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Free Minds & Free Markets

A Heretical Plan for Cutting Spending on Education

Government at all levels fuels an educational arms race through lavish and indiscriminate funding.

Government at all levels fuels an educational arms race through lavish and indiscriminate funding. Given all we know and suspect about the low social returns on investments in schooling, what practical changes should concerned citizens favor?

Sharply reduce government support not only for higher education, but for high school as well.

The increasingly popular "Too many kids are going to college" slogan suggests that social returns are merely low for the weakest post-secondary students. In fact, social returns to education are low virtually across the board.

The good news is that basic economics provides a simple remedy for wasteful investments: Reduce them. If the car industry earns a low return, automakers should respond by building fewer cars, starting with the biggest money losers. As the supply of new vehicles falls, prices will rise…until automobiles are once again worth producing.

Concerned citizens should view schooling with the same investor's eye. If it has a low return, we need less of it. The supply of highly educated workers will fall, but this is a feature, not a bug. As supply falls, market rewards for education will rise…until schooling is once again worth encouraging. In light of the very poor current social returns on education, however, these rewards would truly have to soar first.

In the U.S., spending on public elementary, secondary, and tertiary schools now amounts to almost $1 trillion a year. Private education also relies on subsidized student loans and other government support. This gives society a nearly foolproof remedy for educational waste: Cut budgets for public education and subsidies for private education. Give schools less taxpayer money. The central question isn't "How?" but "Where do we start?"

Cut high school a lot, college more, and master's programs the most.

Governments overinvest in education across the board, but they do not overinvest evenly. As a rule, the "higher" the education, the greater the waste—and the deeper the desirable cuts. The master's degree is a disaster, earning negative returns as far as the eye can see. (Even Excellent Students don't recoup the costs to society of getting an M.A.) Bachelor's degrees aren't quite as awful: Investing in strong students may yield low but positive returns. High school is the least bad. Making generous assumptions, its social return is reliably mediocre—and for low-ability young men, possibly stellar.

Cautious citizens might want to base education policy on very generous assumptions. Why reform the system when there's an outside chance it's not making us worse off? But we should hew to stricter standards. Instead of stacking the deck in favor of the educational status quo, let's base policy on reasonable estimates of the human capital/signaling split. If just two-thirds of the return on education comes from signaling, the individual often profits, but society does not. Heretical as it is, serious cuts—even to high school—are the wise response.

Do not send average or apathetic high school students to college.

Vast swaths of college students earn ruinous social returns. Luckily, their identity is predictable before they set foot on campus.

Aptitude matters: Average high school students generally become weak college students. And motivation matters: Apathetic high school students generally become disengaged college students.

While neither of these generalizations is infallible, sensible investors insist on good bets, not "bets that sometimes don't fail." Note that low aptitude and low motivation tend to go together, as well, because human beings find failure disheartening.

Why do I say "Don't send average or apathetic high school students to college" rather than "Send fewer average and apathetic high school students to college"? Because the social returns for such students aren't merely low; they're ruinous. To bring their returns up to tolerable levels requires a massive increase in the college premium, and a comparably massive reduction in college attendance. So massive, in fact, that average and apathetic high school students must all but vanish from college campuses.

Some idealistic educators insist better pedagogy can revolutionize how much students learn and enjoy learning. Concerned citizens should treat these claims like any other rosy sales pitch: We'll give you our tax dollars after your miraculous revolution delivers on its promise to turn ordinary teens into teachers' pets.

Don't subsidize low-earning majors.

Steering average and apathetic high school students away from college will prevent an enormous waste of social resources. Once students arrive on campus, however, there is another resource bonfire to avoid: low-earning majors. Selfishly speaking, these majors can be a tolerable deal—especially for lovers of literature, history, and the arts. Socially speaking, however, they're an open wound. Returns are negative across the board—even for strong students who enjoy these unprofitable subjects. Subsidizing their studies isn't so much an "educational investment" as a four-year hobby camp.

Make high school, college, and graduate programs more vocational.

