Paying students to study?

Here’s more evidence that we are over-investing in education. The story is about a professor who wants to pay community college students to study. From the story:

Sloane [the professor who wants to pay students to study] says that the single greatest problem facing community college students is finding the time and space to study. For many, an extra three or four extra hours a week means “the difference between succeeding or failing, mastering college algebra or not.”

“Nothing is more important than every extra hour that we can create in their lives to study,” Sloane said. “And my colleagues agree with that. That’s the hardest part of their life. They need time to study.”

I can think of a few more important things. How about acquiring valuable job experience and developing marketable skills? How about learning how to juggle priorities and make trade-offs?

Rather than paying students to study, why not just lower tuition rates? Why not give them credit for taking Khan Academy courses and testing out?

The paragraph on college algebra really bothered me. If people aren’t choosing to spend 3 or 4 hours extra a week to master college algebra, maybe there’s a good reason. Perhaps it’s not worth it.

If they choose to invest in themselves by taking community college courses, good for them. I want them to make that choice based on their careful consideration of the rewards they expect to receive later for making that investment, not because they will get paid now.

Why not both? Because it distorts the incentives and bad things happen when we distort incentives.

What kind of bad things? We get a lot more people than we have now who forget college algebra and we’re out the money we paid them because nothing productive came of it.