| June 11, 2012

Fresh thinking needed on higher ed

Conventional wisdom holds that most of the fastest-growing jobs in Oklahoma and the United States require a college degree. But is that true?

In the June issue of OCPA’s Perspective, higher-education researchers George Leef and Jenna Ashley Robinson write: “According to the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission, for the decade 2008-2018, among the 20 occupations expected to have the greatest number of job offerings, only five (teachers, accountants, registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, and general managers) require education beyond high school.”

Now at OCPA we’re big believers in higher education (I challenge you to name another nonprofit think tank that has awarded $127,000 to students to help them attend college). But we also understand the importance of challenging the conventional wisdom when necessary. In an age when some business leaders say higher education is hampering economic growth, and entrepreneurs like Jeff Sandefer (who formerly taught at the University of Oklahoma) say higher education’s business model is unsustainable, blind commitment to the status quo is unwise.

George Mason University economist Bryan Caplan, unpersuaded by the argument that a standard academic education prepares students for a wide variety of jobs, says “it’s closer to the truth to say that a standard academic education prepares you for zero jobs. This is clearest for K-12 education in bad school districts, but also holds for most college majors. Even many majors that sound ‘vocational’ prepare students for occupations with very few openings—see psychology and journalism. … Imagine if we actually voucherized existing education spending [an idea OCPA has long favored] and let students spend their vouchers to subsidize their own apprenticeships.”

As a possible higher-education meltdown (Mark Cuban’s word) approaches, these are the kinds of innovative ideas Oklahoma policymakers should be considering.

Brandon Dutcher can be reached at or

Loading Next