Stossel on the "College Scam"

Thursday, July 07, 2011

John Stossel fires the latest salvo in the debate over whether there is a need for as much higher education as Americans generally get. I appreciate three of his points in particular, which I think will help an intelligent reader see that there are reasons to question the prevailing wisdom about the value of higher education.

Hillary Clinton tells students: "Graduates from four-year colleges earn nearly twice as much as high school graduates, an estimated $1 million more."

We hear that from people who run colleges. And it's true. But it leaves out some important facts.


[Richard] Vedder[, author of Going Broke by Degree: Why College Costs Too Much,] explained why that million-dollar comparison is ridiculous:

"People that go to college are different kind of people ... (more) disciplined ... smarter. They did better in high school."

They would have made more money even if they never went to college. [bold added]
Stossel then provides us with a fair number of successful college graduates -- and legions whose time might have been better spent doing something else:
"There are 80,000 bartenders in the United States with bachelor's degrees," Vedder said. He says that 17 percent of baggage porters and bellhops have a college degree, 15 percent of taxi and limo drivers. It's hard to pay off student loans with jobs like those. These days, many students graduate with big debts. [link omitted]
Finally, after mentioning an innovative idea I blogged some time back, Stossel notes that:
... Darren Zhu, a grant winner who quit Yale for the $100,000, told me, "Building a start-up and learning the sort of hardships that are associated with building a company is a much better education path."
This is hardly to say that everyone should attempt to start a business, but it is clear that there are some things that some people need that they probably will not get from college.

Regarding PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel's entrepreneurship grants, I once said:
While dropping out of college or grad school clearly isn't the right thing for everyone to do, I am glad to see Thiel making it easier for the most talented students to stop for a moment and think about whether attending school (at present or, perhaps, at all) truly is the best way for them to get ahead.
This goes, too, for many less-entrepreneurial people, particularly with higher education as it is today: more expensive and lower in quality than in the past. America needs better education, and not simply more, as measured by time spent sitting in desks. Michael Walsh of National Review is right to call the common, reflexive push for more people to attend college a "cargo cult."

-- CAV

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