Education at National Review by Mark Steyn)

Mr. Bissionnette sees the waste and dispair imposed by a college system that discards about half of the students who try for a degree.

[edited] My high school was a small charter school with the mission to send all of its students to college. Our course work supported an obsession for college preparation. Most kids had full-blown college fever by senior year.

I'm now a sophomore at UMass Amherst. At least a few of the people from high school have already dropped out -- after blowing tens of thousands of dollars on tuition and fees at expensive, but not especially good, private colleges. They were great, smart people, but I knew that they lacked the focus, drive and maturity they would need to graduate.

This money came from parents, from federal Pell Grants, from the colleges, and from student loans that these kids will have to pay back while working low-wage jobs.

Government figures show that just 54% of students who entered four-year colleges in 1997 had earned a degree six years later. A professor wrote in The Atlantic that it is immoral to tell students they can go to college, then crush their dreams by failing half of them.

Imagine the millions that are wasted financing educations that never come to fruition. We could try to predict which students would be part of the 46% who don't finish, then encourage those students not to go to college. But, this would mean a lot of students would never get to try. That wouldn't be fair. So what we can do instead is identify the 5% or 10% of students who are the least likely to graduate, and not send them to college.

The current system provides no way or incentive to do that. The Free Application For Student Aid (FAFSA) doesn't consider an applicant's academic record. The rationale is reasonable and admirable: we don't want federal student aid to be restricted only to the best and the brightest. But, doesn't it make sense to withhold aid from the students who are clearly not equipped to make it through four years of college?

Bissonnette is an eye-witness to the problem. Smart young adults, many "lacking the focus, drive, and maturity" to spend the next four years in study, are faced with a do-or-die situation. Get a degree to validate a life of opportunity, or drop out to get a lower-wage job and pay back a big loan.

This is an unnecessary and cruel system that places a large burden on the students. It wastes the full contribution of those who are not suited to that burden at that time. Consider also the less fortunate students who can't afford to take four years for constant study, even with student loans.

The solution comes from what educators say but don't implement. They say that learning is a lifelong individual pursuit, not limited to colege and graduate school. But, they continue an educational system designed for well-off young adults, which delivers a single result called a "degree", if you can afford to spend four years in continuous study.

Parents tolerate this because a degree is associated with increased lifetime earnings. Does college teach skills that produce greater earnings? I think schools mostly select for greater intelligence, which then associates with greater earnings. But, we don't know, and the schools won't study or reveal their own true effectiveness compared to alternatives.

Consider the fallacy of Being There. Schools enroll young adults at a time of growing independence and exploration. We expect that these people will learn and change in four years. They do this while they are in school, but I think the school should get little credit for Being There at the time this happens.

Consider the fallacy of "it's worth it". The school presents a program of learning which requires large fees and almost full-time attendance. It certainly "is worth it" as compared to learning nothing, but that is a contrived comparison. There would be other options in a freer market for training and education.

There is no reason to allow this cultural monopoly to continue. Let employers do the testing that they need to select able people. Currently, employers are restricted by employment law, by the theory of  Disparate Impact.

Support a system of incremental education and testing that does not require years of resident study, unless there is a proven need (eg. medical education). Allow for experiment and validation of approaches that deliver to students (of any age) the knowledge they need, in the subjects they want, in the amounts they need, with testing and validation.

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Don't Envy the Ivy Schools
10/10/10 - Washington Post by Jay Mathews   (Via Instapundit)

Who Needs Harvard?
10/12/10 - Brookings.edu by Gregg Easterbrook

Admissions Officer:  Congratulations on being admitted to Harvard.
Mike:  I am honored to do my partying at one of the finest schools in the country.

Mathews:  [edited]  The Ivy League and other top colleges add no discernable value to the lives of their graduates. They attract students with strengths such as persistence and humor that lead to success. Applicants with such qualities do just as well in life attending schools like Boise State.

There is research on this by economists Alan B. Krueger and Stacy Berg Dale. And, there is now the movie The Social Network. None of the student characters ever study, or even talk about their courses. They talk mostly about sex, parties, and becoming important. Zuckerberg, his friends, and enemies, live on the Web. That Gov 10 paper due Friday is ignored.

That is an exaggeration, but not by much. The atmosphere is similar to what you find at most colleges. The college years are for trying out new stuff. Undergraduates devote little time to absorbing academic riches.

What about those great Ivy alumni contacts? Every college has influential alumni, if you bother to call them. The Zuckerberg character becomes a billionaire not because he went to Harvard, but because he was a computer genius, a talent he developed before he went to college.

This is part of the story at College is an Expensive IQ Test.

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Higher Education Subsidies
12/15/10 - Downsizing Government by Tad DeHaven

The Great College-Degree Scam
12/09/10 - Chronicle.com by Richard Vedder
- (Via Cato@Liberty)

[edited]:  This is a scandalous discovery. Consider everyone who graduated from US colleges from 1992 to 2008. Approximately 60% of them work in jobs that the BLS (US Bureau of Labor Statistics) considers to be low-skilled. These are jobs where many have only high school diplomas, and often less. Stated another way, only 40% of those college graduates have jobs historically requiring at least a bachelor’s degree.

We tried using different assumptions about our data to calculate the ratio of unskilled-jobs vs college-graduates for those "new" graduates. Even so, a majority is doing jobs considered to be low-skilled.

The data suggest a decline in the productivity of American education: it takes 18 years of education to earn a degree, to do jobs that past generations did with a third less time in school.

A college diploma has become more of a signaling device to potential employers. Credential inflation is occurring as more individuals earn a degree which they believe is needed to compete for a job. [They are mostly correct. -amg]

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