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The "Knowledge Economy' myth floated is a farce and a falsehood. If everyone in the US had a college degree (4 years and up) the majority would still be working for minimum wage as the supply would exceed the demand. It has already been happening for several years as indicated by the falling wage rate for college grads. An Associates in business means an $8-11 an hour job in retail store. A BA in business from any but the very top colleges means $35 -45,000 a year as retail manager.
Additionally, policymakers simply refuse to face that fact that less than 20% of the US is truly college material (unless the material is dumbed down to high school level.) So what do you do with the 80% who are not getting that PhD in economics or computers or that MA in biochemistry or even that BA in business admin, eh? We sure don't need more people who perform 'services' like massages, dog walking, retrofitting insulation in houses or similar things as the majority of the population can not pay for such services.
Nov 09, 2015 | naked capitalism
It also never ceases to amaze me the number of anti-educational opinions which flare up when the discussion of student loan default arises. There are always those who will prophesize there is no need to attain a higher level of education as anyone could be something else and be successful and not require a higher level of education. Or they come forth with the explanation on how young 18 year-olds and those already struggling should be able to ascertain the risk of higher debt when the cards are already stacked against them legally. In any case during a poor economy, those with more education appear to be employed at a higher rate than those with less education. The issue for those pursuing an education is the ever increasing burden and danger of student loans and associated interest rates which prevent younger people from moving into the economy successfully after graduation, the failure of the government to support higher education and protect students from for-profit fraud, the increased risk of default and becoming indentured to the government, and the increased cost of an education which has surpassed healthcare in rising costs.
There does not appear to be much movement on the part of Congress to reconcile the issues in favor of students as opposed to the non-profit and for profit institutes.
Ranger Rick, November 9, 2015 at 11:34 am
It's easy to explain, really. According to the Department of Education ( https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/repay-loans/understand/plans ) you're going to be paying off that loan at minimum payments for 25 years. Assuming your average bachelor's degree is about $30k if you go all-loans ( http://collegecost.ed.gov/catc/ ) and the average student loan interest rate is a generous 5% ( http://www.direct.ed.gov/calc.html ), you're going to be paying $175 a month for a sizable chunk of your adult life.
If you're merely hitting the median income of a bachelor's degree after graduation, $55k (http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=77 ), and good luck with that in this economy, you're still paying ~31.5% of that in taxes (http://www.oecd.org/ctp/tax-policy/taxing-wages-20725124.htm ) you're left with $35.5k before any other costs. Out of that, you're going to have to come up with the down payment to buy a house and a car after spending more money than you have left (http://www.bls.gov/cex/csxann13.pdf).
Louis, November 9, 2015 at 12:33 pm
The last paragraph sums it up perfectly, especially the predictable counterarguments. Accurately assessing what job in demand several years down the road is very difficult, if not impossible.
Majoring in IT or Computer Science would have a been a great move in the late 1990's; however, if you graduated around 2000, you likely would have found yourself facing a tough job market.. Likewise, majoring in petroleum engineering or petroleum geology would have seemed like a good move a couple of years ago; however, now that oil prices are crashing, it's presumably a much tougher job market.
Do we blame the computer science majors graduating in 2000 or the graduates struggling to break into the energy industry, now that oil prices have dropped, for majoring in "useless" degrees? It's much easier to create a strawman about useless degrees that accept the fact that there is a element of chance in terms of what the job market will look like upon graduation.
The cost of higher education is absurd and there simply aren't enough good jobs to go around-there are people out there who majored in the "right" fields and have found themselves underemployed or unemployed-so I'm not unsympathetic to the plight of many people in my generation.
At the same time, I do believe in personal responsibility-I'm wary of creating a moral hazard if people can discharge loans in bankruptcy. I've been paying off my student loans (grad school) for a couple of years-I kept the level debt below any realistic starting salary-and will eventually have the loans paid off, though it may be a few more years.
I am really conflicted between believing in personal responsibility but also seeing how this generation has gotten screwed. I really don't know what the right answer is.
Ulysses, November 9, 2015 at 1:47 pm
"The cost of higher education is absurd and there simply aren't enough good jobs to go around-there are people out there who majored in the "right" fields and have found themselves underemployed or unemployed-so I'm not unsympathetic to the plight of many people in my generation."
To confuse going to college with vocational education is to commit a major category error. I think bright, ambitious high school graduates– who are looking for upward social mobility– would be far better served by a plumbing or carpentry apprenticeship program. A good plumber can earn enough money to send his or her children to Yale to study Dante, Boccaccio, and Chaucer.
A bright working class kid who goes off to New Haven, to study medieval lit, will need tremendous luck to overcome the enormous class prejudice she will face in trying to establish herself as a tenure-track academic. If she really loves medieval literature for its own sake, then to study it deeply will be "worth it" even if she finds herself working as a barista or store-clerk.
None of this, of course, excuses the outrageously high tuition charges, administrative salaries, etc. at the "top schools." They are indeed institutions that reinforce class boundaries. My point is that strictly career education is best begun at a less expensive community college. After working in the IT field, for example, a talented associate's degree-holder might well find that her employer will subsidize study at an elite school with an excellent computer science program.
My utopian dream would be a society where all sorts of studies are open to everyone– for free. Everyone would have a basic Job or Income guarantee and could study as little, or as much, as they like!
Ulysses, November 9, 2015 at 2:05 pm
As a middle-aged doctoral student in the humanities you should not even be thinking much about your loans. Write the most brilliant thesis that you can, get a book or some decent articles published from it– and swim carefully in the shark-infested waters of academia until you reach the beautiful island of tenured full-professorship.
If that island turns out to be an ever-receding mirage, sell your soul to our corporate overlords and pay back your loans! Alternatively, tune in, drop out, and use your finely tuned research and rhetorical skills to help us overthrow the kleptocratic regime that oppresses us all!!
subgenius, November 9, 2015 at 3:07 pm
except (in my experience) the corporate overlords want young meat.
I have 2 masters degrees 2 undergraduate degrees and a host of random diplomas – but at 45, I am variously too old, too qualified, or lacking sufficient recent corporate experience in the field to get hired
Trying to get enough cash to get a contractor license seems my best chance at anything other than random day work.
MyLessThanPrimeBeef, November 9, 2015 at 3:41 pm
Genuine education should provide one with profound contentment, grateful for the journey taken, and a deep appreciation of life.
Instead many of us are left confused – confusing career training (redundant and excessive, as it turned out, unfortunate for the student, though not necessarily bad for those on the supply side, one must begrudgingly admit – oops, there goes one's serenity) with enlightenment.
"I would spend another 12 soul-nourishing years pursuing those non-profit degrees' vs 'I can't feed my family with those paper certificates.'
jrs, November 9, 2015 at 2:55 pm
I am anti-education as the solution to our economic woes. We need jobs or a guaranteed income. And we need to stop outsourcing the jobs that exist. And we need a much higher minimum wage. And maybe we need work sharing. I am also against using screwdrivers to pound in a nail. But why are you so anti screwdriver anyway?
And I see calls for more and more education used to make it seem ok to pay people without much education less than a living wage. Because they deserve it for being whatever drop outs. And it's not ok.
I don't actually have anything against the professors (except their overall political cowardice in times demanding radicalism!). Now the administrators, yea I can see the bloat and the waste there. But mostly, I have issues with more and more education being preached as the answer to a jobs and wages crisis.
MyLessThanPrimeBeef -> jrs, November 9, 2015 at 3:50 pm
We all should be against Big Educational-Complex and its certificates-producing factory education that does not put the student's health and happiness up there with co-existing peacefully with Nature.
- "You must be lazy – you're not educated."
- "Sorry, you are too stupid for our elite university to admit, just as your brother was too poor for our rich club to let in."
- "I am going to kill you intellectually. I will annihilate you intellectually. My idea will destroy you and I don't have to feel sorry at all."
Kris Alman, November 9, 2015 at 11:11 am
Remember DINKs? Dual Income No Kids. Dual Debt Bad Job No House No Kids doesn't work well for acronyms. Better for an abbreviated hash tag?
debitor serf, November 9, 2015 at 7:17 pm
I graduated law school with $100k+ in debt inclusive of undergrad. I've never missed a loan payment and my credit score is 830. my income has never reached $100k. my payments started out at over $1000 a month and through aggressive payment and refinancing, I've managed to reduce the payments to $500 a month. I come from a lower middle class background and my parents offered what I call 'negative help' throughout college.
my unfortunate situation is unique and I wouldn't wish my debt on anyone. it's basically indentured servitude. it's awful, it's affects my life and health in ways no one should have to live, I have all sorts of stress related illnesses. I'm basically 2 months away from default of everything. my savings is negligible and my net worth is still negative 10 years after graduating.
student loans, combined with a rigged system, turned me into a closeted socialist. I am smart, hard working and resourceful. if I can't make it in this world, heck, then who can? few, because the system is rigged!
I have no problems at all taking all the wealth of the oligarchs and redistributing it. people look at me like I'm crazy. confiscate it all I say, and reset the system from scratch. let them try to make their billions in a system where things are fair and not rigged...
Ramoth, November 9, 2015 at 9:23 pm
My story is very similar to yours, although I haven't had as much success whittling down my loan balances. But yes, it's made me a socialist as well; makes me wonder how many of us, i.e. ppl radicalized by student loans, are out there. Perhaps the elites' grand plan to make us all debt slaves will eventually backfire in more ways than via the obvious economic issues?
Jun 26, 2015 | naked capitalism
Yves here. In May, we wrote up and embedded the report on how NYU exploits students and adjuncts in "The Art of the Gouge": NYU as a Model for Predatory Higher Education. This article below uses that study as a point of departure for for its discussion of how higher education has become extractive.
By David Masciotra, the author of Mellencamp: American Troubadour (University Press of Kentucky). He has also written for Salon, the Atlantic and the Los Angeles Review of Books. For more information visit www.davidmasciotra.com. Originally published at Alternet
Higher education wears the cloak of liberalism, but in policy and practice, it can be a corrupt and cutthroat system of power and exploitation. It benefits immensely from right-wing McCarthy wannabes, who in an effort to restrict academic freedom and silence political dissent, depict universities as left-wing indoctrination centers.
But the reality is that while college administrators might affix "down with the man" stickers on their office doors, many prop up a system that is severely unfair to American students and professors, a shocking number of whom struggle to make ends meet. Even the most elementary level of political science instructs that politics is about power. Power, in America, is about money: who has it? Who does not have it? Who is accumulating it? Who is losing it? Where is it going?
Four hundred faculty members at New York University, one of the nation's most expensive schools, recently released a report on how their own place of employment, legally a nonprofit institution, has become a predatory business, hardly any different in ethical practice or economic procedure than a sleazy storefront payday loan operator. Its title succinctly summarizes the new intellectual discipline deans and regents have learned to master: "The Art of The Gouge."
The result of their investigation reads as if Charles Dickens and Franz Kafka collaborated on notes for a novel. Administrators not only continue to raise tuition at staggering rates, but they burden their students with inexplicable fees, high cost burdens and expensive requirements like mandatory study abroad programs. When students question the basis of their charges, much of them hidden during the enrollment and registration phases, they find themselves lost in a tornadic swirl of forms, automated answering services and other bureaucratic debris.
Often the additional fees add up to thousands of dollars, and that comes on top of the already hefty tuition, currently $46,000 per academic year, which is more than double its rate of 2001. Tuition at NYU is higher than most colleges, but a bachelor's degree, nearly anywhere else, still comes with a punitive price tag. According to the College Board, the average cost of tuition and fees for the 2014–2015 school year was $31,231 at private colleges, $9,139 for state residents at public colleges, and $22,958 for out-of-state residents attending public universities.
Robert Reich, in his book Supercapitalism, explains that in the past 30 years the two industries with the most excessive increases in prices are health care and higher education. Lack of affordable health care is a crime, Reich argues, but at least new medicines, medical technologies, surgeries, surgery techs, and specialists can partially account for inflation. Higher education can claim no costly infrastructural or operational developments to defend its sophisticated swindle of American families. It is a high-tech, multifaceted, but old fashioned transfer of wealth from the poor, working- and middle-classes to the rich.
Using student loan loot and tax subsidies backed by its $3.5 billion endowment, New York University has created a new administrative class of aristocratic compensation. The school not only continues to hire more administrators – many of whom the professors indict as having no visible value in improving the education for students bankrupting themselves to register for classes – but shamelessly increases the salaries of the academic administrative class. The top 21 administrators earn a combined total of $23,590,794 per year. The NYU portfolio includes many multi-million-dollar mansions and luxury condos, where deans and vice presidents live rent-free.
