20y-ish reader, rare commenter....

I love your thinking on education...and I think your reporting on it might benefit a little bit from ONE further line. Even considering all the signaling ... your major matters.

When you say: 55,920 for college grads --- that's a fairly strongly double-humped average.

My line, from checking earnings by major off and on for a while:

College degrees that start with calculus improve earnings

College degrees that involve programming improve earnings

College degrees that result in licensure (Accounting, Nursing) improve earnings

Those salaries have averages much closer to $100k than 50.

College degrees that don't do 1 of the above barely nudge earnings at all.

The rest mostly don't.

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Excellent point and covered in Bryan’s book.

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1. I did read the book.

2. I think it under-discusses that point, even though it brings it up.

3. It's kinda orthogonal to the thesis.

4. The size of the major difference is what's shocking to me: rough remembering of numbers from last time I checked

no HS Diploma: $18k

HS Diploma: $24k

Low-$ Degree: $36k

High-$ Degree: $100k

That's of course all before cost of college, foregone salary, and odds of failure, and the extent to which it's mostly signaling..

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1. I did read the book. (Excellent).

2. I think it under-discusses that point, even though it brings it up. (Good point. You’re probably right).

3. It's kinda orthogonal to the thesis. (Okay. Feel free to elaborate).

4. The size of the major difference is what's shocking to me: rough remembering of numbers from last time I checked

no HS Diploma: $18k

HS Diploma: $24k

Low-$ Degree: $36k

High-$ Degree: $100k (All seems accurate).

You’re right Bryan’s book is a narrower perspective than I would want. Is it misleading? It seems to emphasize general aspects of higher education while not emphasizing special and important cases.

I agree with you and take back my original comment above.

In graduate school I was trained to learn rules of thumb: quick and easy ways of solving seemingly difficult engineering problems. Rules of thumb are valuable and can be effective, but they’re also risky to use because they have assumptions built in that are invalid in certain cases. Bryan’s book is a bit like a rule of thumb. It’s a valuable book, and a unique perspective. It’s an effective perspective for most people, but one can argue that it makes assumptions that are either not clearly communicated, accidentally under emphasized, or purposefully de-emphasized in order to espouse a provocative thesis.

With that said, I love Bryan Caplan, but like everyone else he isn’t perfect.

I prefer Richard Vedder’s book Restoring the Promise. Higher Education in America.

Bryan gave the book a positive review. It’s comprehensive, rigorous and well written. It might be more helpful than Bryan’s book.


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In most states you can cut the cost of college / university in half. Do Running State / College in High School for your last 2 years - AND MAKE SURE THAT YOU SELECT CLASSES THAT WILL TRANSFER TO THE TARGET DEPARTMENT AT THE STATE UNIVERSITY. Bust your butt. Transfer after graduation. You should go in as a junior, but if you missed a class or two, you will go in as a freshman and then can transfer your credits. After your first term at the university you will be a junior and can go for admission to your major.

My son did this. He was 1 course shy of his associates, but all of his courses transferred to the college of business (calculus, stats, accounting, econ, programming, ...). After one quarter, he was into the business college, where he did his BA, specializing in MIS. It took him 7 quarters to graduate. He did his MS in Business - data security (4 quarters) and headed into the tech space.

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Congratulations Bryan! Isn’t the media wonderful? :)

You say “Students who enroll but fail to graduate reliably get negative returns.” I enjoyed Marc Andreesen’s spin on this topic. “For those that are admitted to an Ivy League school - that is the credential.” Paraphrasing. They can walk away from college before graduating or even before enrolling; confidently enter the job market with the stamp on their resume that says, “Admitted to Harvard University.”

What does this say about Harvard, or MIT, or Yale? At a minimum it says that most of the students that are admitted have extremely high SAT and ACT scores, and that it is extremely hard to get into these schools.

Why are some doing this? Because foregoing college for an excellent Silicon Valley job puts 300K savings in your pocket, which can be used for a 20% down payment on a condo in Santa Clara County. And working for a top Silicon Valley firm might be worth more than an Ivy League credential, not just because the job is a better credential, but that it also gives you valuable real world skills and pays six figures.

So when will high school graduates skip college and simply place their SAT and ACT scores on their resume? Andreesen says that he is seeing resumes from non-college graduates that advertise credentials such as “Admitted to MIT” and “Admitted to Stanford.”

For some of the best and brightest, pre-K through 12 is the new college!

Here’s the Andreesen podcast.


And an excellent book that provides a comprehensive description of the extensive, multi-layered problems with higher education: “Restoring the Promise: Higher Education in America by Richard Vedder.” Vedder references your book at least twice.


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How do I apply to get $300,000 !INSTACASH! for not going to college?

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Wealthy parents if you’re lucky.

