| October 31, 2011

Does Oklahoma need more college graduates?

Yes and no.

Policymakers and higher-education officials who say “Oklahoma needs more college graduates”—and who spend other people’s money to produce those graduates—owe it to taxpayers to be more precise.

Of course, this lingual imprecision is not limited to higher education. For example, politicians have been known to laud “the unsung heroes of Oklahoma, our hard-working state employees”—as if 36,000 people could be treated as a monolith. But can a state trooper or an assistant attorney general really be lumped in with a tax-funded lobbyist or a “diversity specialist” in some state agency that shouldn’t even exist in the first place?

Same with the phrase “our public school teachers,” as if 38,000 human beings—some world-class, some good, some incompetent—could be treated as interchangeable automatons.

In like manner, it is vacuous to urge people to “get a degree” because Oklahoma “needs more college graduates.” Few would dispute that Oklahoma needs more STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) graduates. But do we really need more anthropology graduates? Sociology graduates? Are Oklahoma employers searching frantically for more people with bachelor’s degrees in recreation? In truth, many of Oklahoma’s college graduates are already leaving the state “at an alarming rate, indicating an internal overproduction of college graduates.”

Is it really wise to extract scarce resources from entrepreneurs—did you realize that half of Oklahoma’s billionaires don’t have college degrees?—in order to produce more graduates with soft degrees whose only job will be to administer an already bloated welfare state or to harm society in other ways? No.

I would suggest that Oklahoma needs more STEM graduates, for example, and a tax and regulatory climate that fosters the entrepreneurship necessary to hire them. But with so many debt-ridden college graduates currently waiting tables or delivering pizza or, worse yet, making headlines Occupying various places, now seems a particularly inopportune time to say flatly, “We need more college graduates.”

The Higher Education Bubble

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