Bryan Caplan is a professor of economics at George Mason University and blogger for EconLog. He is author of The Case Against Education: Why the Education System is a Waste of Time and Money (Princeton University Press).

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  • SQRLSY One||

    Also, get rid of degrees-credentials-licenses needed every time I turn around and try to earn a dollar!

    Put up a sign in my front yard, "zits popped here, $5 a crack", and see how fast the dermatologists will go running and crying to the cops, and the cops will come around and shut me down, and probably worse! Then you have to go to a PhD zit-popper, and pay $400 per zit popped!

    Getting rid of licensing will go a LONG way towards making things right! Maybe then I can also scratch my ass w/o a doctor's permission!!! Woo-Hooo!!!!

  • Nardz||

    Preach

  • The Laissez-Ferret||

    Pimple popper MD!

  • LynchPin1477||

    If the car industry earns a low return, automakers should respond by building fewer cars, starting with the biggest money losers.

    I agree with this, but the obvious retort will be "Children aren't cars" or some variation thereof. Using different language can help overcome some of the emotional opposition to these ideas.

  • Longtobefree||

    Children aren't cars, but education is.

  • Earth Skeptic||

    Children aren't cars, but some are made there.

  • SQRLSY One||

    Yes!

    For example, I'm an illegitimate offspring of a rock and roll star,
    Born in the back of a rock and roll car!

    So if this car's a-rockin',
    Don't come a knockin'!

    Gas, Grass, or Ass,
    No one rides for free!

    And so yes, some do pay with ass...

  • Robert||

    You mean you can fart your way onto the bus? Why has nobody told me before! Some weeks I could ride x-country!!

  • Longtobefree||

    I hate to argue with an Economics professor, but there is a built in assumption in this article that tax dollars should be spent on education at all levels, and we are just fiddling with how much.
    Better to eliminate the federal level department of education, and all federal guarantees for college loans. Then the problem will solve itself.
    In an ideal world, states would set the end of schooling as the time when a student can demonstrate a level of English fluency, and mathematical competence sufficient for the business world. Shockingly enough, this will be a different age for different students. But no matter; at that time they are free to go find a company willing to train them in a specific job that the company employs. Or if the choose, and if they can afford it, they can choose a college.
    However, only those who really want college will go, and have a better experience for the lack of disaffected students who don't want or need to be there, but are forced by society to pretend.

  • Mark22||

    Government at all levels fuels an educational arms race through lavish and indiscriminate funding. Given all we know and suspect about the low social returns on investments in schooling, what practical changes should concerned citizens favor?

    The whole article already presumes a progressive and utilitarian point of view of government; that is, it implicitly presumes that it is the purpose of government to accomplish social returns and that it is legitimate to take some people's private property to "invest" it in the education of others.

    It is wrong to forcibly take people's stuff and "invest" it, no matter how useful you may think it is. A libertarian needs no other reason to make that point than the simple fact that it is wrong to forcibly take people's stuff, period. Furthermore it is wrong for government to look out for the good of the many at the expense of individual citizens.

    You cannot win arguments with progressives and totalitarians if you accept their premises ("government exists to generate social returns and can take private property to do so") and merely quibble with them about utility ("social returns are too small").

    "We've already established that you are a prostitute/progressive. Now we're just haggling over the price."

  • Libertarian||

    For better or worse, Reason has a long history of giving advice when it comes to running government more efficiently -- I remember the dead tree Reason magazine in the 1970s with articles advocating higher tolls during peak driving hours, for example. However, you are correct. The first question that needs to be asked is: "Is this a government responsibility?" "Progressives" need to justify that first.

  • LynchPin1477||

    The vast majority of people have, for the last 6,000 years (at least), lived under institutions that forcibly took some people's stuff and gave it to some other people. Given that reality, it is both entirely rational *and* moral to focus on ways of improving the existing ways that people's stuff is taken and what it is then used for.

  • Mark22||

    Given that reality, it is both entirely rational *and* moral to focus on ways of improving the existing ways that people's stuff is taken and what it is then used for.

