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Education Inflation

May 9, 2009

President Obama’s plan to extend the Pell Grant programme to more jobless persons sounds like a noble idea. But there are two obvious problems with the plan, roughly put: the costs and the benefits. Paying for people’s post-secondary education is great when you can afford it. But the current US government is dangerously indebted and is doing no American any favour by continuing to ignore the need to seriously cut down expenses. If Obama wants to send more people to college then he first should find ways to finance this – and, no, dissolving the military is not a realistic option.

As to benefits, the French Cowboy has his doubts that they are really as big as one could assume at first sight. First of all, increasing the number of college-educated people will decrease the value of a college degree. Look at countries the population of which consist in large proportions of people who have been through higher education. They have taxi drivers with PhD’s and snack bar employees who have written theses on astrophysics. It is not only frustrating for someone with academic training to end up doing a job he could do without a college degree, it is also economically unreasonable. Education is an investment. Deciding for or against attending college is not only a question of costs but also of expected benefits. Monsieur Obama’s plan wrongly assumes that sending people to college is always worth taxpayers’ money.

Let me add that persons who have not been to college but are receiving the chance to do so for free after they have lost their jobs aren’t necessarily the scholarly types. It is not always lack of money that keeps people out of college training. Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for education. But if you are offered something for free you tend to accept it even if you don’t value it. If the French Cowboy were unemployed and had the option to either receive unemployment benefits and to keep on looking for work or to receive both unemployment benefits and college education for free, he would chose the latter bundle. Will it increase my chances to get a job later? Unlikely. The French Cowboy will be older and not necessarily much smarter after having received a degree in women’s history or what have you. While the individual may not benefit much from taking a Pell Grant because he has nothing to lose, the state as a whole is likely to have an even worse deal because tax payers are stuck with the bill.

But there is a chance that the job market has somewhat recovered while you have been to college and that you can go back to your old job. This will not make you very happy, nor will society see much of a benefit, but months of frustrating job searches and possibly even social unrest might have been averted. So maybe Monsieur Obama’s plan is only intended to keep the folks content with bread and circuses college degrees until he’s finished “remaking America.” And just imagine the army of formerly jobless, then college-biased, ‘I owe my education to Obama’ worshippers the president will have after the first beneficiaries of the programme have been run through the bastion of liberalism that are typical college campuses these days. Instead of going back to their old jobs they could walk in the path of the president and become ‘community organisers’ or follow the example of Obama’s former buddy Bill Ayers and write books about good education.

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