More College Does Not Beget More Economic Prosperity

George Leef:

In his first address to Congress President Obama argued that the U.S. needs to put far more people through college so that our economy will remain competitive with those of other nations. He set forth a goal of again having “the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.”
Failure to raise our educational attainment level, on the other hand, “is a prescription for economic decline.”
The President’s thinking is shared by many others. Economic success, both individually and at the national level, tends to correlate with education. People (and countries) with little education are mostly poor, while people (and countries) with very advanced education are mostly wealthy. Therefore, it’s tempting to jump to the conclusion that partaking of more education will boost an individual’s income and that a country can increase prosperity by “investing” more in education.
Resist that temptation, which is based on fallacious reasoning. True, education correlates with prosperity and economic growth, but one of the crucial lessons of logic is that correlation does not necessarily imply causation. We must apply it here.
People who have high intelligence and ambition often earn college and advanced degrees. Sometimes that formal education is important in their later success, but many say that their education had very little to do with it. Conversely, some extremely successful people dropped out of college or never attended at all. And as those ridiculous Occupy Wall Street protests taught us, huge numbers of college graduates are unemployed or employed only in jobs that don’t call for anything more than basic trainability.