There’s an op-ed in the Times today about fixing the nation’s higher-education system. It’s significantly less whacky than another recent op-ed on a similar problem, perhaps because it’s more focused on producing qualified applicants and encouraging better rankings than with fixing the professoriate. So far so good.. but here’s where I get nervous:
The benefits of an extra year of schooling are beyond question: high school graduates can earn more than dropouts, have better health, more stable lives and a longer life expectancy. College graduates do even better.
Just because high school graduates do better than dropouts, and college grads do even better, that doesn’t mean that if everyone had more education everyone would earn more. For example, jobs that used to require no degree or only bachelor’s degrees (librarians, say, or certain administrative jobs) now require specialized master’s degrees. There are serious issues with credential creep, especially with the sorts of credentials that aren’t associated directly with acquiring skills. So the implications derived from comparing individuals don’t scale. A high school graduate earns more in part because a high school dropout earns less. Maybe there are some gains to overall productivity, but it seems like it’d be very difficult to tease these out. And this logic (people with more X have higher Y so we really need to make sure everyone gets more X) seems sound because the causality is relatively clear on an individual level – more education does lead to higher wages. And yet, the macro-level policy implication doesn’t necessarily hold up (and certainly not in a straightforward way). Am I missing something? If not, what’s a good name for this problem?