How Student Loans Create Demand for Useless Degrees

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If one is going to go to college the best way to do it is with someone else’s money. If that can’t be done at least spend your money, and it will be a pile of money, on a degree which will serve you well. There isn’t a huge demand for sociologists. Art history, as much as I love it, is not a strong major either.


Last week, former Secretary of Education and US Senator Lamar Alexander wrote in the Wall Street Journal that a college degree is both affordable and an excellent investment. He repeated the usual talking point about how a college degree increases lifetime earnings by a million dollars, “on average.” That part about averages is perhaps the most important part, since all college degrees are certainly not created equal. In fact, once we start to look at the details, we find that a degree may not be the great deal many higher-education boosters seem to think it is.

In my home state of Minnesota, for example, the cost of obtaining a four-year degree at the University of Minnesota for a resident of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Manitoba, or Wisconsin is $100,720 (including room and board and miscellaneous fees). For private schools in Minnesota such as St. Olaf, however, the situation is even worse. A four-year degree at this institution will cost $210,920.

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$210,020. Imagine having that much capital to start a business instead.