When newspaper editors are in the mood to run a good old-fashioned screed about the collapsing value of college, they inevitably turn to Richard Vedder, an Ohio University economist who runs the Center for College Affordability and Productivity. Vedder likes to argue that the financial return on a B.A. is falling, graduates are chronically underemployed, and that our profligate universities are in for a reckoning once everyone wises up and stops throwing their money away. (For what it’s worth, I tend to disagree).
Today Vedder and one of his students, Christopher Denhart, have upped the ante a bit for The Wall Street Journal, where they’ve published an op-ed titled, “How the College Bubble Will Pop.” The reckoning, they say, is already upon us, as total college enrollment has fallen 1.5 percent since 2012.
“What’s causing the decline?” they ask. “While changing demographics–specifically, a birth dearth in the mid-1990s–accounts for some of the shift, robust foreign enrollment offsets that lack. The answer is simple: The benefits of a degree are declining while costs rise.”
It’s an alluring theory. But their evidence falls apart under even the lightest inspection.