    True, but such arguments are by their very nature not libertarian arguments. When a writer launches directly into utilitarian and progressive discussions of how to spend education dollars without acknowledgement or qualification, he's not a libertarian.

  • MarkLastname||

    Caplan is an anarcho-capitalist. He's also an economist, and economists are interested in quantifiable costs and benefits rather than moral philosophy. You seem to just be looking for a fight.

  • Mark22||

    Caplan is an anarcho-capitalist.

    He may call himself that, but "anarcho-capitalists" don't make prescriptions about the best way in which government should subsidize education, hence he isn't an "anarcho-capitalist".

    He's also an economist, and economists are interested in quantifiable costs and benefits

    No doubt they are. And when economists say "hey, I know best how to allocate your tax dollars in order to achieve the best outcomes for society", they aren't anarcho-capitalists, nor are the libertarians, they are progressives or fascists.

    You seem to just be looking for a fight.

    I'm simply pointing out that he isn't a libertarian, and I have justified that statement. So far, you seem to agree with me: he's an economist with prescriptions for how the government should run the economy, hence not a libertarian.

  • LynchPin1477||

    ^^ This attitude is part of the problem.

    I'm tempted to say that if your definition of libertarianism effectively cedes the government to statists that you're a statist.

  • Mark22||

    I'm tempted to say that if your definition of libertarianism effectively cedes the government to statists that you're a statist.

    I have no objections to libertarians making utilitarian arguments or influencing our progressive government with rational arguments; I merely believe that they should make a clear distinction when they are making libertarian arguments and when they are making utilitarian arguments.

    The problem with Caplan is that he really isn't a libertarian or an anarcho-capitalist at all, which is why he isn't bothering to make such distinctions. Caplan is just a statist who likes lower taxes because he thinks they are better, and you're ceding the definition of libertarianism to him.

  • Robert||

    they should make a clear distinction when they are making libertarian arguments and when they are making utilitarian arguments.


    Why label them? Isn't that distinction immediately obvious to anyboy who understands such things? For those who don't understand such things, the labels would be useless.

  • Mark22||

    Why label them? Isn't that distinction immediately obvious to anyboy who understands such things?

    Anybody who understands such things doesn't need to hear from Caplan that it would be better if government spent less on education. And, in fact, many people who claim to be libertarians obviously don't understand the distinction either. That likely includes Caplan himself, based on his writings.

    The world is full of progressives who claim to be libertarians because they prefer policies like lower taxes, less regulation, and less government spending; it's those people who are the biggest obstacle to libertarianism, because once you adopt the view that such policies are subject to utilitarian arguments and voter preferences, you have already lost.

  • Robert||

    If somebody steals my $, I'd at least want them to get something good out of it. It'd be extra galling to know that not only was I robbed, but for no benefit to the thief, i.e. that I was robbed for nothing.

  • Robert||

    A libertarian needs no other reason to make that point than the simple fact that it is wrong to forcibly take people's stuff, period.


    Yeah, but then you're done writing, period.

    You cannot win arguments with progressives and totalitarians if you accept their premises ("government exists to generate social returns and can take private property to do so") and merely quibble with them about utility ("social returns are too small").


    Who says you can't? For 1 thing, they're always arguing w each other on those terms, so they must consider them persuasive.

    For another, it's like putting a sign on your car, "no radio". They won't break in if they don't think there's anything worth stealing. If they're vindictive, sure, they'll simply trash your property for nobody's good, but most of them aren't vindictive, they just want good for at least somebody.

  • Mark22||

    Yeah, but then you're done writing, period.

    Not at all. You can say clearly "From a libertarian point of view, this is a question of justice and inalienable rights. However, you progressives are fond of utilitarian arguments, and your policies don't even work from a utilitarian point of view, for the following reasons..."

  • I am the 0.000000013%||

    The government could go a long way in making post secondary education much more competitive be rewriting all their job requirements in terms of certifications instead of degrees.

    Why the private sector doesn't do this across the board is a mystery to me. Unless it's because HR people are trying to justify their existence, then it makes perfect sense to me.

