Oh No! U.S. Falls Behind in Sheepskin Race!


Forget college! This is pure snow. It's everywhere! Do you have any idea what the street value of this mountain is?

America is, once again, at risk. That's because the kids just won't buckle down to their studies, earn their degrees and set themselves to the task of driving the nation's GDP ever-higher with the sheer force of their state college Art History majors. At least, that's what David Wessell and Stephanie Banchero tell us over at the Wall Street Journal, and to prove the point, they've pulled together a bunch of data and examples that don't necessarily go together.

The key point Wessell and Banchero make is this:

Throughout American history, almost every generation has had substantially more education than that of its parents.

That is no longer true.

When baby boomers born in 1955 reached age 30, they had about two years more schooling than their parents, according to Harvard University economists Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz, who have calculated the average years of schooling for native-born Americans back to 1876.

In contrast, when Americans born in 1980 turned 30 in 2010, they averaged about eight months more schooling than their parents.

This is bad, they say, because "[t]hose with only a high-school diploma had an 8% unemployment rate in March, roughly double that of college graduates, who had a 4.2% unemployment rate." The high school dropout rates, they point out, "remain stubbonly high." Well, yes — stubbornly high, but moving in the right direction, from 72% graduation in 2001 to 75.5% in 2009. Of more concern is the questionable value of those diplomas, but "more kids graduate from still-shitty high schools" would be an entirely different article.

Then the authors bemoan apparently stalled interest in four-year college degrees.

Among Americans who turned 25 in the 1970s, only 5% had less education than the parent of the same sex, according to an analysis by Michael Hout and Alexander Janus, sociologists at the University of California, Berkeley. Among those who turned 25 in the 2000s, 18% of men and 13% of women had fewer years of school than their parents.

But they say that 1970s college-attendance rates were pumped up by men seeking to decline Uncle Sam's invitation to tour Southeast Asia on the taxpayers' dime. They also concede "growing skepticism among some Americans about whether a college degree actually translates into a well-paying job." There is, the article admits, a wide difference between the average $120,000 per year earned by the possessor of a bachelor's degree in petroleum engineering, and the $29,000 pulled in with a degree in counseling psychology.

This isn't new ground. Seven years ago, the New York Times ran a piece on the supposed "return on education" that found that "up to a point, an additional year of schooling is likely to raise an individual's earnings about 10 percent" but "[t]he payoff, of course, varies by individual. Another year of education will not have the same benefit for everyone. And school resources matter as well. According to studies by Professor Krueger and others, class size, teacher quality and school size can make a difference in the outcome. They have found that the effect of better schools is most pronounced for disadvantaged students."

And while it's easy to get competitive juices flowing by pointing out that other countries are crowding their young (and not-so-young) into higher eduction, there's little discussion of the often low value of college degrees both here and abroad.

So, match the value of a Liberal Arts degree from Pretty Crappy State College against the lost time and cost of tuition and …

…you might well make the same decision as Mary Brown. "I wanted a college that taught me how to do the work, but didn't make me pay to take a lot of other classes in subjects that are irrelevant to my career," she told the WSJ. So she got a massage therapy certificate, paid off all but $5,000 of her student debt and landed a $20-per-hour job in the midst of a lousy economy.

Or you could follow the example of Alex Gavic, a 21-year-old featured by Wessell and Banchero who bypassed college to snow board full-time in Park City, Utah. He landscapes during the summer for money. Not to be unkind to Gavic, who strikes me as what we used to call a "lifestyle refugee" when I lived in the outdoor-mecca of Flagstaff, but he seems a living example of what economist Richard Vedder told John Stossel in these pages last year: "People that go to college are different kind of people … (more) disciplined … smarter. They did better in high school."

If you forced Gavic into college at gunpoint — at least, at this point in his life — he's not going to end up with that job-baiting petroleum engineer degree.

In Reason, Vedder went on to tell Stossel:

"There are 80,000 bartenders in the United States with bachelor's degrees," Vedder said. He says that 17 percent of baggage porters and bellhops have a college degree, 15 percent of taxi and limo drivers. It's hard to pay off student loans with jobs like those.

There's little doubt that fewer people should be dropping out of high school, and that more people should have access to high schools that are worth a damn. Beyond that, though, an expensive sheepskin of variable quality isn't necessarily the passport to everybody's idea of a good life.

NEXT: The New Ron Paul Candidates

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  1. Well, the world needs ditch diggers, too.

