Measuring the value of a college degree

The Education Department intends to look at the earnings and debt of college graduates by major to help students compare schools and programs (“Will Majoring in Psychology Make You Better Off? The Government Wants to Know” (The Wall Street Journal, Aug. 2.)  I support the move, but I hasten to point out an important caveat.

The value of a college degree should not be weighed solely in terms of its market value.  There are benefits that go beyond salaries earned.  These non-pecuniary rewards will be given short shrift under the proposed Education Department’s plan.  Nevertheless, I believe the intent is admirable.  The reality is that too many students are going into heavy personal debt to earn a degree in a field for which there is little demand. Decades ago when tuition was a fraction of what it is today, students had the luxury of studying whatever happened to catch their interest.  That is no longer the case.

I’ve written often about the harm being done to students by the sheepskin obsession.  The oft-quoted wage premium attached to a college degree is substantially reduced when the major studied is factored in.  It is further diminished when loan repayment is included.  Yet we persist in the fiction that college is for everyone.  It is what Charles Murray correctly calls “educational romanticism.”

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2 Replies to “Measuring the value of a college degree”

  1. I always worry about a report coming from so-called experts(Dept. of Ed.). Their prejudices will come through loud and clear.
    From my experience, the majority of guidance counselors only have a knowledge of college prep.
    One point that many adults do not know is that graduates of vocational technical high schools can go onto college.
    Every vocational technical high school in MA have graduates that go to college.
    Today’s degree in psychology is equivalent to a teacher with a history major.
    There are still too many adults who look down at vocational technical high schools.
    When can we start doing what is right for ALL children?

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  2. mathcoach2: Vocational education is still treated as inferior to an academic education. That does a terrible disservice to students who enjoy working with their hands and are talented in doing so. We will always need plumbers, for example. Moreover, students who earn a certificate in community college or graduate from a vocational high school, coupled with an apprenticeship while enrolled, go on to earn a comfortable living free of student loan debt.

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