Monday, October 11, 2010

A Revolution is Coming!

This past Saturday, October 9, 2010, Richard Vedder delivered a lecture at Hamilton College in New York as part of Hamilton's annual "Fallcoming." The title of Dr. Vedder's address is "The Coming Revolution in Higher Education." In his remarks, Dr. Vedder notes that there are forces at work today "that will force major changes in the way higher education is done in the United States." He highlights four of these forces, including the unsustainable rise of college tuition relative to median household, the stagnant growth in the college-aged population, the aging of the U.S. adult population, and the slower growth in the college/high school earnings differential. As Vedder sees it, because of these four forces he concludes that something of a revolution is coming to American higher education:
Will higher education undergo radical change? Of course. History tells us that it always has. Compare the American higher education system today with that of a century ago. A century ago, 355,000 persons were in American colleges. Even adjusting for population growth, the numbers today are about 15 times greater. In 1910, no school had more than 10,000 students, and the research university on the German model with Ph.D. programs was in its infancy, with fewer than 450 doctoral degrees awarded in 1910, less than one percent today’s total. There was no federal money in higher education. College was a relatively elitist activity that to a large extent was a finishing and character development school for future national leaders, clergyman, teachers, doctors and lawyers.
A complete copy of Richard Vedder's edited remarks can be downloaded from CCAP's website here.

In other news, the AP ran a story on the recent report published by American Institutes for Research which found that college drop-outs cost taxpayers billions of dollars annually. The AP story cites Richard Vedder.

Also, don't forget that this Wednesday, October 13, Richard Vedder will be speaking at the Heritage Foundation.


Glen S. McGhee said...

Of course change will come to higher ed, just like it did to the apprentice system before it.

Obama will learn the hard way that giving everyone a college degree will not improve life chances, nor will it eliminate poverty. College degrees do not eliminate poverty, and one's life chances depend more on the availability of jobs than on the supply of degreed workers.

When everyone has a degree, the competition for existing jobs will only intensify, and considering the increased economic drag of student loan debt and the increased possibility of persistent unemployment, life chances are decreasing, not increasing.

Obama and the rest miss an important point about the so-called need for degrees -- this only shows the impact of credential inflation, and credential markets that have no essential link with needed job skills.

Right now we are in a situation were "The employer pretends to need a degree; the employee pretends to have one."

This is especially clear when you compare the "contest mobility" in the US with Germany, Netherlands, etc., where there are important job paths other than degrees, and not everyone must have a degree to get a job. Comparison studies with Europe show just how out-of-whack credential inflation is, and how poorly performing credential markets are here. Most job training in this country is on-the-job anyway.

RWW said...

Excellent commentary Glen. Very thoughtful.