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Burst and Bust--The Emerging Promise of U.S. Higher Education

The Wall Street Journal is doing all it can to focus the business community on the problems facing U.S. higher education. First, a January 7 feature story by Glenn Reynolds shed light on the eroding value of a college degree. Two days later, a January 9 editorial by Richard Vedder and Christopher Denhart suggested that the combination of reduced benefits and rising costs make college an investment bubble ready to pop.

There is no question that data demonstrates higher earnings are commanded by folks with bachelor's and graduate degrees than those with only (or less than) a high school diploma. Hidden in the data, however, is the dynamic that this gap is driven more by the downward pressure on the wages of the less educated than the salary climb of those credentialed graduates. Nonetheless, guidance counselors, teachers and others in the college admissions game pressure students indiscriminantly into the swift upstream current leading to the college ranks.

The result? Many kids unnecessarily end up acquiring all that college has to offer, including rising debt they can't erase, when they'd have been better served tracking toward certifications or associate's degrees in high-demand fields. Post-secondary achievement is critical, but that doesn't mean you must go to college to be successful.

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