Freakonomics Goes to College

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Season 3, Episode 4

Is a college diploma really worth the paper it’s printed on? In this episode of Freakonomics Radio, host Stephen Dubner breaks down the costs and benefits of going to college, especially during an economy that’s leaving a lot of people un- and underemployed. The data say that college graduates make a lot more money in the long run and enjoy a host of other benefits as well.  But does that justify the time and money? We’ll hear from economists David Card, Betsey Stevenson, and Justin Wolfers, as well as former Bush adviser Karl Rove, who made it to the White House without a college degree. Amherst College president Biddy Martin describes what an education provides beyond facts and figures, while Steve Levitt wonders if the students he teaches at the University of Chicago are actually learning anything.  Finally, a former FBI agent tells us about the very robust market for fake diplomas.

This episode is a compilation of two earlier podcasts: Freakonomics Goes to College Part 1 and Part 2.


I loved this episode but I think you forgot one important aspect. If 1% of the degrees are fake why do we only here "occasionally" find a person with a fake degree. My running theory is that you don't really need a degree for the job. It is a fake barrier put into the employment system to screen people. Thus the guy who tells his boss that he is taking a degree on line and gets a promotion after he shows proof of the degree was being under employed. He knew how to do the job the degree was meaningless - for both parties.


I think that the big "ROI" talk when it comes to education must really be based on fields of study that are on demand in the job market ( i.e. tech). There are a lot of useless degree programs being offered at universities that simply do not provide any ROI ( i.e ethnomusic) after graduation... like ever... unless you continue your ed to grad school to something useful. So I think that the whole ROI thing very much depends on the field of study. Also, for 35k /year universities really shouldn't offer useless programs, those should be offered at junior colleges or other institutions that don't change as much. Universities should use the money of all those useless programs to better the ones that really matter out there in the job market.

George Dom

In your interview with Karl Rove, it was very disappointing to hear him blithely comment that he "almost lost his draft deferment" while in school at Maryland, clearly indicating the only reason he was in school was to avoid serving his country. What a manipulative coward who crows high and mightily but walks in the gutter. I'd rather hear from those who accepted their duty to serve their country when called.

Sandy M.

There many staff employees working in the University of California system that have done just this: they've bought their degrees for the purpose of promotion.

Jenny Murphy

These days a college degree has become more of a liability than an asset. College degrees today means deep debts and despair. It's a scam that has set up by those useless academics who cannot do anything real with their lives. Forget college! High school diplomas in the U.S. are bogus enough!