Krugman on Higher Ed

Paul Krugman, as is often the case, is right on, this time on the erosion of America’s place in the world when it comes to educating our young:

About that erosion: there has been a flurry of reporting recently about threats to the dominance of America’s elite universities. What hasn’t been reported to the same extent, at least as far as I’ve seen, is our relative decline in more mundane measures. America, which used to take the lead in educating its young, has been gradually falling behind other advanced countries.

Most people, I suspect, still have in their minds an image of America as the great land of college education, unique in the extent to which higher learning is offered to the population at large. That image used to correspond to reality. But these days young Americans are considerably less likely than young people in many other countries to graduate from college. In fact, we have a college graduation rate that’s slightly below the average across all advanced economies.

Even without the effects of the current crisis, there would be every reason to expect us to fall further in these rankings, if only because we make it so hard for those with limited financial means to stay in school. In America, with its weak social safety net and limited student aid, students are far more likely than their counterparts in, say, France to hold part-time jobs while still attending classes. Not surprisingly, given the financial pressures, young Americans are also less likely to stay in school and more likely to become full-time workers instead.

It’s amazing to me that even as this sad story unfolds, conservatives can go on and on about the threat of a “socialist” state. How far down is that on the real-world, adult list of problems facing America?

Jesse Singal

Jesse Singal is a former opinion writer for The Boston Globe and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. He is currently a master's student at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Policy. Follow him on Twitter at @jessesingal.