  2. Well, the world needs ditch diggers, too.

  3. Well, the world needs ditchdiggers, too.

    1. I think you mean “Irrigation Maintenance Engineers”, complete with a 4 year degree.

    2. Pity the art history major who must pay a $60 an hour GED plumber to fix her toilet.

      1. Where do you get a plumber for $60 an hour? If he’s in the Denver area, give me his number!!

  4. …David Wessell…

    David “Nuclear” Wessell.

    Now you will never again hear his name in your mind as just “David Wessell”. You’re welcome.

  5. Modern Feminist Thought major with a minor in Jewish Studies = entitled to Bel-Air mansion and a job at NASA.

    We’re all Occutards now!

    1. This is devastating.

      1. I couldn’t hold it in long enough for you to get here.

  6. Uh, compared to someone who runs up $100,000 in loans to get BA in Trendy Victim Studies, I’d say that the full-time snowboarder is the smart one.

    1. Not to mention probably being a lot happier without his head being filled with entitled victim BS.

  7. Oh, J.D., you have referenced Better Off Dead. Man, you’re the hottest thing since sunburns!

    1. Tooch is to alt-text what Steigerwald is to being a good sport: fucking awesome.

      1. While true, there was totally a Better Off Dead comment thread like a week ago. Just sayin’.

    2. Two. Dollars!

      1. Well, you’ll make a fine little helper. What’s your name?

        1. “Greendale is a bodaciously small town, Lane. A fly speck on the map – a rest stop on the way to the ski slope. I can’t even get real drugs here!”

          1. Shut up, geek.

            1. Look Epi, I gotta do this. If I don’t, I’ll be nothing. I’ll end up like my neighbor Saccharin Man. He just sits around crocheting all day and snorting nasal spray.

            2. I’m really sorry your mom blew up, Epi.

              1. My little brother got his arm stuck in the microwave. So my mom had to take him to the hospital. My grandma dropped acid this morning, and she freaked out. She hijacked a busload of penguins. So it’s sort of a family crisis. Bye!

                1. Truly a sight to behold. Epi, a man beaten. The once great champ, now, a study in moppishness. No longer the victory hungry stallion we’ve raced so many times before, but a pathetic, washed up, aged ex-champion.

    3. + one copy of How to pick up Trashy Women

      1. + one copy of How to Build a Space Shuttle in Your Living Room

      2. + one copy of How to pick up Trashy Women

        What’s to learn? I had one try to pick me up the first day I was married. With my brand-new wife standing right there. The look on my face must have been priceless.

    4. He keeps putting his testicles all over me!

  8. Better Off Dead quotes from Curtis Armstrong in the alt text?!?!?

    Looks like I have a new favorite writer at Reason.

    1. J.D. wants your two dollars.

  9. there’s alot to be said for the EU model which aptitude tests early, then tracks vocational or college prep. >moar should take advantage of vacational educations

    1. Isn’t the snowboarder taking advantage of a vacational education?

    2. Don’t you read The Washington Post? Running a school system that way is racist. Also, we have to slip in the obligatory reference to Finland, which is the only foreign country whose schools we are allowed to consider because it just is.

      1. Exactly. The US education system used to work that way and has been slowly dismantled.

        My older sisters in the early 70’s took vocational programs in high school, one of them is now a Ph. D. My younger sister in the mid 80’s went to the same high school and the vocational programs my older sisters took no longer existed. I see no reason why secretarial programs were removed simply because Gregg shorthand was replaced with word processors.

        But there’s plenty of federal money in school underperformance – it pays better to force a kid into college prep he/she can’t handle than there is in tracking them into vocational programs they can actually succeed in.

  10. Petroleum Engineering ftw.

  11. This is a great companion piece to Doherty’s Burning Man post.

  12. “There’s little doubt that fewer people should be dropping out of high school…”

    Wait, what?

    1. There’s a free shitty education, and then there’s no education. Forgoing the free shitty education is still pretty stupid, unless you really are that rare entrepreneurial super-genius who will succeed after saying FU to everyone.

      1. There are much better, free educations to be had online. That with a decent parent or two will put you far ahead of most public school graduates.

        1. Right on, Ryan. Any doubters, check out MIT’s stuff.

          1. Here’s another site with a lot of free classes; I don’t know yet how good they are, but it looks promising.


        2. Yeah, HS drop-outs are doing so to surf for online educational opportunities.


          You’re missing the point. The unstated but assumed factoid about drop-outs is that an overwhelming majority have ceased their education process.

