There’s an article over at The Economist that muses over whether Americans (and the world for that matter) are getting their money’s worth by sending so many young people to college:
The world is moving in the American direction. More universities in more countries are charging students tuition fees. And as politicians realise that the “knowledge economy” requires top-flight research, public resources are being focused on a few privileged institutions and the competition to create world-class universities is intensifying.
In some ways, that is excellent. The best universities are responsible for many of the discoveries that have made the world a safer, richer and more interesting place. But costs are rising. OECD countries spend 1.6% of GDP on higher education, compared with 1.3% in 2000. If the American model continues to spread, that share will rise further. America spends 2.7% of its GDP on higher education.
If America were getting its money’s worth from higher education, that would be fine. On the research side, it probably is. In 2014, 19 of the 20 universities in the world that produced the most highly cited research papers were American. But on the educational side, the picture is less clear. American graduates score poorly in international numeracy and literacy rankings, and are slipping. In a recent study of academic achievement, 45% of American students made no gains in their first two years of university. Meanwhile, tuition fees have nearly doubled, in real terms, in 20 years. Student debt, at nearly $1.2 trillion, has surpassed credit-card debt and car loans.
Sadly, they’re still accepting the comforting pablum that has been the prevailing wisdom here in the States for the last several decades:
None of this means that going to university is a bad investment for a student. A bachelor’s degree in America still yields, on average, a 15% return. But it is less clear whether the growing investment in tertiary education makes sense for society as a whole. If graduates earn more than non-graduates because their studies have made them more productive, then university education will boost economic growth and society should want more of it. Yet poor student scores suggest otherwise. So, too, does the testimony of employers. A recent study of recruitment by professional-services firms found that they took graduates from the most prestigious universities not because of what the candidates might have learned but because of those institutions’ tough selection procedures. In short, students could be paying vast sums merely to go through a very elaborate sorting mechanism.
which is proof positive that demanding that J-school graduates be required to take and pass a rigorous statistics course before graduating should be a societal demand. If the top 1% of income earners are garnering an ever-increasing share of the national income, does it really matter what the average wage is? The important questions go far beyond averages to the median, mode, and standard deviation. I would submit that of the roughly 2 million who graduate from institutions of higher learning every year if you excepted the 100,000 who would go on to become doctors of medicine, graduates of the top 20 law schools, graduates of the top 20 MBA programs, and a smattering of others, the average income of those college graduates would plummet to about the same level as that of high school graduates. The largest difference would be that the college graduates had educational debt to pay off.
But that’s the least of the problems. Yesterday as I was running my errands I heard an interview of an education advocate on the radio who offered some sobering statistics. Roughly 32,000 young people enter Chicago high schools every year. Of those roughly 20,000 will graduate with high school diplomas after five years. Or, said another way, when you take transfers, etc. into account about half will graduate in five years (!).
Two questions. Are all of those who graduate college material? And, more importantly, what do they expect the other half to do?