  • chemjeff||

    Current curricula are studiously otherworldly: High schoolers spend about as much time on arts, foreign languages, history, and social studies as they do on English and math. Few college majors these days even pretend to prepare students for jobs, and vocational programs still force people to burn years on "breadth" requirements and esoteric theory.

    A bachelor's degree is not a vocational degree. One of its central premises is to offer a "well-rounded education", which includes classes outside of the student's major. If you don't want this, then don't get a bachelor's degree.

  • susancol||

    If you want to become a physician, dentist, lawyer, research scientist (Ph.D.) you have to have a bachelor's degree to get admitted. Doesn't matter what your MCAT, DAT, LSAT or GRE scores are.

    I will say that we do hope that physicians have a passing understanding of human communication, human nature and human problems and suspect that these skills/competencies are likely not acquired in chem or physics lab, but may well be addressed in certain classics of literature, or even a class on "the function of police in society".

  • Eidde||

    Some of that could be done in a good high school.

  • susancol||

    Amen to that!

  • Chumby||

    But what would happen if all the STEM students no longer were forced into social justice courses? Would a future dentist really want to take classes on feelingz? Getting one of them to attend would be like pulling teeth.

  • MarkLastname||

    And why should everyone else have to pay you to get yours?

  • flyfishnevada||

    That sounds like an individual pursuit. I don't care if my engineer, rocket scientist or brain surgeon can recite Shakespeare or tell you the GDP of Kraplackistan and I bet most employers don't either. Employers don't design degree programs but maybe they should instead of professors, bureaucrats and administrators. We, as a nation, shouldn't be subsidizing "a well-rounded education." If individuals want that, let them pay for it. And honestly, I never went to college yet I'm far more well-rounded than your average college graduate. A few courses at a university does not make one well-rounded.

  • Earth Skeptic||

    I agree that "college for all" is a scam, promoted by the academic-industrial complex, used for their own ends by politicians, and eagerly sought by delusional citizens.

    And I agree, too, that the purpose of higher ed is equally confused, regardless of who is paying and how we judge utility. Once upon a time, when only children of elite families attended Ol' Stuffy U, they could indulge in almost certainly useless efforts to learn the classics and become educated gentlemen. Perhaps the early efforts in US states at A&M colleges had more practical focus, but those applied programs are a small part of current curricula.

    Now we have a monster, that costs more than $500 billion per year (NCES), and seems to produce as much strife as benefit, at both the individual and societal levels. What to do?

  • um ok||

    Do I accurately infer from this article, an argument that tax dollars are not justifiably spent to provide individual benefit? That tax spending can be justified only by the general welfare of all citizens and not by the capricious selection of a class of winners at the expense of all citizens? Welcome to libertarianism, my new friend! Your progressive thought process has (as it usually does) logically forced you so far left, that you're actually all the way around to the right. Perhaps you can now see that the dichotomy of "right vs left" can be a false & artificial narrative.
    As an experiment, try framing your considerations by "force vs liberty" instead, and you may find a logical consistency that makes your life less frustrating and affords a delightful clarity of purpose.

  • Careless||

    Does no one here know who Bryan Caplan is?

  • LynchPin1477||

    It seems not.

  • um ok||

    Was going for a more generalized nudge.
    I sometimes find an argument less successful, compared to an acceptance, followed by an extension to a contradiction.

  • MarkLastname||

    Brian Caplan: left wing progressive utilitarian statist.

  • Mark22||

    Bryan Caplan is a libertarian and anarcho capitalist in the way Bill Nye is a scientist: he plays one on TV for fun and profit.

  • Careless||

    He's actually worse: he's genuinely advocating libertarian policies because he hopes what he advocates will destroy the US. Caplan doesn't advocate for unlimited immigration because he thinks Americans will reduce the welfare state for practical reasons, he thinks it will cause Americans to hate and distrust each other enough that they will reduce the welfare state.

    He's evil.

  • Mark22||

    Oh, I didn't know he was one of the "burn it all down school" of libertarians. That seems dumb enough coming from people like Kokesh, but at least Kokesh doesn't have anything to lose and can probably "live off the land". Caplan's entire livelihood is bound up in academia and government subsidies, and he does not strike me like the kind of person who'd do well if the major political upheaval he desires came to pass. Personally, I'd like to see us shrink government without an intervening state of chaos or anarchy.

