Central planning has always been a dismal, wasteful, inefficient flop, but count on American academic types to propose that we need it when it comes to the production of college degrees. The College Board has recently published a report advocating that the country aim to have 55 percent of the population hold college degrees by 2025. The assumption is the old notion that there is a direct relationship between “educational attainment” and economic growth.
There is no such relationship, but it serves the interests of the higher-ed establishment to have people think there is. Writing on the NAS site today, Peter Wood and Ashley Thorne liken the report to Chairman Mao’s Great Leap Forward. I strongly recommend their analysis.
One of the characteristics of economic central planning is that producers sacrifice quality in order to make their quantitative goals. Exactly the same thing will happen in education. To a great extent, the U.S. already confers college degrees on people who know about as much as high-school grads did 50 years ago, and if we proceed to push far more people through college so we can slap degrees on them, we’ll drive down the average level of learning to that of middle-school kids.
Britain has been doing this for more than a decade, and instead of a great economic boost, they just have lots of degreed people doing work that non-college people have traditionally done. A nation can no more pull itself up to prosperity by making people sit through more and more college classes than it can do so by decreeing a very high minimum wage.