I agree with Tyler Cowen too much. But here I go again:
It’s now common that a fire chief has to have a master’s degree. That may sound silly and it would be easy to think that a master’s degree has not very much to do with putting out fires. Still, often it is desired that a firefighter is trained in emergency medical services, anti-terrorism practices, fire science (such as putting out industrial fires), and there is a demand for firefighter who, as they move into leadership roles, can do public speaking, interact with the community, and write grant proposals. A master’s degree is no guarantee of skill in these areas, but suddenly the new requirements don’t sound so crazy.
Some people focus on the signalling benefits of of college. For me college was about integrating into a Charles Murray culture, I think. Much of that is social and to get in the front door of the Charles Murray class you’ve got to have really good communication skills.
I once heard of a series of English proficiency tests at, I think, the FBI (or some similar organization). Most of these were the usual vocabulary and grammar quizzes but the last test was weird: candidates had to watch clips of late night TV monologues and explain why the jokes were funny. Ultimately, communication is about culture.
Tyler didn’t have me in the quote above until the grant writing and public speaking parts. Each of those requires the higher-class communication skills colleges are best at delivering.