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Nope, just middle class, my late father was a combat vet USAF fighter pilot, studied aeronautical engineering, but no degree because the GI Bill required him to quit college and go to Korea to fly combat missions, 1953. Before WW2 there was one PhD in the family, late 1800s, sociologist, university administrator.

Anyways, with real “rich” parents, college is mostly irrelevant for people that have talent, are smart and work hard. Unless they are self-destructive, their access to elite business and professional networks is what matters. They are likely to get $300,000 for their down payment from their family.

If I recall what Dr. Caplan said in his earlier work correctly , college is more of a dating service, quasi arranged marriages for the upper classes, than education.

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Apparently that PhD ancestor was, like everybody else back then, instructed in religion and theology. As such he was a prison reformer, in the darkest decades of Jim Crow in the south. Not sure if he actually made any difference. Almost everyone back then personally observed lynchings. Republicans were frequently liberals, especially in the south.

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It depends on the major. Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) at Cal Berkeley is no dating service. Physics at CalTech is no dating service. Communications at Chico State? Mostly a series of keg parties. Any degree at BYU? Combination dating service and academics.

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Right, as is well known. What percentage of students are STEM majors. My guess is 15-20? Take away foreign students and that probably drops a lot.

Of course even STEM is now infected by “woke” mental dysfunction, so the meaning and value of such degrees is presumably in decline.

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It seems that self-censorship is high at nearly all college campuses no matter the major. Certainly mechanical engineering majors are exposed to much less social justice philosophy than history majors, but it seems hard to escape social justice fundamentalism in general education requirements, dorms, and college culture in general.

Here’s one attempt to understand and quantify the woke problem in higher education: it’s a message I sent to Greg Lukianoff about two months ago based on my reading of FIRE’s Free Speech Rankings report.


If Harvard moves from dead last to #1 in FIRE’s overall rankings, this statement on page 13 of your rankings report will likely still be true: “When it comes to students’ comfort expressing their views, the differences between schools in the top five and schools in the bottom five are mostly negligible.”

So in terms of student outcomes, and a student’s day-to-day experience and learning, what improves when a school goes from dead last to #1 in your overall rankings?

Also, it seems like a school’s overall ranking depends too much on the tolerance difference for controversial speakers, and the disruptive conduct associated with such speakers, because most students are not attending controversial speaker events nor being impacted by disruptive conduct in their regular classes. So does this not discount the importance of your overall ranking for prospective students?

Here’s the full excerpt and link for those curious.

“When it comes to students’ comfort expressing their views, the differences between schools in the top five and schools in the bottom five are mostly negligible. The two exceptions are the percentage of students who reported feeling comfortable expressing their views on a controversial political topic in class (43% at the bottom five schools; 39% at the top five schools) and the percentage of students who reported feeling comfortable doing so in a common campus space (50% at the bottom five schools; 44% at the top five schools).”



So, with that in mind, I would say engineering and science majors are still exposed to too much progressive ideology, but what is the next best alternative? Alternatives seem extremely limited.

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Just a comment on the low value of 'area studies and languages'

I had a boss whose son did mid-eastern studies and Arabic - and Army ROTC. Very applicable. He went straight into military intelligence and was deployed to Bargram right after training.

8 years ago I told my son that his backup if his math skills were too low was Eastern Euoropean studies with a minor in Russian - and Army ROTC. His mother is a Ukrainian immigrant and he has modest Ukrainian. It was obvious 10 years ago that the military was going to need a lot of Eastern European specialists and linguists.

Preparing for the service is a reasonable path. If you have prepared for the screening test you can get into some valuable training programs. And there are related programs that train youngsters for real work without going into the service. My son-in law works on a base in Utah and they have programs to feed high school kids into training programs for things like aircraft maintenance and the like. Real skills and real jobs.

I had a co-worker whose daughter wanted to study psychology at college. I suggested two variants instead - law enforcement with a psych minor, or business - marketing with a psych minor. Both feed into reasonable job paths and can probably use the psych to some degree.

When I was in high school I spend 2 years doing pen and ink drafting and graduated ready to work as a starting draftsman (I am dating myself here). I had also worked in a clothing customization facility on Saturdays at 15 - live steam presses, no air conditioning - in Baltimore. It wasn't bad during the winter, but over the summer it was certainly unpleasant. I sure didn't want to keep doing that as a career. I worked my way through college doing machining / tech work to support research teams as a low wage student worker.

There are a lot of kids in high school who don't want to be there - and they make it hard for anybody else to learn anything. They are better on a job somewhere - but I would make some reasonable provision for them to return to school, probably a school for adults, later if and when they decide they are ready to learn something.

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Jan 24·edited Jan 24

Your call for more precise data is good.

re: "I remain skeptical of many commentaries based on 'administrative bloat.'”

Some of that is driven by mindless union rhetoric, but a lot of it is an actual problem. There is usually no incentive for higher ed admins to cut back on the expansion of staff.

