The conventional wisdom on higher education goes like this: We have entered a new, “knowledge-based” economy that requires the nation to put more students than ever through college in order that we will have the necessary level of skill in our workforce. Sometimes it is even suggested that states or countries can lift themselves up into higher levels of prosperity just by “investing” more in higher education.

A challenge to the conventional wisdom — indeed, I believe, a thorough refutation — is found in Alison Wolf’s book Does Education Matter? I have recently written a review.

In short, Wolf finds that a large and increasing public “investment” in higher education is neither necessary nor sufficient for economic growth in the “information age,” and that the best thing for government to do would be to make sure that young students learn the academic basics well.