Meanwhile, NYU has spent billions, over the past 20 years, on largely unnecessary real estate projects, buying property and renovating buildings throughout New York. The professors' analysis, NYU's US News and World Report Ranking, and student reviews demonstrate that few of these extravagant projects, aimed mostly at pleasing wealthy donors, attracting media attention, and giving administrators opulent quarters, had any impact on overall educational quality.
As the managerial class grows, in size and salary, so does the full time faculty registry shrink. Use of part time instructors has soared to stratospheric heights at NYU. Adjunct instructors, despite having a minimum of a master's degree and often having a Ph.D., receive only miserly pay-per-course compensation for their work, and do not receive benefits. Many part-time college instructors must transform their lives into daily marathons, running from one school to the next, barely able to breathe between commutes and courses. Adjunct pay varies from school to school, but the average rate is $2,900 per course.
Many schools offer rates far below the average, most especially community colleges paying only $1,000 to $1,500. Even at the best paying schools, adjuncts, as part time employees, are rarely eligible for health insurance and other benefits. Many universities place strict limits on how many courses an instructor can teach. According to a recent study, 25 percent of adjuncts receive government assistance.
The actual scandal of "The Art of the Gouge" is that even if NYU is a particularly egregious offender of basic decency and honesty, most of the report's indictments could apply equally to nearly any American university. From 2003-2013, college tuition increased by a crushing 80 percent. That far outpaces all other inflation. The closest competitor was the cost of medical care, which in the same time period, increased by a rate of 49 percent. On average, tuition in America rises eight percent on an annual basis, placing it far outside the moral universe. Most European universities charge only marginal fees for attendance, and many of them are free. Senator Bernie Sanders recently introduced a bill proposing all public universities offer free education. It received little political support, and almost no media coverage.
In order to obtain an education, students accept the paralytic weight of student debt, the only form of debt not dischargeable in bankruptcy. Before a young person can even think about buying a car, house or starting a family, she leaves college with thousands of dollars in debt: an average of $29,400 in 2012. As colleges continue to suck their students dry of every dime, the US government profits at $41.3 billion per year by collecting interest on that debt. Congress recently cut funding for Pell Grants, yet increased the budget for hiring debt collectors to target delinquent student borrowers.
The university, once an incubator of ideas and entrance into opportunity, has mutated into a tabletop model of America's economic architecture, where the top one percent of income earners now owns 40 percent of the wealth.
"The One Percent at State U," an Institute for Policy Studies report, found that at the 25 public universities with the highest paid presidents, student debt and adjunct faculty increased at dramatically higher rates than at the average state university. Marjorie Wood, the study's co-author, explained told the New York Times that extravagant executive pay is the "tip of a very large iceberg, with universities that have top-heavy executive spending also having more adjuncts, more tuition increases and more administrative spending.
Unfortunately, students seem like passive participants in their own liquidation. An American student protest timeline for 2014-'15, compiled by historian Angus Johnston, reveals that most demonstrations and rallies focused on police violence, and sexism. Those issues should inspire vigilance and activism, but only 10 out of 160 protests targeted tuition hikes for attack, and only two of those 10 events took place outside the state of California.
Class consciousness and solidarity actually exist in Chile, where in 2011 a student movement began to organize, making demands for free college. More than mere theater, high school and college students, along with many of their parental allies, engaged the political system and made specific demands for inexpensive education. The Chilean government announced that in March 2016, it will eliminate all tuition from public universities. Chile's victory for participatory democracy, equality of opportunity and social justice should instruct and inspire Americans. Triumph over extortion and embezzlement is possible.
This seems unlikely to happen in a culture, however, where even most poor Americans view themselves, in the words of John Steinbeck, as "temporarily embarrassed millionaires." The political, educational and economic ruling class of America is comfortable selling out its progeny. In the words of one student quoted in "The Art of the Gouge," "they see me as nothing more than $200,000."washunate June 26, 2015 at 10:07 am
Awesome question in the headline.
At a basic level, I think the answer is yes, because on balance, college still provides a lot of privatized value to the individual. Being an exploited student with the College Credential Seal of Approval remains relatively much better than being an exploited non student lacking that all important seal. A college degree, for example, is practically a guarantee of avoiding the more unseemly parts of the US "justice" system.
But I think this is changing. The pressure is building from the bottom as academia loses credibility as an institution capable of, never mind interested in, serving the public good rather than simply being another profit center for connected workers. It's actually a pretty exciting time. The kiddos are getting pretty fed up, and the authoritarians at the top of the hierarchy are running out of money with which to buy off younger technocratic enablers and thought leaders and other Serious People.
washunate June 26, 2015 at 10:17 am
P.S., the author in this post demonstrates the very answer to the question. He assumes as true, without any need for support, that the very act of possessing a college degree makes one worthy of a better place in society. That mindset is why colleges can prey upon students. They hold a monopoly on access to resources in American society. My bold:
Adjunct instructors, despite having a minimum of a master's degree and often having a Ph.D., receive only miserly pay-per-course compensation for their work, and do not receive benefits.
What does having a masters degree or PhD have to do with the moral claim of all human beings to a life of dignity and purpose?
flora June 26, 2015 at 11:37 am
There are so many more job seekers per job opening now than, say, 20 or thirty years ago that a degree is used to sort out applications. Now a job that formerly listed a high school degree as a requirement may now list a college degree as a requirement, just to cut down on the number of applications.
So, no, a B.A. or B.S. doesn't confer moral worth, but it does open more job doors than a high school diploma, even if the actual work only requires high school level math, reading, science or technology.
Ben June 26, 2015 at 1:11 pm
I agree a phd often makes someone no more useful in society. However the behaviour of the kids is rational *because* employers demand a masters / phd.
Students are then caught in a trap. Employers demand the paper, often from an expensive institution. The credit is abundant thanks to govt backed loans. They are caught in a situation where as a collective it makes no sense to join in, but as an individual if they opt out they get hurt also.
Same deal for housing. It's a mad world my masters.
What can we do about this? The weak link in the chain seems to me to be employers. Why are they hurting themselves by selecting people who want higher pay but may offer little to no extra value? I work as a programmer and I often think " if we could just 'see' the non-graduate diamonds in the rough".
If employers had perfect knowledge of prospective employees *and* if they saw that a degree would make no difference to their performance universities would crumble overnight.
The state will never stop printing money via student loans. If we can fix recruitment then universities are dead.
washunate June 26, 2015 at 2:22 pm
Why are they hurting themselves by selecting people who want higher pay but may offer little to no extra value?
Yeah, I have thought a lot about that particular question of organizational behavior. It does make sense, conceptually, that somebody would disrupt the system and take people based on ability rather than credentials. Yet we are moving in the opposite direction, toward more rigidity in educational requirements for employment.
For my two cents, I think the bulk of the answer lies in how hiring specifically, and management philosophy more generally, works in practice. The people who make decisions are themselves also subject to someone else's decisions. This is true all up and down the hierarchical ladder, from board members and senior executives to the most junior managers and professionals.
It's true that someone without a degree may offer the same (or better) performance to the company. But they do not offer the same performance to the people making decisions, because those individual people also depend upon their own college degrees to sell their own labor services. To hire significant numbers of employees without degrees into important roles is to sabotage their own personal value.
Very few people are willing to be that kind of martyr. And generally speaking, they tend to self-select away from occupations where they can meaningfully influence decision-making processes in large organizations.
Absolutely, individual business owners can call BS on the whole scam. It is a way that individual people can take action against systemic oppression. Hire workers based upon their fit for the job, not their educational credentials or criminal background or skin color or sexual orientation or all of the other tests we have used. But that's not a systemic solution because the incentives created by public policy are overwhelming at large organizations to restrict who is 'qualified' to fill the good jobs (and increasingly, even the crappy jobs).
Laaughingsong June 26, 2015 at 3:03 pm
I am not so sure that this is so. So many jobs are now crapified. When I was made redundant in 2009, I could not find many jobs that fit my level of experience (just experience! I have no college degree), so I applied for anything that fit my skill set, pretty much regardless of level. I was called Overqualified. I have heard that in the past as well, but never more so during that stretch of job hunting. Remember that's with no degree. Maybe younger people don't hear it as much. But I also think life experience has something to do with it, you need to have something to compare it to. How many times did our parents tell us how different things were when they were kids, how much easier? I didn't take that on board, did y'all?
sam s smith June 26, 2015 at 4:03 pm
I blame HR.
tsk June 27, 2015 at 4:42 pm
For various reasons, people seeking work these days, especially younger job applicants, might not possess the habits of mind and behavior that would make them good employees – i.e., punctuality, the willingness to come to work every day (even when something more fun or interesting comes up, or when one has partied hard the night before), the ability to meet deadlines rather than make excuses for not meeting them, the ability to write competently at a basic level, the ability to read instructions, diagrams, charts, or any other sort of necessary background material, the ability to handle basic computation, the ability to FOLLOW instructions rather than deciding that one will pick and choose which rules and instructions to follow and which to ignore, trainability, etc.
Even if a job applicant's degree is in a totally unrelated field, the fact that he or she has managed to complete an undergraduate degree–or, if relevant, a master's or a doctorate – is often accepted by employers as a sign that the applicant has a sense of personal responsibility, a certain amount of diligence and educability, and a certain level of basic competence in reading, writing, and math.
By the same token, employers often assume that an applicant who didn't bother going to college or who couldn't complete a college degree program is probably not someone to be counted on to be a responsible, trainable, competent employee.
Obviously those who don't go to college, or who go but drop out or flunk out, end up disadvantaged when competing for jobs, which might not be fair at all in individual cases, especially now that college has been priced so far out of the range of so many bright, diligent students from among the poor and and working classes, and now even those from the middle class.
Nevertheless, in general an individual's ability to complete a college degree is not an unreasonable stand-in as evidence of that person's suitability for employment.
Roland June 27, 2015 at 5:14 pm
Nicely put, Ben.
Students are first caught in a trap of "credentials inflation" needed to obtain jobs, then caught by inflation in education costs, then stuck with undischargeable debt. And the more of them who get the credentials, the worse the credentials inflation–a spiral.
It's all fuelled by loose credit. The only beneficiaries are a managerial elite who enjoy palatial facilities.
As for the employers, they're not so bad off. Wages are coming down for credentialled employees due to all the competition. There is such a huge stock of degreed applicants that they can afford to ignore anyone who isn't. The credentials don't cost the employer–they're not spending the money, nor are they lending the money.
Modern money makes it possible for the central authorities to keep this racket going all the way up to the point of general systemic collapse. Why should they stop? Who's going to make them stop?
Bobbo June 26, 2015 at 10:19 am
The only reason the universities can get away with it is easy money. When the time comes that students actually need to pay tuition with real money, money they or their parents have actually saved, then college tuition rates will crash back down to earth. Don't blame the universities. This is the natural and inevitable outcome of easy money.
Jim June 26, 2015 at 10:54 am
Yes, college education in the US is a classic example of the effects of subsidies. Eliminate the subsidies and the whole education bubble would rapidly implode.
washunate June 26, 2015 at 11:03 am
I'm very curious if anyone will disagree with that assessment.
An obvious commonality across higher education, healthcare, housing, criminal justice, and national security is that we spend huge quantities of public money yet hold the workers receiving that money to extremely low standards of accountability for what they do with it.
tegnost June 26, 2015 at 11:38 am
Correct, it's not the universities, it's the culture that contains the universities, but the universities are training grounds for the culture so it is the universities just not only the universities Been remembering the song from my college days "my futures so bright i gotta wear shades". getting rich was the end in itself, and people who didn't make it didn't deserve anything but a whole lot of student debt,creating perverse incentives. And now we all know what the A in type a stands for at least among those who self identify as such, so yes it is the universities
Chris in Paris June 26, 2015 at 12:07 pm
I don't understand why the ability to accept guaranteed loan money doesn't come with an obligation by the school to cap tuition at a certain percentage over maximum loan amount? Would that be so hard to institute?
Ben June 26, 2015 at 1:53 pm
Student loans are debt issuance. Western states are desperate to issue debt as it's fungible with money and marked down as growth.
Borrow 120K over 3 years and it all gets paid into university coffers and reappears as "profit" now. Let some other president deal with low disposable income due to loan repayments. It's in a different electoral cycle – perfect.
jrd2 June 26, 2015 at 11:50 am
You can try to argue, but it will be hard to refute. If you give mortgages at teaser rates to anybody who can fog a mirror, you get a housing bubble. If you give student loans to any student without regard to the prospects of that student paying back the loan, you get a higher education bubble. Which will include private equity trying to catch as much of this money as they possibly can by investing in for profit educational institutions just barely adequate to benefit from federal student loan funds.
jrs June 26, 2015 at 6:16 pm
A lot of background conditions help. It helps to pump a housing bubble if there's nothing else worth investing in (including saving money at zero interest rates). It helps pump an education bubble if most of the jobs have been outsourced so people are competing more and more for fewer and fewer.
