I’m sure a Yale economist could formalise this with set theory, but the idea is pretty straightforward. This is from Steve Postrel:
My hypothesis is that it is precisely the dumbing down of U.S. education over the last decades that explains the increase in willingness to pay for education. The mechanism is diminishing marginal returns to education.
Typical graduate business school education has indeed become less rigorous over time, as has typical college education. But typical high school education has declined in quality just as much. As a result, the human capital difference between a college and high-school graduate has increased, because the first increments of education are more valuable on the job market than the later ones. It used to be that everybody could read and understand something like Orwell’s Animal Farm, but the typical college graduates could also understand Milton or Spencer. Now, nobody grasps Milton but only the college grads can process Animal Farm, and for employers the See Spot Run–>Animal Farm jump is more valuable than the Animal Farm–>Milton jump.
So the value of a college education has increased even as its rigour has declined, because willingness to pay for quality is really willingness to pay for incremental quality.
I have a feeling that with the increased importance of programming, and the fact that programming skill is verifiable, smart kids will start arbing the skills premium, taking the $150k otherwise spent on college to start a business or buy a condo, and avoid those $50k/year schools that offer little.
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