I discovered this wonderful website Why Poverty. It contains a series of poverty independent documentaries on poverty-related topics. Among them, “Education, Education” by Weijun Chen (director of Please Vote for Me) focuses on private colleges in China. Highly recommended to anyone who wants to know more about post-secondary education in China. Here’s the abstract.
How do you choose a college when you’re the first person in your family who can read? Or pay for it when 4 years of schooling costs sixty years of income? What is it like to join the “ant-tribe”, the 2 million newly graduated Chinese who, every year, can’t find work? And what if the only job you could find involved selling education to other students, even if you knew it was worthless?
Tell us what you think. Nelson Mandela once said “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” but is its value undermined when, like in China, it becomes a commodity?
You can tell an information asymmetry story. Rural students are not as well-connected and informed as their urban peers. Most of them, when faced with college entrance decisions, simply went through the list of schools and picked whichever sounds nice. Private colleges can easily win the trust of parents through carefully designed propaganda. The high value of college degrees and the low probability of getting admitted to top universities drives a wedge between supply and demand of higher education. Without an underdeveloped market for professional colleges, private colleges (enterprises in nature) emerge as a seemingly good alternative. These private colleges extract money from uninformed students without teaching them useful skills.
The number of private colleges has increased 30 times in the last decade. Each year over 2 million graduates do not find jobs.
Just as printing more money makes money valueless, the increasing number of college graduates intensifies their competition for jobs. People are getting more education at higher ranked institutions, most often only to signal. Universities are categorized into several levels. Students from lower levels often have to get a master’s degree from a higher ranked university to increase their bargaining power in the job market. And those graduates from no-name private colleges will soon discover painfully that their degree is just a piece of worthless paper.
I would love to explore this topic more in the future.