Saturday, November 19, 2011

What is the economic value of a college degree?

I've been pondering whether tuition-free university education for everyone is a worthwhile ideal (I doubt it). However, some people claim that such opportunities are essential to prevent the economic division of our society into "haves and have-nots". One of the favorite statistics offered by this crowd is the income difference between people with degrees and those without. Any educated person should recognize that such statistics are just the starting point for deciding what the value of a degree is (i.e. correlation is not causation). The obvious considerations is that people who complete college tend to have been born with more opportunities in their life (colleges select for motivated people from higher SES groups), and that these are surely contributing to the income differences, independent of actually attending college. There is also the feature of "indentured servitude" resulting from college debt -- the graduates HAVE to work hard to cover their expenses.

Anyway, I found one good discussion of what the value may be (though it isn't a proper analysis of the factors involved). For the most part it provides recommendations for books and reports looking at the issue.

Something more for me to read.


Anonymous said...

Everyone knows there's a glut of college graduates, but so what? I see it as a positive development. I'm in favor of anything that moves the public opinion needle to the left, or even stimulates dissatisfaction with the status quo, and the appearance of a generation of young people who think they deserve better (justifiably or not) is something I've been waiting for for most of my life.

Ricketson said...

In this case, I'm just trying to look at whether/how the university system divides the haves from the have-nots. The existing system attempts to be leveling -- they charge students according to their ability to pay (or more accurately, their parent's ability to pay). The sad thing is that, as with taxes, clever lawyers/accountants can effectively game the system.

If we currently have a glut of college graduates, then any argument for increasing access to college should focus on issues other than economic mobility/equality, because a college education is not clearly the path to economic mobility.

As for the "generation of young people who think they deserve better" -- didn't we have that in the 60's. I don't see that as a necessarily egalitarian development, since that sense of entitlement can also lead to imperialism and other forms of supremacist identity politics.