Beans June 26, 2015 at 11:51 am
I don't disagree with the statement that easy money has played the biggest role in jacking up tuition. I do strongly disagree that we shouldn't "blame" the universities. The universities are exactly where we should place the blame. The universities have become job training grounds, and yet continue to droll on and on about the importance of noble things like liberal education, the pursuit of knowledge, the importance of ideas, etc. They cannot have it both ways. Years ago, when tuition rates started escalating faster than inflation, the universities should have been the loudest critics – pointing out the cultural problems that would accompany sending the next generation into the future deeply indebted – namely that all the noble ideas learned at the university would get thrown out the window when financial reality forced recent graduates to chose between noble ideas and survival. If universities truly believed that a liberal education was important; that the pursuit of knowledge benefitted humanity – they should have led the charge to hold down tuition.
washunate June 26, 2015 at 12:47 pm
I took it to mean blame as in what allows the system to function. I heartily agree that highly paid workers at universities bear blame for what they do (and don't do) at a granular level.
It's just that they couldn't do those things without the system handing them gobs of resources, from tax deductability of charitable contributions to ignoring anti-competitive behavior in local real estate ownership to research grants and other direct funding to student loans and other indirect funding.
Jim June 26, 2015 at 3:09 pm
Regarding blaming "highly paid workers at universities" – If a society creates incentives for dysfunctional behavior such a society will have a lot of dysfunction. Eliminate the subsidies and see how quicly the educational bubble pops.
James Levy June 26, 2015 at 2:45 pm
You are ignoring the way that the rich bid up the cost of everything. 2% of the population will pay whatever the top dozen or so schools will charge so that little Billy or Sue can go to Harvard or Stanford. This leads to cost creep as the next tier ratchet up their prices in lock step with those above them, etc. The same dynamic happens with housing, at least around wealthy metropolitan areas.
daniel June 26, 2015 at 12:07 pm
Hi to you two,
A European perspective on this: yep, that's true on an international perspective. I belong to the ugly list of those readers of this blog who do not fully share the liberal values of most of you hear. However, may I say that I can agree on a lot of stuff.
US education and health-care are outrageously costly. Every European citizen moving to the states has a question: will he or she be sick whilst there. Every European parent with kids in higher education is aware that having their kids for one closing year in the US is the more they can afford (except if are a banquier d'affaires ). Is the value of the US education good? No doubt! Is is good value for money, of course not. Is the return on the money ok? It will prove disastrous, except if the USD crashed. The main reason? Easy money. As for any kind of investment. Remember that this is indeed a investment plan
Check the level of revenues of "public sector" teaching staff on both sides of the ponds. The figure for US professionals in these area are available on the Web. They are indeed much more costly than, say, North-of-Europe counterparts, "public sector" professionals in those area. Is higher education in the Netherlands sub-par when compared to the US? Of course not.
Yep financing education via the Fed (directly or not) is not only insanely costly. Just insane. The only decent solution: set up public institutions staffed with service-minded professionals that did not have to pay an insane sum to build up the curriculum themselves.
Are "public services" less efficient than private ones here in those area, health-care and higher education. Yep, most certainly. But, sure, having the fed indirectly finance the educational system just destroy any competitive savings made in building a competitive market-orientated educational system and is one of the worst way to handle your educational system.
Yep, you can do a worst use of the money, subprime or China buildings But that's all about it.
US should forget about exceptionnalism and pay attention to what North of Europe is doing in this area. Mind you, I am Southerner (of Europe). But of course I understand that trying to run these services on a federal basis is indeed "mission impossible".
Way to big! Hence the indirect Washington-decided Wall-Street-intermediated Fed-and-deficit-driven financing of higher education. Mind you: we have more and more of this bankers meddling in education in Europe and I do not like what I see.
John Zelnicker June 27, 2015 at 1:36 pm
@washunate – 6/26/15, 11:03 am. I know I'm late to the party, but I disagree. It's not the workers, it's the executives and management generally. Just like Wall Street, many of these top administrators have perfected the art of failing upwards.
IMNSHO everyone needs to stop blaming labor and/or the labor unions. It's not the front line workers, teachers, retail clerks, adjunct instructors, all those people who do the actual work rather than managing other people. Those workers have no bargaining power, and the unions have lost most of theirs, in part due to the horrible labor market, as well as other important reasons.
We have demonized virtually all of the government workers who actually do the work that enables us to even have a government (all levels) and to provide the services we demand, such as public safety, education, and infrastructure. These people are our neighbors, relatives and friends; we owe them better than this.
/end of rant
Roland June 27, 2015 at 5:20 pm
Unionized support staff at Canadian universities have had sub-inflation wage increases for nearly 20 years, while tuition has been rising at triple the rate of inflation.
So obviously one can't blame the unions for rising education costs.
Spring Texan June 28, 2015 at 8:03 am
Thanks for your rant! You said a mouthful. And could not be more correct.
Adam Eran June 26, 2015 at 12:18 pm
Omitted from this account: Federal funding for education has declined 55% since 1972. Part of the Powell memo's agenda.
It's understandable too; one can hardly blame legislators for punishing the educational establishment given the protests of the '60s and early '70s After all, they were one reason Nixon and Reagan rose to power. How dare they propose real democracy! Harumph!
To add to students' burden, there's the recent revision of bankruptcy law: student loans can no longer be retired by bankruptcy (Thanks Hillary!) It'll be interesting to see whether Hillary's vote on that bankruptcy revision becomes a campaign issue.
I also wonder whether employers will start to look for people without degrees as an indication they were intelligent enough to sidestep this extractive scam.
washunate June 26, 2015 at 1:54 pm
I'd be curious what you count as federal funding. Pell grants, for example, have expanded both in terms of the number of recipients and the amount of spending over the past 3 – 4 decades.
More generally, federal support for higher ed comes in a variety of forms. The bankruptcy law you mention is itself a form of federal funding. Tax exemption is another. Tax deductabiliity of contributions is another. So are research grants and exemptions from anti-competitive laws and so forth. There are a range of individual tax credits and deductions. The federal government also does not intervene in a lot of state supports, such as licensing practices in law and medicine that make higher ed gatekeepers to various fiefdoms and allowing universities to take fees for administering (sponsoring) charter schools. The Federal Work-Study program is probably one of the clearest specific examples of a program that offers both largely meaningless busy work and terrible wages.
As far as large employers seeking intelligence, I'm not sure that's an issue in the US? Generally speaking, the point of putting a college credential in a job requirement is precisely to find people participating in the 'scam'. If an employer is genuinely looking for intelligence, they don't have minimum educational requirements.
Laughingsong June 26, 2015 at 3:12 pm
I heard that Congress is cutting those:
different clue June 28, 2015 at 3:06 am
Why would tuition rates come down when students need to pay with "real money, money they or their parents have actually saved. . . " ? Didn't tuition at state universities begin climbing when state governments began boycotting state universities in terms of embargoing former rates of taxpayer support to them? Leaving the state universities to try making up the difference by raising tuition? If people want to limit or reduce the tuition charged to in-state students of state universities, people will have to resume paying former rates of taxes and elect people to state government to re-target those taxes back to state universities the way they used to do before the reductions in state support to state universities.
Jesper June 26, 2015 at 10:29 am
Protest against exploitation and risk being black-listed by exploitative employers -> Only employers left are the ones who actually do want (not pretend to want) ethical people willing to stand up for what they believe in. Not many of those kind of employers around . What is the benefit? What are the risks?
Tammy June 27, 2015 at 4:35 pm
What is the benefit? What are the risks?
I am not a progressive, yet, there is always risk for solidary progress.
Andrew June 26, 2015 at 10:53 am
The author misrepresents the nature and demands of Chile's student movement.
Over the past few decades, university enrollment rates for Chileans expanded dramatically in part due to the creation of many private universities. In Chile, public universities lead the pack in terms of academic reputation and entrance is determined via competitive exams. As a result, students from poorer households who attended low-quality secondary schools generally need to look at private universities to get a degree. And these are the students to which the newly created colleges catered to.
According to Chilean legislation, universities can only function as non-profit entities. However, many of these new institutions were only nominally non-profit entities (for example, the owners of the university would also set up a real estate company that would rent the facilities to the college at above market prices) and they were very much lacking in quality. After a series of high-profile cases of universities that were open and shut within a few years leaving its students in limbo and debt, anger mounted over for-profit education.
The widespread support of the student movement was due to generalized anger about and education system that is dearly lacking in quality and to the violation of the spirit of the law regulating education. Once the student movement's demands became more specific and morphed from opposing for profit institutions to demanding free tuition for everyone, the widespread support waned quickly.
And while the government announced free tuition in public universities, there is a widespread consensus that this is a pretty terrible idea as it is regressive and involves large fiscal costs. In particular because most of the students that attend public universities come from relatively wealthy households that can afford tuition. The students that need the tuition assistance will not benefit under the new rules.
I personally benefited from the fantastically generous financial aid systems that some private American universities have set up which award grants and scholarships based on financial need only. And I believe that it is desirable for the State to guarantee that any qualified student has access to college regardless of his or her wealth I think that by romanticizing the Chilean student movement the author reveals himself to be either is dishonest or, at best, ignorant.
RanDomino June 27, 2015 at 12:23 pm
The protests also involved extremely large riots.
The Insider June 26, 2015 at 10:57 am
Students aren't protesting because they don't feel the consequences until they graduate.
One thing that struck me when I applied for a student loan a few years back to help me get through my last year of graduate school – the living expense allocation was surprisingly high. Not "student sharing an apartment with five random dudes while eating ramen and riding the bus", but more "living alone in a nice one-bedroom apartment while eating takeout and driving a car". Apocryphal stories of students using their student loans to buy new cars or take extravagant vacations were not impossible to believe.
The living expense portion of student loans is often so generous that students can live relatively well while going to school, which makes it that much easier for them to push to the backs of their minds the consequences that will come from so much debt when they graduate. Consequently, it isn't the students who are complaining – it's the former students. But by the time they are out of school and the university has their money in its pocket, it's too late for them to try and change the system.
lord koos June 26, 2015 at 11:42 am
I'm sure many students are simply happy to be in college the ugly truth hits later.
optimader June 26, 2015 at 12:39 pm
Sophomore Noell Conley lives there, too. She shows off the hotel-like room she shares with a roommate.
"As you walk in, to the right you see our granite countertops with two sinks, one for each of the residents," she says.
A partial wall separates the beds. Rather than trek down the hall to shower, they share a bathroom with the room next door.
"That's really nice compared to community bathrooms that I lived in last year," Conley says.
To be fair, granite countertops last longer. Tempur-Pedic is a local company - and gave a big discount. The amenities include classrooms and study space that are part of the dorm. Many of the residents are in the university's Honors program. But do student really need Apple TV in the lounges, or a smartphone app that lets them check their laundry status from afar?
"Demand has been very high," says the university's Penny Cox, who is overseeing the construction of several new residence halls on campus. Before Central Hall's debut in August, the average dorm was almost half a century old, she says. That made it harder to recruit.
"If you visit places like Ohio State, Michigan, Alabama," Cox says, "and you compare what we had with what they have available to offer, we were very far behind."
Today colleges are competing for a more discerning consumer. Students grew up with fewer siblings, in larger homes, Cox says. They expect more privacy than previous generations - and more comforts.
"These days we seem to be bringing kids up to expect a lot of material plenty," says Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University and author of the book "Generation Me."
Those students could be in for some disappointment when they graduate, she says.
"When some of these students have all these luxuries and then they get an entry-level job and they can't afford the enormous flat screen and the granite countertops," Twenge says, "then that's going to be a rude awakening."
Some on campus also worry about the divide between students who can afford such luxuries and those who can't. The so-called premium dorms cost about $1,000 more per semester. Freshman Josh Johnson, who grew up in a low-income family and lives in one of the university's 1960s-era buildings, says the traditional dorm is good enough for him.
"I wouldn't pay more just to live in a luxury dorm," he says. "It seems like I could just pay the flat rate and get the dorm I'm in. It's perfectly fine."
In the near future students who want to live on campus won't have a choice. Eventually the university plans to upgrade all of its residence halls.
So I wonder who on average will fair better navigating the post-college lifestyle/job market reality check, Noell or Josh? Personally, I would bet on the Joshes living in the 60's vintage enamel painted ciderblock dorm rooms.
optimader June 26, 2015 at 12:47 pm
Universities responding to the market
Competition for students who have more sophisticated tastes than in past years is creating the perfect environment for schools to try to outdo each other with ever-more posh on-campus housing. Keeping up in the luxury dorm race is increasingly critical to a school's bottom line: A 2006 study published by the Association of Higher Education Facilities Officers found that "poorly maintained or inadequate residential facilities" was the number-one reason students rejected enrolling at institutions.
