Daily Video

March 18, 2010

The Case for a College Education

Does the U.S. need more college graduates in its work force to remain competitive in today’s global economy?

Education experts recently debated that question at the kickoff of a new season of national debates hosted by the University of Virginia’s Miller Center of Public Affairs.

Former Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings and Michael Lomax, president of the United Negro College Fund, argued that we need more college graduates. On the other side of the issue were George Leef, director of research at the John William Pope Center for Higher Education in Raleigh, North Carolina, and Richard Vedder, professor of economics at Ohio University, who argued that many jobs being created today don’t require college degrees. NewsHour Economics Correspondent Paul Solman moderated the discussion.


“Many conservatives, people who call themselves Republicans, Democrats, independents believe that it’s in our nation’s interest to ensure that low-income, kids of color, who come from households where no one has attained an advanced educational degree, that we’ve got to invest in ensuring that they have the same educational opportunities as young people who come from a more privileged background.” – Michael Lomax, president of the United Negro College Fund “If we just mindlessly push, say go into college, and then especially go into science and technology because that’s where the future lies, we’re going to have more students with huge student loan debts, $40,000, $50,000, $60,000, $80,000 with two years education taking…$10-an-hour jobs, and failing.” – Richard Vedder, professor of economics at Ohio University “We will not be able to compete with the world. We will have an undereducated group of folks. The majority of our people will be undereducated in the global knowledge economy.” – Margaret Spellings, former secretary of education

“Now, the United States economy is going to remain exceptionally vibrant, whether we have a few more who — marginal students who have gone through college or not. What we depend upon are the — the engineers and the doctors and the lawyers. Those people are going to go to college. Putting a few more people through college at the margin is not going to affect anything in our economic competitiveness.” – George Leef, director of research at the John William Pope Center for Higher Education

Warm Up Questions

1. Why do people go to college?

2. Many students get scholarships if they cannot afford college, but some do not. If going to college means that you will have to pay back a loan for 15 years after graduation, is it worth it?

Discussion Questions

1. How would having more college graduates help the U.S. stay competitive? 2. Why do some experts think we don’t need more college graduates to be successful? 3. Which countries is the U.S. competing against in fields like science and technology? What makes each country strong in these areas? 4. What do you think? Do we need more college graduates to compete with other countries? 5. Are you planning to attend college? Why/why not?

Additional Resources

Video Transcript

College Tuition Hike in California Sparks Protests

Student Voice: College Goals Change Everything

In St. Louis, Efforts To Help Low Income Students Go A Long Way

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