Richard Vedder Is Getting More Radical

26 June 2007 at 12:11 am 6 comments

| Peter Klein |

Murray Rothbard delighted in describing Lord Acton as “one of the few figures in the history of thought who, charmingly, grew more radical as he grew older.” Richard Vedder, researching the US higher education system, is experiencing a similar transformation:

Usually, the more you study something, the more moderate you become. The simple radical solutions prove to be impractical, infeasible, or not so simple as originally thought. My evolution, however, has been rather different — I have become more, not less, radicalized in my view that fundamental reform is needed in higher education. This viewed has evolved not because of some sort of ideological change of life, or a quasi-religious conversion of some sort. It has come from running regression models — studying the evidence. The more evidence that I see that I believe is creditable and meaningful, the more I am convinced of the following:

* Too many students, not too few, are going to college;

* College and universities are extremely inefficient, and at the margin public spending on them more likely lowers rather than raises economic growth;

* The federal financial aid programs have contributed to raising higher education costs, lowering efficiency, and increasing corruption within higher education — and done precious little good, sending few more kids to college than would have gone anyway (which, given the first point, is not all bad);

* Colleges and universities often violate an implicit contract with their donors in the way they allocate resources, very often paying scant attention to the needs of the undergraduate students who typically are their bread and butter;

*People need knowledge and skills more than ever, but alternative forms of providing those skills, such as vocational schools and on-the-job training are often superior and lower cost options.

*A greater percentage of entering college students should be attending community colleges, moving up to four year universities only if they succeed well at the community college level.

Entry filed under: - Klein -, Institutions, Teaching.

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6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Joe Mahoney  |  26 June 2007 at 6:57 am

    1. Perhaps from an ECONOMIC view the data do support that too many folks go to College. But might there be other benefits (to both the individual and to society) besides economic for taking a course on history, English literature, and so forth?

    2. Colleges are inefficient? Shocked, shocked I tell you! :-)

    3. Goodness knows that Business Schools allocate insufficient resources to undergraduate education. Deans’ careers seem to be based largely on MBA rankings and this translates into lots of resources for MBA students (better teachers, better classrooms) at the expense of the undergraduates.

  • 2. drtaxsacto  |  26 June 2007 at 8:08 am

    One might take that interpretation or another which would suggest that once they have seen the lights they are attracted like moths to light. Vedder has become increasingly strident on a couple of issues recently but it remains to be seen whether any of this “research” is more than a glorified polemic. The marginal expenditure study is just that, marginal in its methodology making little differentiation on types of expenditures or focus. But then why should careful methodology be important?

  • 3. Marcin Tustin  |  26 June 2007 at 9:51 am

    The question is how individuals will get replace the signalling mechanism which increases their own wealth, without needing to engage in significant entrepreneurship, and which gives them four years of leisure whilst still young.

    The latter can be addressed by a citizen’s basic income. But the former?

  • 4. Peter Klein  |  26 June 2007 at 10:23 am

    Marcin, signaling is valuable, to be sure, but it’s hard to believe there aren’t less costly signaling mechanisms. We had an earlier discussion of signaling here:

  • 5. jonfernquest  |  27 June 2007 at 7:04 am

    I just think the purely intellectual curriculum should be diversified with some more manual skills such as carpentry, automobile mechanics, or horticulture, for instance.

  • 6. Cliff Grammich  |  10 August 2007 at 8:18 am

    Peter, regarding signaling, I recall some reports (alas, I have only vague recollections, not citations) that fewer CEOs of the largest firms are Ivy graduates (and more from cheaper–or more efficient?–state schools?). I’m guessing you, Joe, Vedder, or nearly any other reader of this blog mioght be more familiar with data on that phenomenon.

    What brought this post and its comments to my mind again was an on-line essay I stumbled across over the weekend by Rick Perlstein ( on “What’s the Matter with College?” that your more up-to-date readers–I think that’s everybody but me–might have already seen. Perlstein was a few years behind me at Chicago, so I found his perspective interesting, although maybe not as much as what as I infer is his surprise that persons paying more and more for a commodity (the cost of post-secondary education has exceeded that of all inflation indices for several decades now, no?) would expect more of an economic return from it. Another friend to whom I sent this was also surprised that Perlstein would very much tout the independence that students get in college, but ignore some of the broad meanings of “disciplines” they are supposed to get there as well (admittedly a point removed from the economics of it, but one I thought possibly worth noting).

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