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    The author and his wife have a half-dozen or so undergraduate and advanced degrees and four children.

    Anyone wish to predict how many degrees those children will come to possess?

  • Gaear Grimsrud||

    Your point being?

  • susancol||

    I suspect his point (which echoes my own thoughts) is that the proposed solution will only result in a perpetuation of a new aristocracy who "have theirs" and can ensure their kids (whether or not less talented than the kid from the wrong side of the tracks) can take advantage of higher education. I don't think this is a great idea to add or further concentrate the societal power of those exclusive networks while limiting "outside" access.

  • Eidde||

    Let's see what happens when the price isn't artificially inflated with our loans-to-attend-a-residential-college system and more people study online and the government allows skills and aptitude testing of job applicants in place of degrees.

    We'll see how this self-perpetuating aristocracy maintains itself.

  • Eidde||

    I mean, many of them *will* perpetuate themselves, but by virtue of their who-knows-whom connections, not a greater zeal for education.

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    A strong public school system has been demonstrated to be an effective generator of social mobility and societal improvement.

    The people who oppose strong public schools tends to be people alienated from mainstream society by disaffection or superstition; selfish people with resources (often unearned); and people who prefer longing for illusory good old days to reason, tolerance, science, and progress.

  • Mark22||

    The author and his wife have a half-dozen or so undergraduate and advanced degrees and four children.

    So do I (minus the children). Which is why I can tell you with authority that the degrees are bullshit. But they are bullshit you have to put up with in our society, just like you have to pay taxes and refrain from calling Hillary Clinton a "c--t" in public.

  • Earth Skeptic||

    Wait, Hillary is a cult?

  • Chumby||

    She's a cant. Canted to the left.

  • sharmota4zeb||

    Hilary Clinton is not a cunt. Hilary Clinton has a cunt. The core of her campaign was "I'm with her", which was a polite was of saying "Vote for the candidate with a cunt."

  • MarkLastname||

    So, you didn't read the article then.

  • Careless||

    Ok, it's really funny that AK is one of the very few people who posted here who knew who Caplan was.

  • JoeBlow123||

    Best point in the entire threat made by Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland. It sure is easy to preach when the preaching individual knows damn well they will not follow the advice they preach.

    I found the entire premise of this article a bit disturbing. It is blatantly calling for social engineering, just the social engineering that enables the connected/rich to succeed while the scum can quit wasting everyones resource and just become accustomed to pumping the gas of the successful.

    The Economist published a fantastic piece on just such a subject I suggest everyone read, it is titled:

    "An hereditary meritocracy: The children of the rich and powerful are increasingly well suited to earning wealth and power themselves. That's a problem"

    Please give it a read, I thought it was a bit eye opening when I read it.

  • vek||

    A big part of that whole issue is that intelligence is a heritable trait. So smart parents have smart kids, dumb parents dumb kids. The genetic lottery kicks out just enough randomness to make people who don't pay any attention not realize this, but the statistics and science is there and 100% undeniable.

    Something that has become more of a thing the last few decades though is assortative mating, which is to say people marrying people more similar to themselves in intelligence/other traits. People think one of the main reasons behind the increase is that women used to just be picked to be pretty and compliant wives, and guys didn't really care beyond that. Now that women are more free and have different expectations smart men have become more inclined to pick smart women. Whatever the case, it is happening.

    What this means is there are fewer smarts being spread around the gene pool potentially. So the smarts are more concentrated, and the dumbs more concentrated. It is likely to be a self perpetuating issue due to the nature of breeding, and a societal change in who marries who will probably have to happen before anything changes here. Until then the haves will have and the have nots will have not.

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    Another big part of this is bright flight -- the smart, ambitious young people in substandard communities head toward campuses and modern, successful cities upon high school graduation, never to return, leaving an increasingly concentrated residue of unattractive, unproductive attributes in already shambling rural and southern communities.