PHOTO GALLERY: Click Here to See the 10 Schools with Luxury Dorms
Private universities get most of the mentions on lists of schools with great dorms, as recent ratings by the Princeton Review, College Prowler, and Campus Splash make clear. But a few state schools that have invested in brand-new facilities are starting to show up on those reviews, too.
While many schools offer first dibs on the nicest digs to upperclassmen on campus, as the war for student dollars ratchets up even first-year students at public colleges are living in style. Here are 10 on-campus dormitories at state schools that offer students resort-like amenities.
Jerry Denim June 26, 2015 at 4:37 pm
Bingo! They don't get really mad until they're in their early thirties and they are still stuck doing some menial job with no vacation time, no health insurance and a monstrous mountain of debt. Up until that point they're still working hard waiting for their ship to come in and blaming themselves for any lack of success like Steinbeck's 'embarrassed millionaires.' Then one day maybe a decade after they graduate they realize they've been conned but they've got bills to pay and other problems to worry about so they solider on. 18 year-olds are told by their high school guidance councilors, their parents and all of the adults they trust that college while expensive is a good investment and the only way to succeed. Why should they argue? They don't know any better yet.
different clue June 28, 2015 at 3:09 am
Perhaps some students are afraid to protest for fear of being photographed or videographed and having their face and identity given to every prospective employer throughout America. Perhaps those students are afraid of being blackballed throughout the Great American Workplace if they are caught protesting anything on camera.
Today isn't like the sixties when you could drop out in the confidence that you could always drop back in again. Nowadays there are ten limpets for every scar on the rock.
seabos84 June 26, 2015 at 11:16 am
the average is such a worthless number. The Data we need, and which all these parasitic professional managerial types won't provide –
x axis would be family income, by $5000 increments.
y axis would be the median debt level
we could get fancy, and also throw in how many kids are in school in each of those income increments.
BTW – this 55 yr. old troglodyte believes that 1 of the roles (note – I did NOT say "The Role") of education is preparing people to useful to society. 300++ million Americans, 7 billion humans – we ALL need shelter, reliable and safe food, reliable and safe water, sewage disposal, clothing, transportation, education, sick care, power, leisure, we should ALL have access to family wage jobs and time for BBQs with our various communities several times a year. I know plenty of techno-dweebs here in Seattle who need to learn some of the lessons of 1984, The Prince, and Shakespeare. I know plenty of fuzzies who could be a bit more useful with some rudimentary skills in engineering, or accounting, or finance, or stats, or bio, or chem
I don't know what the current education system is providing, other than some accidental good things for society at large, and mainly mechanisms for the para$ite cla$$e$ to stay parasites.
Adam Eran June 26, 2015 at 12:22 pm
Mao was perfectly content to promote technical education in the new China. What he deprecated (and fought to suppress) was the typical liberal arts notion of critical thinking. We're witnessing something comparable in the U.S.
This suppression in China led to an increase in Mao's authority (obviously), but kept him delusional. For example, because China relied on Mao's agricultural advice, an estimated 70 million Chinese died during peacetime. But who else was to be relied upon as an authority?
Back the the U.S.S.A. (the United StateS of America): One Australian says of the American system: "You Yanks don't consult the wisdom of democracy; you enable mobs."
Tammy June 27, 2015 at 4:41 pm
Mao was perfectly content to promote technical education in the new China. What he deprecated (and fought to suppress) was the typical liberal arts notion of critical thinking. We're witnessing something comparable in the U.S. We're witnessing something comparable in the U.S.
Mao liked chaos because he believed in continuous revolution. I would argue what we're experiencing is nothing comparable to what China experienced. (I hope I've understood you correctly.)
Ted June 26, 2015 at 11:20 am
I am pretty sure a tradition of protest to affect political change in the US is a rather rare bird. Most people "protest" by changing their behavior. As an example, by questioning the value of the 46,000 local private college tuition as opposed the the 15k and 9k tiered state college options. My daughter is entering the freshman class next year, we opted for the cheaper state option because, in the end, a private school degree adds nothing, unless it is to a high name recognition institution.
I think, like housing, a downstream consequence of "the gouge" is not to question - much less understand - class relations, but to assess the value of the lifetyle choice once you are stuck with the price of paying for that lifestyle in the form of inflated debt repayments. Eventually "the folk" figure it out and encourage cheaper alternatives toward the same goal.
Jim June 26, 2015 at 3:18 pm
There's probably little point in engaging in political protest. Most people maximise their chances of success by focusing on variables over which they have some degree of control. The ability of most people to have much effect on the overall political-economic system is slight and any returns from political activity are highly uncertain.
jrs June 26, 2015 at 9:53 pm
How does anyone even expect to maintain cheap available state options without political activity? By wishful thinking I suppose?
The value of a private school might be graduating sooner, state schools are pretty overcrowded, but that may not at all be worth the debt (I doubt it almost ever is on a purely economic basis).
RabidGandhi June 27, 2015 at 7:57 pm
Maybe if we just elect the right people with cool posters and a hopey changey slogan, they'll take care of everything for us and we won't have to be politically active.
jrs June 26, 2015 at 10:04 pm
Of course refusal to engage politically because the returns to oneself by doing so are small really IS the tragedy of the commons. Thus one might say it's ethical to engage politically in order to avoid it. Some ethical action focuses on overcoming tragedy of the commons dilemmas. Of course the U.S. system being what it is I have a hard time blaming anyone for giving up.
chairman June 26, 2015 at 11:37 am
The middle class, working class and poor have no voice in politics or policy at all, and they don't know what's going on until it's too late. They've been pushed by all their high school staff that college is the only acceptable option - and often it is. What else are they going to do out of high school, work a 30 hour a week minimum wage retail job? The upper middle class and rich, who entirely monopolize the media, don't have any reason to care about skyrocketing college tuition - their parents are paying for it anyway. They'd rather write about the hip and trendy issues of the day, like trigger warnings.
Fool June 26, 2015 at 1:17 pm
To the contrary, they're hardly advised by "their high school staff"; nonetheless, subway ads for Phoenix, Monroe, etc. have a significant influence.
Uncle Bruno June 26, 2015 at 11:58 am
They're too busy working
Fool June 26, 2015 at 1:20 pm
collegestudent June 26, 2015 at 12:39 pm
Speaking as one of these college students, I think that a large part of the reason that the vast majority of students are just accepting the tuition rates is because it has become the societal norm. Growing up I can remember people saying "You need to go to college to find a good job." Because a higher education is seen as a necessity for most people, students think of tuition as just another form of taxes, acceptable and inevitable, which we will expect to get a refund on later in life.
Pitchfork June 26, 2015 at 1:03 pm
I teach at a "good" private university. Most of my students don't have a clue as to how they're being exploited. Many of the best students feel enormous pressure to succeed and have some inkling that their job prospects are growing narrower, but they almost universally accept this as the natural order of things. Their outlook: if there are 10 or 100 applicants for every available job, well, by golly, I just have to work that much harder and be the exceptional one who gets the job.
Incoming freshmen were born in the late 90s - they've never known anything but widespread corruption, financial and corporate oligarchy, i-Pads and the Long Recession.
But as other posters note, the moment of realization usually comes after four years of prolonged adolescence, luxury dorm living and excessive debt accumulation.
Tammy June 27, 2015 at 4:49 pm
Most Ph.D.'s don't either. I'd argue there have been times they have attempted to debate that exploitation is a good–for their employer and himself/herself–with linguistic games. Mind numbing . To be fair, they have a job.
Gottschee June 26, 2015 at 1:34 pm
I have watched the tuition double–double!–at my alma mater in the last eleven years. During this period, administrators have set a goal of increasing enrollment by a third, and from what I hear, they've done so. My question is always this: where is the additional tuition money going? Because as I walk through the campus, I don't really see that many improvements–yes, a new building, but that was supposedly paid for by donations and endowments. I don't see new offices for these high-priced admin people that colleges are hiring, and in fact, what I do see is an increase in the number of part-time faculty and adjuncts. The tenured faculty is not prospering from all this increased revenue, either.
I suspect the tuition is increasing so rapidly simply because the college can get away with it. And that means they are exploiting the students.
While still a student, I once calculated that it cost me $27.00/hour to be in class. (15 weeks x 20 "contact hours" per week =
300 hours/semester, $8000/semester divided by 300 hours = $27.00/hour). A crude calculation, certainly, but a starting point. I did this because I had an instructor who was consistently late to class, and often cancelled class, so much that he wiped out at least $300.00 worth of instruction. I had the gall to ask for a refund of that amount. I'm full of gall. Of course, I was laughed at, not just by the administrators, but also by some students.
Just like medical care, education pricing is "soft," that is, the price is what you are willing to pay. Desirable students get scholarships and stipends, which other students subsidize; similarly, some pre-ACA patients in hospitals were often treated gratis.
Students AND hospital patients alike seem powerless to affect the contract with the provider. Reform will not likely be forthcoming, as students, like patients, are "just passing through."
Martin Finnucane June 26, 2015 at 2:10 pm
Higher education wears the cloak of liberalism, but in policy and practice, it can be a corrupt and cutthroat system of power and exploitation.
I find the "but" in that sentence to be dissonant.
Mark Anderson June 26, 2015 at 3:12 pm
The tuition at most public universities has quadrupled or more over the last 15 to 20 years precisely BECAUSE state government subsidies have been
slashed in the meantime. I was told around 2005 that quadrupled tuition at the University of Minnesota made up for about half of the state money that the legislature had slashed from the university budget over the previous 15 years.
It is on top of that situation that university administrators are building themselves little aristocratic empires, very much modeled on the kingdoms of corporate CEOs
where reducing expenses (cutting faculty) and services to customers (fewer classes, more adjuncts) is seen as the height of responsibility and accountability, perhaps
even the definition of propriety.
Jim June 26, 2015 at 3:23 pm
Everyone should read the introductory chapter to David Graeber's " The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy."
In Chapter One of this book entitled "The Iron law of Liberalism and the Era of Total Bureaucratization" Graeber notes that the US has become the most rigidly credentialised society in the world where
" in field after field from nurses to art teachers, physical therapists, to foreign policy consultants, careers which used to be considered an art (best learned through doing) now require formal professional training and a certificate of completion."
Graeber, in that same chapter, makes another extremely important point. when he notes that career advancement in may large bureaucratic organizations demands a willingness to play along with the fiction that advancement is based on merit, even though most everyone know that this isn't true.
The structure of modern power in the U.S., in both the merging public and private sectors, is built around the false ideology of a giant credentialized meritorcracy rather than the reality of arbitrary extraction by predatory bureaucratic networks.
armchair June 26, 2015 at 3:27 pm
Anecdote: I was speaking to someone who recently started working at as a law school administrator at my alma mater. Enrollment is actually down at law schools (I believe), because word has spread about the lame legal job market. So, the school administration is watching its pennies, and the new administrator says the administrators aren't getting to go on so many of the all expense paid conferences and junkets that they used to back in the heyday. As I hear this, I am thinking about how many of these awesome conferences in San Diego, New Orleans and New York that I'm paying back. Whatever happened to the metaphorical phrase: "when a pig becomes a hog, it goes to slaughter"?
Another anecdote: I see my undergrad alma mater has demolished the Cold War era dorms on one part of campus and replaced it with tons of slick new student housing.
MaroonBulldog June 26, 2015 at 7:15 pm
No doubt those Cold War era dorms had outlived their planned life. Time for replacement. Hell, they had probably become inhabitable and unsafe.
Meanwhile, has your undergraduate school replaced any of its lecture courses with courses presented same model as on-line traffic school? I have a pending comment below about how my nephew's public university "taught" him introductory courses in accounting and macroeconomics that way. Please be assured that the content of those courses was on a par with best practices in the on-line traffic school industry. It would be hilarious if it weren't so desperately sad.
Roquentin June 26, 2015 at 5:04 pm
I read things like this and think about Louis Althusser and his ideas about "Ideological State Apparatuses." While in liberal ideology the education is usually considered to be the space where opportunity to improve one's situation is founded, Althusser reached the complete opposite conclusion. For him, universities are the definitive bourgeois institution, the ideological state apparatus of the modern capitalist state par excellance. The real purpose of the university was not to level the playing field of opportunity but to preserve the advantages of the bourgeoisie and their children, allowing the class system to perpetuate/reproduce itself.
