January 29 2013

Is the Education Bubble about to Pop?

Charlotte Hays

One of President Obama’s favorite talking points is that more people should be able to go to college. To this end, President Obama has nearly doubled spending on Pell grants. Such grants are so sacrosanct that the president’s Republican challenger Mitt Romney also extolled them.

But it may be time to rethink the Pell grant and other federal subsidies for education. A must-read report on Investors.com gives some fascinating facts about college grads and the jobs they find:

A new study finds almost half of Americans with college degrees are working at jobs that don't require one. It's the latest example of how federal subsidies are creating a massive higher-education bubble.

The study, by the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, found that an incredible 48% of college graduates — about 13 million of them — hold jobs that don't require a bachelor's degree. About 5 million have jobs that don't even require a high school diploma.

There are, for example, roughly a million sales clerks, 300,000 waiters and 100,000 janitors with college degrees.

This mismatch is up sharply from four decades ago, the study found. While 1% of taxi drivers had a college degree in 1970, to take one example, 15% do today. Back in 1967, fewer than 11% of college grads were overqualified for their jobs.

The reason for this glut is federal education subsidies. Good arguments are furthermore made that these same subsidies have contributed to skyrocketing tuition, which in turn means that fewer people can go to college without federal subsidies.

I am a huge believer in a liberal education and I would welcome a ride with a taxi driver who, say, loved Flaubert. But we are paying for a lot of people to go to college who don’t end up that well-educated (unless you consider absorbing liberal orthodoxies the same as being educated) and who would do better in life to get jobs earlier.

Too many people are also entering into the job world with enormous college loan debt. The Investors story makes another compelling point: the college bubble, like the housing bubble, was caused by well-intended government policies.

In a normal market, a huge excess in supply would send a signal back up the chain to produce less, and as a result, demand for expensive college degrees would drop. At the same time, the number of people learning a skilled trade would increase to fill that shortage.

But President Obama wants to make the problem worse by increasing the subsidies for education.
 

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