New at Cato Unbound: Charles Murray vs. the B.A.

Charles Murray argues that idea that everyone should get a four-year college degree is the bunk.
Here's this month's sales pitch:

Universal college education is often held up by politicians and pundits as a heady ideal of social progress. Economists insistently point out the “wage premium” for college graduates and infer that a main route to greater social and economic equality is an increase in college enrollment. Barack Obama, probably America’s next president, has put forth a plan for meaty tax credits  “for Americans who need a hand with tuition and fees,” because, as he says, “I do not accept an America where you can’t achieve your potential because you can’t afford it.” But does this really make sense? Do you really need a four-year college degree to “achieve your potential”? Is more college for more people really such a guaranteed ticket to greater opportunity and equality?
In this month’s Cato Unbound, the American Enterprise Institute’s Charles Murray, who knows something about ruffling feathers, argues that the BA degree isn’t all its cracked up to be, and urges us to adopt a system that stops pushing everyone to get a BA, whether they really need one or not, and starts offering a wide array of certification exams that signal competence without requiring years of college and thousands in debt. Lined up to reply are economist Pedro Carneiro of the University College, London, an expert in “human capital”; economist Bryan Caplan of George Mason University, who suspects that value of higher education is more about signaling than the cultivation of skill; and education policy expert Kevin Carey of Education Sector.

Carneiro is a frequent co-author of Nobelist James Heckman. His retort to Murray will be available in the morn. The idea that increasing rates of college enrollment is a key to reducing wage inequality is extremely widespread among labor and education economists. If Murray's right, it would seem that lot of fancy economists aren't.

Author: Will Wilkinson

Vice President for Research at the Niskanen Center