May 16, 2009

Is College Worth It?

Over at NRO, John Derbyshire touched a nerve yesterday when he suggested that, for most Americans, a college education is a waste of time and money.  Many readers wrote in to agree, and there surely is something to what Derbyshire says.  The escalating cost of higher education, which has outstripped inflation for many years, is a scandal.  My father got a first class engineering education at Case Institute of Technology, which at the time of his graduation in 1960 was the most expensive school in Ohio.  He was able to pay for his education by working over the summer at such jobs as selling hot dogs at the Cleveland Zoo.  Today, undergraduate tuition at Case Western Reserve University is $34,450 and the school estimates living costs at $15,294, bringing the total annual cost of a year of undergraduate education at Case to $49,744, a sum no student could pay with summer earnings and that exceeds the annual salary of millions of Americans.  Can anyone claim with a straight face that improvements in education since 1960 justify such an enormous increase in cost?

In fact, what we have done is transform the bachelor’s degree into the equivalent of a diploma from a good public school circa 1960, with this difference:  the high school diploma was free, and the bachelor’s degree is very expensive and getting more expensive all the time.  It is hard to see how Americans have benefited from this.  But Obama wants all Americans to go to college, and he is increasing the already massive federal subsidies to the higher education system.  The stimulus package includes $14 billion for an expanded college-tuition tax credit, $15.6 billion for increased Pell Grants, and $1.3 billion for university research facilities.  Of course, Obama knows that, in addition to being leftists themselves, many teachers and professors use their classrooms to indoctrinate their students in leftism.  The more interesting question is why so many Republicans support these subsidies, and even advocate expanding them,  in the form of the retraining programs we are told will solve the problems caused by globalization.

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