The U.S. advantage

The U.S. is losing the college race with other countries, writes Joni E. Finney of the National Center for Public Policy on Higher Education in Forbes.

Other nations are rapidly expanding their higher education systems, chipping away at our comparative advantage in the global economy.

Not a problem, responds George Leef on Phi Beta Cons.

Our comparative advantage in production and innovation is not in having dipped deep into the pool of possible college students earlier than other nations. Our comparative advantage lies in the fact that the United States has heretofore been the least controlled, regulated, and taxed of all the major nations. It’s no more important for us to be the “leader” in producing college degrees than it is to be the leader in producing steel, growing alfalfa, or making wine.

We’re not prosperous because we’ve invested in higher education, Leef writes.

The truth is closer to the reverse of that. Only a very affluent country could afford to have a higher-education system that costs so much and produces so little.

Actually, I think a number of poor countries have very inefficient university systems. Students stay in college for many years because there are no jobs for them if they finish a degree.

Update: Achieve’s new report, Benchmarking for Success, tells states how to compare their students’ performance with “world-class” achievement overseas.

About Joanne

Comments

  1. Actually, I think US overemphasis on higher education and particularly on the related credentialism is HARMING our economic competitiveness by reducing class mobility.

  2. “Other nations are rapidly expanding their higher education systems, chipping away at our comparative advantage in the global economy.”

    What nations, I wonder?

    Doesn’t seem like it would be all that much of a chore to name two or three of these “other nations” yet no names are in evidence. Might detract from the credibility of the article if you haven’t already made up your mind on the subject.

  3. david foster,

    I have always worried about this too, but it has been going on for a long time. It used to be you only had to pass the bar to become a lawyer. Engineers were apprenticed or self taught not educated. Managers now need degrees. I have heard people say that this is because professionals try to make it difficult to enter the professions to raise prices for their services. Anyone can still be a preacher or missionary in the US but that is not true everywhere.

  4. I don’t think it was ever the case that you just had to pass the bar to become a lawyer; typically you first did a legal apprenticeship for several years with a practicing lawyer and following completion of that you took the bar. 6 or 7 states still allow this method in lieu of attending law school. Although I wouldn’t recommend it.

    As for engineers – well, things are a lot more complicated than they used to be and now you need a lot of technical training, including lots of math.

  5. I believe construction engineers must be licensed but I can’t remember if a degree is a prerequisite. Other than that I believe it is a free market. I’ve worked with a couple of software engineers that didn’t have college degrees. One because he was unmotivated to finish a history paper he needed to graduate and another who never attended college.

  6. I should correct myself, government subsidized college educations for engineers may skew the competition on the supply side.

  7. Actually, I think US overemphasis on higher education and particularly on the related credentialism is HARMING our economic competitiveness by reducing class mobility.

    I think where this is really blatant is the use of a BA/BS degree as a prerequisite for a professional-level job where all the skills needed are taught. This is useless credentialism that prevents talented people from being noticed because they don’t have that magical talisman that we call a college degree.

  8. From the first article: “Across the country, employers already face shortages of well-trained graduates in areas such as the sciences and nursing”…there was recently an item somewhere–I think it was linked at this blog–about a university that elected to spend its resources on starting a new law school instead of the nursing school that had been previously planned.

    Regarding the sciences: universities should ask themselves why their own colleges of education aren’t doing a better job in educating science teachers.

    It would be nice to see higher-education administrators act like adults and take some responsibility for their own performance, instead of endlessly demanding “more” and blaming everybody else for their shortfalls.

  9. PeterW

    I do not believe Abraham Lincoln “clerked” prior to passing the bar, but you are correct that most did serve an apprenticeship under a practicing attorney.

    I agree that a lot has changed and there is a need for educated engineeers, but look at the stuctures, Cathedrals for example, from the past that were built without any knowledge of physics, but used “merely” past practice and intuition.

  10. Math as an essential skill for engineering isn’t really all that new. Bridges, steam turbines, and AC power grids all required significant math in 1920.

  11. David Foster,

    Like the Tacoma Narrows Bridge? Even though complex analysis existed before the AC grid. The math applications for AC power was developed by Steinmetz, who was not an engineer. It is my understanding that the math and theory for steam engines and turbines came after the development of these technologies. Didn’t Hero of Alexandria invent the first steam turbine around 100 AD? “Science owes more to the steam engine than the steam engine owes to science.” My reading of the history of steam railroad engines in the US implies they did not use much science and engineering in their design and development process.

    Probably the greatest biomdical researcher who ever lived was Louis Pasteur, a chemist.

    Frederick Taylor, one the founders of modern management and a mechanical engineer, was only a high school graduate.

