Friday, October 26, 2007

Good, Bad and Predicitable News

By Richard Vedder

I am too busy to write three detailed blogs, but my friend Charles Miller and Whiz Kid Jim Coleman have sent me three things worth talking about, albeit briefly.

Does Education Pay?

Every year, Sandy Baum and her colleagues at the College Board publish a document purporting to show how wonderful higher education is, providing vast benefits to students and to the broader public. Charles and I were ruminating about some possible flaws in the analysis the other day, and a cursory read of the latest iteration of the study confirms my suspicions. Sandy et al have page after page of tables showing higher education is negatively associated with bad things (e.g., unemployment, smoking, crime), but positively associated with good things (e.g., blood donations, volunteerism). I will repeat, for the umpteenth time, that showing association does not prove causation. The kids going to college are, AT AGE 18 BEFORE ENTERING COLLEGE, on average more trustworthy, disciplined, community-minded, etc., then those kids not going to college. The issue is how much does college ADD to the virtuous qualities they already had in some quantity, and how much does college REDUCE the bad qualities? On that, we have no good data.

Moreover, the huge economic benefits of going to college probably are skewed upward in Sandy's analysis in a variety of ways that time does not permit me to get into today. However, one interesting stat that is reported but not commented on: the college-high school earnings differential for 25-34 year old women is now smaller than it was in 1995. While that was not true for males, the question is starting to arise: as costs of college continue to grow, but benefits level off or even decline, is college worth it? Stayed tuned. We will have more to say about this.

NCATE Does Something Right--For A Change

As readers know, I am dubious about accreditation as in currently operates in America. And amongst accreditors, I have always considered the absolutely worst accreditation organization to be NCATE, the National Council on the Accreditation of Teacher Education. We train teachers terribly in America, and NCATE has contributed to that and, moreover, is a barrier to letting good persons into schools to teach who do not meet the mindless standards of this nefarious organization that ranks as one of the greatest threat to America's future of any organization. Studies show that teachers in NCATE approved ed programs do no better than teachers in non NCATE programs, but that does not stop the Ed Establishment from letting this group to continue its stranglehold on entry into large parts of teaching. Legislators are timid to take them on since they are in cahoots with the teachers unions that have bribed many lawmakers into submission.

But NCATE did something good, the Chronicle reports. Or, rather, it did not do something very bad. The group was going to impose a "social justice" standard for America's teachers --roughly that you have to profess that you are a bleeding heart liberal who will say nothing bad about the good guys (poor people, people with politically correct personal characteristics), and will continue to press the bad guys (corporations, successful people) to help subsidize the good guys. Now, to be sure, their definition of "social justice" is no doubt couched in much more idealistic language. However, NCATE has dropped this overt politicization of teaching from consideration. Now, if they would only try to get teachers who know something and who are good at working with kids!! That reminds me --why aren't we moving to abolish public subsidies for colleges of education?

Texas Enrollment Trends

It is time for states to start reporting 2007 enrollment at their public institutions. The Houston Chronicle tells us that enrollment in Texas this fall is up more than two percent --24,000 more students. Interestingly, most of the incremental student count is in the community colleges. Today, far more Texans go to community colleges than four year universities (unlike 15 years ago) and the shift in student mix towards community colleges is one way to hold down college costs. On the whole, I view this trend positively.

All of this simply is a demonstration of the Law of Demand --when something gets more expensive, people buy less of it, in part by buying cheaper substitutes. More and more kids are saying no to high priced schools ---and costs are rising faster in Texas four year public universities as the legislature gave them freedom to set their own tuition. Supply limits at the better schools (especially UT Austin and Texas A & M) might force some kids to choose between going to a perceived mediocre lesser state school (e.g., University of Houston) or to a community college and later trying to transfer to a quality state institution. Markets work. Universities may start pricing themselves out of the market --student loans and all.

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