It certainly would explain a lot. It would explain why trying to send everyone to college won't solve this, because not everyone can have a bourgeois job. Some people actually have to do the work. The whole point of the university as an institution was to act as a sorting/distribution hub for human beings, placing them at certain points within the division of labor. A college degree used to mean more because getting it was like a golden ticket, guaranteeing someone who got it at least a petit-bourgeois lifestyle. The thing is, there are only so many slots in corporate America for this kind of employment. That number is getting smaller too. You could hand every man, woman, and child in America a BS and it wouldn't change this in the slightest.
What has happened instead, for college to preserve its role as the sorting mechanism/preservation of class advantage is what I like to call degree inflation and/or an elite formed within degrees themselves. Now a BS or BA isn't enough, one needs an Master's or PhD to really be distinguished. Now a degree from just any institution won't do, it has to be an Ivy or a Tier 1 school. Until we learn to think realistically about what higher education is as an institution little or nothing will change.
Jim June 26, 2015 at 8:14 pm
Any credential is worthless if everybody has it. All information depends on contrast. It's impossible for everybody to "stand out" from the masses. The more people have college degrees the less value a college degree has.
sid_finster June 26, 2015 at 5:49 pm
When I was half-grown, I heard it said that religion is no longer the opiate of the masses, in that no one believes in God anymore, at least not enough for it to change actual behavior.
Instead, buying on credit is the opiate of the masses.
MaroonBulldog June 26, 2015 at 6:58 pm
My nephew asked me to help him with his college introductory courses in macroeconomics and accounting. I was disappointed to find out what was going on: no lectures by professors, no discussion sessions with teaching assistants; no team projects–just two automated correspondence courses, with automated computer graded problem sets objective tests – either multiple choice, fill in the blank with a number, or fill in the blank with a form answer. This from a public university that is charging tuition for attendance just as though it were really teaching something. All they're really certifying is that the student can perform exercises is correctly reporting what a couple of textbooks said about subjects of marginal relevance to his degree. My nephew understands exactly that this is going on, but still .
This is how 21st century America treats its young people: it takes people who are poor, in the sense that they have no assets, and makes them poorer, loading them up with student debt, which they incur in order to finance a falsely-so-called course of university study that can't be a good deal, even for the best students among them.
I am not suggesting the correspondence courses have no worth at all. But they do not have the worth that is being charged for them in this bait-and-switch exercise by Ed Business.
MaroonBulldog June 27, 2015 at 1:39 am
After further thought, I'd compare my nephew's two courses to on-line traffic school: Mechanized "learning" – forget it all as soon as the test is over – Critical thinking not required. Except for the kind of "test preparation" critical thinking that teaches one to spot and eliminate the obviously wrong choices in objective answers–that kind of thinking saves time and so is very helpful.
Not only is he paying full tuition to receive this treatment, but his family and mine are paying taxes to support it, too.
Very useful preparation for later life, where we can all expect to attend traffic school a few times. But no preparation for any activity of conceivable use or benefit to any other person.
Spring Texan June 28, 2015 at 8:07 am
Good story. What a horrible rip-off!
P. Fitzsimon June 27, 2015 at 12:26 pm
I read recently that the business establishment viewed the most important contribution of colleges was that they warehoused young people for four years to allow maturing.
Fred Grosso June 27, 2015 at 4:55 pm
Where are the young people in all this? Is anyone going to start organizing to change things? Any ideas? Any interest? Are we going to have some frustrated, emotional person attempt to kill a university president once every ten years? Then education can appeal for support from the government to beef up security. Meanwhile the same old practices will prevail and the rich get richer and the rest of us get screwed.
Come on people step up.
Unorthodoxmarxist June 27, 2015 at 6:22 pm
The reason students accept this has to be the absolutely demobilized political culture of the United States combined with what college represents structurally to students from the middle classes: the only possibility – however remote – of achieving any kind of middle class income.
Really your choices in the United States are, in terms of jobs, to go into the military (and this is really for working class kids, Southern families with a military history and college-educated officer-class material) or to go to college.
The rest, who have no interest in the military, attend college, much like those who wanted to achieve despite of their class background went into the priesthood in the medieval period. There hasn't been a revolt due to the lack of any idea it could function differently and that American families are still somehow willing to pay the exorbitant rates to give their children a piece of paper that still enables them to claim middle class status though fewer and fewer find jobs. $100k in debt seems preferable to no job prospects at all.
Colleges have become a way for the ruling class to launder money into supposed non-profits and use endowments to purchase stocks, bonds, and real estate. College administrators and their lackeys (the extended school bureaucracy) are propping up another part of the financial sector – just take a look at Harvard's $30+ billion endowment, or Yale's $17 billion – these are just the top of a very large heap. They're all deep into the financial sector. Professors and students are simply there as an excuse for the alumni money machine and real estate scams to keep running, but there's less and less of a reason for them to employ professors, and I say this as a PhD with ten years of teaching experience who has seen the market dry up even more than it was when I entered grad school in the early 2000s.
A Real Black Person purple monkey dishwasher June 28, 2015 at 9:13 pm
"Colleges have become a way for the ruling class to launder money into supposed non-profits and use endowments to purchase stocks, bonds, and real estate. "
Unorthodoxmarxist, I thought I was the only person who was coming to that conclusion. I think there's data out there that could support our thesis that college tuition inflation may be affecting real estate prices. After all, justification a college grad gave to someone who was questioning the value of a college degree was that by obtaining a "a degree" and a professional job, an adult could afford to buy a home in major metropolitan hubs. I'm not sure if he was that ignorant, (business majors, despite the math requirement are highly ideological people. They're no where near as objective as they like to portray themselves as) or if he hasn't been in contact with anyone with a degree trying to buy a home in a metropolitan area.
Anyways, if our thesis is true, then if home prices declined in 2009, then college tuition should have declined as well, but it didn't at most trustworthy schools. Prospective students kept lining up to pay more for education that many insiders believe is "getting worse" because of widespread propaganda and a lack of alternatives, especially for "middle class" women.
Pelham June 27, 2015 at 7:04 pm
It's hard to say, but there ought to be a power keg of students here primed to blow. And Bernie Sanders' proposal for free college could be the fuse.
But first he'd have the light the fuse, and maybe he can. He's getting huge audiences and a lot of interest these days. And here's a timely issue. What would happen if Sanders toured colleges and called for an angry, mass and extended student strike across the country to launch on a certain date this fall or next spring to protest these obscene tuitions and maybe call for something else concrete, like a maximum ratio of administrators to faculty for colleges to receive accreditation?
It could ignite not only a long-overdue movement on campuses but also give a big boost to his campaign. He'd have millions of motivated and even furious students on his side as well as a lot of motivated and furious parents of students (my wife and I would be among them) - and these are just the types of people likely to get out and vote in the primaries and general election.
Sanders' consistent message about the middle class is a strong one. But here's a solid, specific but very wide-ranging issue that could bring that message into very sharp relief and really get a broad class of politically engaged people fired up.
I'm not one of those who think Sanders can't win but applaud his candidacy because it will nudge Hillary Clinton. I don't give a fig about Clinton. I think there's a real chance Sanders can win not just the nomination but also the presidency. This country is primed for a sharp political turn. Sanders could well be the right man in the right place and time. And this glaring and ongoing tuition ripoff that EVERYONE agrees on could be the single issue that puts him front-and-center rather than on the sidelines.
Rosario June 28, 2015 at 1:18 am
I finished graduate school about three years ago. During the pre-graduate terms that I paid out of pocket (2005-2009) I saw a near 70 percent increase in tuition (look up KY college tuition 1987-2009 for proof).
Straight bullshit, but remember our school was just following the national (Neoliberal) model.
Though, realize that I was 19-23 years old. Very immature (still immature) and feeling forces beyond my control. I did not protest out of a) fear [?] (I don't know, maybe, just threw that in there) b) the sheepskin be the path to salvation (include social/cultural pressures from parent, etc.).
I was more affected by b). This is the incredible power of our current Capitalist culture. It trains us well. We are always speaking its language, as if a Classic. Appraising its world through its values.
I wished to protest (i.e. Occupy, etc.) but to which master? All of its targets are post modern, all of it, to me, nonsense, and, because of this undead (unable to be destroyed). This coming from a young man, as I said, still immature, though I fear this misdirection, and alienation is affecting us all.
John June 28, 2015 at 10:42 am
NYU can gouge away. It's filled with Chinese students (spies) who pay full tuition.
Nov 14, 2015 | news.yahoo.com
Students held rallies on college campuses across the United States on Thursday to protest ballooning student loan debt for higher education and rally for tuition-free public colleges and a minimum wage hike for campus workers.
The demonstrations, dubbed the Million Student March, were planned just two days after thousands of fast-food workers took to the streets in a nationwide day of action pushing for a $15-an-hour minimum wage and union rights for the industry.
About 50 students from Boston-area colleges gathered at Northeastern University carrying signs that read "Degrees not receipts" and "Is this a school or a corporation?"
"The student debt crisis is awful. Change starts when people demand it in the street. Not in the White House," said Elan Axelbank, 20, a third year student at Northeastern, who said he was a co-founder of the national action.
... ... ...
"I want to graduate without debt," said Ashley Allison, a 22-year-old student at Boston's Bunker Hill Community College, at the Northeastern rally. "Community college has been kind to me, but if I want to go on, I have to take on debt."
Dealing with swiftly mounting student loan debt has been a focus of candidates vying for the White House in 2016. Democratic hopeful Bernie Sanders has vowed to make tuition free at public universities and colleges, and has pledged to cut interest rates for student loans.
... ... ...
Free taxpayer supported public education means more college administrators earning $200,000 or more, more faculty earning $100,000 or more working 8 months a year and more $300 textbooks. Higher education costs are a direct correlation to Federal Student Loans subsiding college bureaucracies, exorbitant salaries for college administrators and faculty.
What fantasy world do these people live in. There is nothing for free and if you borrow tens of thousands of dollars you can't expect later that someone else will pick up your tab. Pucker up bucky, it is your responsibility.
Furthermore, a lot of this money didn't go to education. I have read where people went back to school so they could borrow money to pay their rent, or even their car payments. As for 15 dollars an hour to sling burgers, grow up.
Having been out of college for a few years, I am curious. I went to a State University. Tuition was high, I had to take loans, I drove a cheap 10 yr old vehicle, but it didn't kill me. My total debt was about the price of a decent new car back then.
Today, the average student loan debt after graduation is just under $30,000. Around the price of a new car. And these kids are trying to tell us that this is too much of a burden??? Look around any campus these days, and you will see lots of $30,000 cars in the parking lots.
I can see having a low, federally-subsidized interest rate on these loans....which I seem to recall having on some of my loans, but anyone wanting anything for free can take a hike, IMHO.
Careful what you wish for, kiddies. It's simple math and simple economics (things I learned in school while studying instead of protesting). Every university has a maximum number of students it can support, based on the number and capacity of dorms, classrooms, faculty, etc.
The tuition rates have always closely matched the amount of easily-accessed loans available - the easier the access to loans, the higher tuition is. The simple reason is that the universities raise tuition rates to manage the demand for their limited resources, and can always raise rates when there is more demand than there are openings for incoming students.
Thanks to the windfall from that high tuition, today's universities have student unions, recreation facilities, gyms, pools, and lots of amenities to attract students. Imagine what they will offer when they can't jack up the tuition. Ever visit a university in a country that has "free" college education for its' citizens? It's pretty austere. These kids need to think past the clever sound bytes and really consider the effect of what they are asking for.
Oddly enough, a majority of these students attend colleges who has sport teams sponsored by Nike, Under Armour, Adidas, or Reebok. So, should theses companies atop providing the uniforms and equipment free of charge and donate the money to make more scholarships available? Then the student athletes can purchase their own gear on their own dime. Where one group attains, another must lose. Let this be debated on college campuses and watch the students divide themselves. We will find out what is most important to them.
What really needs to be addressed is the skyrocketing cost of college education PERIOD! At the rate it's going up pretty soon only the children of billionaires will be able to afford to go to college.
Some junk yard dog investigative journalist needs to dig into the rising cost of college education and identify the cause. Once the cause are understood then something can be done to make college more affordable. College tuition cannot be allowed to just continue to escalate.
Seriously how do we let our children out of high school without enough information to decide if going to college is actually a good investment? If a high school grad can't explain in detail how much cash is needed, and how spending all that cash and time for education is going to provide a positive return on investment, he or she should not be going to college. This should be near the top of things that teens learn in high school.
I get really cynical about all graduates claiming they had no idea how much their loans were going to cost them. I mean, they had enough math skills to be accepted, then graduate, from college. If you didn't bother to read your loan docs before signing, or research likely monthly payments for your loan, that's your fault!
