Should goverment divest itself from college?

Ohio University economics professor Richard Vedder, an adjunct scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, discusses why a college education is not the public good its supporters make it out to be and might not be the best investment for the U.S. government:

  • Income inequality has increased in the past four decades of rapidly rising higher education, and the proportion of college students from low income groups is smaller today than four decades ago despite massive expansion of federal loan/aid programs;
  • The statistical correlation between state government higher education spending and economic growth is negative, not positive, suggesting the positive economic spillover effects of governmental university aid are non-existent and maybe even negative;
  • Despite rising higher education attainment, crime rates have not fallen dramatically, voter participation has not risen, volunteerism has not dramatically increased, and other alleged social positive spillover effects of more higher education are  not apparent;
  • Even if there were some positive external benefits, the sharp rise in higher education costs would call into question whether those benefits exceed the costs.
  • Some two million articles are written for academic journals annually, most of which are little read trivial refinements on topics previously well researched and understood.

And he thinks we’re not doing ourselves any favors by admitting students with “lower levels of motivation, prior academic achievement and, yes, human intelligence.”

Read his full Forbes essay here.

  • Neocon ideologue Vedder (clue: American Enterprise Institute) continues promoting the pro-corporate/anti-public sphere agenda. That’s not a surprise. But really, such shoddy argumentation! The entire list of bullet points is a textbook example of trying to claim that correlation is causation (aka “cum hoc ergo propter hoc” logical fallacy). While correlation may be a hint, it is not sufficient to explain cause. There are many “lurking variables” in these wildly inaccurate statements, and “suggestions” of causality.

    And to state that crime rates have not fallen is simply inaccurate. The question is why?

    As an alternative to Vedder’s narrative, I’d recommend talking to UofMN Professor Ellen Messer-Davidow, who has done extensive research and publication on the topic of how convservative think tanks have been active in creating a discourse that devalues the idea of education as a common good.

  • Anonymous

    The argument about higher education being a public good is merely a continuation of the argument about what the government should (or should not) be doing. Certainly there are no absolutes in this argument or we would all be living in caves. I am usually somewhat sympathetic to points Vedder makes about more efficiently running our educational enterprise. We part company on the definition of efficient. As JoannaOC points out some of the points above seem absurd on their face, i.e.

    income inequality- might this have something to do with taxation policy?

    educational spending and economic growth – negative correlation?

    As JOC points out this correlation is absurd to use as an argument against economic growth. There have been surges and depressions over the last 30 years in economic growth that have absolutely no connection to educational spending.

    Voter participation has not increased. We know in Minnesota that, shall we say, a certain party would prefer NOT to have maximum voter participation and this has NOTHING to do with educational spending.

    Crime rates also go up and down in tandem with economic growth and this has NOTHING to do per se with educational spending.

    I agree that educational costs are out of line with benefits, but this has NOTHING to do with the argument over whether higher education is a common good.

    The last point is remarkable. Its sweeping claims are absurd. “Trivial refinements”? Who is to make this decision.

    I am amazed that Professor Vedder would make such arguments. They are reminiscent of the arguments of our local Mitches (Berg and Pearlstein)

    Bill Gleason