The case against college

Last April, Vermont independent Senator Bernie Sanders introduced the College for All Act, which would eliminate tuition and fees at public four-year colleges and universities for students from families that earn up to $125,000 per year. It would also make community college tuition-free for everyone. Good idea or bad?

Advocates of lowering the barriers to college say doing so helps both the students and the U.S. economy. Sanders, one of 21 co-sponsors of the bill in the Senate and House, noted that Germany, Finland, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden already have tuition-free public colleges and universities. The U.S. must do the same, he said in a statement, “if we are to succeed in a highly competitive global economy and have the best-educated workforce in the world.”

The evidence of the benefits of a higher education seems indisputable: People with a bachelor’s degree earn 73 percent more than those with a high school diploma on average, up from a 50 percent advantage in the late 1970s. It stands to reason that, as computers and robots get more powerful, humans will have to be more educated to master them.

On the other hand, anyone who’s been to college has to have some qualms about its value. Anatomy is essential if you’re going to be a doctor, and history if you plan to teach Western civ. But most of us don’t need to understand the Krebs cycle or the Peloponnesian War.