Time to Stop Increasing Education Spending?

Even The New York Times is now questioning the massive spending increases on education that have occurred over the last generation in a discussion entitled “Spending Too Much Time and Money on Education?”:

Americans are spending more and more on education, but the resulting credentials — a high-school diploma and college degrees — seem to be losing value in the labor market.

Americans who go to college are triply hurt by this. First, as taxpayers: state and federal education budgets have ballooned since the 1950s. Second, as consumers: the average college student spends $17,000 a year on school, and those with loans graduate more than $23,000 in debt. And third, as a worker: in 1970, an applicant with a college degree was among an elite 11 percent, but now almost 3 in 10 adults have a degree.

Given that a high school diploma, a bachelor’s degree and even graduate school are no longer a ticket to middle-class life, and all these years of education delay the start of a career, does our society devote too much time and money to education?

In the discussion, PayPal co-founder and technology investor Peter Thiel notes that “College Doesn’t Create Success,” noting that college graduates make more money than non-college graduates partly  because people who are more creative by nature are “more likely to complete college” than less creative people, even if going to college doesn’t make them any more creative or teach them much of value. The fact that many successful people happened to go to college doesn’t mean that college made them successful, anymore than the fact that “Brooklynites who work in Manhattan” make more money than “Brooklynites who work in Brooklyn” proves “that crossing the Brooklyn Bridge makes people more productive.”

Education expert Richard Vedder sums up education’s decline over the last generation as “Spending Triples; Results Slide.” As he notes,

Spending on K-12 schools, adjusting for inflation and enrollment growth, has roughly tripled over the last 50 years, yet there is little solid evidence that today’s students are better prepared for work and citizenship than their grandparents were — and even some evidence that they are less so.

The university situation is similar, with two-fifths of those entering college failing to graduate within six years, the average college enrollee spending less than 30 hours a week on academics, and a major recent study by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa showing that there is little advancement of critical thinking or writing skills while in school. Moreover, college costs are soaring, and almost certainly the education system is becoming less efficient, at a time when labor productivity is rising elsewhere.

The icing on the cake is the total disconnect between student job expectations, college curricula, and the realities of today’s labor market. More college grads are taking low-skilled jobs previously occupied by those with high school diplomas — more than 80,000 bartenders, for example, have at least a bachelor’s degree. If students are successful in graduating (a big “if”), they often are saddled with debt and only able to get a relatively low-paying job.

As students learn less and less, nowhere is the problem greater than in America’s education schools, which people are required to attend if they wish to become teachers.  Students in education schools have some of the lowest test scores of any major, and lower high-school grades.  But education schools are so easy for students to pass that, as Professor KC Johnson notes,

the average grade in Education classes far exceeds the average in virtually any other major, to such an extent that “Education departments award exceptionally favorable grades to virtually all their students in all their classes.” The University of Missouri provided the most embarrassing results; at the state university’s flagship campus, one of every five Education classes ended with each student receiving an A. The logical inference of such figures . . . is that Education professors have failed to perform the gate-keeping role of ensuring that badly under-qualified students aren’t simply passed along so they can then become public school teachers.  . . they reflect the leveling approach that is at the heart of contemporary schools of Education.  Competition is bad; cooperation is good.  Individual achievement must be discouraged; collegial collaboration is the ideal.  “High-stakes” tests and exams requiring critical thinking have less relevance than group work or classroom chats.  Such an environment all but ensures that professors will not attempt, much less succeed, in distinguishing much between students’ abilities.

Many education schools are ideologically oppressive places that seem designed to inculcate left-wing ideology rather than produce effective teachers. K-12 education is better in Japan because teachers there learn through apprenticeships and on-the-job training, rather than taking useless classes filled with psychobabble at education school, as George Leef points out in “Nurturing the Dumbest Generation.” “In Japan, there are no education schools at all. Those who wish to become teachers first earn degrees in some academic discipline and some of them are then accepted as apprentices who learn teaching by assisting veterans in the classroom.”

Increasing education spending has often benefited bureaucrats rather than teachers. There are now more college administrators than faculty at California State University. The University of California, which claims to have cut administrative spending “to the bone,” is creating new positions for liberal bureaucrats even as it raises student tuition to record levels:

The University of California at San Diego, for example, is creating a new full-time “vice chancellor for equity, diversity, and inclusion.” This position would augment UC San Diego’s already massive diversity apparatus, which includes the Chancellor’s Diversity Office, the associate vice chancellor for faculty equity, the assistant vice chancellor for diversity, the faculty equity advisors, the graduate diversity coordinators, the staff diversity liaison, the undergraduate student diversity liaison, the graduate student diversity liaison, the chief diversity officer, the director of development for diversity initiatives, the Office of Academic Diversity and Equal Opportunity, the Committee on Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Issues, the Committee on the Status of Women, the Campus Council on Climate, Culture and Inclusion, the Diversity Council, and the directors of the Cross-Cultural Center, the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Resource Center, and the Women’s Center.

Other colleges raised spending on administrators as much as 600 percent in recent years.

States spend hundreds of millions of dollars operating colleges that are worthless diploma mills, yet manage to graduate almost no one — like Chicago State, “which has just a 12.8 percent six-year graduation rate.” People endure useless college courses to get paper credentials, but they get their actual education through internships and work.

College tuition is often a rip-off, since most people who went to college because of rising college-attendance rates in recent years wound up in unskilled jobs (including 5,057 janitors who have Ph.Ds or other advanced degrees), and tuition is skyrocketing faster than housing costs did during the real estate bubble, resulting in a 511 percent increase in student-loan debt. (100 colleges charge at least $50,000 a year, compared to five in 2008-09. Bush increased federal education spending 58 percent faster than inflation, while Obama seeks to double it. Spending has exploded at the K-12 level: per-pupil spending in the U.S. is among the highest in the world.”