By Richard Vedder
The late, great Milton Friedman, along with his wife Rose, wrote a great autobiographical account, Two Lucky People. I am reminded of that as I think of our blessings on Thanksgiving Day.
I tell my students "you are the luckiest persons in the world. You were born in the richest of all generations in human history, in an epoch where people are prosperous and lead long lives. You were also born in the richest place in earth, with low levels of warfare relative to other times and places, and high levels of freedom and social mobility."
The typical American college student goes to school for 4 to 6 years, with considerable public subsidy, working on average 30-35 hours a week for 32 weeks a year. While Joe Six Pack toils 1,800 or even 2,000 hours a year making his daily bread, Joe or Josephine College works barely 1,000 hours, and rather than paying
taxes, is more likely to get subsidies (financed by Joe Six Pack) in the form of Pell Grants, subsidized student loans, and so forth. To be sure, there are exceptions from this model --in both directions (those working more, those working even less).
The question we need to ask: is this the optimal use of public resources? Are we getting our money's worth from this investment? Colleges are exploiting ignorance --the fact that employers have no way a priori of distinguishing the
productive potential employees from the unproductive. By providing this information to employers, colleges are able to charge high fees, claim that they are teaching great things, etc. I am a great believer in higher education --I have been part of it for nearly a half a century -- but I think there are excesses needing our attention, and that is why, as I careen towards senility, I am devoting my efforts to trying to improve a great institution, the American university.