College and Value
By Arnold Kling
The average graduation rate at four-year colleges in the bottom half of the Barron’s taxonomy of admissions selectivity is only 45 percent. And that’s just the average-at scores of colleges, graduation rates are below 30 percent, and wide disparities persist for students of color. Along with community colleges, where only one in three students earns a degree, these low-performing institutions educate the large majority of Pell Grant recipients. Less than 40 percent of low-income students who start college get a degree of any kind within six years.
Some might argue that colleges are just enforcing academic standards by refusing to graduate unprepared students. But the evidence suggests otherwise. A 2006 study from the American Institutes for Research found that only 31 percent of adults with bachelor’s degrees are proficient in “prose literacy”-being able to compare and contrast two newspaper editorials, for example. More than a quarter have math skills so feeble that they can’t calculate the cost of ordering supplies from a catalogue.
Read the whole thing. Carey argues that publishing more data on college outcomes would result in a better market. That presumes that the problem is on the supply side–colleges want to hold back information. The Masonomics view is that the problem is more on the demand side–the role that signaling plays in creating perceptions of value.
A point that I keep making about higher education is that it is, like the Harvard-Goldman filter, a form of recursive credentialism. To get certain jobs, you need certain credentials. And the most important credential of all is that you must signal your support for credentialism.