For many students, college is less
about providing an education than a credential--a certificate testifying
that they are smart enough to get into college, conformist enough to go,
and compliant enough to stay there for four years.
I was a senior, one of my professors asked wonderingly, "Why is it that
you guys spend so much time trying to get as little as possible for
your money?" The answer, Caplan says, is that they're mostly there for a
credential, not learning. "Why does cheating work?" he points out. If
you were really just in college to learn skills, it would be totally
counterproductive. "If you don't learn the material, then you will have
less human capital and the market will punish you--there's no reason for
us to do it." But since they think the credential matters more than the
education, they look for ways to get the credential as painlessly as
My only regret is that Megan didn't mention how I embellished my point over the phone with an Eeyore impression. What human capital extremism implies about academic cheating: "You're o-o-o-o-nly cheating yours-e-e-e-elf."