Saturday, June 1, 2013

The College Bubble

Divemedic over at Confessions of a Street Phamacist has a good article on the college bubble we're going through, Higher Cost, Lower Value.  Not just the cost bubble, although that's necessarily a big part of it, but the need for college in general.  It's a topic I've written on before, too.  He has some good examples:
In 1880, it cost: $400 per year to attend Vassar. This included tuition, room, board, heat, light, and laundry service. Adjusted for inflation, $400 in 1883 equals $9,635 in 2013.
$300 per year to attend Georgetown. This included room, board, and tuition. Adjusted for inflation, $300 in 1883 equals $7,126 in 2013. Georgetown law charged $150 for the entire law school tuition, and $100 for the entire series of medical school lectures.

Since 1980, inflation has caused everything to more than double in price. What cost $1 in 1980 now costs $2.15. However, every dollar in college tuition in 1980 is now $5.98. That's right, college tuition is rising at a rate that is 5 times higher than inflation.
This inflation in college prices is a terrible burden to today's students, and yet it's brought on almost entirely by the academic sector in collusion with the federal government.  Student loans, now the dominion of alone, are available in essentially unlimited amounts.  There are only so many chairs in the colleges around the country, so the combination of demand for those chairs and assures any price will be met. 

Another place where government (at all levels) pumps the education bubble is by insisting on certain qualifications to be "allowed" to work in an area.  Divemedic writes:
In the 1980s, it was possible to be a Physician Assistant with only an Associate's degree. Now it requires a Masters. The school itself is still two years, but it now requires a Bachelor's degree for entry. What the degree is in does not matter.  Nurse Practitioner was a master's program, now it is becoming a PhD program.  Registered Nurse is fast requiring a profession requiring a BSN. [Emphasis added: SiG]
It doesn't matter what your degree is in, as long as you have one??  Only someone with an advanced degree could come up with something that crazy.  If you don't need to know something from your undergrad degree to understand the material, it's nothing but a "weed out" requirement, to limit the number of applicants.  The only thing it could possibly demonstrate is that you can take on four years of steady work.  Four years in the military would prove much more grit and determination.  It just means the admissions office doesn't have to think about whether a student can really make it, if the student can't color in one bubble:  Bachelor's Degree: Yes () No ().  If there are no scientific principles called on that one needs from undergraduate work, the undergrad degree shouldn't be required.   This sort of "requirements inflation" leads to needing a bachelor's degree to do manicures or a state license to braid hair.  This sort of rule does nothing to protect consumers; it just protects practitioners in the field.

In an article I did in April of '11, (second part of the one linked above) I wrote:
There are many jobs that simply can't be taught without the student doing the task.  There may be no better example for "you can't learn it by reading a book" than shooting.  You can read all you want, but sooner or later you need to master your physical gun handling.  As another example, I've ground a few telescope mirrors.  Like shooting, you can read all about concepts, but nothing other than actually doing it will teach you how to do it; it's a task overwhelmingly controlled by the feel, the sound, and the behavior of the glass in your hands.  Things like this were taught by apprenticeship before the gentrification occurred that says we need everyone to attend college.  I have tremendous respect and admiration for opticians, machinists and other workers who can exceed the accuracy of their tools and produce works of mechanical art.  On the opposite end, surgeons go through an internship and residency where they learn the hands-on work of surgery.  This is nothing if not an apprenticeship, for people who already have eight to 10 years of college.
One of the reasons we press for college is how badly the public school system sucks.  Divemedic points out, "Abraham Lincoln took the Bar exam, and never even completed the third grade.", while Ann Coulter has pointed out that Frederick Douglass, a freed slave who taught himself to read, left behind a body of work with a vocabulary that modern law school students can't understand.  When faced with blank stares from high school graduates, and long searches to find one who can read a ruler and understand simple paragraphs, companies start asking for more education.  Instead, they should be demanding public schools either get better or shut down.  And, yes, it is that bad; I've had to hire hourly workers for manufacturing companies - I've seen adults who can't read a ruler myself, 30 years ago.

Divemedic has a graph of college tuition vs. inflation.  How about this Cato institute graph of SAT and other test scores vs. spending and staffing in public schools?  This shows no matter how much we spend on public education, achievement remains the same. 

For all of recorded history, until the last hundred years or so, education was done at home or with a local person with the right temperament for the task.  Schoolmarm used to be a respected title, not an insult.  Today, there are those trying to restrain or eliminate home schooling because home schooled students routinely outperform their public-schooled cohorts.  A German family who came to the US so they could home school their children has been a target for deportation by the administration saying they have no fundamental right to school their own children.  Excuse me?  A citizen has no right to not use the public schools? 

As the cost of college goes up, students really need to ask themselves if they're acquiring real, marketable skills or if they're just going to 13th to 16th grade of public school.  The "requirements inflation", demanding higher degrees for the same job, is a tougher nut to crack;  you'd be hard-pressed to find a school, organization or politician with the guts to say anything against that.  Majoring in Poetry is nice, and society might need a couple, but do you really want to go into debt $35,000?  (70% point of the population, according to Fidelity)  I heard a young woman in a radio interview saying, "somebody has to teach poetry, it might as well be me"; if that's your attitude, be prepared to eat a lot of beans and Ramen noodles for the next 20 years.  If my son were a high school senior today, instead of 30-something, I'm not sure I'd recommend college.  If you don't know what you want to do and what sorts of jobs you could work in that you could live with, maybe a couple of years trying a few things, or enlisting in the service would be a better choice.  In other words, don't go just to go. 


  1. I'm a proud college drop out. I went into the trades instead. I am a merchant mariner and though it is imperfect there is an emphasis on on the job training. It still operates some what like the old apprenticeship programs with a few caveats.

  2. "Dr. Housing Bubble" has been pointing out how the college tuition scam is the next big bubble.

    Last year, student "education" debt passed consumer credit card debt for the first time.