Prof. Mankiw Has Not a Clue

There are three forces at work that are making college increasingly expensive. So what should we do about it?

Source: Three Reasons for Those Hefty College Tuition Bills

I posted two comments.

I’m a former math professor (I taught at Wash. U. in St. Louis.) and am well aware of the flaw in arguing – as Professor Mankiw does – that college is a valuable resource for society by pointing out that

“…in 2014 the median worker with a bachelor’s degree (and no advanced degree) earned $69,260, compared with $34,540 for the median worker with only a high school diploma…”.

Here is how The Economist explained the fallacious thinking.

“…returns [to individual students] have held up not because graduates have done so well but because those with only high-school degrees have done so badly…

…If graduates earn more than non-graduates because their studies have made them more productive, then university education will boost economic growth and society should want more of it. Yet poor student scores suggest otherwise…”

The link to the Economist’s article is on my blog inside-higher-ed.

You can also find on my blog an explanation – with supporting stories and documents – of “how university education dumbs down high school”. Just look under that category on the blog site.

I believe that after reading what really happens in “higher” education, most people would agree that the present system dramatically misallocates resources and contains perverse incentives at the top to worsen American education, from the top to the bottom.


These are very misleading facts using heavily skewed data:

“…Increasing educational attainment is also the best way to combat growing income inequality. Over the last 40 years, the wages of skilled workers have increased substantially compared with the wages of the unskilled…”

First, neither “educational attainment” nor “skilled” are always the same as degreed – even at some “elite” schools.

I know that from my own professorial experience.

Just one demonstrative example – of which there are many – is that the “standard, cookbook” course in differential equations that I was pressured to teach at Washington University in St. Louis is not close to the one that is taught at places like MIT, even though the students are similarly qualified.

At Wash. U., the math chair wanted a “cookbook” course (He had just “wrested” a course from Eng. and wasn’t going to give up this one.) and Engineering wanted “retention”. This need for “retention” was pointed out to me by the Dean of Student Academic Integrity after I wrote him that students who cheated weren’t doing well in the course. See my blog for the documented story and the reactions of administrators to my teaching the course at the MIT level.

The second problem with the quote from Prof. Mankiw’s piece is the use of the “last 40 years”. Forty years ago the average students studied about 25 hours a week out of class. Now that number is around 13 – as befits the requirements of a “cookbook” course.

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