Tuesday 28 July 2009

Questioning education

Over at Inside Higher Ed, Mario Rizzo asks some pertinent questions about the push to have ever-increasing proportions of the population pass through universities.
At the risk of being accused of taking away the party punch bowl, readers should know that I stand to benefit a great deal if more Americans partook in the college experience since I teach large numbers of introductory and intermediate economics students for a living.
Despite this, he argues against President Obama's call for increased higher education. Worth noting:
  • There are diminishing returns to aggregate educational attainment
  • Education is costly
  • The more low quality students are pushed through low quality schools, the greater the returns from attending prestigious schools to differentiate yourself
  • A good portion of college is consumption for the students
  • Richer countries have higher rates of tertiary completion, but causality is difficult to prove; there are notable counterexamples to received wisdom
  • Education is a good, but so are other things: there are opportunity costs. As Rizzo asks,
    Does it make sense to sacrifice more and better carpenters or professional baseball players just to lead the world in college completions? Perhaps I am overplaying that hand. But there are many ways for individuals and societies to improve their human capital and productivity without relying on political forces to put more people through college.
Human capital is important, but higher education is only one way of getting it.


  1. I've been of this opinion since finishing Uni in 2005 and being blessed with earning the average wage and boredom. It's my own fault though - please kids, don't study Sociology! You may want to learn about the 'world' when you're 18 but at 25, you'll want a real career.

  2. Sociology asks a lot of the right questions; economics has the method to allow them to be answered. That's why Becker invaded. :>

  3. I hope I don't sound too bitter. Economics is certainly much more interesting to me these days and answers lots of my current questions about the world. Sociology does have it's interesting bits but many of its practitioners have quite odd and naive world views that have little relation to the motivations of the common citizen (though I would have cringed at this sterotype while studying.