          So talking about what they could be doing doesn’t tell you shit about what they are actually doing.

  13. “There are 80,000 bartenders in the United States with bachelor’s degrees,” Vedder said. He says that 17 percent of baggage porters and bellhops have a college degree, 15 percent of taxi and limo drivers. It’s hard to pay off student loans with jobs like those.

    I thought a Master’s degree was now the minimum requirement to get a job at Starbuck’s.

    1. Unless they have an education major and then it requires a doctorate.

      1. I knew some Ed.D. types when I was in school. I wouldn’t trust them to serve coffee without scalding themselves and the customers.

    2. 80000 seems low. But I’ve lived in a college town for the last eight years.

  14. Hey JD, is it alright if I ask Beth out tonight?

    1. Look, Sparky. I’ve been going to this school for seven and a half years. I’m no dummy.

      1. Suicide is never the answer, little trooper.

        1. Buck up little Sparky,We’ll beat this slope — TOGETHER!

    2. Only if you take her on the K-12, dude.

      1. J.D. you ski the K-12 and girls will get sterile just looking at you!

      2. Go that way, really fast. If something gets in your way, turn.

        1. Now that’s a real shame, when folks be throwin’ away a perfectly good white boy like that.

          1. What’s a little guy like you doing with big boy smut like this?

          2. “Fra-nch fries, Fra-nch dressing…”

  15. “they had about two years more schooling than their parents,

    Did they literally try to correlate number of years in school with how educated someone is? I spent 8 years in grad school, does that mean I’m smarter than 99% of baby boomers?

    Maybe some of us were smart enough to take summer school so we could get a 5 year degree in 3-4.

    1. “Lots of people go to college for seven years”

      “Yeah, they’re called ‘doctors’.”

      1. “Pre-Med, Pre-Law: What’s the difference?”

        1. GPA comes to mind.

  16. The US needs more debt slaves.

    1. Nancy Pelosi: I wish Americans would earn more so they’d pay more


  17. This thread kinda pisses me off because Savage Steve Holland is writing for kids shows and Michael Bay hasn’t been breaded and deep fried for sale at a Brewers game.

    1. I’m intrigued by your ideas and was wondering if I may subcribe to your newsletter?

  18. “There are 80,000 bartenders in the United States with bachelor’s degrees,” Vedder said. He says that 17 percent of baggage porters and bellhops have a college degree, 15 percent of taxi and limo drivers. It’s hard to pay off student loans with jobs like those.

    But then in Europe young people are lucky to find jobs at all with or without college degrees.

    Luckily for them, if they have degrees they have no student debt because everyone knew those kids would pay for college with all those taxes they’d be paying because of the great high paying jobs they’d be getting because the government paid for their sheepskins .

  19. If more is better, let’s require everyone to attend 12 years of college. We’ll call it “K-24” education. Then, when they graduate, they will all make a gajillion dollars a year and the economy will be saved.

  20. “Oh No! U.S. Falls Behind in Sheepskin Race!”

    I read the title of this post and thought it was another Sandra Fluke story.

  21. “There are 80,000 bartenders in the United States with bachelor’s degrees,” Vedder said. He says that 17 percent of baggage porters and bellhops have a college degree, 15 percent of taxi and limo drivers. It’s hard to pay off student loans with jobs like those.

    Unless you’re working those jobs to help pay for grad school. Also, in a time of high unemployment, better to be a part-time taxi driver than unemployed. I had a 3 month bartending stint during the last recession after I got laid off. It paid decently and didn’t conflict with job interviews.

  22. I completed my undergraduate in 3 years. I guess that makes me worse off than my peers who take 4 or 5 years to get their undergraduate.

  23. It’s hard to pay off student loans with jobs like those.

    Depends on where you went to college and whether you worked while you were in college.

    To equate a college degree with hefty student loan debt is fallacious.

    1. To equate a college degree with hefty student loan debt is fallacious.

      Didn’t go to med school, I see. Nor did you attend an Ivy League school sans a silver spoon or spectacular scholarship.

  24. “up to a point, an additional year of schooling is likely to raise an individual’s earnings about 10 percent”

    That is guaranteed by the silliness of government job classifications. Remove government job-holders from the statistics and the earnings increase is probably a lot lower than 10%.

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