U.S. overspends on college

The U.S. is overspending on higher ed, argues Jordan Weissmann in The Atlantic. “We devote more of our economy to postsecondary education than any other developed country (except South Korea, with whom we’re tied),” but we’re rated near the bottom in college spending “efficiency.” That’s degrees earned per percentage point of GDP spent. The chart’s weighted measure gives more credit for graduating students from four-year, rather than two-year, colleges, which boosts the U.S. rank.

“Unlike, say, Germany with its renowned apprenticeship systems,” the U.S. doesn’t offer “alternatives to college if you want a middle-class life,” writes Weissmann. “So ill-prepared young adults flood into degree programs they never finish, leaving the U.S. with some of the lowest completion rates in the developed world.” That means, “we’re spending extraordinary amounts of money to produce college dropouts.”

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  1. Mark Roulo says:

    There is also a value judgement that is different. In many of these other countries you pretty much cannot get in to college without reasonable grades/scores. The US pretty much allows for infinite retries (so you can go get a GED, then take some classes at a community college, then transfer to a 4-year institution). And the JCs pretty much accept everyone.


    But we know statistically, how many out of 1,000 kids with a SAT M+V score of, say, 900 will be able to successfully get a given degree. It would be more *efficient* to say to these kids, “Sorry, you don’t get to go to college. Get your scores up (which they probably mostly can’t) or go do something else.” But we don’t do that.


    I sorta like the idea that you can always try again (or keep trying), but what I don’t like is that many of these kids are wasting their time: they aren’t going to get through the program. And they really should go try something else (of course, it would help if we had better programs for “something else”).


    But that’s not how we do things. As the money runs out, we might try tightening up standards (e.g. SAT M+V score below 900 and you can’t get in to a UC or Cal State school … or if you need remedial classes you can’t do that at a Cal State or UC, you need to go to a community college). But we haven’t run out of money enough, yet.

  2. dangermom says:

    Sounds about right. The gutting of vo-tech programs in this country is a crime. This idea we’ve had for 30+ years that vo-tech isn’t worthy of respect has got to go.

  3. My small-town HS of 120 kids had an outstanding secretarial program; typing, shorthand and basic bookkeeping. Graduates had solid writing skills and knew proper grammar, spelling and format – in the days where typing was done on manual typewriters and copies were made with carbon paper. They walked into good jobs, right out of HS.

    My late FIL was for many years the principal of the vo-tech HS in a city of about 100k. Auto mechanics, welding sheet-metal working, tool and die making, cosmetology, secretarial and Licensed Practical Nurse programs all meant good jobs upon graduation. Such programs were in no way dumping grounds for the lazy or unprepared. Kids had to apply and the requirements were specific by program. I currently live in a city with two major hospital systems and there’s no reason that medical/nursing assistants, lots of different techs and other programs couldn’t be done in HS. Not everyone has the ability/preparation for real college work and not everyone has the desire to do it Stigmatizing non-college options is terrible.

    • Not to mention that many of these can’t be readily out sourced, tend to pay decent wages and are, oh yeah, pretty important to keeping the wheels turning.

  4. cranberry says:

    “We’re” not spending these sums. The aggregate sums expended are the results of millions of independent student and family decisions.

    Allow lenders to gauge the risks in lending money to students. Some students have a much greater chance to complete their degrees. Our system plans to encourage the marginal student to attend college. That is cruel, especially as student debt is non-dischargeable.