Here is a Paradox, if you like such things: America is a Nation of Semi-Literate Buffoons, but America is also a Nation of Over-Educated (but still dumb) service workers. What? “In all, about 17 million people in this country have completed college only to end up working jobs that require a skill level below that of a bachelors degree, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.” That includes 5,057 janitors with Ph.Ds. What is so wrong with being a “maintenance engineer,” we ask? At least it’s a job, right? There’s nothing wrong with it at all, it’s just that you don’t really need eight years of college and a hundred grand in student loan debt to mop up shit and blood in the emergency room, at night.
Richard Vedder of the Chronicle of Higher Education argues that this is one sign the U.S. has over-invested in higher education. He points to a new National Bureau of Economic Research report written by three acclaimed economists, which concludes, “In general, marginal and average returns to college are not the same.” In layman’s terms, that means that even if our investment in higher education is yielding a decent return on average, efforts to build on that investment might yield a less-good return. Or, even more simply put, there is a point of diminishing returns in higher education. And, according to these indicators at least, we appear to have reached it.
Yes and no. America remains pathetically short on graduates with useful advanced degrees, the kind of people who have marketable knowledge and skill sets, such as computer engineers and scientists — the kind of people Google and Apple and Microsoft have to import from India and China.
But the vague, pointless liberal arts degree and its more expensive but equally worthless cousin — the doctorate degree in such mushy “disciplines” as education, physical education or social work — we’ve obviously got way too many people holding those pricey pieces of paper. Anyone who needs seven years of university to master P.E. is a moron.
Still, going to college is better for America than having its bored, unemployed youth join crime gangs or religious cults. That’s why, presumably, the Obama Administration is pushing more than 40 federal programs to expand the number of college graduates in all sorts of useless fields.