I had a nice chat this week with a reporter who’s doing a story on the push (by Gov. Mary Fallin and higher-education officials) for more college graduates in Oklahoma. I told the reporter:
- I think it’s healthy to be skeptical of central planning. We should take with a grain of salt the latest “five-year plan” from politicians and bureaucrats — especially those with a vested economic interest in the subject. In a free society, students and their parents will determine whether Oklahoma needs more college graduates.
- At the very least, the central planners owe it to taxpayers to be more precise. Do they think Oklahoma needs more engineering graduates? Accounting graduates? Those seem plausible enough, but do they really think we need more anthropology graduates? Art history graduates? Women’s Studies graduates? I would be skeptical of such a claim, as would the recent sociology graduate with $50,000 in student-loan debt who is delivering pizza and living with his parents.
- Indeed, it appears to me that we’re already turning out more college graduates than the labor market needs. The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics informs us that the U.S. now has 115,000 janitors, 83,000 bartenders and 323,000 restaurant servers with bachelor’s degrees. Here in Oklahoma, “the low demand for college graduates is not expected to change anytime soon,” OCPA and CCAP pointed out last year. “The state’s own labor-market projections, forecasting out until 2018, foresee anemic total growth in fields that require at least a bachelor’s degree. Of the projected top 20 fastest-growing (by percentage change) fields, only two require a bachelor’s degree. On an annual basis until 2018, it is forecasted that for every one job open for college graduates, there will be 4.55 jobs available for non-college graduates. Overall, labor-market opportunities for college graduates are lacking in Oklahoma.”
- In the spirit of “truth in advertising,” higher education officials need to be candid with students and taxpayers: Not every college degree ensures prosperity. In fact, according to Bloomberg BusinessWeek, at some Oklahoma universities, the return on investment is actually negative. Moreover, the ball and chain of student-loan debt can delay family formation and home ownership.
“Ideas have consequences,” the conservative thinker Richard Weaver observed, and it’s gratifying to see free-market ideas are having consequences in the public-policy discussion. State regents are now discussing moving to a performance-based funding formula, taking into account factors such as graduation rates. University of Oklahoma president David Boren acknowledges that higher education needs to be “more cost-effective.” He suggests there may be too many college campuses and too many course offerings, and says professors need to teach more.
What next — the call for more higher-education vouchers in Oklahoma?!
Granted, the status quo hasn’t yet lost its status — witness the never-ending discussion about more government spending on higher education. But thanks to continued thought-leadership from free-market voices and bold political leadership from the likes of Gov. Rick Perry, Gov. Mitch Daniels and, most recently, Gov. Scott Walker, change is coming to higher education.