George Mason economics professor Bryan Caplan, at the libertarian think tank Cato Institute, said that college is not worth it for both taxpayers and for low-performing students coming out of high school. He examined it with two important questions:
- Is college worthwhile for the student and is it a good investment?
- Is college a good investment for taxpayers?
Caplan said, “Education is a wasteful arms race, the more you get, the more you need to avoid looking like a loser.” For example, “in 1945, only about 25% of Americans over the age of 25 finished high school.” One used to impress parents and others that you graduated high school, said Caplan, but “not so anymore.” The reason behind this societal change is, “not so much because the jobs that people do have changed radically, but rather, the credentials of the competition have gone up, and you need to match them in order to continue to impress.”
Caplan found that college graduates do indeed make up to 83% more in salaries than do high school graduates. Nevertheless, he avers, “high ability students tend to do the hard majors that pay well.” Thus, Caplan states, “Engineering majors not only have higher quantitative SAT scores than English majors, they have higher verbal scores than English majors.” Caplan calls the difference in wages between college and high school graduates “the education premium” and finds that it varies widely between “soft” studies and harder disciplines. In other words, “the education premium ranges from 24% in education majors…whereas getting a bachelors’ degree will increase your earnings by about 60%,” Caplan explains.
He noted that while most engineering students “don’t see the light of day” in college, other majors “enjoy life” on campus because “most majors are not remotely vocational,” or difficult.