Bryan is correct that the job market doesn’t provide a lot of partial credit for higher education. But in saying so, he seems to accept Murray’s blanket contention that people don’t graduate from college because they’re not smart enough to handle college-level work. This just isn’t true. Researchers have been studying the dropout problem for decades. (I would point to Vince Tinto’s work at Syracuse, among others.) Of course some students aren’t college material. But most drop out because they can’t afford to pay tuition, or they received a terrible high school education, or work and family demands intrude, or the college itself does a poor job of providing an engaging, high-quality education. To say that all students who didn’t finish college couldn’t have finished college, and thus shouldn’t have gone in the first place, is simply wrong.
In an earlier post, Bryan asserted that the present system of large public subsidies for higher education is a “massive waste of time and resources.” By this I assume he means that society would, on the whole, be better off without such subsidies. The United States has historically been a leader among most nations in adopting policies designed to induce large numbers of people to pursue college degrees and to reduce the price of doing so. And the United States has the most productive, well-educated workforce in the world. In recent decades, many of our biggest economic competitors have adopted policies designed to cut into our lead in college education and produce more graduates and degree holders. As near as I can tell, none of our competitors are adopting the opposite strategy. Are all of these nations, including ours, just massively wrong about all of this? Why hasn’t anyone adopted the cut-public-subsidies-for-higher-ed strategy and reaped (what I assume you believe would be) the huge benefits in return?