    Conservatives do not wish to discuss the issue because their electoral coalition relies heavily on the wrong end of bright flight.

  • vek||

    As much as I disagree with 99% of what you post, this is more or less true.

    Frankly, I totally get why a 140 IQ guy would want to bail out of a farming town in Kansas. There's nothing for him there, other than starting some business and running circles around his local competition maybe. What has mystified me though is all the people leaving big cities in the midwest/south for the coasts.

    I don't think this has served their interests, or the country. I live in Seattle, and it has become a hell hole over the last 10 years. Your true standard of living here is absolute garbage even if you make well into the six figures. Practically speaking, you have to make about 150K a year to live like somebody who makes 60K a year in a major midwest city that isn't Chicago. It's not worth it anymore, which is why I am getting out and taking my company elsewhere.

    A lot of it is businesses overly concentrating their offices on the coasts, which is not peoples fault. But hopefully the trend changes. City living IS a natural thing in the modern world I think, but it doesn't have to ALL be concentrated in a dozen coastal cities, when there are another 100 decent sized cities that provide the basic necessities businesses actually need out of a city.

    I think it's all hipsterism on the part of CEOs, especially in the case of tech companies. They could save so much cash by opening up an Atlanta/Dallas/Cleveland office or whatever it'd be crazy, which is why I imagine they will sooner or later.

  • Mark22||

    "An hereditary meritocracy: The children of the rich and powerful are increasingly well suited to earning wealth and power themselves. That's a problem"

    That's true, but it's not a problem. Over the last century, the US has become increasingly meritocratic: intelligence, skill, and hard work let you succeed more and more. And those traits are strongly heritable. That's why you see successful parents have successful kids. That's the way it should be.

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    The way it should be is that merit, effort, and responsible risk-taking should be rewarded and unearned privilege (inherited wealth, inherited opportunity) should be diminished. America made great progress along this line for decades, but appears to have sustained setbacks during the most recent couple of decades.

    I expect a resurgence toward the better during the next couple of decades.

  • vek||

    The problem with separating "unearned" wealth/opportunity, from actual skill, is that skill is largely genetic and passed from parents to children, just like wealth. So you get a double whammy of most smart people being born to smart and rich parents, who give them every advantage ON TOP OF them already being naturally smarter.

    So smart kid is basically set from the get go, but the dumb kid from dumb parents with no advantages is also doomed from the get go. There's no avoiding it. The thing we want is for the genetic anomaly who is smart, but that is born to dumb/poor parents, is to allow him/her to rise as far as their merit will allow them.

    Honestly I think in America we have plenty of hand ups, more than enough in fact, for those that are smart. I never new a smart kid in school who didn't learn how to read/write/do math, and have all the basics put in front of them to go on to a college if that was what made sense. It's trying to pretend dumb people can do the same things smart people can that had led to most of the problems. They can't. The universe is cruel, and some people are simply destined to be low on the totem pole.

    There's really nothing to be done about it, other than encouraging more PHDs to marry trailer/ghetto trash or something.

  • Gaear Grimsrud||

    " Few college majors these days even pretend to prepare students for jobs, and vocational programs still force people to burn years on "breadth" requirements and esoteric theory."
    When my son embarked on his degree we took him to his chosen university and went through the "orientation" process. The sales pitch had very little to do with academics, let alone career potential, but was heavily geared to the college lifestyle. Dorms, clubs, sports, workout facilities, cafeteria offerings etc. The recommended course load included a couple of years wasted on BS classes that had nothing to do with his chosen field, chemistry. After touring the dorms and facilities he immediately decided to live at home even though it meant a 30 mile commute. He then sat down and determined exactly the minimum required classes required to get his degree and enrolled. It took 4 and a half years for him to graduate but in the meantime he worked part time, got married, had a kid, and bought a house. He did lab work for a couple of years and then got into chemical equipment sales. At age 28 he earns a 6 figure income, salary and commission, has a company car, computer, phone, the whole package. He makes more than I have ever made in my 40 plus years of working.

