[This is the transcript of my regular KVMR commentary broadcast on 10 January 2014.]
Did you know that college enrollments in the country are dropping? For all the hullabaloo about American students placing well down on the list in the world’s youth smarts, it turns out that today fewer of our high school graduates are going to college to prepare themselves for the workplace. All this in spite of the administration’s touting college as “the ticket to the middle class”. As an aside, older listeners will remember when high school provided that entry point for almost all Americans. But today it seems that undergraduate college is the new high school for the remedial work that students require to adequately read, write, and cypher.
But the real reason for declining college attendance is that it no longer provides reliable value for its enormous costs which have been rising much faster than inflation, and more importantly, much faster than the difference in salaries earned by high school and college graduates. In fact the salary differences have been decreasing by ten to twenty percent during recent years, while the cost of college has gone up over 16% since 2006.
University of Ohio’s Richard Vedder along with his student Christopher Denhart write that today “we have more college graduates working in retail than soldiers in the US Army, and more janitors with bachelor’s degrees than chemists. In 1970 less than 1% of taxi drivers had college degrees. Four decades later, more than 15% do.” (more here)
Now some of this is due to the botched public policies that have failed to produce job growth after the Great Recession, which now ended almost five years ago. But the greatest blame lies on the universities with declining academic standards, promoting grade inflation, packing administrative staffs, and building costly amenities to attract subsidized students into majors that provide no value to prospective employers. The result is that most of the 30% of Americans with college degrees are no smarter or skilled than those without degrees.
To be sure, this blight does not spread evenly over the country’s academe. The best schools offering tough majors are still in high demand, and their graduates get top dollar from employers when they hit the job markets. But as Vedder and Denhart point out, the rest of the college market is in a bubble that will soon burst.
In response to this gross misallocation of the country’s educational resources, we see new technologies and the internet providing novel pathways to productive employment. In these commentaries we have reported on the explosive growth of MOOCs, massively open online courses, and non-degree certification programs that both reduce the cost of post-secondary education and provide focused skill sets that employers value.
And finally I want to just tickle you with something we will cover in a future commentary, the emergence of online ‘crowdsourced solutions’ to very complex problems that involve massive amounts of data. Companies like Kaggle have started offering problem solving competitions in game formats to all comers. These problems range from developing new public policies to answering deep questions about dark matter physics. Tens of thousands are competing for prize monies in this growing field that is already starting to raise the hackles of government bureaucrats and tenured academics who view this as a threat to their sinecures.
So as you see, there are big and accelerating changes afoot in our world. Tomorrow promises to be very different from today. More on this later.
My name is Rebane, and I also expand on this and related themes on NCTV and georgerebane.com where the transcript of this commentary is posted with relevant links, and where such issues are debated extensively. However my views are not necessarily shared by KVMR. Thank you for listening.