Stossel: The College Scam

Government pushing college harms America.


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A new book makes the case against education. Who would argue against education?

Economics professor Bryan Caplan. He tells John Stossel that "what we need to do is to go back to a world where college is not so accessible."

That's because most people don't learn much in college. Studies find that a third of people haven't learned anything detectable after four years in college.

Yet government pours about $80 billion a year into college subsidies.

"Taxpayers ought to know that they're getting ripped off," Caplan tells Stossel.

He says taxpayer money mostly helps more people signal their ability to conform to college expectations.

When people get fancier degrees, says Caplan, "their income generally goes up…but the reason…is not really that college is pouring tons of job skills into you. The reason is that it's impressive."

Lots of signaling, he points out, is bad for society.

"Imagine that you were at a concert, everyone's sitting down and you want to see better," Caplan says. "What can you do? Well, you can stand up, and of course then you'll see better. Now, it does not follow though that if everyone stands up, everyone sees better."

As more people get degrees, more employers demand that "signal."

Employers now require degrees for "jobs where it used to be crazy to think they would need a college degree," like being a high-end waiter, says Caplan.

Stossel pushes back: Surely college is also about learning.

Caplan responds that if students wanted to learn they can just walk on to a campus and attend class. Caplan says professors are happy to let the student attend. But few students do that.

"In people's bones they realize that what really counts is that diploma," Caplan argues.

Caplan does think college is great for a few people like him—tenured professors. He can never be fired, gets paid well, and only has to teach classes for five hours a week.

"That's a scam," Stossel responds, "we're paying so much money for people like you to teach five hours."

"Yeah. Well, I'm a whistleblower," Caplan quips.

Caplan says we should stop subsidizing the scam: "The wisest solution…would be if government just got out."

Stossel agrees: Separate school and state.

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The views expressed in this video are solely those of John Stossel; his independent production company, Stossel Productions; and the people he interviews. The claims and opinions set forth in the video and accompanying text are not necessarily those of Reason.