In a field of pipe dreams …





If you educate them, jobs will come. Right?

President Barack Obama said in his State of the Union address, “Of course, the education race doesn’t end with a high school diploma.  To compete, higher education must be within the reach of every American. That’s why we’ve ended the unwarranted taxpayer subsidies that went to banks, and used the savings to make college affordable for millions of students. And this year, I ask Congress to go further, and make permanent our tuition tax credit –- worth $10,000 for four years of college.  It’s the right thing to do.

"By the end of the decade, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world."

"Our future is at stake," UNLV President Neal Smatresk said recently. "The future of our state is at stake. The future of the good students who are here is at stake.

"If you are concerned about the economic future of our state, then you have to be concerned about UNLV."

"There's a very close correlation between bachelor's degrees and technology," said Rob Lang, director of Brookings Mountain West at UNLV told those attending a conference called Nevada 2.0: New Economies for a Sustainable Future. "We have lived off an industry (gaming) that was a great sector to provide a middle-class living for someone with a high school diploma. We're where Pittsburgh and Detroit were. We cannot use this engine to provide for the state budget."

With that in mind, the state’s university system Board of Regents recently voted to not close any campus, despite the recession and reduced tax revenue. There is talk of double-digit tuition and fee hikes in coming years on top of recent increases in fees of 50 percent.

Is there a point where the return lags too far behind the investment?

The Chronicle of Higher Education published a report in December by Richard Vedder revealing that from 1992 to 2008 there was tripling in the number of college graduates who were working in jobs that did not require anything more than a high school education or less.

Hopefully, there is more to education than job skills, but where is the tipping point as costs escalate? A library card is a lot cheaper than tuition.

Vedder, an Ohio University economist, and his researchers found, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 1992 there 28.9 million employed college grads, but 5.1 million, or 18 percent, of them worked in jobs BLS classified as “noncollege level jobs.”

In 2008 there were 49.35 million working college grads, of whom 17.4 million, or 35 percent, held jobs not requiring a degree.

Among Vedder’s observations are:

— “(T)he push to increase the number of college graduates seems horribly misguided from a strict economic/vocational perspective. It is precisely that perspective that is emphasized by those, starting with President Obama, who insist that we need to have more college graduates.”

— “(C)redential inflation arises from a perceived need by individuals to demonstrate potential employment competence through a piece of paper, i.e. a college diploma. Employers are using education as a screening and signaling device, at a low cost directly to them (although not costless because of the taxes they pay to sustain much of this), but at a high cost to the prospective employees and to society as a whole.”

— “Many of those advocating more access are well meaning and have pure motives, but they are ignorant of the evidence. But higher education is all about facts, knowledge — learning how the world works and disseminating that information to others. Some in higher education KNOW about all of this and are keeping quiet about it because of their own self-interest. We are deceiving our young population to mindlessly pursue college degrees when very often that is advice that is increasingly questionable.”

For many a college education is a crapshoot. And Nevadans of all people should know the probable return on that “investment.”