Friday, November 22, 2013

A Proof That College is Unnecessary

Ever heard of the marriage premium? It amounts to a basic observation – that married people make significantly more money than single people (on a per worker basis). I am guessing that this is an observation that controls for age and education, but I am not sure. Is it causal – does getting married make you more productive? Or is it a selection bias – are more productive people just more inclined to get married? My bet is selection bias, but I can also see an argument for marriage forcing more responsibilities on people, which makes them more responsible in all spheres of life, and hence worth more to an employer.

The marriage premium is roughly equal in magnitude to the college premium – the extra earnings that are associated with a college degree. And yet few people ask the same question about the college premium – i.e. whether college schoolin learns you up to the point where you can make more dough, or if instead the higher earnin is due to the fact that those inclined to go to college are already equipped with the skills necessary to bring in the Benjamins. I think most people see the college premium as causal. But consider this thought experiment – take your average non-legacy C student from Harvard (i.e. one that got in on his own merit), and ask whether his observed superior earnings to the average A student from Sam Houston State is selection or causation? If we see the Harvard kid earning significantly more ten years down the line (as I expect we would), is this because the C student learned so much more scraping by at Harvard versus the A student at Sam Houston State, or are we simply comparing one kid whose SAT scores are double that of the other?

If the college premium is a matter of selection, and not due to a story about value-added in the four years of college, this would imply that the vast sums of money spent on college tuition are a colossal waste of money. I once read about studies regarding the complete inability of employers to predict future job performance in certain jobs on the basis of interviews with the candidates. And yet employers think that they have just such an ability. It’s a classic case of “substitution” – the question of who would be best at a given job is hard to answer on the basis of a 30 minute interview, but it is easy to answer the question as to who do I like, or who reminds me of my own bad self as a youngster, and that is who we likely end up picking.

If as a white collar employer you know the interview is worthless, you would just pick recent grads on the basis of GPA and prestige of school, not necessarily in that order (assuming difficulty of the major is controlled for by the nature of the job – i.e. no one is looking to hire an English major for an engineering job). However, given rampant grade inflation has compressed the range of GPAs both within and across schools to be very narrow, you can safely ignore the GPA (assume “pay your fee, get your B”), and you are left making decisions on the basis of the prestige of the school.
Now take this one step further, and regress back to what determined who got into Harvard versus Sam Houston State. It was no doubt a bizarre combination of parental lineage, SAT scores, and the number of oppressed groups a candidate could claim membership within. For a legacy, subtract 200-300 points from the average SAT score for that school; similarly, subtract 200-300 points for each historically oppressed group the candidate claims membership within. If the job candidate is Asian, add 200 points – if this is literally off the chart for the SAT score, you are probably still underestimating his intelligence. Or, better yet, ask them directly what score they received on their SAT. And there you have it – if you are looking for the smartest kid to hire, do it exclusively on the basis of comparative SAT scores. No need for them to go to college. In fact, no need for college.

No need for college? That is correct, I just proved it mathematically. QED. Ergo! Caveat Emptor! Ever heard of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle? Morons. Actually, they were kinda smart, but you don’t need to go to college to know that. As a matter of fact, you can probably download all of their writings in various different English translations onto a $50 Kindle for free. Well, so maybe reading all of that stuff without the context added by a tweed jacketed guy who constantly rubs his bearded chin while striking a philosophical pose is a grossly inefficient way to learn what you need to know. (I don’t mean to be sexist – there are plenty of tweed jacketed women in academia who also rub their beards). If that is your cup of tea, you can go to college and take a course with a guy who smells of pipe smoke and waxes philosophic. If you go to a college with a $40K tuition, you can take a 3 credit course that provides you approximately 37.5 hours of instruction at an hourly rate of approximately $106 per hour. You might say that’s over-estimating it, as surely there are cheaper colleges. But then again, MIT certainly costs that much, and rather than moving to the dismal climate of Boston, you could just get a $40 per month internet connection and watch the MIT lectures for nearly every class online at no additional cost. From your couch. While eating bon bons in your underwear. Education is an information good, and the cost of information has basically dropped to nothing, but there you are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars for a fictional earnings premium. Look at that - I’m proving the superfluity of college again with completely different math.

I can hear your objections right now. But Hatcher, if we shut down all of the colleges, how are kids going to be able to learn how to drink in excess, do recreational drugs, and learn the nuances of having meaningless sex? I can say on the basis of personal experience that college has no guarantee of providing such knowledge – I only mastered the first of the three, and felt obligated to get a Ph.D. to complete my education, and still came out 1 for 3 (although to my credit, I did become mediocre in foosball during graduate school). But nonetheless, even for those convinced they will get a more rounded experience of debauchery than me, there is a very simple answer. Get a plane ticket and rent an apartment in Amsterdam for your kid for one month, stake him with an extra $10K for spending, and he can do all those things legally for one-tenth of the cost and one fiftieth of the time required to send him to college.

But Hatcher, if we shut down all of the colleges, all of those crazy leftwing humanities professors will escape the ivory walls we’ve managed to encase them in and spill into the streets. That is a legitimate concern, but it is not hard to predict what ends up happening. Suppose, for example, they tried to simply go on doing research and writing articles with titles like “The Flintstones and American Misogyny,” and then tried to drum up people to pay for them to lecture to them about similar topics. Do you think they’d have willing buyers? They do within the confines of the “ivory tower” due to a few factors: 1) the sales value of the fiction of the causal college premium; 2) they collusively with the students keep the course less than rigorous so as not to get in the way of kids learning to drink to excess, do recreational drugs, and have recreational sex, and therefore the kids never tell their suckers … er, I mean parents… what kind of crap they are paying for; and 3) heavy government subsidization. Take away these factors, and leave these people to their own devices to shop their wares on the streets of your community, it will take all of two weeks before the extent of their lectures amounts to “Welcome to Starbucks, can I take your order?” Although they will be working for a multinational profit-driven corporation, they can pat themselves on the back for only selling fair trade coffee. And finally they will providing a useful service. It’s a win-win for everyone.

But Hatcher, what about the vital things we learn in these classes that prepare us for the work world? Cue crickets chirping. Bwahaha! Like I said before, if you are wise enough to pick a major that has actual real world applications, just fire up ye olde internet and suck down a course or two a week if you are so inclined. The bonus for you is that no one will require you sign up for a certain amount of credits in the college of liberal arts in order to make you a “well-rounded” student (which is code speak for – we cannot convince enough people to actually major in this crap to justify keeping these aged hippies employed, so you gotta take a couple of these courses from these freaks). This is the business genius of the college model – for a course you could literally see every lecture for on-line in the course of a week, they stretch it out for 15, make you take other courses you don’t want to take in combination, and require that you be in near proximity so that you end up purchasing your food and lodging from the company store. Once upon a time such was necessary, but now it’s just admirably ingenious larceny.

For those who set out to college to study Post-Modern Feminist Pedagogy and similar inane studies, the good news for you is that the elimination of colleges doesn’t mean you will be missing out on learning any pliable job skills. Those majors are the pride of the university system, because after pouring $200K and 4 years of your life into learning how to express your scorn for your parents using big obscure words that your parents don’t understand from the made up vocabulary those fields are famous for, your only option is more schooling. Either you head off to law school (as the dean licks his lips over three more years of high tuition), or you decide to get a Ph.D. in said field and become a professional crank. Don’t even think about medical school, because they generally want some knowledge beyond reading at a tenth grade level as a prerequisite for entry (because they’re fascists!).


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can't believe no one thought of the Amsterdam idea before....

4:45 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

Sign up for my Notify List and get email when I update!

powered by