The 2008 financial crisis wiped trillions of dollars off the value of the world’s financial markets, but it did little to halt the explosion in college education. Families from all walks of life and governments of all political persuasions embrace the idea that investing in a college education offers students a route to middle-class prosperity. Difficult economic times in much of the world only reinforce the myth that education triggers economic growth and resolves problems of inequality.

Meanwhile, China’s new leadership has prioritized expanding the rising middle class. The country is committed to becoming an innovation economy by 2020, driven by an expansion of higher education. In 2009, there were about 98 million college graduates in China’s workforce. By 2020, this figure is expected to rise to an astonishing 195 million. Every year, China is graduating almost three times the record...

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