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University | Munk Debates

EPISODE #17

University

Be it resolved, cut public spending on higher education, it’s a waste of time and money

Guests
Bryan Caplan
Nicholas Dirks

About this episode

A University education is commonly viewed as the best path for young people to launch a successful career. Proponents of higher education argue that these institutions create well rounded individuals who learn excellent writing and critical thinking skills that flourish in the workplace and set students on a path towards professional success. Lately, however, critics of colleges and universities are arguing the opposite: spending thousands of dollars on a University degree is a waste of time and money that doesn’t teach employable skills and leaves students weighed down by unmanageable student debt for years to come.

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Guests

Bryan Caplan

"Funding education is an exercise in futility. The more education people have, the more they will need in order to look impressive."

Bryan Caplan

"Funding education is an exercise in futility. The more education people have, the more they will need in order to look impressive."

Bryan Caplan is a Professor of Economics at George Mason University, and New York Times Bestselling author. 
 
He’s written The Myth of the Rational Voter, named "the best political book of the year" by the New York TimesSelfish Reasons to Have More KidsThe Case Against Education, and Open Borders (co-authored with Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal's Zach Weinersmith). He blogs for EconLog, and has published in the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, TIME, Newsweek, Atlantic, American Economic Review, Economic Journal, Journal of Law and Economics, and Intelligence, and appeared on ABC, BBC, Fox News, MSNBC, and C-SPAN.
 
An openly nerdy man who loves role-playing games and graphic novels, he lives in Oakton, Virginia, with his wife and four kids.
 
 

Nicholas Dirks

"Many of the things students learn in college are critical for the very functioning of our democracy and civil society"

Nicholas Dirks

"Many of the things students learn in college are critical for the very functioning of our democracy and civil society"

Nicholas Dirks is a professor of history and anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley, where he served as the 10th Chancellor of the University. An internationally renowned historian and anthropologist specializing in the study of South Asia, he is the author or editor of seven major books on the history and anthropology of South Asia and the British empire, as well as many articles and essays on themes ranging from social theory and globalization to education and the history and future of knowledge production. 

Before coming to Berkeley, Dirks was the executive vice president for the arts and sciences and dean of the faculty at Columbia University, where he had been Franz Boas Professor and Chair of the Department of Anthropology.  Dirks also taught at Caltech and the University of Michigan. 
 

Show Notes

Here is a paper by Professor Nicholas Dirks arguing for more public funding for universitities.
 
You can purchase Bryan Caplan’s book, The Case Against Education, here.
 
US total student debt is now over $1.5 trillion. The average student-loan debt per graduating student in 2018 who took out loans is $29,800.
 
Bryan talks about credential inflation and how it encourages people to go to get degrees for jobs their parents did not have to. Employers are seeking more education for jobs that formerly required less education, even when the skill set required to do the job has not changed.
 
Professor Dirks argued that although students with liberal arts degrees do not earn well right out of college (compared to their science and engineering peers), over time their career trajectories do improve. Reports show that by age 40 liberal arts graduates do earn similar salaries to their STEM graduate peers.
 
Here is a look at how US and UK universities compare. The US system requires students to take a variety of courses outside their majors, while the UK favours smaller classes that focus specifically on the student’s chosen discipline.
 
Bryan says that 80% of STEM majors (science, technology, engineering, and math) do not go on to get STEM jobs. This Atlantic piece goes into detail about how STEM degrees do not necessarily lead to jobs in those respective fields
 
The Varsity Blues Scandal – also known as the college admissions bribery scandal – was the US Justice Department’s largest-ever college admissions prosecution, with an investigation that involved 200 agents nationwide and resulted in charges against 50 people in six states.
 
Nicholas mentioned Peter Thiel’s fellowship program to reward those who don’t go to college. In 2011, the successful investor and entrepreneur launched a program that awards $100,000 to promising young entrepreneurs who are willing to drop out of college and focus on turning their ideas into successful businesses.