Income Inequality and Education
In a column for the NYT, Tyler Cohen argues that barriers to higher education are much more significant contributors to income equality in the United States than, outsourcing, immigration, the tax system, the gains of the super-rich and various other hot button issues. There are some excellent comments on the article in response to his blog post introducing it.
I don’t doubt that there are Americans who could do well in good colleges who don’t go for various cultural and economic reasons. And no one who has taught college students would argue that we couldn’t do better in preparing our high school students for the academic rigors of college.
Still, I remain unconvinced that sending an ever-larger percentage of our population on to university study and then to graduate school is the answer. Our public policy should instead aim at making sure that people have the maximum opportunity to be prepared to utilize their natural talents. Not everyone has the aptitude for college and we already have far too many people getting college degrees who then go on to jobs that do not make use of the critical thinking skills college is supposed to impart.
We absolutely need to level the playing field at the primary and secondary school level so that bright students from poor families get the same preparation to succeed on the academic track as those from wealthy families. At the same time, we need to rid ourselves of the notion that going on to technical school or otherwise learning a trade is a fallback position for people who can’t get into college. After all, a good plumber or electrician will almost certainly command a better wage than a college professor or journalist.