    The Tacoma Narrows Bridge Disaster was predicted by an aerodynamist. I do not beleive he used math. He used a wind tunnel.

    Theory often follows technology and science.

    It is interesting to me that it is often the outsiders who make the breakthroughs in science and technology.

    Our demand for credentials will impede that.

  12. gbl3rd…totally agree with you about the dangr of excessive focus on credentials. I don’t know what Steinmetz’s academic background was, but he used significant math in AC power development, as you note…I suspect that one reason Edison didn’t like AC, in addition to the commercial reasons, was that he wasn’t comfortable with something that could only be grasped mathematically.

  13. While there’s a shortage of nurses, it’s really more like a skilled trade than a profession.

    In Montana, you can still “read law” and take the bar exam.

    In many countries, you need an education to get a good job with the civil service, which is the biggest step towards pulling your family out of peasantry. Here, you can start a business and achieve the same ends, unless you live in California, where businesses are heavily taxed and viewed as oppressors of the good and noble.

  14. I beleive Steinnmetz was physicist. You may be right about Edison, but it may be he thought DC was safer and he was already heavily invested in DC.

  15. Edison was certainly heavily invested in DC, financially and emotionally as well. He concerns about safety may have been genuine, but I suspect they were largely contrived as propaganda to fight the Westinghouse AC interests. (He suggested that sending someone to the electric chair shoud be referred to as “westinghousing.”)

    If America had then been as much under the influence of “activists” like those who stoke irrational fears about nuclear power as we are now, he probably would have gotten away with it.

  16. I stand corrected. Apparently, no one much cares what the unnamed nations are to which the U.S. is losing the “college race”.

    I’d be more concerned that some nation’ll realize that a public education system is more of a hindrance to economic expansion and the education of the public then an advantage.

  17. Here in Texas the Republican controlled state legislature dereulated college tuition in name of “competition” and making college affordable. In the 5 years since tuition has doubled, making a college a dream only for many students.

    Students are being priced out of a college education in the US. All the more to ensure a docile, option-less cadre of workers for the big coporations.

  18. MiT –

    It’s happening all over the country, not just Texas, and has less to do with deregulation and more to do with the tidal wave of credit and financial aid available to students. The money supply available to pay for college keeps growing because of vain attempts to “make it more affordable”, and the colleges keep raising prices in response.

    The best way to make college more affordable is to tighten standards on financial aid and student loans to make sure they don’t allow middle class students to continually price poor ones out of the market.

  19. In the 5 years since tuition has doubled, making a college a dream only for many students.

    Cite?

  20. david foster

    “If America had then been as much under the influence of “activists” like those who stoke irrational fears about nuclear power as we are now, he probably would have gotten away with it.”

    That is a very interesting comparison.

  21. http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/headline/metro/5880281.html

    Legislators agreed to let university regents — appointed by the governor — set tuition in 2003 when they faced a $10 billion budget shortfall. In exchange, general revenue appropriations for higher education were cut by 2 percent, or $181 million. The idea was that university regents could raise tuition to make up the difference.

    Average course fees at UH went up 107 percent between 2003 and 2007, from $298 per semester to $616, according to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

  22. http://think.mtv.com/044FDFFFF00989E8D00080098FD0C/User/Blog/BlogPostDetail.aspx

    Apparently, some folks around the Texas capitol are beginning to take notice of the complaints. Raymund Paredes, the commissioner of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, met with the Senate Finance Subcommittee on Higher Education to discuss the findings of a report on the rising cost of tuition in the state. According to the coordinating board, tuition has risen 112 percent, as reported in a story by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. It’s a big number, and mind you just an average.

    The state legislature voted to deregulate tuition in 2003, which means universities and colleges across the state are authorized to set tuition costs as they deem appropriate. It has been the hot topic on college campuses since deregulation, with just about every Texas university student following the issue who sees the money increasingly flowing out of their pockets.

  23. Tuition at Texas universities rose 58 percent between 2003, when schools were first allowed to set their own rates, and 2007. Student fees have gone up, too.

    Average course fees at UH went up 107 percent between 2003 and 2007, from $298 per semester to $616, according to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

    In a world of change there are still some things that can be relied upon like Mike’s propensity to engage in cherry-picking. That’s understandable given that the author of the cited article engaged in the same practice. Birds of a feather, etc.

    The author of the article that generated this thread, Joni Finney, doesn’t exactly have clean hands when it comes to engaging in a bit of propagandizing either since the danger of which she warns doesn’t warrant specifics.

    That’s a red flag to me indicating that the issue might not bear the sort close scrutiny that the average ideologue is uninterested in providing.

