Have College Degrees Become Obsolete?

, Malcolm A. Kline, 1 Comment

This is a question being asked on both sides of the Ivy-covered walls.

Charismatic TV host Mike Rowe, for example, strongly suggests that making bricks and mortar could be more lucrative than occupying buildings made of it. “People don’t want these jobs because they are under a lot of mistaken assumptions about what they pay and whether or not they’re good or bad jobs and all this other nonsense,” Rowe said recently. “And meanwhile we’ve got 1½ trillion dollars in student loans.”

“We’re still telling our kids that a four-year degree is still the best path for most people.” Tom Quimby writes in The Washington Times that “Mr. Rowe’s foundation, mikeroweWORKS.org, has awarded about 1,000 scholarships resulting in certifications for trades like welding, plumbing and carpentry.”

An economist from George Mason University is making a surprisingly similar argument. “Typical students burn thousands of hours studying material that neither raises their productivity nor enriches their lives,” Bryan Caplan writes in his new book The Case against Education: Why the Education System Is a Waste of Time and Money. “And of course, students can’t waste time without experts to show them how.”

George Leef of the James G. Martin Center for Education Renewal, notes that he has seen this trend even in professions widely viewed as demanding an advanced degree. “As most lawyers will attest, the knowledge they use in their work is rarely anything they recall from law school (see this piece by Hans Bader),” Leef, a lawyer himself, writes. “Rather, it was learned on the job.”

“But they are not allowed to just apprentice into law firms any longer; first, they must go through college and then law school. That entails huge social costs that don’t bring about any greater legal competence but do drive up the fees lawyers must charge.”