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Publisher's Summary

Why we need to stop wasting public funds on education

Despite being immensely popular - and immensely lucrative - education is grossly overrated. In this explosive book, Bryan Caplan argues that the primary function of education is not to enhance students' skill but to certify their intelligence, work ethic, and conformity - in other words, to signal the qualities of a good employee.

Learn why students hunt for easy A's and casually forget most of what they learn after the final exam, why decades of growing access to education have not resulted in better jobs for the average worker but instead in runaway credential inflation, how employers reward workers for costly schooling they rarely if ever use, and why cutting education spending is the best remedy.

Caplan draws on the latest social science to show how the labor market values grades over knowledge and why the more education your rivals have, the more you need to impress employers. He explains why graduation is our society's top conformity signal and why even the most useless degrees can certify employability. He advocates two major policy responses. The first is educational austerity. Government needs to sharply cut education funding to curb this wasteful rat race. The second is more vocational education, because practical skills are more socially valuable than teaching students how to outshine their peers.

Romantic notions about education being "good for the soul" must yield to careful research and common sense - The Case Against Education points the way.

Cover design by Leslie Flis.

©2018 Princeton University Press (P)2018 Audible, Inc.

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Finally, someone says what needs to be said about education

I’ll be upfront about my bias before getting into the review. I already was a disgruntled college graduate and soon-to-be graduate school graduate. I majored in Neuroscience at UCLA and looking back years later, I remember maybe about 5% of what I learned. Moreover, the idea that I had to pay thousands of dollars so some administrators could tell me what classes had to take and then grade me on some exams that were just memorization strikes me as one of the most perverse transactions in the free market.

The online courses rectify much of this. I can pay for education that I want or need and I can demonstrate my understanding or skill acquisition on my terms. It’s a fair transaction.

Unfortunately, hardly any company will take a Coursera “degree” or the like seriously because of the signaling Model that this wonderful book articulates so well. The idea is that while I may be able to find alternative sources of education that may provide a far superior skill learning experience, it doesn’t matter to the labor market. The labor market cares more about the trifecta of your intelligence, work-ethic, and conformity than it does mastery of skills. College is great at certifying this trifecta and that’s largely why college degrees pay; it merely signals the quality of the job candidate.

This book not only describes this signaling Model but proposes some ostensibly draconian maneuvers to counter act the status quo: namely stop government funding of education. We always here cries that education is becoming too expensive and out of reach for poor students, but Caplan wants to drive up the costs even more. The hope is that a high cost college degree will only attract those who will actually benefit from it (without signaling) and hence credentials will become less important for securing a job that otherwise doesn’t need one. This isn’t as crazy as it sounds, although I don’t think it’s the most important contribution of the book. Anyone can get a world class education online these days for free. What’s all the fuss about high cost of college then? Because we all deep inside know it’s not just about “education,” it’s about the diploma you get at the end certifying you went through a bunch of hoops and are a high quality job candidate.

While the proposal of defunding education is almost surely dead on arrival given the political system, a broader awareness and acceptance of signaling in education would hopefully make people think twice about majoring in Scandinavian Studies or perhaps even going to college. Indeed, one of the most important takeaways is that if college is acting as a signal of quality to potential employers, there may be other less costly (in both time and money) ways to signal the same thing. But it remains to be seen how well other signaling packages might scale to the whole country.

In any case, the book was eye opening and a breath of fresh air. I surely hope we see some true education reform in the direction of less credentialism and focus on a fair transaction between the student and educator.

9 of 10 people found this review helpful

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Personal

Two stars - meh
three stars - good
four stars - worth a second read
five stars - life-changing - my top 50 of all time

Interesting perspective - education is worth much more as a 'signal' of intelligence, compliance and persistence than as a generator of human capital. The diploma signals the above, but little is developed in terms of learning skills or strategies for the future.
Why not use much less costly and time consuming signals of the above? College acceptance is a screening process, having done the work necessary for future employers. And employers are slow(2-3 years)to recognize hiring mistakes.
Holds very true in my personal experience. But how to do the screening without the imprimatur of college acceptance/graduation?
A good case for the premise that real creative people/self-starters don't really benefit from college. This explains the prevalence of college dropouts as the founders of major disruptive corporations.

