the expensive and overrated BA

The recent acceptance (within he last 30 years) of the BA as the "new high school degree," reflects the greatest privatization and steepest price hike in job training in US history.  Yglesias linked to this report summary (report here) describing how expensive getting a college education actually is in the US:
  • The United States is the most expensive country in which to pursue a postsecondary education. On average, it costs almost $125,000 in public and private expenditures, and the US is more skewed towards private costs than any other nation except Korea. Americans must personally invest nearly $60,000 to obtain a degree, almost three times more than the next highest country, Canada, where citizens must pay an average of just over $20,000. We spend more public dollars than all but six countries as well. 
  • At the same time, college degrees pay off the most in the United States. Even after the large financial investment, a postsecondary degree is worth $113,000 in today’s dollars to American males and $82,000 for American women. For males, this is 33% higher than any other country, and for females the figure is 47%.
Many, many jobs that only required a high school degree now routinely require a BA even though a BA cannot be gotten in a free public institution like the public schools (not really free because the fees required in public schools are shockingly high and climbing.)  The wage differential reflects the substantially smaller safety net and lack of progressive economic policies that preserve the economic habitat in the US. That puts immense pressure on citizens to somehow fund a college education in order to get one of the few good jobs left.

It is really not clear how the BA is any better than a high school degree for many positions currently requiring one.  As soon as mass, compulsory education was achieved, the US moved to the high school degree from the 8th-grade graduation as the majority of jobs moved from agricultural to industrial though most jobs still do extensive training.  And even if many jobs will need higher math and science skills, it is not clear that people need a BA to achieve these.  The computer industry was built by self-taught programmers working within a healthy economic environment. Over time, colleges have struggled to ensure they can manufacture computer degrees and now they finally cornered the market.  Rather, it seems that the bulky and ineffective K-12 so-called system is assumed to be dysfunctional and a BA ensures that educational levels rise, a BA being the new high school degree, and system reform or even democratic system change is remote.

Years ago I sat with other homeschooling parents in a session (at the wonderful Rethinking Education conferences; this link is an example, not the actual conference I attended which was one of the early ones) where many parents discussed this credentialing as a way of creating a monopoly. Parents discussed how Lincoln could read the law and take the exam and how that had changed over time to requiring law school.  It is an unsustainable system that feeds on itself.  It is not unlike the military that now threatens to sink the country economically in the name of patriotism.
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