A Single Person With Doubts About the "Gap Year"
By Bryan Caplan
I carry around an entrepreneurial idea of an American equivalent of the “gap year,” which would be a year of education in between high school and college. This year would involve finding a part-time job, living in and cleaning an apartment, learning to cook one’s own meals (and pick out fresh ingredients to go into that cooking), learning personal finance, learning something about household wiring and plumbing, and taking courses in philosophy and mathematics. I have not found a single person who doubts that this would be better for young people than the typical college freshman experience.
Maybe Arnold’s “gap year” would be better for the young person’s soul. But would it actually be a prudent unilateral course of action? I very much doubt it. After your gap year, you’d still have to do a regular four-year degree to signal that you’ve got the Right Stuff. Unless the world changes a lot, employers are going to treat the gap year like a gap in your resume, nothing more. And are household management skills so difficult that people can’t learn them by doing once they get their first real job and their own apartment?
When I talk to most labor economists, we agree that education pays, but argue about whether it teaches socially valuable skills. When I talk to Arnold, though, it seems like we agree that it fails to teach socially valuable skills, but argue about whether it pays. Am I understanding you correctly, Arnold?