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21 May 2011

What College Does

There has been a lot of debate in the blogosphere lately about the value of a college education. Some have called it the new bubble. The housing bubble was inflated by the belief that housing values would continue on their upward trajectory indefinitely. When it became evident that this growth was unsustainable, the bubble burst. It seems to many that something similar is going on with college degrees right now. The relative cost of a college degree has been been increasing over the last twenty or so years. People have still been willing to burden themselves with the loan debt necessary to get a degree believing that it would guarantee employment and income later down the road. Many have rightly pointed out that the quality of a college education isn't what it once was nor does it guarantee employment how it used to. So, going to college isn't paying off--except when we compare it to not going to college. Catherine Rampell at Economix does a good job of making this point. I especially like where she writes, "...[H]aving a postsecondary degree sometimes serves as litmus test for employers who can be picky about hiring." College is a socializing ritual that, independent of skill- and knowledge-acquisition, transforms students into would-be employees. The ritual is somewhat arbitrary but, nonetheless, is a symbolic indicator to employers that a candidate is capable. Stay in school.

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