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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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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
5 out of 5 stars
By Brandon B. on 05-17-18

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.

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8 of 8 people found this review helpful

1 out of 5 stars
By Adrian on 07-19-18

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.

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