The Economic Folly of a College Degree

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“…if an equal proportion of people were educated at the public expence, the competition would soon be so great, as to sink very much their pecuniary reward.” ~ Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, p. 151

An all-too-predictable headline blared from the front page of the Wall Street Journal recently, this one about education. Though the article was titled “India Graduates Millions, But Too Few Are Fit to Hire”, it would be easy to put the “U.S.” or some other country with a politically correct worship of the college degree where “India” is, and the story wouldn’t change much at all.

Much as politicians in Illinois long ago heard of the “correlation” between books in the house and intelligent children on the way to a state-run program to put books in underprivileged homes, the oft-cited correlation between a college degree and higher income has driven politicians on the left and right to make attending university a “right” to be enjoyed by everyone. That knowledge gained in college on its very best day has little to no relationship with the work individuals around the world perform once graduated has not deterred a mad political rush to make a college education as universal as healthcare.

Though politicians, educators and their media enablers would have us believe that the act of earning a college diploma makes short people tall, turns bad writers into Somerset Maugham, and the mathematically challenged into highly-paid engineers, reality is happily intruding. What’s going on in India is a good example.

As Geeta Anand reported in the Wall Street Journal, though call-center company 24/7 Customer Pvt. Ltd is eagerly searching for “recruits who can answer questions by phone and e-mail”, it’s found that “so few of the high school and college graduates who come through the door can communicate effectively in English, and so many lack a grasp of educational basics such as reading comprehension, that the company can hire just three out of every 100 applicants.” This is our future.

Indeed, with politicians aggressively promoting advanced education with the taxpayers’ money, the inevitable result will be universities handing out more and more worthless diplomas to marginal attendees who will enter college with no skills, and who will similarly depart without the skills prized by employers. Worse for the victims of this supposed compassion, many will emerge with a great deal of debt as their reward for having wasted four years.

As for those who emerge debt free, they won’t be much better off either. Having spent four years daydreaming through classes on Greek mythology and feminist art history, they’ll have lost four years of real work that actually teaches them how to get by in an advanced society.

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