  • Gaear Grimsrud||

    The university system is designed to be just another 4 years of high school. Adults are treated like children and encouraged to delay engaging in the world of grown up responsibility. This culture has led to things like the SJW nonsense that seems to dominate academia. Grown ups with work to do don't have time for that shit. It has also left us with thousands of unemployed individuals with 4 year degrees living in mom's basement.
    We can argue about professor Caplan's libertarian purity but I cannot argue with his logic.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Bravo!

  • Chumby||

    I suppose he and his wife have the right chemistry.

  • Sevo||

  • vek||

    Yeah, most people go about college completely wrong. I REALLY just don't know what ANYBODY is thinking who gets those completely useless degrees like Art, Russian Lit, etc. What kind of parent can allow their kid to be THAT stupid??? It's crazy. If we were graduating more people with useful life skills, college would not be THAT bad for smart kids. Problem is even half the somewhat smart kids seem to study completely useless crap, and take twice as long to do that as to get a useful 2 year or whatever of some sort.

    It's all a shit show. When I have kids I'm going to encourage them to do something like your son did. I won't allow them to be idiots, no matter how hard they try!

  • markm23||

    My uncle's Russian Lit degree got him a job as a translator at the UN - but he didn't make a career of it, nor did he want to work for the CIA. He became a corporate HR manager. So in the end, aside from whatever personal satisfaction he derived from this study, his degree served only for signaling that he was literate, middle-class, and had finished at least one thing he started. His state college degree in the 1960's didn't cost a whole lot, other than the opportunity cost of four years when he could not seek a full-time, full-year job, which in itself probably cost him more than the degree gained him in the job market.

    Now, unless they can get the GI bill to pay most of the cost. a four-year degree will not only cost my grandchildren all the family can contribute, but leave them with a huge debt that can't be discharged in bankruptcy. Very valuable job skills had better come with that degree - and only 1 out of 5 seems smart enough for such a job.

  • H. Farnham||

    I had high hopes for this article before reading. However, it seemed rife with collectivist advocacy for central planning and social engineering. Kind of like how most people think 'the wrong politicians are in power' rather than 'politicians have too much power'; the author seems to be arguing that vast resources are forcibly collected and spent on the wrong educational goals for society.

    I agree with his stance that subsidies should be greatly reduced, especially for higher education. However, publicly funded education should emphasize breadth and a well-rounded knowledge base. Value in outcomes and decisions for further educational or career opportunities should then be decided on an individual basis. Individuals should then be free to live with the consequences, good or bad, of those decisions.

  • vek||

    I agree that there is value in a rounded education, but should the government be paying for it? I mean IF we're going to have socialized education at all, which I'm okay with NOT having, but if we are... Should it not only pay for things that are actually useful for society? So like STEM and other practical things? If somebody wants to study some esoteric stuff, I think that's fine, but perhaps don't cover that kind of stuff under ANY government programs? In other words Computer Science you can get a student loan for, but not for being an Art major? I suspect this would result in far better outcomes. We'd still have Art majors, but they'd mostly be people who were super serious about it, or had rich parents. I don't think that'd be a horrible outcome since the nation probably graduates 1000x the number of Art majors as it needs right now!

  • Hank Phillips||

    People who study Math, Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Logic leave college prepared to live by their wits. Those who study Sociology, Comparative anything, Law, Modern Art and Ethnic studies are surprised they aren't even qualified to be parasites. History is a good auto-didactic subject, since in government schools it amounts to brainwashing through elision.

  • JoeBlow123||

    So it was spoken, so it is!

    Thanks for this authoritative pronouncement champ.

  • CE||

    I think the Law graduates are pretty well qualified to be parasites, actually.

  • markm23||

    A law degree pays off pretty well for the minority of students that become top-notch lawyers - but for the most part, that just makes them high-paid parasites, with a negative value to society. And they all get crushing debt loads, even if they are financial failures as lawyers, fail to ever pass the bar exam, or even drop out.

  • sharmota4zeb||

    I started thinking about dropping out of my PhD program when I read a comparison of the "years of education" provided to residents in different countries. The fact that leaders of academia view the time I spent in class as an output, not an input, indicates how useless education is. The industry is geared more towards providing educators with salaries and audiences than towards providing students with opportunities.

