Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Great Paradox

By Richard Vedder

Every day, I faithfully read the Rasmussen Reports, with polling data on everything under the sun. A few days ago I learned that 81 percent believe people learn more about life skills on the job than in college.

We agree. Jordan Templeton and I have measured post-school human capital accumulation and found it to be enormous --lots of learning comes on the job, and on-the-job learning explains why 50 year old workers make more than 25 year old ones.

Yet here is the paradox: 71 percent of Americans believe book learning is more important than "street smarts" in life success. You learn your job on the job --but you must get the education to get the job in the first place.

In short, the certification process is what college is all about --distinguishing the potentially better workers from the so-so ones. A college diploma delivers income --but work experiences develop skills. We pay an awful lot of money for the diploma that certifies competence. Are there better, cheaper ways of doing that? We believe the answer is "yes."

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