In a follow-up to the long discussion about whether or not college is a financial bubble, Education Sector’s Kevin Carey writes that while it’s probably not an actual bubble:

There are definitely huge inefficiencies lurking inside the higher education market, and both those problems and the present confusion about those problems stem from an under-appreciation of how complex and diverse seemingly-similar college degrees can be. Broadly speaking, college degrees can signal at least four distinct and important things:

1) The degree-holder has won an admissions tournament.

2) The degree-holder has undergone a process of acculturation in which he or she has learned how to think, talk, and act like those who have earned degrees before him or her.

3) The degree-holder has overcome a series of obstacles and completed a sequence of tasks necessary to earn a defined number of college credits.

4) The degree-holder has acquired a certain set of knowledge and skills.

While, depending on the type of college one attended, the degrees usually signal 1-3, it’s pretty hard to tell anything about 4, despite the fact that “acquiring a certain set of knowledge and skills” is ostensively the point of college.

That’s the real problem here, and that’s the reason people like PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel can go around saying college is an inflated bubble and people take him seriously.

It’s because no one has any real, quantifiable way of demonstrating what college actually gives people and what, perhaps therefore, college ought to cost.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer