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Recently at Reason.tv: The Case Against College Entitlements & MythBusters' Adam Savage

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President Barack Obama has declared that his administration aims to make college affordable to everyone by greatly expanding government aid to middle class families. The Washington Post says that Obama's higher education proposals, which include creating a brand new Pell Grant entitlement, "could transform the financial aid landscape for millions of students while expanding federal authority to a degree that even Democrats concede is controversial."

But what if President Obama has it backwards? What if America is sending too many people to college?

A recent study found that "Nationally, four-year colleges graduated an average of just 53% of entering students within six years." If 40 percent of students who enter college drop out before graduation and over 50 percent of students take six years to graduate, perhaps Obama is focusing on the wrong issue. 

Reason.tv's Michael C. Moynihan sat down with Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and the American Enterprise Institute's Charles Murray, author of the recent book Real Education, to analyze how Obama's higher-education plans will impact the economic and cultural future of the United States.

For embed code, an audio podcast, and iPod and HD versions click here.

For a YouTube version of this video, go here.

"The Case Against College Entitlements" was produced by Michael C. Moynihan and Meredith Bragg. Approximately 5 minutes long.

At the Las Vegas-based Amazing Meeting, Reason magazine's Matt Welch recently sat down with Adam Savage, co-host of the enormously popular and captivating Discovery Channel series MythBusters.

Each week, Savage and Jamie Hyneman, aided by a crew of demolition experts and special effects whizzes, delve into mysteries of the moment: Does anything that happens in a James Bond movie have a basis in reality?; was the moon landing faked?; is there such a thing as "beer goggles"?; and much, much more. As important, they explain the science behind many complicated phenomena and rarely miss an opportunity to blow things up real good.

Savage talks about the genesis and success of the show, now in its eighth season, and discusses whether people are becoming more or less skeptical in an increasingly interconnected world. Does the faster flow of information mean the bad crowds out the good?

Approximately 8 minutes. Shot and edited by Dan Hayes.

Go here for embed code, iPod, HD, audio versions, and more videos.

NEXT: "Suffering Under Capitalism" to Be Replaced By New, Better Type of Suffering

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  1. Accepting the argument that too many people are going to college would mean accepting the fact that not everyone is smart enough to do college level work. We can’t do that, because it would hurt people’s feelings.

  2. Listen, I love Matt Welch like a brother from another mother, but what’s with the body language? Adam Savage is not going to blow something up right on that bench. It’s okay to be next to him.

  3. nice post…
    ___________________
    Britney
    Entertainment at one stop

  4. A mind is a terrible thing to waste, but my taxes are an even worse thing to waste. Nobody should be denied a college education because they simply can’t get funding. And nobody should be given a free ride through party central. But if a Hispanic woman, from the Bronx, that grew up in public housing can make it to the Supreme Court, then what are people whining about?

    Seriously, there was nothing wrong with the Pell Grant and GSL programs until Bush and the Republicans gutted them. Average Middle Class students weren’t qualifying for low interest GSLs. So, Mommy and Daddy had to refinance the house, creating more income for the banks. And more paper for securitized mortgages. Now, the banks have no money to lend so the government is going to take over the GSL program directly, for better or worse.

  5. Gotta agree with Jefferson here. The unmoving, slumped forward posture combined with that necktie that appears to fall all the way to the floor made it seem like Matt was photoshopped into the image while he asked questions from three times zones away. There was precious little acknowledgment of Savage’s answers or segues from one question context to another. I expect that Matt will get much better with interviews as they keep producing these things.

    I would have liked to see much more about Savage’s involvement with Maker culture and how he sees the growing influence of that affecting overall culture and politics.

  6. Charles Murray’s Real Education was eye-opening. It gives you some perspective on what “average” and “below average” really mean.

  7. American egalitarianism is amazing. We readily accept different athletic aptitudes and abilities, but we insist that everybody is on a level paying field when it comes to intelligence. Poppycock!

  8. I just got a letter from Chase saying that my law school loans have been transferred to the federal government… weak.

  9. College should be for learning field specific knowledge that leads to a job. Instead, it’s just a filtering method to deny large segments of the population job opportunities. Look at the want ads calling for college graduates and saying all majors are welcome. If the employer needed someone with specific skills, he should cite the relevant major. If not, he should open the employee search to high school graduates. Simply rejecting the snob appeal of college is a much more cost effective way to equalize opportunity.

