December 10, 2010

RICHARD VEDDER: The Great College Degree Scam.

The Center for College Affordability and Productivity (CCAP) has unearthed what I think is the single most scandalous statistic in higher education. It reveals many current problems and ones that will grow enormously as policymakers mindlessly push enrollment expansion amidst what must become greater public-sector resource limits.

Here it is: approximately 60 percent of the increase in the number of college graduates from 1992 to 2008 worked in jobs that the BLS considers relatively low skilled—occupations where many participants have only high school diplomas and often even less. Only a minority of the increment in our nation’s stock of college graduates is filling jobs historically considered as requiring a bachelor’s degree or more.

Meaning that the — inflated — tuition they’re paying is basically wasted. Remember this when you hear for-profit schools singled out for overpromising. I think the traditional higher-education sector has a lot of explaining to do, too. More:

The data suggest a horrible decline in the productivity of American education in that the “inputs” used to achieve any given human capital (occupational) outcome have expanded enormously. More simply, it takes 18 years of schooling (including kindergarten and the typical fifth year of college to get a bachelor’s degree) for persons to get an education to do jobs that a generation or two ago people did with 12-13 years of education (graduating more often from college in four years and sometimes skipping kindergarten). . . . All of this supports the notion that credential inflation arises from a perceived need by individuals to demonstrate potential employment competence through a piece of paper, i.e. a college diploma. Employers are using education as a screening and signaling device, at a low cost directly to them (although not costless because of the taxes they pay to sustain much of this), but at a high cost to the perspective employees and to society as a whole.

Read the whole thing. Some further background is here and here.