College costs went up far faster than inflation, often because colleges built fancy sports and living facilities...because they figured out these same millennials pick colleges based on those things. If you tour colleges, and I toured many in the past few years with my kids, you don't see a classroom or lab unless you ask.
The standard tours take students through fancy facilities that have nothing to do with quality of education. Add declining teaching loads that have decreased from 12 class hours to 3 class hours per week for a professor in the past 25 years and the rise in overhead for non-academic administration overhead positions like "chief diversity and inclusion officer" and you have expensive college.
If students want a cheap education, go to the junior college for general ed classes then transfer to a four-year school. It is not glamorous but it yields a quality education without a fortune in debt.
Getting an education is obviously the biggest scam in history!!!! Look at who controls education. Look at all the Universities presidents last names then you will know what they are. I can't say it here on Yahoo because they will take my comments out for speaking the truth. These presidents make millions of $$$$$ a year off of students and parents who are slaves and work hard to pay those tuitions. Not only that but look at the owners last names of the Loan
Universities are money munching machines with no regard for how the students will repay the loans. Universities annually raise tuition rates(much of which is unnecessary) with no regard of how these young minds full of mush are going to repay the crushing debt, nor do they care. Locally one university just opened a 15 million dollar athletic center, which brings up the question, why did they need this? With that kind of cash to throw around, what wasn't at least some used to keep tuitions affordable?
These 'loans' are now almost all, Pell Grant underwritten. Cannot Bankrupt on, co-signers and students can lose their Social Security money if defaulting. 1.5 trillion$ of these loans have been packaged, like Home Loans, derivative.
What happens to peoples retirement accounts when their Funds have investments in them, what happens to the Primary Dealers when the derivatives bubble bursts?
How are these loans to be made 'free' if existing loans bear interest? If the student of 'free education' defaults, doesn't graduate, will he owe money-will his parent, or will the 'free school' simply become a dumping ground for the youth without direction, simply housed in college's dorm rooms?
Lots of questions and two things to keep in mind, the Banks and Teaching institutes love the idea of 'free', the students are believing there might be a free ride.. ignoring schools and Banks don't, won't and never do anything for free.
This is not going to turn out well for consumers. Sure, Household payments of Education may drop, but the Institution of Education cannot keep even its slim success rate it has now. I don't know how educators managed to turn education into a purely self gratifying industry, giving anything to purchasers they wished for that Education loan, but never ever ever, has underwriting by the Central improved the quality of business. Complete underwriting of the important system of education at the Fed level will be a disaster.
There will be almost zero accountability for institutes and students, we will have a more expensive system that turns out the worst grads.
Don't try believing that other countries abilities with free Ed can be duplicated here.. not without serious socialism, a condition where qualifying for Ed advancement is determined by the Central.
Where it is free, but only to the select, the performers, most American Students would not qualify in other countries for advanced Ed. Blanket quals are almost a condition here, American Students are in for a serious surprise. They will not be so able to buy/loan their way to college and have to excel to get into college.
The joke is on the American student.
i was one of seven children- i worked my way through four years of undergrad and three years of grad school with my parents only being able to pay health insurance and car insurance- i worked shelving books, busing tables, delivering pizzas and for the last five years as a parimutuel clerk at dog and horsetracks- i never got to go on spring break, do a semester at sea or take classes in europe- i graduated debt free from public universities- have no sympathy for a bunch of whiny brats who have to drive better cars than their professors and believe they are entitled to special treatment- get a job and quit acting like a bunch of welfare queens who feel they deserve entitlements
My son is in college. Because grandpa saved his money over the years, he volunteered to pay for college costs. We hope to continue the tradition with our grandchildren and carefully save our money as well. We don't live high or purchase new. He will graduate zero dollars in debt.
My son's college roommate comes from a very wealthy family. They own a plane - two houses - dad works on Wall Street - mom is a Doctor. He has to pay for his own education and gets loans for everything. His parents simply don't have the cash to pay for his education.
It's priorities people! If something is worth it, you'll make it happen.
Sep 30, 2015 | Economist's View
Education is not the only cause of inequality, but it's part of the problem:Are American schools making inequality worse?, American Educational Research Association: The answer appears to be yes. Schooling plays a surprisingly large role in short-changing the nation's most economically disadvantaged students of critical math skills, according to a study published today in Educational Researcher, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Educational Research Association.Anonymous -> Anonymous...
Findings from the study indicate that unequal access to rigorous mathematics content is widening the gap in performance on a prominent international math literacy test between low- and high-income students, not only in the United States but in countries worldwide.
Using data from the 2012..., researchers from Michigan State University and OECD confirmed not only that low-income students are more likely to be exposed to weaker math content in schools, but also that a substantial share of the gap in math performance between economically advantaged and disadvantaged students is related to those curricular inequalities. ...
"Our findings support previous research by showing that affluent students are consistently provided with greater opportunity to learn more rigorous content, and that students who are exposed to higher-level math have a better ability to apply it to addressing real-world situations of contemporary adult life, such as calculating interest, discounts, and estimating the required amount of carpeting for a room," said Schmidt, a University Distinguished Professor of Statistics and Education at Michigan State University. "But now we know just how important content inequality is in contributing to performance gaps between privileged and underprivileged students."
In the United States, over one-third of the social class-related gap in student performance on the math literacy test was associated with unequal access to rigorous content. The other two-thirds was associated directly with students' family and community background. ...
"Because of differences in content exposure for low- and high-income students in this country, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer," said Schmidt. "The belief that schools are the great equalizer, helping students overcome the inequalities of poverty, is a myth."
Burroughs, a senior research associate at Michigan State University, noted that the findings have major implications for school officials, given that content exposure is far more subject to school policies than are broader socioeconomic conditions.do you think schools in China/India have funding on the level you are implicitly arguing for? As Eva Maskovich is showing in NYC - it takes better teachers, not more money.
pgl -> Anonymous...
I live in NYC
"According to Success Academy Charter Schools founder and President Eva Moskowitz".
Ah yes - the charter school crowd. As in Mayor Bloomberg's push for privatizing our public education system. They have a lot of really dishonest ads attacking our new mayor. So you are with these privatization freaks? Go figure!
Anonymous -> kthomas...
I am an Asian immigrant who came to the US to pursue the American dream. My education allowed me to run circles around most students at the university. I ended up with triple major and a post grad degree. So, go ahead. call the rigorous schooling horrifying all you want. It is silly to raise kids in an ultra sheltered environment. The jobs are going to go where qualified highly productive people who want less money are. Then they will have to face reality anyway. We can sit here and argue about it all we want. The truth is that kids in Asia can do the job I started with sitting there better for a fraction of the cost here. And this is a job requiring advanced degrees.
Anonymous -> Anonymous...
And you can add Eastern Europe to Asia. The competition is going to degrade our standard of living as it has whether we like it or not.
DrDick -> Anonymous...
Sorry, but this is pure BS. We are talking about the presence of AP, foreign language, and advanced math classes. Having new textbooks and enough textbooks for all students, class sizes, laboratory equipment for science classes, and building maintenance, among many other very significant differences.
Anonymous -> DrDick...
yes. they spend on things that count. instead of hockey rinks and olympics standard gyms for toddlers.
DrDick -> Anonymous...
None of which are characteristic of public schools. Have you ever even visited reality? Charter schools suck up a much greater share of available public resources and further starve the schools serving the poor and minorities, as happened in Chicago. Unlike you, I believe in fact based decision making.
EMichael -> Tom aka Rusty...
" The new school year has been marred for many students all over the country by severe budget cuts, shuttered schools, and decimated staff. Philadelphia, where students went back to school Monday, is seeing some of the most extreme effects of these budget cuts.
Nine thousand students will attend 53 different schools today than they did last fall after 24 were closed down. Class sizes have ballooned in many schools, with parents reporting as many as 48 students in one classroom. Meanwhile, the district laid off 3,859 employees over the summer.
A new policy also eliminates guidance counselors from schools with fewer than 600 students, which is about 60 percent of Philadelphia schools. Now one counselor will be responsible for five or six schools at once. Arts and sports programs have also been sacrificed.
Philly's new barebones regime was implemented after Gov. Tom Corbett (R) and the Republican-dominated legislature cut $961 million from the basic education budget, or 12 percent overall. Federal stimulus funds cushioned schools from state cuts for a couple of years, but they are now dwindling.
The district is struggling to fill a $304 million deficit. In order to open schools on time, the state gave an extra $2 million in funding and the city borrowed $50 million. Corbett is also withholding a $45 million state grant until teachers unions agree to concessions of about $133 million in a new labor pact. The district plans to sell 31 shuttered school properties. "
pgl -> Anonymous...
I love how the Aussies do the terminology:
"All Australian private schools receive some commonwealth government funding. So they are technically all "Charter" schools although the term is not used in Australia."
Charter schools are precisely what Milton Friedman recommended. He has the integrity to call this privatization. Anonymous does not. Funded by taxpayers but these schools are for profit entities.
Anonymous - have the courage to admit your agenda next time.
ilsm -> pgl...
Charter schools are like privatized arsenals, all cost cutting, profit and no performance.
US privatized the arsenals starting after WW I when a lot of "qui tammers" got to send arms to the Brits.
How long before the charter industry complex has enough unwarranted influence to ruin education?
djb -> Anonymous...
the charter schools cherry pick the best students and they don't deal with problem kids
this I known, they do poorly especially in new York city
as pgl said it is the fact that schools are fund locally that is the problem
to use a favorite right wing phrase
public education is an "unfunded mandate"
it should be paid for by the federal government
then all the mostly right wing politician could use property tax for divide and conquer politics
and funding can go where it is needed
djb -> djb...
then all the mostly right wing politician could NO LONGER use property tax for divide and conquer politics
DrDick -> pgl...
I think this is the primary issue. The schools in my hometown of 30K, national headquarters for Phillips Petroleum with a major research facility at the time, were excellent and most students went to college. Elsewhere in Oklahoma, students from similar sized towns were barely literate when they graduated. The primary reliance on local funding guarantees perpetuation of inequalities and the failure of the poor. This is exacerbated in larger communities by differential funding and resources allocated to schools within the district. When I lived in Chicago, Lincoln Park High School, in an affluent neighborhood, had world class programs. Meanwhile, schools on the predominately black west side and south side were literally falling apart with peeling lead paint and asbestos insulation falling on the students (along with occasional pieces of the cielings).
Tyler Cowen used his Upshot piece this week to tell us that the real issue is not inequality, but rather mobility. We want to make sure that our children have the opportunity to enjoy better lives than we do. And for this we should focus on productivity growth which is the main determinant of wealth in the long-run.
This piece ranks high in terms of being misleading. First, even though productivity growth has been relatively slow since 1973, the key point is that most of the population has seen few of the gains of the productivity growth that we have seen over the last forty years. Had they shared equally in the productivity gains over this period, the median wage would be close to 50 percent higher than it is today. The minimum wage would be more than twice as high. If we have more rapid productivity growth over the next four decades, but we see the top 1.0 percent again getting the same share as it has since 1980, then most people will benefit little from this growth.
The next point that comes directly from this first point is that it is far from clear that inequality does not itself impede productivity growth. While it can of course be coincidence, it is striking that the period of rapid productivity growth was a period of relative equality. At the very least it is hard to make the case that we have experienced some productivity dividend from the inequality of the post-1980 period.
And many of the policies that would most obviously promote equality also promote growth. For example, a Fed policy committed to high employment, even at the risk of somewhat higher rates of inflation, would lead to stronger wage growth at the middle and bottom of the wage ladder, while also likely leading to more investment and growth.
While Cowen talks about immigration as being a question of low-paid workers who might drive down the wages of the less-educated, they are millions of bright highly educated professionals in the developing world who would be happy to train to U.S. standards and compete with our doctors, lawyers, and other highly-paid professionals, many of whom populate the one percent. This policy would also lead to both more rapid growth and greater equality. (We can repatriate a portion of the earnings of these professionals to their home countries to ensure they benefit as well.)
And, we can have a modest financial transactions tax that would eliminate waste in the financial sector while also reducing the income of many of the richest people in the country. Were it not for the political power of Wall Street, we undoubtedly would have put in place financial transactions taxes long ago. (We do still have very small taxes that are used to finance the operation of the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodities and Futures Trading Commission.)
It is also important to remember that the well-being of children depends to a large extent on the well-being of their parents. If the minimum wage had kept pace with productivity growth since 1968 (as it did between 1938 and 1968) it would be over $17 an hour today. The children of a single parent earning $34,000 a year would have much better life prospects than the children of a single parent earning $14,500 a year. In this sense there is a very direct relationship between inequality and mobility.
