Monday, March 21, 2011

Against College

As for why I'm not a big fan of the "everybody needs to go to college" model, there are a couple of main reasons. The first is that I'm a big believer in the signaling model of higher education, in that a big chunk of its value is simply that it provides a signal to employers that you don't suck. Essentially you spend a lot of money and time to get a certificate which makes screening easier for potential employers. It doesn't make you a more productive worker, it simply sends that message that you are a more productive worker. The wikipedia has a reasonable explanation of how this works. Key line:
[E]ven if education did not contribute anything to an employee's productivity, it could still have value to both the employer and employee. If the appropriate cost/benefit structure exists (or is created), "good" employees will buy more education in order to signal their higher productivity.

The second big reason is that we have a big cultural bias in favor of jobs requiring a college education over jobs which don't, over and above whatever income difference there is between these jobs. That is, jobs requiring a college education generally have a higher class status than jobs which don't.

Of course education has other benefits and I don't want anyone to think I'm against education. I think the college experience can have value for a lot of people over and above its career enhancement potential. But an expensive four year liberal arts education shouldn't be a requirement to be hired for a lot of jobs when doing those jobs doesn't really require that education.