Educating the Masses
Clive Crook contends that, “Broadly speaking, educational quality has topped out – and on at least one measure, it is actually deteriorating. In 2006, Americans aged 55-59 collectively possessed more masters degrees, professional degrees and doctorates than Americans aged 30-34.”
Arnold Kling fears that this is just a caste system at work, observing, “I don’t think we have a recipe that says, Take a child of two non-college educated parents, add primary education ingredient X, bake, and out comes a college-capable high school graduate.” Tyler Cowen tends to agree but thinks adopting an Asian-style culture involving “total parental commitment to the educational ideal and a willingness to enforce the notion that a non-educated child is shaming the entire family, not just the child” may be a key.
I’m not persuaded that there’s a problem here. First off, while I’m having surprising difficulty finding the number of Americans in the 30-34 and 55-59 age cohorts so that we can see exactly what comparisons we’re making, it’s hardly shocking that more people in the latter cohort than the former have advanced degrees. After all, many people who get advanced degrees do so in their mid-30s and later. This is especially true for MBAs, masters in education, journalism, and other mid-career credentialing degrees. Further, there’s relatively little expected mortality between ages 30 and 59, so there’s a cumulative effect.
Second, it’s not at all clear that having a masters or professional degree necessarily correlates to “human capital,” the thing Crook believes is being “tested.” How much worse off as a country would we be, really, if we suffered a decline in people with graduate degrees from colleges of education?
All things being equal, it’s likely true that children of college educated parents are more likely to go on to college and that offspring of those with graduate degrees are more likely to pursue graduate degrees. After all, they’re not only more likely to see those things as worthwhile goals but they’re likelier to have the intellectual aptitude for school and the money to afford it. Not to mention having good nutrition, books in the house, be surrounded by people with good vocabularies, and so forth.
So what? It’s not as if the existence of this thing called “college” is a big secret. Nor is there much evidence that potential top drawer students are being shut out of the system.
More troubling is the apparent fact, cited by Crook, that the high school graduation rate “has been falling for 40 years.” There just aren’t many jobs left that one can get without that level of schooling and still support yourself, let alone a family. What the cause of this decline are, let alone what the solutions might be, is beyond my reckoning.
Photo: AP /Magnus Johansson-MaanIm via Sydney Morning Herald