Given debate in Rhode Island about taking more money from already-overburdened taxpayers in order to allow politicians to buy votes by giving away college tuition, the headline of Jeffrey Selingo’s article in The Washington Post catches the eye: “Is a college degree the new high school diploma? Here’s why your degree’s worth is stagnant.“:
… a new study of the degree premium, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, finds that its growth has flattened in recent years. While the premium grew rapidly in the 1980s — mostly because of the decline of manufacturing jobs that required just a high school diploma — its growth slowed in the 1990s, followed by a small uptick in the first decade of the new millennium.
Since 2010, however, the premium has largely remained unchanged, said the report’s author, Robert G. Valletta of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. The “patterns indicate that the factors propelling earlier increases in the returns to higher education have dissipated,” Valletta wrote.
As I’ve been saying. People should question the promises of Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s free-college grab and ponder whether it’s really just the government trying to give itself two or four more years of taxpayer subsidization to accomplish the task of educating students whom it has failed for the first thirteen (or more) years of their education.
The “value of a degree” will fluctuate depending not only on the job market, but also on the purposes to which it is put. If employers are just using degrees as they might once have used self-administered literacy tests, then the education itself is next to useless.
We should question, too, whether it’s proper to assign value to the piece of paper rather than the holder. Selingo’s article includes a chart that does indeed show that people with higher-level degrees tend to cluster at higher income levels, but one can’t leave the reasons people seek degrees out of the equation. A better phrasing might be that people who achieve high pay tend to seek higher degrees. Those who get the degrees because they’re free or cheap won’t have the same results.