21 September 2011

Paragraphs to Ponder

Too much of anything is just as much a misallocation of resources as it is too little, and that applies to higher education just as it applies to everything else. A recent study from The Center for College Affordability and Productivity titled "From Wall Street to Wal-Mart," by Richard Vedder, Christopher Denhart, Matthew Denhart, Christopher Matgouranis and Jonathan Robe, explains that college education for many is a waste of time and money. More than one-third of currently working college graduates are in jobs that do not require a degree. An essay by Vedder that complements the CCAP study reports that there are "one-third of a million waiters and waitresses with college degrees." The study says Vedder – distinguished professor of economics at Ohio University, an adjunct scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and director of CCAP – "was startled a year ago when the person he hired to cut down a tree had a master's degree in history, the fellow who fixed his furnace was a mathematics graduate, and, more recently, a TSA airport inspector (whose job it was to ensure that we took our shoes off while going through security) was a recent college graduate."
The nation's college problem is far deeper than the fact that people simply are overqualified for particular jobs. Citing the research of AEI scholar Charles Murray's book Real Education (2008), Vedder says: "The number going to college exceeds the number capable of mastering higher levels of intellectual inquiry. This leads colleges to alter their mission, watering down the intellectual content of what they do." In other words, colleges dumb down courses so that the students they admit can pass them. Murray argues that only a modest proportion of our population has the cognitive skills, work discipline, drive, maturity and integrity to master truly higher education. He says that educated people should be able to read and understand classic works, such as John Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding or William Shakespeare's King Lear. These works are "insightful in many ways," he says, but a person of average intelligence "typically lacks both the motivation and ability to do so." Mastering complex forms of mathematics is challenging but necessary to develop rigorous thinking and is critical in some areas of science and engineering.

The facts are this: We do not need a lot of rocket scientists.  Oh sure, we need some, just as we need some engineers, doctors, physicists and computer programmers.
But we also need lots of people who work with their hands and we must have an economy that favors producing things.  Outsourcing the building of things to places where labor is $5/day does not produce a strong middle class.  The fact of the matter is that whether we like it or not intelligence is a bell curve and the average is 100.  The average person is not the award-winning rocket scientists of tomorrow, nor the innovator in high-tech design.  That's the guy or gal who's two, three, or even four standard deviations beyond "normal" intelligence.
All economies need those people, but those people are not the norm.  The norm is the guy or gal who builds cars, nails on roofs, repairs plumbing and fixes your AC when it breaks.  He or she needs a trade making and maintaining things, and those things need to be produced here.
Pull your head out of your ass America.  We can neither send everyone to college to be a rocket scientist nor should we.  The majority of people are in fact average - that's what average means.  The brightest and best should indeed be given every opportunity to excel, but for everyone else we need an economy that provides real work that rewards them for their ability and effort, and provides a path forward for those individuals.

Anyone who denies that there’s an education bubble is an idiot.  American businesses don’t need a ton of geniuses in order to operate effectively.  As such, there is no point in trying to provide everyone in America with a college education, at least in order to ensure that everyone can have better jobs.  Furthermore, there is no point in training people to push paper if there is no one left to manufacture it.

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