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Too Many People Go to College

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    I believe that the obsession with telling everyone to ‘get an education’ is misguided and has been incredibly harmful to our society. While higher education may benefit individuals, sending as many people as we do into higher education is not a net benefit to the country. Close to 70% of graduating high school students are now attending college of some sort directly after graduation. This has had a number of unfortunate results: When 70% of the population wants to go on to higher education, it means that there will be a mathematical guarantee that a significant amount of individuals with below average academic skills, intelligence and education will be attending. The result is that schools either must admit students that they know can’t handle the workload or reduce the academic rigor in order to accommodate less capable students.

    The latter is a major disservice to the capable students, both because they learn less and because it makes college less useful as to employers as a discriminating factor. Employers can no longer use a bachelors degree as a meaningful discriminator because they are way too common. When having a bachelors degree in a field not directly related to your job (non-STEM) was less common, an employer could infer that whoever had it was at least of an above average intelligence and academic ability, even if they didn’t go to an elite educational institution. Essentially saying, ‘even though an English degree isn’t really directly related to this job, this person still must be reasonably capable to have gotten a degree at all.’ Now that degrees are handed out left and right, this is not longer useful.

    It is also very damaging to capable people who didn’t get a degree and has forced people to take on more debt to attend graduate school or accept lower salaries in order to be competitive. Too many people are taking courses of study that aren’t economically useful. Someone with 40th percentile intelligence is not going to be able to complete a degree in organic chemistry or mechanical engineering, so the result is they study largely useless degrees, wasting their time and money learning stuff they will never use on any job. While I certainly believe that having academics in a society has value, there is a limit of how many history and psychology degrees can be given out and still have marginal value to society. The jobs just aren’t there for the majority of people to justify the time and cost of college.

    A significant portion of people going to college would be much better off learning an in demand trade or skill. Spending 4 years of your life and going deep into debt had better improve your employment prospects, and I really don’t believe it does for most people of average to below average ability. Go into a retail store or restaurant in a major city and odds are that multiple non-management employees will have degrees. 20 years ago, this would have been unheard of. Now, I know there is a ton of statistics that say that people who go to college earn more, but I contend that there is a ton of selection bias in this data because the most talented, able, and best connected people tend to go to college and losers, slackers and sub 90 IQ people tend not to.

    For example, I believe that if you expelled the entire entering class at Harvard and banned them from going to any college at all, a large majority of them would still be high income earners 10 years later. I believe this is corroborated by the fact that the inflation adjusted median income for middle income people has remained more or less stagnant in spite of more and more people going to college (ie people who used to have blue collar/trades jobs now go to school for no aggregate benefit). Almost all of the wage growth has gone to the highest earners – essentially the jobs that always required higher education, even when going to college was comparatively rare. I also understand the softer benefits of going to college- personal growth, networking, ‘finding yourself’, etc. This is all well and good, but for something that costs as much as it does, it just doesn’t make sense for the majority of people.

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