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Richard Vedder: Counterpoint

By Marc Hendel, Senior Research Analyst

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In the debate over the value of a college degree, the name Richard Vedder is associated with the position that college is not worth the investment. In addition to his position as professor of economics at Ohio University, Richard Vedder is director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity (CCAP). According to its website, CCAP, founded in 2006, "is dedicated to researching the rising costs and stagnant efficiency in higher education." It defines "affordability" as not just the costs associated with tuition, fees and other consumer costs related to education, but also what it calls "the burden that colleges impose on society."

Over Invested and Over Priced

One of the first policy papers put out by CCAP and authored by Richard Vedder is "Over Invested and Over Priced." As explained in the introduction to the report, Vedder's conclusion is that the investment in a college education is too high to justify the outcomes.

"An excellent case can be made that we are over invested in universities, that too many students attend school, that much of our investment is wasted. Moreover, the rise in costs — to society, to taxpayers, and especially to consumers — is excessive, and has been made more so by well-meaning but inappropriate public policies."

Some positions that Vedder takes in the paper include:

  • More government subsidies for higher education do not translate into more graduates. In contrast, he believes that more government subsidies only cause more spending at the institutions and do not allow for the intended consequence: lower tuition.
  • There is no correlation between the amount of state spending on higher education and the number of adults in the state with bachelor's degrees a decade later.
  • Although college graduates tend to be more productive in the work environment than those who did not attend college, he finds no evidence to show that this is due to college attendance. Instead, he suggests, this is a self-selection process — those individuals would have been more productive for the very reasons that encouraged them to go to college.
  • Investments in human capital do not translate to economic growth.
  • Teaching methods have not changed in 2,400 years. Advances in technology have made the production and consumption of nearly all consumer goods and services cheaper over time — this is not the case with higher education. Vedder argues that higher education has become less productive, less efficient and, therefore, more expensive over time.

Date: March 2012

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