Thursday, September 1, 2016

Imagining a Good Life, Sans University?

In the post "Are universities worth it?" which also responds to Bryan Caplan's arguments re education, Tim Harford sums up:
Collectively, we have allowed university admissions and examiners to become gatekeepers for a successful career. Is that really wise?
Clearly not, but alas, the matter is not so simple. Nor could this existing circumstance in terms of work formation, be readily reversed at a general equilibrium level.

Some of higher education's specialization has become vitally important, as practical service goods in the marketplace. In these instances, education's formal structure provides an extensive public service, which makes its associated costs more relevant. Yet there are structural problems for higher education, which are hidden in exactly how knowledge based endeavor continues to replace other forms of employment, on multiple levels. Too many aspects of knowledge use have been lumped together into a university vision of isolated dialogue and activity, leading to extensive loss in other civic environments which once supported a vast array of intellectual life.

These issues are becoming more evident, as automation erodes other skill sets which were once necessary in the workplace. Many baby boomers (such as myself) without college degrees, have observed a wide range of employment dwindle which is deemed no longer necessary. Yet...before younger generations decide against a college degree, there's this seemingly contrary reminder from microeconomic insights:
Over the past three decades, the wage gap between workers with college degrees and those without has nearly doubled. In 1980, college graduates earned 38 percent more than non-college workers. By 2011, the ratio had risen to 73 percent. At the same time, workers have become increasingly spatially segregated by education. Cities which had a large share of college graduates in 1980 increasingly attracted larger shares of college educated workers from 1980 to 2000, while less educated cities in 1980 gained few college grads. The increasingly highly educated cities also experienced higher wage growth for both low- and high-skill workers and substantially larger increases in housing costs.
One could say that the educational patterns of the twentieth century created an exclusive equilibrium, which in turn attracts a majority of the providers for today's time based services product, across an entire spectrum. Indeed, whether practical or experiential knowledge is involved, time based services goods have yet to provide the prosperity, that tradable sectors made possible in the last century. What is particularly unsettling about this fact, is that higher education as presently defined, is not really the way to get to full services representation for populations as a whole.

Should larger percentages of any population gain a college degree, there are not (presently) sufficient primary markets for knowledge use, for these college grads to find gainful employment. Yet today's secondary markets rely on the wealth of primary markets, in order to maintain the employment levels they currently represent. Without a marketplace for time value, the lack of primary markets (for wealth formation) would eventually nudge higher income levels to work directly with others, while lower income levels would be increasingly limited to algorithms and packaged knowledge directives, in lieu of actual human capital.

Consider how local income aggregates reflect local asset wealth. Monetarily derived time value closely coordinates with income patterns in local settings. The challenge for those without the resources to assume the risk of formal education, is to generate productive knowledge use which creates a good life, without the high levels of investment normally associated with the entire process.

Knowledge use need not be solely about economic access. Again, the challenge is not one of changed terms for general equilibrium settings. Instead, knowledge providers could support those who are willing to preserve valuable knowledge sets which lead to viable paths for productive employment on broader terms. What's important is to honor the knowledge based approach that individuals are most comfortable with - whether as economic access or a simpler version of the good life.

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