Disinvest in higher education

student loan diploma mill, cagle, Feb. 4, 2013Feb. 5, 2013

By Joseph Perkins

College is overrated. That’s the ineluctable conclusion to be drawn from a new study published by the Center for College Affordability and Productivity.

The study’s co-authors, Richard Vedder, Jonathan Robe and Christopher Denhart, examined employment data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. They found that nearly half of college grads in 2010 held jobs that didn’t even require a college diploma.

The center’s findings jibe with U.S. Census data, released last November on recent college grads here in California. Some 260,000 of the Golden State’s supposed best and brightest were working food service, retail, clerical, personals services or other menial jobs the last two years or so.

Now, the prevailing wisdom is that the underemployment of recent college grads, those still in their twenties, is attributable to the Great Recession, which lasted from 2007 to 2009.

But researchers Vedder, Robe and Denhart note that the trend has been underway since at least the 1970s.

Indeed, their study looked at six occupations for which skills have not changed appreciably over the past 40 years, including taxi drivers, shipping and receiving clerks, salesmen and retailers, firefighters, carpenters and bank tellers.

In 1970, only 1 percent of taxi drivers were college grads, compared to 15 percent in 2010. Fewer than 5 percent of firefighters boasted college diplomas in 1970, versus 18 percent today.

Vedder, Robe and Denhart argue, persuasively, that the country has an oversupply of college graduates. As a result, employers are increasingly filling with overqualified college grads jobs that used to go to those who needed only a high school diploma or G.E.D.

Those findings have tremendous implications for California. It suggests that roughly half the $43 billion the state will spend on higher education in 2013-14, as proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget, is a waste of money.

Indeed, by operating on the egalitarian notion that any and every California high school student should go on to college and should obtain a degree, the state actually has devalued higher education.

At the same time, it has marginalized many, if not most, of the state’s high school grads, who really don’t want to go to college — or don’t need to go to college — for the jobs and careers in which they are interested, or for which they are suited.


If Brown and the Legislature weren’t beholden to the higher education establishment — the University of California Board of Regents, the California State University Board of Trustees, the California Community Colleges’ Board of Governors — they would reinvent post-secondary education to reflect the realities of the population the state is supposed to be serving.

California doesn’t need 10 UC campuses, 23 CSU campuses and 112 community colleges. It probably could make do with half as many of each.

Indeed, all one has to look at is how much UC and CSU schools have lowered admissions standards over the years to enroll so many students who otherwise would not qualify. Or how many community college students drop out before completing their studies.

By diverting resources to vocational education that now go exclusively to higher education, California can better match up the state’s high schoolers with their interests and skill sets.

Collegians could concentrate themselves on careers that actually require an expensive four-year degree — such engineering, investment banking, software development or financial analysis.

Meanwhile, those who opted for vocational education could pursue careers in rewarding fields that don’t require college, such as automotive services, computers and information technology, hotel and restaurant management, events planning and sports and entertainment.

By investing more on vocational ed and less on higher ed, state education spending would be far more cost-effective, saving California taxpayers billions of dollars each year.

And there would be far fewer overqualified, underemployed UC, CSU and community college grads waiting tables to pay off their student loans.


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  1. Rex the Wonder Dog!
    Rex the Wonder Dog! 5 February, 2013, 05:39

    Indeed, all one has to look at is how much UC and CSU schools have lowered admissions standards over the years to enroll so many students who otherwise would not qualify.

    Joseph, don’t know where you found this lie but the admissions standards are going UP, and have been, virtually Evey year at CSU and UC.

    Reply this comment
  2. Hondo
    Hondo 5 February, 2013, 18:05

    Put the public teachers unions outa biz by schooling online at the Khan academy. Almost everything is free online. Wadda we need the teachers unions for. Just some people to administer tests.

    Reply this comment
  3. Ian Random
    Ian Random 6 February, 2013, 11:39

    I would disagree about the community colleges since they actually teach useful skills. Now having Monterey State, UCSC and San Jose State so close might benefit from culling.

    Reply this comment
  4. BobA
    BobA 7 February, 2013, 09:42

    Colleges would do a lot better if they stop offering worthless degrees like ethnic studies or sociology and they wouldn’t have to lower their standards if they started putting an emphasis on science and engineering.

    You can’t lower the standards on physics, chemistry, mathematics and course of that nature. Either you have the aptitude or you don’t. Those who don’t have the aptitude will drop out at the end of the first class.

    Yes, I’m biased because my degree is in electrical engineering with a minor in applied mathematics which took long hours of studying and I didn’t have time to party my way through college or hang out with the losers in worthless degree programs.

    By the way: many of the people I know with worthless degrees went into a union job where there’s a ceiling on how much you’re ever going to make.

    Reply this comment
  5. C.J.
    C.J. 8 February, 2013, 13:47

    The fact that nearly half of college grads held jobs that didn;t require degrees reveals a bias inside most HR departments.
    I was shocked a few years back when, while looking for a job, I discovered that one needed a bachelor’s degree to drive the Coke delivery trucks.
    The college degree has become the basis for a new form of discrimination in this country.

    Reply this comment

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