  • Dale||

    There's an easy way to reduce the cost of primary education.

    We pay about $12,000 per child per year to attend primary school.

    Give parents the option of taking $6,000 and putting their kids in any other school: private, homeschool, etc. The government immediately saves 50%, parents get the choice of education for their children, and anyone that wants to leave their kids in the government schools may do so.

  • Dale||

    There's an easy way to reduce the cost of primary education.

    We pay about $12,000 per child per year to attend primary school.

    Give parents the option of taking $6,000 and putting their kids in any other school: private, homeschool, etc. The government immediately saves 50%, parents get the choice of education for their children, and anyone that wants to leave their kids in the government schools may do so.

  • Mark22||

    The purpose of public education is to (1) indoctrinate children into voting for statism/socialism, and (2) create jobs for government employees. If you give parents the option of putting their children in any other school, obviously neither of these purposes will be accomplished.

  • vek||

    Which is precisely why school vouchers are fought SOOOO hard even though they've been shown to be liked by parents, save money, and produce better educations!

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    You sound quite disaffected, Mark22.

    Maybe America's greatness just isn't for you.

  • Brightly||

    The Federalist had an interesting suggestion a few years back: put the colleges on the hook for the default on student loans. They'll be less inclined to fund departments where students have little possibility of finding jobs.

  • Richard Stallman||

    This recommendation overlooks the importance of a good education in
    teaching people to think critically and argue logically and persuasively.
    The students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School learned to
    speak clearly and persuasively with the help of a good education,
    including programs such as debate, drama, and journalism.

    https://slate.com/news-and-politics/ 2018/02/the-student-activists-of-marjory -stoneman-douglas-high-demonstrate-the-power- of-a-full-education.html

    I think this is one of the best investments we can make in our future.

  • Eidde||

    The students also learned that arresting their fellow students was unfair, which is perhaps why the shooter didn't have a criminal record.

  • The Laissez-Ferret||

    Yeah, it had nothing to do with the fact that they were coached and told what to say and have it rehearsed in time for the slew of interviews.

  • Tony||

    Keep criticizing schoolkids who lived through a school shooting guys. I'm sure that'll work out well for you.

  • vek||

    Whatever dude, it's true. I knew multiple people who died in high school under tragic circumstances... Maybe not quite as bad as a school shooting, but it was messed up. They'll survive. Maybe some of them will grow up to be intelligent human beings even and realize they were just being used as political tools by people who are ACTUAL assholes, instead of those merely pointing out that they're spewing incorrect talking points.

  • Mark22||

    We're not criticizing the schoolkids, we are criticizing the jerks who misuse and lie to these kids in order to further their deplorable political agenda.

  • Mark22||

    This recommendation overlooks the importance of a good education in
    teaching people to think critically and argue logically and persuasively.

    Too bad that they are being taught to "think critically and argue logically and persuasively" for neo-Marxism and fascism.

    I think this is one of the best investments we can make in our future.

    In fact, turning high school kids into little brown shirts or neo-Marxists is one of the most surefire ways of destroying our future.

  • Robert||

    I once tutored a hydrocephalic high schooler. What math was she given? Business math! I thought then, why are they saving the useful stuff for the brain-damaged? Why didn't my academic prep school even offer business math? Why wasn't it taught in grade school?

    BTW, she wound up going to college.

  • buybuydandavis||

    Educational subsidies are funding for the Progressive Theocracy

  • CE||

    Here's my plan:

    Close all the government schools, just in case.
    Let rich and middle class parents pay to send their kids to private schools.
    Let poor parents send their kids to schools run by private charities and churches.
    Let parents who choose home school their kids.
    Let groups of parents in neighborhoods pool their resources and hire tutors or teachers.

    It would cost way less and provide better results. As a bonus all the unproductive administrative staff will be freed up to do real work.
    Most of what you need to learn is online now.
    The biggest problem with public education is that parents don't care. When they have to pay, they will care more.

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