As the bureaucratic apparatus expands, it tends to become inefficient and overly complex.

Large, complex organizations tend to reward dysfunctional personality types in management.* As management fills with sociopaths, narcissists and power seekers, it increasingly fails to be open, transparent, and innovative, much less authentically moral. Thus the widespread infection of "woke" creepy crawlies [providing] false morals**.

Eventually the rot, incompetence and mental dysfunction becomes very pervasive, and competence and merit-based promotion diminishes. Thus, a serious, corrupt plagiarizer teaches another plagiarizer (both appear to have used bad data in many publicized works) that eventually gets paid $900,000 at Harvard to teach after being fired from being President.

Scratching and biting in the scramble up the admin career ladder gets vicious, backstabbing among the "leftist" elements becomes as vicious as it was in the Spanish Civil War. Somehow Asian people become "white" so the that black and hispanic competition can hold them back. There is no end to the bizarro sh1t that goes on behind the scenes.


* https://www.researchgate.net/publication/242338489_Organisational_sociopaths_Rarely_challenged_often_promoted_Why



Purpose – Organisations sometimes select and promote the wrong individuals for managerial positions. These individuals may be incompetent, they may be manipulators and bullies. They are not the best people for the job and yet not only are they selected for positions of authority and responsibility, they are sometimes promoted repeatedly until their kind populate the highest levels of the organisational hierarchy.

The purpose of this paper is to address this phenomenon by attempting to explain why it occurs and why organisational members tolerate such destructive practices.

It concludes by proposing a cultural strategy to protect the organisation and its stakeholders from the ambitious machinations of the organisational sociopath.





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I agree about transparency becoming more of a problem, even within campuses. Higher education has a long tradition of institutional opacity.

Re, "the widespread infection of "woke"" - don't forget that in many cases administrations and faculty support this as a response to perceived student demand.

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I've never posted a comment here. I'm 73. I never cheated through college and law school. It wasn't about what I was getting from school, either an education or a credential. It was because in my generation, at least among the people I respected, you didn't cheat. It makes me sad to think the choice of whether to cheat or not to cheat is now divorced from any sense of right or wrong, that it's now simply a matter of whether you want the credential or the content of your education.

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Public service message. When taking advice from anyone it’s important and sometimes crucial to understand their background and perspective. Bryan is a very unique person. “When I was a teenager, I viewed all of the following with antipathy: students not in honors classes, heavy metal fans, people who disliked classical music...anyone who planned to major in math or science...”


Bryan Caplan’s book on Education is meant to be provocative. Is it comprehensive? Is it accurate for all majors? Does it apply to your case? Should it be viewed as an activist book by a libertarian economist? What about his other books? Context matters a great deal.

P.S. Bryan has apparently changed a lot since high school, but his starting point is so unique that caution is warranted. (And caution is always warranted when taking advice).

“Though I’ve always been a non-conformist, I’m a much better non-conformist than I once was. As a teen, I went out of my way to anger others with my non-conformity. Now I strive to make friends wherever I go. Which, per Mark Twain, is so weird that gratifies some people and astonishes the rest.”


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That doesn’t change the fact that higher education is deeply corrupt and dysfunctional. A lot of it is evil and depraved, arguably criminal (Biden’s debt relief).

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Correct. And so what does this have to do with my comment?

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His advice probably isn't as relevant as the bigger issues.

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Is it okay with you if I comment about his book and his advice surrounding themes in his book?

His book isn’t a comprehensive look at higher education and my comment didn’t have anything to do with the bigger issues so...

He started writing the book in 2011 and published it in 2018. A lot changed from 2011 to 2024. Obama was against same sex marriage when Bryan started writing it. The term cancel culture didn’t emerge until 2020.

The heart of Bryan’s book is the sheepskin effect. Most of his advice relates to that. If you’re an average or below average student seriously considering not going to college. It doesn’t pay if you can’t get the degree.


Yes, there are many other problems with higher education, but that’s not Bryan’s wheelhouse.

I recommend Richard Vedder’s book Restoring the Promise for a comprehensive look at the bigger issues with higher education. Richard is a specialist on this topic. His writing focuses on higher education.

Bryan is a generalist. His books are all over the economic map, but often include personal advice. Don’t be a feminist. Have more kids. Don’t go to college unless you’re a good student. Give one another the liberty to hire foreign born people. Invest in globally diversified index funds. Make friends where ever you go.


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Love this line: "....most elites keep stubbornly coaching weaker students to throw Hail Mary passes with their lives and pray for the best."

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Most college classes don’t teach how to throw passes or pray. Lots of people with no college naturally throw well and know how to pray.

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but elites do know how to prey and from what I have read do make passes.

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A firing squad could fix that, metaphorically speaking of course.

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