  10. Another question to ask about higher education: are we investing in a moribund industry?

    I was discussing the various state “college savings plans” and how risky they were for him to put money in them for his newborn. After questioning if you could trust the state of Maryland with your money, I went off on a transhumanist tangent.

    If, in the next 18 years, it becomes possible make education more efficient by orders of magnitude, like uploading the equivalant of a masters direct to the brain — would he be able to extract the “college savings” money from the state to pay for his son’s hardware upgrades? The state would be stuck with state university/buggy whip industry that is overloaded with union members, complex facilities and pension obligations. The state would insist the money be spent to prop up the failing industry over the fancy new ‘uplink’ education.

  11. Since you guys have access to the Mythbusters crew, might I suggest having Kari Byron appear in Reason magazine’s first annual swimsuit issue?

  12. I believe multiple errors in assessment confuse the issue.

    First, intelligence does not always translate into academic aptitude. Many highly intelligent farmers, craftsmen, artists and other productive people will serve everyone best by attending to concrete rather than abstract data, to their own and others’ irreplaceable satisfaction.

    Second, intelligence != moral worth. Some less intelligent peoples’ other virtues – such as kindness, or reliability – make them much more desirable company than their cleverer brethren.

    Third and fourth, much contemporary college training actually dulls individual initiative and creativity, and being spared ideological indoctrination will work to many young people’s benefit.

    College is not/should not be for everyone. But that may say more about college than it does about everyone.

  13. In Georgia the Hope Scholarship (free tuition to any state Univ. for students with a B or better average) has led to severe grade inflation in the high schools, an abysmally low state average SAT score, and a high flunk-out rate for college freshman. Waaay too many high school kids (and their parents) feel they are entitled to a spot at State U.

    The whole system is a disaster and more government help will, of course, make it even worse, though it’s hard to imagine it being worse.

  14. Anarch at 8:09 has it exactly right.

    Beyond his good points is basic economic reality. It is much harder to find enough people really skilled in the trades these days than yet another college graduate to push paper. Wages, salaries and the income of self employed folks are starting to reflect that reality.

    As in almost all else, this latest government initiative will prove essentially futile in the long run as the economics of supply and demand sort out the real value of a college degree. Its unfortunate that a college degree has become so debased as an indicator of anything.

  15. Look at the want ads calling for college graduates and saying all majors are welcome. If the employer needed someone with specific skills, he should cite the relevant major. If not, he should open the employee search to high school graduates.

    Slight cavil here. With all else you say being true, surviving 4 years of college, as well as succeeding in higher degrees, does indicate to a prospective employer the candidate’s ability to accomplish tasks that require Sitzfleisch, a certain measure of social skills, controlled impulsivity, and a capacity to delay gratification, maybe akin to veteran status, to a greater extent than a HS diploma. A college degree also certifies, at least ostensibly, having been exposed to, and shown civility in the face of, other ways of viewing the world than one’s own.

  16. And a BA should show that one is capable of learning, though it may show only that one is capable of being trained – which is already a feature a boss will seek.

  17. So what IS the case against Mythbuster’s Adam Savage? You never made that clear.

  18. College may not be for everyone, however we may be depriving our society of some marvelous talent by making it too expensive or difficult to attain by average people. I am convinced that most people of average intelligent are capable of handling college-level work, and I don’t think it hurts anyone to have some college so long as they don’t overburden themselves with debt.

    On the other hand, our society would benefit greatly from respecting everyone who labors (with adequate wages and recognition of worth) regardless of whether they hold a degree or not.

  19. I am convinced that most people of average intelligent are capable of handling college-level work

    That depends (greatly) on the coursework. I don’t think an average person is capable of getting a degree in physics from a quality university. An average person is probably able to handle a BA, but a real degree? Some would be able to get by, some would not.

  20. The American college market is a perfect small-universe example of the Austrian theory of monetary inflation causing systematic price increases.

    Normally, rising prices would tend to dampen demand. However, the colleges have been able to do two things to counteract this:

    (1) They practice perfect market discrimination: colleges don’t even pretend to charge a single price, but instead are very up-front about charging each set of parents as much as they can pay, up to a predetermined maximum. It’s the old “How much does it cost?”/”How much you got?” scam, but for some reason people think they are getting a deal. I was no different: I received a lot of financial aid, and thought at the time that I was getting away with murder.

