How government made college degrees worth less, a lot less (But they cost more)

college debt There was a time when a bachelors degree was something pretty special. It was unusual for people to have one. Though still only 30% of the adult American population has a 4 year degree that is a lot more than in years past. More prosperous years.

Graduate degrees are also more common. Practically a whole generation has tried to wait out the Great Recession in college.

We’ve been told since birth that in order succeed we must have a college degree if we want to realize the “American Dream.”  This was true for many years. But what happens when the pool of people with bachelor degrees expands enormously thanks to easy government financing of higher education?

A few things happen. College budgets and costs swell with all the money flowing from Washington. This is great news for college administrators and professors. They get paid.

But students incur more debt. These same students then look around and think that they must get an advanced degree to compete in the job market. They take on more debt. Then they get into the workforce and find another 10 million former grad students competing for a job which pays $40,000/year.


It’s been the unofficial policy of many leaders, political and otherwise, to champion higher education as a universal good. Not because they’d studied the demand for certain types of educated workers, but simply as a catch-all solution. The market has long since adjusted to this, but the advice hasn’t: it’s still selling people indiscriminately on a level of education that employers don’t seem to be asking for.

This situation illustrates a major logical flaw in the college argument: if a degree confers advantages over people who don’t have one, what happens when more people get one? The benefit is relative—the more people who take the advice, the less it makes sense. If this is part of the intelligentsia’s case, they need not have spent so much time in school: eighth grade dropout Yogi Berra proved himself perfectly capable of the same error when he said that “nobody goes there any more—it’s too crowded.”

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