Sunday, May 27, 2007

Is College a Waste of Time, Revisited

By Richard Vedder

I was struck by a headline in today's Columbus Dispatch: "College Graduates Now Turning to Trade School," written by H.J. Cummins of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Cummins note that there is a growing tendency for college graduates with esoteric majors that have little vocational relevance to go back to schools to learn a trade --air traffic controller, heating and air-conditioning work, etc.

I have argued that the earnings differential that college grads command comes less from what they learn in school than from other attributes they have --intelligence, ambition, discipline, etc. Students sometimes leave college after spending thousands of dollars and four or five years of their life and find little in the way of satisfying employment --but learn that plumbers and heating specialists and air traffic controllers are making big bucks. So they go back to trade school and, after a year or two of training, get jobs often paying within a few years $75,000 or more a year. The statistics record these individuals as high earning college graduates, but I ask the question: would they have probably earned about as much if they simply skipped college and went to trade school in the first place?

Charles Murray argues that too many people go to college and too few go to trade school. If the story that Cummins is telling is true, and I suspect that it is, than we have overeducated trades persons who have often spending tens of thousands of dollars unproductively before getting training that is vocationally relevant. How much government subsidy goes to sustain these individuals as they go through college unnecessarily?


Anonymous said...

TC said...

We have a shortage of skilled workers in my opinion. I also believe that employers are part of the problem - and that relates to credentialing. For example, at two of the largest companies in the area: Semitool, Inc. and Jore Corporation, management complains that they can't get the skilled labor they need and turnover is high. But they want to pay CNC machinists a whole $10/hr!! Now admittedly, I live in a rural area. But the area is growing. So a skilled worker sees this and says, "Heck, I'll work in construction for $15/hr - $20/hr." So, while I don't know what my point is, there is a shortage of skilled labor, but employers need to "belly up to the bar", while other employers are paying a fair day's pay for a hard day's work.

I suspect that skilled laborers do make more money in urban and metropolitan areas.

By the way, I ran into a couple from Albany last week. As I recall, that is fairly close to Athens. Small world ey?

Parentalcation said...

The secret to many of these trades is that they require a certain "work ethic". We just had a guest speaker that was practically begging for pipe welders. They can easily make 60K a year (with overtime), but have to put up with travelling, long days, etc... Intelligence will certainly give people an edge on the competition and help them excel, but good old american drive is even more useful.

David said...

"college graduates with esoteric majors that have little vocational relevance"...but that doesn't describe Amy Wolfe (the woman who is now studying air traffic control). Her college major wasn't Sanskrit or Philosophy, it was "sports marketing."

I agree that there's a real problem with people who major in fields with little direct career relevance and then expect/demand appropriate career opportunities to materialize. But there's also a problem with career-oriented college programs that may not correspond to actual market demand.

Why should there be such a program as "sports marketing?" Wouldn't a good general marketing program, with the addition of some finance and business law, qualify someone for this field while also giving them the option to work in marketing in other industries?

Katie E. Potter said...

The University of Chicago is instituting a scholarship program that pays full tuition for undergraduates whose families make >$65,000? Very cool.