    (2) Colleges successfully lobby for ever more state-sponsored loans and grant packages that act as additional money, albeit restricted initially to the college market. This is where the Austrians come in: as the supply of money available for tuition increases, so do prices, precisely because there are more dollars chasing the same number of incoming class seats.

    This strategy would not work without a general perception among the public that going to college is necessary in order to get ahead, or among white collar recruiters that a college degree involving four years of goofing off, working hard a few days a semester, and drinking the rest of the time is necessary for most jobs. Both are unfortunate falsehoods, but until demand is reduced relative to supply, I don’t see prices dropping.

    What will bring demand down relative to supply? I see two main possibilities:

    (a) Price pressure at the top. In an environment of declining long-term prosperity such as the West has entered, the number of parents who will be able to and willing to afford $50,000 per year per child for a college education will go down dramatically. Certainly there will be enough to fill the rolls at Harvard, Yale, etc… but enough to justify $50,000 per year at Tufts? American University? Ithaca College? Probably not. And as the most desirable colleges are also generally the richest, they are the most likely to succumb to internal pressure to fulfill their supposed missions to educate by eliminating tuition altogether.

    (b) Increased prevalence of and respect for private for-profit educational institutions, like University of Phoenix, and for lower-cost colleges that don’t participate in the insanity of the existing financial aid system. This will require time, as the inertia of reputation is great. But the effect of this change on supply could be immense: the number of seats in a distance learning setting is potentially unlimited.

    Furthermore, costs would be far lower: a focused degree (i.e., not liberal arts) would likely not take anywhere near 4 years; and distance learning does not involve expensive stone buildings with yearly ivy pruning and the overhead of maintaining bullshit interfraternity councils and diversity programs and putting up with activist demands.

    Like all economic problems, eventually this one will fix itself because the numbers don’t allow it to work out any other way. IMO, it will be interesting to see it play out.

  21. The case against MythBusters’ Adam Savage?

  22. The case against MythBusters’ Adam Savage?

    Does he have a doctorate? And if so, why doesn’t he go by Doc Savage?

  23. squarooticus, do you see no possibility of emergency federal bailouts, nationalization, consolidation, monopolization, homogenization – such that every local McU franchise becomes an arm of the State?

    The old joke during the Cold War was that the pessimists were teaching themselves to eat caviar with chopsticks.

  24. That’s what I thought when I read the title – I thought it was “a case against… Mythbusters’ Adam Savage”

    I guess he is somewhat of a ginger person (i’m sure he was a ginger-kid), so Cartman would want him dead.

  25. anarch:

    At what point do people start fleeing the system? Look at the NHS in Britain: anyone who has money adds supplemental private health insurance so they can actually get treated. Since the government can never have infinite resources but always approaches maximal waste, it’s inevitable that it would screw up the schools it nationalized, so I expect a similar dynamic would eventually occur.

    Honestly, I don’t expect things to get that bad. The West is already in the process of contracting, though we don’t really know it yet so as a result we’ll go through several years of nasty inflation before we get the hang of reducing spending: the days of financing ever-expanding government through debt are over.

  26. My comparative religion professor related that in his own student days, a Soviet refugee in his graduate seminar at Princeton would always have the most thorough, polished answer to biblical questions; when called on, the man would ritually stand and belt out the exact reference, then, with inveterate Slavic formality, bow and crisply take his seat again. Asked how he had learned even obscure material so well, he explained that the Bible was the only text their underground classes could scrounge, so they prized and learned it very well.

    Since scarcity drives value, perhaps teachers here can look forward to black-market prices for lessons in free inquiry.

  27. or among white collar recruiters that a college degree involving four years of goofing off, working hard a few days a semester, and drinking the rest of the time is necessary for most jobs.

    When you put it that way, college does sound like decent prep fro most white collar jobs.

  28. I too thought Reason was making their case against Mr. Savage. I mean besides being a ginger kid, he’s just too damn nice. Not to sound glib, but I met him at last year’s TAM and he was a heck of a nice guy. (So was Teller, who yaps and yaps off stage.) He’s a skeptic and libertarian so what’s not to like?

    Also, it always makes me chuckle to see Jamie get a little peeved when they have to go out of state for many of their gun myths. They should just move out of CA and build a big compound outside of Vegas next to Penn’s house.

    Benjamin

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