Counter-Point: Theoretical Education Makes Students More Competitive

The college classroom is a place of irreplaceable pedagogical value. Its students leave with greater knowledge and greater opportunities. However, should the college classroom be place of practical teaching or theoretical teaching?

The college classroom should focus on the theory behind subjects rather than practical applications. There are two types of training as defined in the study of labor economics: (1) general training, defined as “training that once acquired is equally useful in all,”; and (2) specific training, defined as “training that enhances productivity only in for what it was acquired.”

In this respect, it is unwise and unjust for college students to focus their classroom learning on practical teachings as this is a form of “specific training.” The downside to specific training is that the investment is lost if the student changes jobs, location, etc.

As practical teachings must be specific and focused, students would be disadvantaged by only learning one form or one avenue of a certain subject. Furthermore, recent college graduates are purported to change jobs multiple times, especially in the first four years after graduation.

It is this reality that makes general training and a classroom focused on theory more attractive than the option discussed above. If students are taught a more broad and theory-based curriculum, then students are more competitive in the job market come graduation.

A theoretical and broad education allows students to enter into many different job markets, allowing more mobility, freedom, and opportunity. Whereas the specific training of practical teaching is lost when a student may change employment, the general training of theoretical teaching stays with a student through all jobs.

Higher education’s focus on theory has positively correlated with an increase in the wage premium of college graduates to high school graduates. By 2008, the wage premium for college graduates relative to high school graduates was roughly 100 percent.

The focus on theory and general training has not only increased competitiveness of college graduates, but also employer demand for college graduates Ergo, the wage of college graduates increases.

Examining the age-earnings profile of college graduates, the earnings over time of college graduates has a rather large progressive increase as age increases. Although the progressive increase would still exist with a focus on practical teachings or specific training, the absolute level of earnings would decrease because of the reasons discussed above.

Through this perspective of labor economics, it should be rather obvious that college students’ financial fortunes depend on their competitiveness in the labor market. This competitiveness is obtained through a theoretical education focused on the broad and general.

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