Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Myth About Attaining a College Degree

By Richard Vedder and Matt Denhart

We have been running regressions trying to explain state variations in the proportion of adults with college degrees. The range is considerable -- from less than 16 percent in West Virginia to more than 40 percent in Massachusetts. Why the huge variation? Is it related to taxpayer support for higher education?

The answer to the last question is clearly "no." The correlation between state appropriations (averaged over the past two decades or so) and adult college attainment rates is not statistically significant (although it is positive). The most important factor in explaining variations is income. Rich states have more college graduates (the debate: which is cause and which is effect). But here is a shocker: the larger the proportion of students in private colleges and universities, the larger the proportion of college graduates, although the result is only weakly significant statistically. States with high proportions of college graduates like Massachusetts tend to have relatively weak state university systems.

We are expanding our search for understanding of this issue, and our current findings are subject to revision as research proceeds. By and large, however, the notion that vast state appropriations are needed to obtain a college educated adult population does not seem supported by the statistical evidence.

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