Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Too Many Kids Go to College

By Richard Vedder

When it rains it pours.I came to work today wondering what I was going to blog about, but within 30 minutes I had four great ideas thrust at me from other web sites, etc. Great material on open access for research, Donald Kagan on the neglect of teaching,the Education Trust (via on the gender gap, etc. But none captivated me more than our friend George Leef's great study on the "Overselling of Higher Education," available at

George has greatly added to what Harry Stilles of Erkstine College (and former South Carolina legislator), Jackson Toby of Rutgers, and others have been telling me -- too many kids go to college. Since the users only pay a small portion of the costs, they tend to overuse higher education, which has the effect of sending kids to school who are ill prepared. This contributes to a watering down of the college curriculum. It leads to employers requiring a college degrees for jobs that truly do not need a college degree as traditionally conceived -- the type of degree that was offered a couple of generations ago. It leads to a massive waste of resources, contributing to results such as I have obtained showing an actual negative correlation between state government spending on higher education and economic growth (the massive inefficiencies in allocation resources within this highly subsidized system also contribute to that result).

Herein lies the dilemma. George is absolutely right --too many kids go to college. But we feel as a nation that we have to give everyone a chance at a higher education --even those obviously unqualified. Two questions arise: should we re-think our implicit commitment (reaffirmed by the Spellings Commission) of maximizing access to universities? Or, if we insist on giving everyone a chance at a college degree, shouldn't we at least require academically marginal students to prove their
potential for four year universities, either by passing a fairly rigorous college entrance examination or by being forced to go to two year community colleges to see if they have the potential for a four year degree?

I cannot quarrel with George's conclusion: "To combat the overselling of higher education, academic standards need to be raised and governmental subsidies for college studies should be lowered." This should have a favorable impact on college graduation rates (reducing waste associated with college dropouts), lead to greater rigor (and hopefully less grade inflation),and even, if my research is to be believed, a higher rate of economic growth.

1 comment:

Ram said...

It is true that too many kids go to college UNPREPARED. We have to reassess our goals in having these subsidies for higher education. While need-based financial aid is available fairly easily, merit-based aid (especially academic merit) is very rare. Maybe requiring certain levels of achievement to 'earn' the subsidy would be better use for the money. Universities that received federal funds should be forced to disclose how much they spend on faculty salary and benefits, administration costs, facilities costs and break these all down to the student level where feasible. I suspect that huge amounts of higher education costs are actually driven by administration and facilities costs.