  24. [quote]Tuition at Texas universities rose 58 percent between 2003, when schools were first allowed to set their own rates, and 2007. Student fees have gone up, too.[/quote]

    [quote]Average course fees at UH went up 107 percent between 2003 and 2007, from $298 per semester to $616, according to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.[/quote]

    In a world of change there are still some things that can be relied upon like Mike’s propensity to engage in cherry-picking. That’s understandable given that the author of the cited article engaged in the same practice. Birds of a feather, etc.

    The author of the article that generated this thread, Joni Finney, doesn’t exactly have clean hands when it comes to engaging in a bit of propagandizing either since the danger of which she warns doesn’t warrant specifics.

    Since the preview doesn’t work very well it would be nice to be able to delete posts but that’s not likely to happen any time soon. Let’s try again.
    That’s a red flag to me indicating that the issue might not bear the sort close scrutiny that the average ideologue is uninterested in providing.

  25. However you look at the data Allen, from the high of 112% (from a study done by the state) or a “low” increase of 58%, the rise in tuition is still wait out of proportion to inflation. If you have a child nearing college age as I do,even the low figure represents an alarming increase that will make paying for college a difficult proposition.

  26. Andy Freeman says:

    > In the 5 years since tuition has doubled, making a college a dream only for many students.

    Let’s look at the numbers.

    > Average course fees at UH went up 107 percent between 2003 and 2007, from $298 per semester to $616, according to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

    Is that per course or for all courses in a semester?

    If a semester is four months, that’s an increase from $75 month to $150 month.

    Other costs of attending college include food and lodging and incidentals (books). I’d guess that they total around $1000/month even in Texas. So, if the numbers are per/course AND the little darling is taking 5 classes, we’re talking about a change from $1400 to $1750/month. If they’re for all courses in a semester, the change is from $1075 to $1150.

    MiT may object to the use of monthly numbers, but the point that he’s not including all costs refutes his argument that tutition increases are significantly increasing the costs of education.

  27. Andy,

    Interesting to see you haven’t gained the ability to comprehend the simplest of numbers.

    Do you REALLY believe all courses at a major university would only be $616 a semester?

    Andy may shrug off the increase in fees by looking at monthly cost($75 per month per class) increases but if your child is taking 5 classes, or 15 hours per semester, that’s a monthly increase of $375, hardly chump change.

    And you don’t call that significant?

    BTW, you inadvertantly proved my point by claiming an increase from $75 a month to $150.

  28. Just trying to keep you honest, Mike. You could do your part to make that an easier chore by not picking your facts to suit your agenda.

    Noticing the dog that didn’t bark, why do you suppose college costs have gone up so much? There some rascally pals of Dubya lining their pockets with all that college tuition money?

  29. came across the same price per course in Texas vs. price for a semester used in many other places — it arose in the context of the UTeaech program which advertised paying for additional coursework by students preparing to qualify as math and science teachers (in the price per semester model, one could always take extra courses for free)

  30. Allen,

    Like Andy you also fail to understand simple numbers, whether they be 58% or 112% depending on the source.

    Since I WAS able to cite a reference, perhaps you can cite one showing I’m wrong?

  31. I already did. 58% isn’t 100% and a more honest person might have chosen the more representative number. As always though, what suits your purposes is the truth. In a world of change, etc.

  32. Oh, and let’s not forget the topic you’d obviously rather forget, why do you suppose college costs have gone up so much? There some rascally pals of Dubya lining their pockets with all that college tuition money?

    Or does oodles of unearned government money drive up the costs they’re supposed to hold down?

  33. Actually Allen there are 3 numbers to choose from, 58%, 107% or 112% (from the state of Texas). The average of these numbers is 92%, very near 100%. Given the fact the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board says the number is 112% I think 100% is a fairly representative number. So much for choosing my facts.

    Perhaps you would like to explain why the Republican controlled state government of Texas chose to deregulate college tuition. I have often stated what I feel the purpose of plans like this are; an uneducation, option-less minimun wage working class for the corporations.

    I even stated it in my original post, which you chose to ignore in a pitiful attempt to make it look like I was dodging your remarks.

    All the more to ensure a docile, option-less cadre of workers for the big corporations

  34. > I have often stated what I feel the purpose of plans like this are; an uneducation, option-less minimun wage working class for the corporations.

    Har! Oh yeah, an uneducated population is exactly what those reptilian Republicans, and their corporate overlords, hunger for. I guess when you’ve got a PhD in Daily Kos those are the sorts of insights that come easily.

    And of course you dodged the issue which is the effect that government subsidies are going to have on prices. If you were to face the issue squarely you’d have to admit that subsidies inevitably drive up prices and that undercuts the case for further subsidies.