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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.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.

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

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Interesting and engaging

A very thought provoking book. I'm not convinced that the signaling effect is as large as Caplan estimates but it is clear that there is a signalling effect. I would love to see sone international comparisons.

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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.

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  • Brandon B.
  • 17-05-2018

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.

16 of 17 people found this review helpful

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  • Jack Frasier
  • 02-11-2018

confirms that school sucks

this is probably one of the greatest books I've ever audio books on the education system. I highly recommend this book!

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Thomas J. Hind
  • 15-10-2018

A radical but important read

Caplan's argument, although seemingly radical, needs to at least be heard and I'm sure even his most aggresive critics would give many of his points credit. Many highschool students would do well to hear him out, if only for the benefit of being able to understand and view the labor market more correctly through the eyes of the employer. My only complaint is his penultimate chapter. While a pretend debate with caricatures of his opponents is a creative way to summarize, it does seem to comes off as pretentous. Overall a great and important read and I thank Caplan for "whistle-blowing" his own industry.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 16-11-2018

Worth Reading if you’re interested in changing the education system

The book was very well researched and strongly defended against possible criticisms of Caplan’s arguments. Many key opposing viewpoints to Caplan’s arguments were discussed and well debated over. Frankly, the book deserves to be taken seriously as it strongly challenges the popular support for a flawed system of education.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 13-10-2018

another thought-provoking book by Bryan Caplan.

As one of the overeducated elite described in Brypan Caplan book I found itvery thought-provoking. He goes through some very detailed explanations as to what is happening with our education system as well as a thorough analysis of what is wrong with it. you may not reach the same conclusions that he reaches ( the government spending should be cut to the bone) but it's hard to argue with his main point that we spend too much on education and most of it is wasteful.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 03-10-2018

By far the most important book of our time

I loved it start to finish, then again, I'm a sucker for statistics. As soon as I press submit I'm starting it over again. I will listen a second time to solidify this book in my mind and to better pass along its glorious fruits to the rest of my peers. Thank you for this work, truly.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Robert
  • 27-09-2018

Loved this. Changed my mind.

Excellent. Definitely an original argument that is heavily backed by data. I didn’t give the story 5 stars because I thought the dialogue section at the end was too much of a rehash of the earlier chapters.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Abdelhamid S. Abdou
  • 07-08-2018

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.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • W. Morgan
  • 06-08-2018

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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  • Adrian
  • 19-07-2018

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.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Mr. D. Whittaker
  • 10-08-2018

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
  • 25-07-2018

Radically changed the way I think about education

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