Pew Research Center Publishes Non-Sequitur to Send Everyone to College

Readers will recall that the first time the LSTB crossed paths with a study by the Pew Research Center, it committed the mother of composition fallacies by applying findings for professional degrees to J.D.s only. It was a poor effort but instructive of Pew’s college-for-all agenda. Its most recent study, published on February 11, goes all-in on the you’re-hosed-if-you-don’t-go-to-college line. It’s titled, “The Rising Cost of Not Going to College,” and opens triumphally:

For those who question the value of college in this era of soaring student debt and high unemployment, the attitudes and experiences of today’s young adults—members of the so-called Millennial generation—provide a compelling answer. On virtually every measure of economic well-being and career attainment—from personal earnings to job satisfaction to the share employed full time—young college graduates are outperforming their peers with less education.

There are two problems here:

(1) I don’t care about Millenials’ “attitudes” based on Pew’s surveys. I’m not saying that the Pew Center is dishonest in its methodology or interpretation; rather, Millenials’ perceptions don’t address any of the criticisms “those who question the value of college in this era of soaring student debt and high unemployment” have raised. The same situation arose recently with a survey of law students’ opinions about law school. They said they felt they were getting a good legal education, which is fine, but it doesn’t mean that there were jobs for them afterward that allowed them to use the knowledge they gained and pay their debts.

Likewise, I don’t care if Millenials think their educations prepared them for their work; I care if it did prepare them, if it could have been delivered more cheaply, and if there were actually enough jobs available for them. Instead, the bulk of the study is an Orwellian effort to twist the simple finding that the economy’s deeply depressed, jobs are scarce, and wages are low into an advertisement for college education.

For example:

To be sure, the Great Recession and the subsequent slow recovery hit the Millennial generation particularly hard. Neither college graduates nor those with less education were spared. On some key measures such as the percentage who are unemployed or the share living in poverty, this generation of college-educated adults is faring worse than Gen Xers, Baby Boomers or members of the Silent generation when they were in their mid-20s and early 30s.

But today’s high school graduates are doing even worse, both in comparison to their college-educated peers and when measured against other generations of high school graduates at a similar point in their lives.

Yes, the economy’s better than in 2009, but how bad do things have to get for Pew to say that cyclical forces are a bigger cause of mass unemployment and reduced earnings than lack of college education?

(2) To say that college graduates are “outperforming” those with less education is a waste of time. The questions are whether all college graduates benefit equally (they don’t) and why they generally earn more than high school grads. If college education is mostly a positional good that signals preexisting abilities, then the problem is positional goods, not lack of education.

My subtlest part of the study is when Pew asked college graduates what they could have done in college to better prepare them for an ideal job.

Question: If everyone studies harder or looks for work sooner at the same time, how many jobs will they create?

Close to zero.

The Pew Research Center’s structural unemployment dogma is irresponsible and wholly without basis.



  1. The days of college education being inherently valuable at current prices are just plain gone. The market has responded, and it is just not worth what the sellers want buyers to pay. The sellers need to readjust their expectations accordingly, just like any market participant.

    I personally agree that an educated society is a net positive, but caveat emptor becuase all the risk is placed upon the young seeker of knowledge, not the wise, venerable proffessoriat who “deserve” their summer homes and late-model cars.

  2. I’ll just leave these here:

    – The 10-year decline in wages for most college graduates,

    – And this doozy of a chart, showing that the real entry-level wages for college graduates from the late 1970’s through 2011:

    Real entry-level hourly wage for male college graduates in 1979: $20.61. In 2011? A mighty $21.68. For female grads in 1979, $16.30. In 2011? $18.80.

    Meanwhile, according to the excellent article “Bad Education” by Malcolm Harris, we can see that the average price of college increased 650% over inflation from 1978 through 2011.

    Yep, that college premium has never been greater… And man, do I have a deal on some discounted SLABS for you!

  3. P.S. I have since learned, to my considerable lack of surprise, that none other than Lumina funded this Pew study. Go figure.

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