April 14, 2016


Across the Anglosphere, the elite conventional wisdom holds that a college degree is the only ticket to a middle-class career. But a new study suggests that for some students, at least in the UK, the the much-hyped ‘higher-education premium’ may be inflated or nonexistent. The Sunday Times reports . . . .

There are of course differences between the UK and U.S. higher education systems, and (to our knowledge) no identical study has been conducted here. But the economist Allison Schrager has crunched comparable numbers on American students and found that, “for every degree short of a graduate degree, there’s a decent chance that a good high school graduate will out-earn you.” In other words, it’s not unlikely that marginal students in marginal programs—in the U.S. as well as the UK—would do better to avoid student loans, avoid the opportunity cost, and seek technical or vocational training. The idea that everybody needs four or even two years of academic instruction after high school is madness. When so many students leave high school with something much less than an adequate proficiency in key subjects, it makes much more sense to fix the fundamentals of the system than to tack on more and more years at the end.

Academics and professionals who loved school and did well in it have a hard time understanding that not everybody wants, needs or enjoys drawn-out academic instruction—and that these people can and do make worthwhile contributions to the common good. An education system that made more room for vocational programs in areas like carpentry, plumbing, med tech, and practical nursing would waste less time trying to pound round pegs into square holes.

Do tell.

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