Thursday, January 31, 2013

Why Go to College?

There are three reasons for going to college, according to Richard Vedder, Christopher Denhart, and Jonathan Robe in their provocative policy paper, Why Are Recent College Graduates Underemployed?

Reason 1. To increase human capital and make workers more productive. (Probably overestimated, according to the authors, because "learning by doing is particularly underrated in the contribution it makes to raising the productivity of American workers.")

Reason 2. As a screening device for employers. (This is the crux of the matter. "The college degree is a signal to employers, and one they aggressively utilize," say the researchers. To an employer, a college degree means you're smarter and more persistent than the average person. How nice of you and your parents to bear the cost of this screening device.)

Reason 3. Because it's fun and good for you too. (The "country clubization" of higher education.)

Given the title of the paper, you know the authors do not look kindly on the "college for all" philosophy. In fact, they say, that philosophy explains why so many recent college graduates are underemployed. The U.S. labor force has 42 million employed college graduates and 29 million jobs that require a college degree (or should require one).

"We jokingly predict that colleges will offer a master's degree in Janitorial Studies within decade or two," conclude the authors, "and anyone seeking employment as a janitor will discover no one will hire unless proof of possession of such a degree is presented." 

Source: Center for College Affordability and Productivity, Why Are Recent College Graduates Underemployed?

1 comment:

Susan Mitchell said...

I've long shared their belief in college degrees as a screening device. Only I am harsher on employers. I don't think they consciously make any assumptions about the skills or motivations a college degree implies. I think it is just an easy way for them to wade through applications.

College is the new high school (to employers).