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The Education System is a waste

Do we really need to spend all these years in different school levels and college to get jobs?

Mr. Caplan proves in this book that the answer is no. In reality, degrees provide signals to employers of certain skills such as hard work and conformity. Most of nontechnical degrees give people knowledge they will quickly forget and and none of this knowledge is translated to actual job skills. Employers look for college graduates because in a world where everyone thinks that college is important, those who drop out send clear negative signals.

Mr. Caplan uses research and surveys from different fields to come to his conclusions. Its an interesting read that I hope will make us question the resources we waste on college education in its current form and the years of production we lose by keeping young people in schools for increasing number of years instead of letting them join the work force and actual contribute to the economy.

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Excellent. Worth a listen - especially today.

I found this to be a compelling case against the current system of government education in the United States.The author certainly presented his argument well and supported his points. He did tire me a bit about signalling - but it's a major problem and central to much of the argument being made.

Educators and those interested in discussions of the problems in the system will likely find food for thought here.

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This is a must read!!!

I have a master’s degree (as well as a few letters after my name), but if this book had been written a decade or more ago I probably would have gone about things differently. Whether you listen/read this book for yourself or your children, it is something you simply must do. This is an exceptional work.

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Too much proof, to little analysis of prescription

The author makes the argument that education is mainly needed by job seekers, and thus prospective students, as a part of "signaling". It is easy to believe that even without an Economist going through proofs, at least for me anyway as I already thought that anyway. The author identifies that this leads to a sort of credentials escalation that does little good for the individual, or the market as a whole. I can also agree with this.

However, I found it troubling that there was little to no discussion about the arena of primary education leading up to secondary education, nor an examination of the social context of the prescription to have less education by simply making it harder to fund obtaining one. I ended the book feeling like his point was to convince people to allow the already less unequal society to become even more set. I think the author should acquaint himself with the viewpoint of Marriner Stoddard Eccles, and the readdress the topic.

In conclusion, to much effort was made to address the idea of signaling, and the more interesting and prescient implications of the authors idea on how to stop credentials escalation seemed neglected.

0 of 1 people found this review helpful

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An academically written attack on academia. to?dr

I was disappointed in the delivery. Prof Caplan has some very powerful arguments for consideration but the book was written in such a droll academic style that I continuously lost the gist of the themes and had to repeat sections over and over until ingot through thenglaze. It felt a bit weird as he piles the book with statistics like a journal published meta analysis article, as though he was pitching to the academic community; but a lay business reader would not engage with this style. Which is bizarre considering the blatant challenge of the modern academic institution. So who is he expecting to read this? The people he is challenging or the people he loses at chapter 2?

If this was written more colloquially, without the pages and pages of backing statistics and more real life case examples, I would have found the book more readable as his thesis has a very powerful message.

0 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Mr. D. Whittaker
  • 08-10-18

Very thought provoking and persuasively argued.

While I don't agree with all Caplan says - he presents a very utilitarian, functionalist view of education that almost exclusively foregrounds economics and business - his arguments are well made and starkly worrying. Great food for thought and performed well by the narrator.

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  • jonathan
  • 07-25-18

Radically changed the way I think about education

The performance is very good and the content is extremely interesting, well researched and thought-provoking.

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  • terry
  • 08-16-18

Massive Libertarian bias

The narrator was great.

The book, however, was a tale of two halves. Brian begins with making a compelling case I favour of his main thesis that education is 80% signalling for the labour market and 20% building of human capital. If he had stopped there this could have been a good book. I was largely convinced of his signalling arguments.

However, the book takes a sharp turn into the fictional fairytale world of Libertarianism once he begins making conclusions and presenting his arguments for solutions. Brian makes large leaps of logic defying assumptions to tie the facts presented in the 1st two-thirds of the book with the conclusions he draws in the final third.

He frequently takes the line that his Libertarian beliefs are a given and never provides any evidence to back them up.

If you are a Libertarian then perhaps this book will provide further support for your hopelessly naive beliefs.

If you are not Libertarian, however, then the signalling portion of the book is a worthwhile read. The rest, though, is nonsense.