[ExI] big rip in education

Dan TheBookMan danust2012 at gmail.com
Thu Mar 7 16:07:02 UTC 2019

On Mar 7, 2019, at 7:28 AM, Dave Sill <sparge at gmail.com> wrote:
>> On Wed, Mar 6, 2019 at 7:13 PM Dan TheBookMan <danust2012 at gmail.com> wrote:
>> I’m wondering why no one here has discussion Bryan Caplan’s on education:
>> https://press.princeton.edu/titles/11225.html
>> Or have I missed it? The TL;DR rundown of his book is this: education is mostly signaling. Degree inflation is mainly not increasing worker skills or even detecting talent, but merely an expansive (and, therefore, mostly wasteful) signal. Think of the analogy with buying an expansive engagement ring. According to Caplan, this best explain degree — why the BA and BS degrees have become the new high school diploma.
> Yep. And higher education is big money.

And if he’s right, it’s wasted money from the wider social perspective. In other words, it doesn’t increase overall wealth so much as shift around existing wealth.

>> He also responds to other theories and even other purposes to education, such as having an informed citizenry. On all these, he shows that the data doesn’t much fit. For instance, with regard to an informed citizenry, the data seems to show few students recall much of their civics and history lessons. They seem to memorize enough to pass the test and then promptly forget this stuff. Which is kind of signaling works: the goal is to signal — not to retain or use what’s learned.)
> I think it's also about indoctrination and keeping the masses easily controlled. Education *should* be about more than just acquiring the skills needed to perform a job...such as the skills needed to perform living a good life.

He addresses both those issues to show that in terms of indoctrination people are more likely to be influenced by their peer group than education. And, in terms of the good life, he believes the data doesn’t show that at all.

He doesn’t say signaling explains it all, but that it explains more, and that these other hypotheses — indoctrination, human capital, revealing talent, making better citizens, making better (well rounded and cultured) people, etc. seem to explain little. Think of one thought experiment here. Why does a person with a degree do better overall than, say, the person how did as well for 90% of the coursework but didn’t get the degree? In particular, e.g., we don’t see three years of college but no degree getting, say, 75% of the overall income of someone getting the four year degree.

>> And, yes, he does discuss how people can basically pursue knowledge and skills online and outside of schooling or degrees. (Of course, a problem for employers is a signal tends to be cheaper for them than, say, extensively confirming someone has independently mastered some skill or domain.)
> I think independent skills testing/certification is the future. 

It might be, but it’s generally cheaper for employers now to simply go for the person with the degree. The cost of signaling tends to fall on society at large and the signaler rather than the signalee. That kind of drives the process. (Or such is my understanding here.)


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