The U.S., in contrast, has a far more hierarchical higher education system, with a small number of selective private institutions at the top of the pecking order; a squeezed middle of less-selective public institutions that offer instruction of reasonably high quality, though this sector finds itself under pressure from a combination of rising administrative expenditures, pointless positional competition with the elite institutions, and, arguably, public disinvestment; and a large, expanding universe of institutions that offer degrees of dubious quality at ruinous cost, the worst of which are not unreasonably described as predatory. All of the above are underwritten, to greater or lesser extents, by the federal government.
What are the consequences of these differences between Canada and U.S.? One, as the economists Valerie Ramey and Gary Ramey have suggested, is that college-educated parents find themselves locked in a “rug rat race,” in which an intensified, zero-sum competition for access to selective universities in the U.S. has led to increased expenditures of time and money. The less rivalrous nature of Canadian college admissions has led, it seems, to a more humane approach to middle-class parenting that is more compatible with an egalitarian ethic. At the same time, one could argue that higher-education elitism in America generates the aforementioned negative spillovers for millions of U.S. families, with parents warping their lives and those of their children in the forlorn hope of besting others very much like themselves in a mindless race for status.