The long and short is that we know of many measures that can both reduce inequality and increase growth. And, if we want to make sure that everyone's children have a shot at a better standard of living in the future then we should make sure that their parents have a better standard of living today.
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Financial predators produce nothing of valueThe "take-over and loot" artists of Wall Street produce nothing of value and are burdensome to taxpayers - we support the agency which partly funds the stolen pensions - yet rake in more money annually than most wage earners.
written by RandallK, April 05, 2015 10:49
What did collateralized debt products produce? Nothing, or close to nothing would be my answer.
We not only need to tax the sales of stocks and bonds, we need to bring back Glass-Steagall(sp?) and make a number of financial products illegal.
Then there's the matter of "too big to fail and too rich to jail," to correct.
Mobility for Whom, to Level What Playing Field Where - For Winners Take All
written by Last Mover, April 05, 2015 11:41
The concept of mobility helps us distinguish between "good inequality" and "bad inequality." Reductions in inequality can follow from a leveling in either direction - by elevating the poor or pushing down the wealthy. It is the plight of the poor that we most need to improve.Somehow these discussions never get to the part where MNCs used their newfound global mobility to pit workers in different nations against each other in head to head competition and drive wages to subsistence levels in some cases.
That really gave workers a chance to perk up with new mobility opportunities to be more productive as they earned what they were worth, didn't it. After all, it wasn't like MNCs had a lock on the market and overpaid themselves with productivity gains they didn't actually earn, instead extorted with market power. LOL.
These discussions also conveniently ignore the intentional immobility of white collar professionals designed to shield them from competition, especially from abroad, like doctors and CEOs. Cowen would rather talk about reducing regulations on barbers, hairdressers and interior decorators so they can be more mobile and productive. LOL.
written by loneract, April 05, 2015 1:14
The Upshit seems to contain outright lies 2/3 of the time. Usually when Leonardt or Cowen is writing.
Marko, April 05, 2015 4:42
Tyler Cowen is right up there with Laffer , Mankiw , et al in his diligence at defending the perks of the 1%.
The goal is to shift the focus of attention away from anything involving those elites , typically by concentrating instead on poverty or mobility. They can imagine a system of high mobility and low poverty ( as measured relative to median income ) among the 99% in which the 1% captures an even larger share of the income pie than they do currently. Think of plantation slaves as the 99% and plantation owners as the 1% and you get an idea of what their ideal "win-win solution" looks like. High relative mobility and low relative poverty among the 99% , continued concentrated income and wealth flows to the 1%. Problem solved.
Summers is right , for once. The big action in inequality is in the trillion dollars of current gdp that used to flow to the bottom 90% of income-earners that now flows to the top 1%. Similar dynamics apply for wealth.
Ignore the misdirection and focus on the big problem : big money.
watermelonpunch, April 05, 2015 8:16
I'm not sure what that Tyler is rooting for here.
Is he saying that everyone ought to start at the bottom?
For example, someone with a science aptitude born into a wealthy family, ought to be forced to put off their education to mop floors for 2 years, to "earn their chops"?
Because that's the only way I can see his argument having an internal logic at all.
Otherwise, it just sounds like he's saying that people with various disabilities or other limitations, should rightfully (in his mind) be relegated to substandard living conditions struggling for survival with limited access to the benefits our civilization affords "their betters" ... as long as if a child born into that penury has some bit of a chance to "strike it big" if they have enough smarts & ambition & luck.
I fall back to the obvious ... that we - CIVILIZATION AS A WHOLE - NEED people operating the sewage treatment plants, fixing the roads, collecting the trash, cleaning hospitals, working on the farms, packaging & transporting foods etc., and wiping butts when people get too old & infirm to do it for themselves.
Civilization as a whole should be GRATEFUL there are those people who are willing & able to do those things, and recognize that people who do these vital things in society by paying them a fair wage.
In fact, I'd argue that some of these jobs are HARDER and require more aptitude that a lot of "higher jobs" Cowen thinks pay more out of "good inequality".
I'd like to see the branch manager at my bank try to swing the trash cans on my block like my city's garbage crew. (Or live in a neighborhood where the rubbish is piled up for that matter.)
How many accounts department managers would last 2 minutes on a roofing job?
I can think of one manager I knew at a company who would leave her dirty oatmeal dishes in the little bathroom sink all day. Under NO circumstances do I think that woman should ever be trusted to work in a hospital or kitchen.
And then the story I heard from someone about a warehouse manager who would throw fits yelling & start throwing things around when he'd get stressed out. Is that the guy you want alone with you wiping your butt in your hospice room when you're 92?
Would any of us want to buy food sold in a dirty grocery store? And how much luck is a doctor going to have to save your life in a filthy operating room?
Tyler Cowen's shell game is an insult to every citizen.
And it's a injury to every citizen with limitations whether they're born with them or acquire limitations by tragic accident or simply aging.
Richard H. Serlin, April 05, 2015 10:59
High Inequality and High Mobility = Very High Risk Lives
Well, Cowen is always happy to mislead for the libertarian/plutocratic cause, and he has to, as the truth gives no chance to his side in a democracy.
But this extreme inequality is fine of we have high mobility is so wrong, because high mobility is high chance to go up, and high chance to go down. If it's just high chance to go up, that's just growth (which is decreased when you don't invest in the 99+% to give as much as possible to the 1%, or 0.1%).
High inequality with a high probability of plunging into the abyss because of high mobility? That's just a terribly risky life for you and your family, and risk decreases utility and welfare. Who wants to live in a world made that dangerous. And certainly the high mobility that the rich will allow is among the 99%, not among the 0.1%.
bakho, April 06, 2015 5:33
If Cowen is truly concerned about mobility, he would promote policy to encourage mobility.
Improve childhood nutrition
Health Coach Programs
Programs that would give teens facing double digit unemployment, their first job and on the job training.
Programs that would improve the skill set of youth who are not college bound.
Free Community college, etc.
Raising the MinWage
Less inequality in distribution of resources among communities
I have yet to see him promote any of these measures.
A little parity perhaps?
written by Kat, April 06, 2015 8:34
I just read an AP story about the plight of some poor, poor Americans that had property confiscated under the Castro regime. Congress is on the case-- after all the descendents of these "victims" are so poor they cannot even afford to repair their concrete steps. I did not see skills training mentioned as a fix for their plight.
I think if you thought really, really hard you might be able to come up with a few examples of the US government using its force to confiscate property or support the confiscation of the value of labor from a person. In these cases training is the key to redistributive justice.
And I have yet to see skills training as an answer to all the job creators who simply cannot make a go of it without subsidies and tax breaks.
written by Bloix, April 06, 2015 9:57
"We want to make sure that our children have the opportunity to enjoy better lives than we do."
I have never met an upper middle class parent who wants his kid to have "the opportunity" to have a better life. These parents do not say, "I want my child judged fairly on his merits, and if he winds up as a barista that's fine with me."
written by urban legend, April 06, 2015 2:19
All wage workers need to be organized. The elite forces have spent 200 or so years trying to give the public ill thoughts about labor unions, with but a very brief reprieve roughly between roughly 1934 and 1947 -- with Taft-Hartley "right-to-work" reinforced by the anti-union propaganda film, "On the Waterfront," signalling a return to corporate and corporate media-bashing of all collective bargaining activities. Those toxic forces are really feeling their oats right now, having even compromised the Democratic Party with fundamentally anti-worker people like Rahm Emanuel and Arne Duncan. Only the unions themselves, a few stalwart Democratic office-holders and some bloggers are offering resistance.
There have been embers of recognition that the engineered weakness of labor has coincided with -- and almost surely played a huge causative role in -- the disconnection between productivity and labor compensation. It is going to be a long and continuous, never-ending slog to start the country in the other direction. It's a simple story to make: labor union weakness = low wages = poor demand = weak economy for almost everyone, including small businesses. Hillary Clinton could campaign on that equation, even without attacking Wall Street (other than the dishonest players, whom she must make clear she will not defend), and present herself as the true champion of business because she, unlike the Republican candidates who pretend to be pro-business but actually are the opposite, will follow policies that will promote the growth of demand for their goods and services.
FDR proved you could talk common sense economics like this to the American people. Obama looked like he was campaigning on the equation, but it turned out he was only a little for it and was even actually against it in some respects. He made virtually no push-back against the negative propaganda about unions that has prevailed for three generations. Let's hope this time can be different. But it won't be different unless the people who understand the equation put heavy pressure on all Democratic candidates to think and talk that way.
written by Bob Hertz, April 06, 2015 7:45
I fully support all the posts that call for greater bargaining power for workers.
However, I do wish to point out that many many workers with tiny or nonexistent productivity gains have seen very nice increases in their incomes in the past two decades.
College professors and senior nurses and federal statisticians do very valuable work.
But most of them work fewer hours than they did 20 years ago and have fewer students or patients than 20 years ago.......yet this "EdMed" complex has had very nice wage gains, to say nothing of benefits that private sectors workers can only dream of.
If you rented a meeting hall and had a gathering where the only attendees would be those whose incomes had gone up faster than inflation, I do NOT think that the hall would be filled with persons who increased their productivity. I think it would be filled with persons who had credentials and connections.
written by Dishwasher, April 07, 2015 2:01And many of the policies that would most obviously promote equality also promote growth. For example, a Fed policy committed to high employment, even at the risk of somewhat higher rates of inflation, would lead to stronger wage growth at the middle and bottom of the wage ladder, while also likely leading to more investment and growth.I agree with you on doctors, lawyers, and other highly-paid professionals.
On minimum wage, to me a minimum wage is a second best solution, a wage subsidy or a basic income guarantee better distributes the burden of helping low income workers.
written by Dishwasher, April 07, 2015 2:23
Above I should have said isn't it accelerating inflation that helps debtors and wage earners and not just inflation? And it cannot continue to be accelerated without very bad consequences.
marknesop.wordpress.comet Al, April 3, 2015 at 3:02 pmkirill, April 3, 2015 at 3:06 pm
Slashdot: Google 'Makes People Think They Are Smarter Than They Are
Karen Knapton reports at The Telegraph that according to a study at Yale University, because they have the world's knowledge at their fingertips, search engines like Google or Yahoo make people think they are smarter than they actually are giving people a 'widely inaccurate' view of their own intelligence that can lead to over-confidence when making decisions. In a series of experiments, participants who had searched for information on the internet believed they were far more knowledgeable about a subject that those who had learned by normal routes, such as reading a book or talking to a tutor. Internet users also believed their brains were sharper….
This is none more obvious that in the retarded comments you read in the Pork Pie News Networks. It is one thing to look up a 'fact', but to understand it within context, its limitations and not stretch it way beyond reasonable interpretations to fit your argument takes it in to altogether different territory.
I think the good news is that as the Internet is still quite young and people are learning that a) the first answer you find may not be true; b) it helps to do more research if you could be bothered. It's not hard to differentiate between the political bs'ers and the properly curious.
The best thing I think is that we are also learning to ask the right questions in the right way. Most of us can now spot obfuscation through deliberately complicated answers (as is technique often used by people who think they are clever) and are starting to spot what isn't there, or what isn't said simply through logic and following the process or the steps that should lead to a logical conclusion. If that is not done, followed or points to some other conclusion, then the red flags (I don't mean communist ones!) should go up that something is not quite kosher and should be treated with care. Still, it's early days.et Al, April 3, 2015 at 3:23 pm
People are brainwashed from birth to believe that knowledge of facts is the same as intelligence. I have seen this trope in numerous TV shows and movies. It is total rubbish. People spend years at university and in post-doctoral studies engaged in problem solving. No amount of Google searches is going to teach internet Einsteins that skill.
I can't be as pessimistic as you. Yes, brainwashing does start very early, but this is just the beginning of a brave new world (if we don't become nuclear toast first) and the new industrial revolution has only just started. The field is wide open and old actors will be turfed out or overturned by the new and hungry.
If the turdification of higher education continues in certain countries, then those countries are simply hollowing out themselves from the inside. They simply will not be able to find sufficient numbers of competent people to maintain what they have.
It is one of the many reasons that I am for free education and unlimited free (or at least heavily subsidized) return to education and retraining until you pop your clogs. In fact, I think it is essential if we are going to live longer and more productive lives. If the state (us) fund it, then we all benefit from it over the long term. So far Western countries have been able to attract some of the best foreign talent from other countries and benefit from it, but the rest of the world is catching up fast.
March 18, 2015 | The American Conservative
A phony populism is denying Americans the joys of serious thought.
... ... ...
Universities, too, were at fault. They had colonized critics by holding careers hostage to academic specialization, requiring them to master the arcane tongues of ever-narrower disciplines, forcing them to forsake a larger public. Compared to the Arcadian past, the present, in this view, was a wasteland.
