The great college degree scam

Young people are falling victim to the great college degree scam, warns economist Richard Vedder.

Also on Community College Spotlight: Too much choice? Many students are overwhelmed by the freedoms of college.

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  1. Simrion says:

    Rings true…I’m a Media Major working in business equipment sales. I know of a Computer Science major working for Brinks as a driver and supervisor and a PR major working at the housing office of a major university…

  2. I find it curious that supposedly intelligent people, all of whom seem to have college degrees themselves, think others ought to limit their choices to those jobs that don’t require a college degree, while entirely shutting themselves out of the possibility of ever getting a job that does require one. It is better, economically speaking, to have college degree and not “need” it than to need it and not have it.

    An anecdote: I know a gentleman who worked at a large cabinet making company for twenty years, finishing as a supervisor. I say “finishing,” because he was fired for not having a college degree, which was somehow deemed necessary for his job. Was it a stupid choice on management’s part? Yes. That didn’t help my acquaintance, who was suddenly unemployed in his early forties, and without good prospects. This was, btw, in the late 90s.

  3. SuperSub says:

    Considering that many college degrees now cost more than homes and many degrees are completely useless, there is a good deal of truth to the scam claim.

  4. Mark Roulo says:

    It is better, economically speaking, to have college degree and not “need” it than to need it and not have it.

    This is true for the most part if the cost to get the degree is negligible.

    But consider the following two choices:
    (a) College 4-year degree (lets say in 18th century French literature from a not very good school) and $250K in non-dischargable debt, or
    (b) No college 4-year degree and $0K in debt.

    It is not obvious to me that (a) is a better choice. I do have a 4-year college degree, but I went to a state school and my parents paid for it. Their gift to me was that I could graduate with no debut.

    I don’t think it is hypocritical of me, with my 4-year degree, to suggest that option (a) might be a very bad choice for many kids.

    We can play with the degree, the school and the debt in scenario (a), but I’m quite confident that we can find some amount of school debt, for a sufficiently unprestigous school in a sufficiently un-career-practical major that almost everyone would agree that it was better to skip the schooling and the debt. Once we have reached that agreement, we are just arguing about where the cut-line it.

  5. Sean Mays says:


    Option a and b are incomplete. Let’s remember that the taxpayers are collectively on the hook; either through subsidizing state schools or providing grants and aid for many students.

    Those studies that show how much a college degree is “worth” are riddled with terrible assumptions. Such as the discount value on the debt being the 30 year T-bill rate. Plus they use historical earnings trends that are very likely not true any longer.

    If you want to do something that has negative net present value, that’s your choice. Asking me to subsidize n-years of beer guzzling to delay having to go to work; well, I’d prefer not to enable people that way.

  6. I know no one with $250k in education debt. Directional universities generally offer a fine education for very reasonable rates.

  7. Mark Roulo says:

    Asking me to subsidize n-years of beer guzzling to delay having to go to work; well, I’d prefer not to enable people that way.

    I’m not asking you to subsidize anything 🙂

    I was responding to Mike’s comment, which ignored the financial cost to the student of getting a 4-year degree.

    It can *also* be a bad investment (or spending of tax dollars, or whatever you wish to call it) for the governments (state and federal) that are paying for part of it. But that wasn’t the focus of my post.

  8. Mark, you’ve created an unrealistic dichotomy. I know no one who has $250k in educational debt (yes, I read the story, and the young lady’s choices were…poor). Directional universities provide fine educations at low cost. It is quite possible to finish a degree with little debt, and many young people who do not make the news do so every year. They’re also in a better position than your option b.

  9. SuperSub says:

    Lots of schools charging $50,000+ for tuition and room and board. Assuming four years, thats easily $200,000, and thats not counting other fees and books (my cousin is paying close to $2500 a year). Throw in interest on loans and, god forbid, an extra semester or two, and you easily hit $250,000. And many of these are popular colleges with large student bodies. So, while the dichotomy that Mark presented is not universal, it does exist for many. And don’t get me started on graduate degrees.

    And despite your assertion, something tells me a trained plumber or car mechanic will have more job offers and earn more than (fill-in-the-blank) studies majors.

  10. Mar Roulo says:


    I created an extreme case to illustrate that you can’t just look at the benefits. You also have to look at the costs.

  11. SuperSub says:

    Mark (or Mar now) –
    You may have intended to illustrate an extreme case, but the sad part is that it really wasn’t.