Posted by | June 27, 2011 15:55 | Filed under: Top Stories

by Stuart Shapiro

I realize this is an odd question to be asking after last week’s post. Still, David Leonhardt had a provocative piece on the subject yesterday.  He compares it to the debate on mandatory high school a century ago.

Ultimately, though, the case against mass education is no better than it was a century ago.

The evidence is overwhelming that college is a better investment for most graduates than in the past. A new study even shows that a bachelor’s degree pays off for jobs that don’t require one: secretaries, plumbers and cashiers. And, beyond money, education seems to make people happier and healthier.

“Sending more young Americans to college is not a panacea,” says David Autor, an M.I.T. economist who studies the labor market. “Not sending them to college would be a disaster.”

I basically agree with the premise that going to college will make people better off and, as a society, the more people who can go to college the better.  But, as much as I love Leonhardt, I think there are three things he doesn’t discuss that need to happen before we can reach that society.  First, high school needs to be improved dramatically so that more people are prepared for college (the Race to the Top is a good start but it is a drop in the bucket).  Second, college needs to change so that it is designed to educate 90% of the people instead of 30% and prepare them for the job market, perhaps abandoning the ideal of a liberal arts education.  Finally, the labor market would need to adjust to having far more people enter it full time at 22 rather than 18.  Let’s focus on these things first.

the University of Phoenix

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Copyright 2011 Liberaland
By: Stuart Shapiro

Stuart is a professor and the Director of the Public Policy
program at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers
University. He teaches economics and cost-benefit analysis and studies
regulation in the United States at both the federal and state levels.
Prior to coming to Rutgers, Stuart worked for five years at the Office
of Management and Budget in Washington under Presidents Clinton and
George W. Bush.