Commandment #7: Reduce higher education overinvestment by incentivizing more students to attend lower cost two year colleges and postsecondary vocational institutes
by Daniel Bennett
CCAP has said it before and we will say it again, the United States is over-invested in higher education. The U.S. expends a larger share of its GDP on tertiary education than any of the other OECD countries -- more than twice the average. The following OECD chart shows how the countries stack up.
Yet, the Obama administration has publicized a mathematically unattainable goal to become the world leader in percentage of young adults with a college degree. The percentage of students capable of handling a rigorous college curriculum peaked in the US years ago. To increase this percentage would necessarily mean to lower the already dubious academic standards. Do we really want to further admonish higher education in the US (one of our comparative advantages) in pursuit of some trivial global ranking?
Sure, most people need some training beyond high school to achieve personal economic success, but this does not necessitate allocating beaucoup bucks and mortgaging our future so that every person can give attending 4-year college a shot. This is setting people up to experience failure and a lifetime of financial misery. Instead, we need to do as Charles Murray recommends in Real Education and encourage more students to attend low-cost postsecondary institutions, such as community colleges and vocational training schools. This will provide them with a greater chance to be successful in life, as everyone is not cut our for academe. It is also a much more efficient use of resources.
Think about the last time that you hired a plumber or electrician, or took your car to the mechanic. I'm certain that it wasn't a painless drain on your bank account. These craftsmen, as well as a number of other professions (i.e. - nurses, legal aides and staff accountants) make decent livings and do not need a bachelor's degree to get these jobs. What they do need is some vocational training and this can be provided at a relatively low cost by one of the many fine career-oriented or community colleges in the US. In addition, there is good job security with these sorts of jobs because, let's face it, no one is outsourcing their plumbing or car repairs to China or India.
We need to provide encouragement and incentives for students to attend the much more cost-effective career-oriented schools. This could easily be accomplished through the existing financial aid process. This is a win-win situation. For students, it allows them to learn valuable career skills so that they can become productive members of society and earn a moderately good standard of living, without taking out a mountain of debt. For those who do exceptionally well in a 2-year (or less) school and decide to pursue further studies, then 4-years schools should make it relatively painless to transfer. For colleges, they can maintain (with any hope improve) their academic standards by not having to accommodate remedial students. For the public, it will provide a much more cost-effective means of training a skillful and productive workforce.