Maybe There is No Fixing the Academic Job Market

21 05 2010

That is the provocative title of a post by Megan McArdle.

Is Higher Education Worth It?

18 05 2010

A small but noisy group of authors in the United States argue that going to college is overrated. These authors, most of whom are conservatives, say that many students who go to college today should not be there. Their ranks include Richard K. Vedder of Ohio University and  the political scientist Charles Murray, who once advanced controversial arguments about race, poverty, and the genetic determinants of intelligence.  They argue that the US is producing a generation of barristas with sociology degrees. This is an argument that has been heard since the 1970s, when a book called the Over-Educated American was published by Richard Freeman.

In today’s New York Times, David Leonhardt has published a very effective rejoinder to these critics: the hard data regarding the growing income differential between Americans who have a degree and those who don’t. This data shows that the differential has been growing since the late 1970s. (Richard Freeman’s timing could not have been worse and in event Freeman should have been more aware of the irony of an educated man writing a book to criticize education).

Leonhardt writes: “Relative to everyone else, college graduates have never done better than they are doing right now. In absolute terms, of course, they too have been hurt by the deep recession that began in late 2007. But they have suffered much less, on average, than workers with less education. They have been less likely to lose their jobs, and their paychecks have survived the downturn much better.”

What is true in the USA appears to be true in other industrialized countries. Let me quote an OECD report, Can The World Be Too Educated?:

“In all OECD countries, the average earnings premium associated with tertiary compared to upper secondary education is more than 25% and in some cases is more than 100%. Also, in those countries that have not expanded their third-level education, a failure to complete upper secondary education is associated with an 80% greater probability of being unemployed, compared to less than 50% in those countries that have increased tertiary education the most.”

We can argue about the relative merits of different sorts of postsecondary education. In fact, we need much more debate on this issue. However, the benefits of investing in some sort of higher education are an open and shut case. The real question is: why are so many political conservatives in the United States skeptical of higher education when the economic benefits of getting a degree are so obvious? I think that the real answer is connected to the cultural politics of the US and the fear that students who go to university may graduate as pro-gay, cosmopolitan, atheist feminists or something like that.

I have one other thought. US conservatives often attack the European way of doing things (e.g., socialized medicine). “French” is their all purpose term of abuse. However, Charles Murray, etc., seem to be arguing that the US should have a more European system of higher education. In Germany, only a relatively small proportion of young people go to university and the rest are funnelled into apprenticeship programs. The university curriculum is also pretty conservative with a heavy emphasis on rote memorization and tough subjects such as Latin. The US,which has a freer market approach to higher education, has thousands of colleges competing for the tuition dollars of students. The result is that even students with mediocre high school marks can get into some soft college program (e.g., cultural studies) and join a fraternity.

Teaching After Midnight

11 09 2009

Should universities offer classes in the middle of the night? Bunker Hill Community College in Boston appears to think so. Last night they offered their first night-time class: it started at 23:45 and ended at 02:45.  The instructor blogged about it here. Midnight classes were introduced as a way of dealing with a shortage of classroom space caused by a sudden surge in the student population. Some students prefer the late night classes because they are in shift work.

For press commentary, see here, here, and here.  To listen to an interview with the profs involved, click here.