Education major ROI shows the colleges of education should RIP

Preston Cooper, an economist, calculated the return on investment by college major for the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity, and the news was not good for education majors:

You may have noticed that engineering stands at the top of the ROI list. Not to worry. College students have noticed both this, and the general undesirability of an education degree, by voting with their feet:

So why, besides the devastating lack of ROI, have college students been shunning education degrees for decades? Well let’s start with the sad fact that traditional teacher certification doesn’t make you a more effective teacher:

Call me crazy, but it seems to me you’d be better off getting a degree in the sciences or math or even English compared to education, even if you want to teach. That would give you more options and apparently would prepare you just as well for teaching as the colleges of education, which is to say, not at all.

Second, an education degree locks you in to, well, education. Traditionally this meant working in a school district. Alas, school districts are deep in the clutches of regulatory capture by district employee unions, which find it a relatively simple task to capture school boards in low turnout/visibility elections (often single digit turnout rates). With this influence, many unions effectively “negotiate” collective bargaining agreements with school boards in which they supported or endorsed a majority (sometimes all) of the members. Hiring teachers did not seem to be the priority for districts (or the unions which heavily influence them):

When you are hiring non-teaching staff like nobody’s business, it puts a lower ceiling on teacher compensation. Teacher satisfaction surveys have been telling us for years that money is down the list of concerns.  As a 44-year veteran of Arizona classroom teaching, for instance, opined, it’s not the financial side—which has always been tough—that’s the problem with teaching these days. Rather, he said, it’s that “the joy has been strangled out of the profession.”

So, college students, if what you want is to go into debt for a degree with almost no return on your investment to join an industry in terminal decline, you have better options than an education major. You could study journalism, for example.

The solution to this sad state of affairs is already unfolding. Cut out the middleman and make education fun again! As the old system crumbles, a new and better one rises to replace it.

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BY Matthew Ladner

Matthew Ladner is executive editor of NextSteps. He has written numerous studies on school choice, charter schools and special education reform, and his articles have appeared in Education Next; the Catholic Education: A Journal of Inquiry and Practice; and the British Journal of Political Science. He is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and received a master's degree and a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Houston. He lives in Phoenix with his wife and three children.

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