Malcolm Gladwell: Americans spend too much on 'meaningless education'  

Malcolm Gladwell: It's 'crazy' how much Americans spend on education

The U.S. and Canada share more than just a border. There are strong cultural, economic and social ties that connect the two countries, but education may be one example of how the Land of the Free and the Great White North differ.

When CNBC Make It asked Canadian journalist, author and host of Revisionist History Malcolm Gladwell about the worst investment he sees people make, he pointed to these differences.

"The amount of money that's wasted on meaningless education in [the U.S.], it never ceases to amaze me," Gladwell tells CNBC Make It. Specifically, he argues that Americans need to rethink how they invest in education, and says that donating to prestigious schools with large endowments is a waste of resources.

"People who give money to wealthy schools like Ivy League schools basically should just burn their money instead" he says.

This is what Malcolm Gladwell learned from being fired two months into a job

Gladwell likes to go running on the top-of-the-line track at the exclusive and prestigious Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Connecticut. He says this track is as an example of how Americans, especially wealthy Americans, are misspending their money.

"Do we need to be spending money on giving [a] random group of privileged high school students a world-class running track? No. That's crazy. But do we need to be spending money in order to expand educational opportunities for kids who otherwise wouldn't have them? Absolutely," he explains. "It's not the spending of money is that's the problem, it's where we're spending the money that's the problem."

Spreading educational investments more equitably has paid off for Canada. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Canada is the most educated country in the world, with over 56 percent of adults having earned some kind of education after high school. The United States is ranked sixth.

Experts predict that around 65 percent of all jobs in the United States will require some post-secondary education by 2020, and Canada's investments may give Canadian workers a competitive advantage in the future labor market.

Canadians may pay more taxes than Americans, but here's what they get for their money

Gladwell also had strong words for the sky-high sticker prices at expensive American schools: "The notion of paying $60,000, $70,000 in tuition for a year of university seems, to me, crazy."

Very few students in the U.S. actually pay $70,000 a year on college tuition (the average net tuition and fees collected from full-time undergraduate students last school year was $14,530 at nonprofit private colleges and $4,140 at public colleges), but the cost of attending college in the U.S. is significant. These high costs are having a negative effect on Americans who are forced to take on student debt, Gladwell argues.

"We pay in a huge unacknowledged economic cost in having entire generations graduate from higher education with enormous debt. The downstream consequences of that are huge," says Gladwell. "Those are people who are not buying homes and making productive investments with their money because they're saddled with these absurd debt burdens from their time in college."

Instead, Gladwell thinks the U.S. should invest more seriously in public education. "I think we should pay more attention to making the public education option truly public again."

Video by Mary Stevens.

Like this story? Subscribe to CNBC Make It on YouTube!

Don't miss:

These are the top universities in the US