It didn't have to be this way. In the postwar era, a vast project of cultural uplift sought to bring the best that had been thought and said to the wider public. Robert M. Hutchins of the University of Chicago and Mortimer J. Adler were among its more prominent avatars. This effort, which tried to deepen literacy under the sign of the "middlebrow," and thus to strengthen the idea that an informed citizenry was indispensable for a healthy democracy, was, for a time, hugely successful. The general level of cultural sophistication rose as a growing middle class shed its provincialism in exchange for a certain worldliness that was one legacy of American triumphalism and ambition after World War II. College enrollment boomed, and the percentage of Americans attending the performing arts rose dramatically. Regional stage and opera companies blossomed, new concert halls were built, and interest in the arts was widespread. TV hosts Steve Allen, Johnny Carson, and Dick Cavett frequently featured serious writers as guests. Paperback publishers made classic works of history, literature, and criticism available to ordinary readers whose appetite for such works seemed insatiable.
Mass circulation newspapers and magazines, too, expanded their coverage of books, movies, music, dance, and theater. Criticism was no longer confined to such small but influential journals of opinion as Partisan Review, The Nation, and The New Republic. Esquire embraced the irascible Dwight Macdonald as its movie critic, despite his well-known contempt for "middlebrow" culture. The New Yorker threw a lifeline to Pauline Kael, rescuing her from the ghetto of film quarterlies and the art houses of Berkeley. Strong critics like David Riesman, Daniel Bell, and Leslie Fiedler, among others, would write with insight and pugilistic zeal books that often found enough readers to propel their works onto bestseller lists. Intellectuals such as Susan Sontag were featured in the glossy pages of magazines like Vogue. Her controversial "Notes on Camp," first published in 1964 in Partisan Review, exploded into public view when Time championed her work. Eggheads were suddenly sexy, almost on a par with star athletes and Hollywood celebrities. Gore Vidal was a regular on Johnny Carson. William F. Buckley Jr.'s "Firing Line" hosted vigorous debates that often were models of how to think, how to argue, and, at their best, told us that ideas mattered.
As Scott Timberg, a former arts reporter for the Los Angeles Times, puts it in his recent book Culture Crash: The Killing of the Creative Class, the idea, embraced by increasing numbers of Americans, was that
drama, poetry, music, and art were not just a way to pass the time, or advertise one's might, but a path to truth and enlightenment. At its best, this was what the middlebrow consensus promised. Middlebrow said that culture was accessible to a wide strat[um] of society, that people needed some but not much training to appreciate it, that there was a canon worth knowing, that art was not the same as entertainment, that the study of the liberal arts deepens you, and that those who make, assess, and disseminate the arts were somehow valuable for our society regardless of their impact on GDP.
So what if culture was increasingly just another product to be bought and sold, used and discarded, like so many tubes of toothpaste? Even Los Angeles, long derided as a cultural desert, would by the turn of the century boast a flourishing and internationally respected opera company, a thriving archipelago of museums with world-class collections, and dozens of bookstores selling in some years more books per capita than were sold in the greater New York area. The middlebrow's triumph was all but assured.
The arrival of the Internet by century's end promised to make that victory complete. As the Wall Street Journal reported in a front-page story in 1998, America was "increasingly wealthy, worldly, and wired." Notions of elitism and snobbery seemed to be collapsing upon the palpable catholicity of a public whose curiosities were ever more diverse and eclectic and whose ability to satisfy them had suddenly and miraculously expanded. We stood, it appeared, on the verge of a munificent new world-a world in which technology was rapidly democratizing the means of cultural production while providing an easy way for millions of ordinary citizens, previously excluded from the precincts of the higher conversation, to join the dialogue. The digital revolution was predicted to empower those authors whose writings had been marginalized, shut out of mainstream publishing, to overthrow the old monastic self-selecting order of cultural gatekeepers (meaning professional critics). Thus would critical faculties be sharpened and democratized. Digital platforms would crack open the cloistered and solipsistic world of academe, bypass the old presses and performing-arts spaces, and unleash a new era of cultural commerce. With smart machines there would be smarter people.
Harvard's Robert Darnton, a sober and learned historian of reading and the book, agreed. He argued that the implications for writing and reading, for publishing and bookselling-indeed, for cultural literacy and criticism itself-were profound. For, as he gushed in The Case for Books: Past, Present, and Future, we now had the ability to make "all book learning available to all people, or at least those privileged enough to have access to the World Wide Web. It promises to be the ultimate stage in the democratization of knowledge set in motion by the invention of writing, the codex, movable type, and the Internet." In this view, echoed by innumerable worshippers of the New Information Age, we were living at one of history's hinge moments, a great evolutionary leap in the human mind. And, in truth, it was hard not to believe that we had arrived at the apotheosis of our culture. Never before in history had more good literature and cultural works been available at such low cost to so many. The future was radiant.
Others, such as the critics Evgeny Morozov and Jaron Lanier, were more skeptical. They worried that whatever advantages might accrue to consumers and the culture at large from the emergence of such behemoths as Amazon, not only would proven methods of cultural production and distribution be made obsolete, but we were in danger of being enrolled, whether we liked it or not, in an overwhelmingly fast and visually furious culture that, as numerous studies have shown, renders serious reading and cultural criticism increasingly irrelevant, hollowing out habits of attention indispensable for absorbing long-form narrative and sustained argument. Indeed, they feared that the digital tsunami now engulfing us may even signal an irrevocable trivialization of the word. Or, at the least, a sense that the enterprise of making distinctions between bad, good, and best was a mug's game that had no place in a democracy that worships at the altar of mass appeal and counts its receipts at the almighty box office.
... ... ...
...Today, America's traditional organs of popular criticism-newspapers, magazines, journals of opinion-have been all but overwhelmed by the digital onslaught: their circulations plummeting, their confidence eroded, their survival in doubt. Newspaper review sections in particular have suffered: jobs have been slashed, and cultural coverage vastly diminished. Both the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post have abandoned their stand-alone book sections, leaving the New York Times as the only major American newspaper still publishing a significant separate section devoted to reviewing books.
Such sections, of course, were always few. Only a handful of America's papers ever deemed book coverage important enough to dedicate an entire Sunday section to it. Now even that handful is threatened with extinction, and thus is a widespread cultural illiteracy abetted, for at their best the editors of those sections tried to establish the idea that serious criticism was possible in a mass culture. In the 19th century, Margaret Fuller, literary editor of the New York Tribune and the country's first full-time book reviewer, understood this well. She saw books as "a medium for viewing all humanity, a core around which all knowledge, all experience, all science, all the ideal as well as all the practical in our nature could gather." She sought, she said, to tell "the whole truth, as well as nothing but the truth."
The arrival of the Internet has proved no panacea. The vast canvas afforded by the Internet has done little to encourage thoughtful and serious criticism. Mostly it has provided a vast Democracy Wall on which any crackpot can post his or her manifesto. Bloggers bloviate and insults abound. Discourse coarsens. Information is abundant, wisdom scarce. It is a striking irony, as Leon Wieseltier has noted, that with the arrival of the Internet, "a medium of communication with no limitations of physical space, everything on it has to be in six hundred words." The Internet, he said, is the first means of communication invented by humankind that privileges one's first thoughts as one's best thoughts. And he rightly observed that if "value is a function of scarcity," then "what is most scarce in our culture is long, thoughtful, patient, deliberate analysis of questions that do not have obvious or easy answers." Time is required to think through difficult questions. Patience is a condition of genuine intellection. The thinking mind, the creating mind, said Wieseltier, should not be rushed. "And where the mind is rushed and made frenetic, neither thought nor creativity will ensue. What you will most likely get is conformity and banality. Writing is not typed talking."
The fundamental idea at stake in the criticism of culture generally is the self-image of society: how it reasons with itself, describes itself, imagines itself. Nothing in the excitements made possible by the digital revolution banishes the need for the rigor such self-reckoning requires. It is, as Wieseltier says, the obligation of cultural criticism to bear down on what matters.
Where is such criticism to be found today? We inhabit a remarkably arid cultural landscape, especially when compared with the ambitions of postwar America, ambitions which, to be sure, were often mocked by some of the country's more prominent intellectuals. Yes, Dwight Macdonald famously excoriated the enfeeblements of "mass cult and midcult," and Irving Howe regretted "This Age of Conformity," but from today's perspective, when we look back at the offerings of the Book-of-the-Month Club and projects such as the Great Books of the Western World, their scorn looks misplaced. The fact that their complaints circulated widely in the very midcult worlds Macdonald condemned was proof that trenchant criticism had found a place within the organs of mass culture. One is almost tempted to say that the middlebrow culture of yesteryear was a high-water mark.
The reality, of course, was never as rosy as much of it looks in retrospect. Cultural criticism in most American newspapers, even at its best, was almost always confined to a ghetto. You were lucky at most papers to get a column or a half-page devoted to arts and culture. Editors encouraged reporters, reviewers, and critics to win readers and improve circulation by pandering to the faux populism of the marketplace. Only the review that might immediately be understood by the greatest number of readers would be permitted to see the light of day. Anything else smacked of "elitism"-a sin to be avoided at almost any cost.
This was a coarse and pernicious notion, one that lay at the center of the country's longstanding anti-intellectual tradition. From the start of the republic, Americans have had a profoundly ambivalent relationship to class and culture, as Richard Hofstadter famously observed. He was neither the first nor the last to notice this self-inflicted wound. As even the vastly popular science-fiction writer Isaac Asimov understood, "Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'"
... ... ...
When did "difficulty" become suspect in American culture, widely derided as anti-democratic and contemptuously dismissed as evidence of so-called elitism? If a work of art isn't somehow immediately "understood" or "accessible" by and to large numbers of people, it is often ridiculed as "esoteric," "obtuse," or even somehow un-American. We should mark such an argument's cognitive consequences. A culture filled with smooth and familiar consumptions produces in people rigid mental habits and stultified conceptions. They know what they know, and they expect to find it reinforced when they turn a page or click on a screen. Difficulty annoys them, and, having become accustomed to so much pabulum served up by a pandering and invertebrate media, they experience difficulty not just as "difficult," but as insult. Struggling to understand, say, Faulkner's stream-of-consciousness masterpiece The Sound and the Fury or Alain Resnais's Rubik's Cube of a movie "Last Year at Marienbad" needn't be done. The mind may skip trying to solve such cognitive puzzles, even though the truth is they strengthen it as a workout tones the muscles.
Sometimes it feels as if the world is divided into two classes: one very large class spurns difficulty, while the other very much smaller delights in it. There are readers who, when encountering an unfamiliar word, instead of reaching for a dictionary, choose to regard it as a sign of the author's contempt or pretension, a deliberate refusal to speak in a language ordinary people can understand. Others, encountering the same word, happily seize on it as a chance to learn something new, to broaden their horizons. They eagerly seek a literature that upends assumptions, challenges prejudices, turns them inside out and forces them to see the world through new eyes.
The second group is an endangered species. One reason is that the ambitions of mainstream media that, however fitfully, once sought to expose them to the life of the mind and to the contest of ideas, have themselves shrunk. We have gone from the heyday of television intellection which boasted shows hosted by, among others, David Susskind and David Frost, men that, whatever their self-absorptions, were nonetheless possessed of an admirable highmindedness, to the pygmy sound-bite rants of Sean Hannity and the inanities of clowns like Stephen Colbert. Once upon a time, the ideal of seriousness may not have been a common one, but it was acknowledged as one worth striving for. It didn't have to do what it has to today, that is, fight for respect, legitimate itself before asserting itself. The class that is allergic to difficulty now feels justified in condemning the other as "elitist" and anti-democratic. The exercise of cultural authority and artistic or literary or aesthetic discrimination is seen as evidence of snobbery, entitlement and privilege lording it over ordinary folks. A perverse populism increasingly deforms our culture, consigning some works of art to a realm somehow more rarified and less accessible to a broad public. Thus is choice constrained and the tyranny of mass appeal deepened in the name of democracy.
... ... ...
Steve Wasserman, former literary editor of the Los Angeles Times, is editor-at-large for Yale University Press.
This essay is adapted with permission from his chapter in the forthcoming The State of the American Mind: Sixteen Critics on the New Anti-Intellectualism, edited by Adam Bellow and Mark Bauerlein, to be published by Templeton Press in May 2015.
Mar 04, 2015 | Economist's ViewBad news for those who propose education as the solution to inequality:How Higher Education Perpetuates Intergenerational Inequality, by Tim Taylor: Part of the mythology of US higher education is that it offers a meritocracy, along with a lot of second chances, so that smart and hard-working students of all background have a genuine chance to succeed--no matter their family income. But the data certainly seems to suggest that family income has a lot to do with whether a student will attend college in the first place, and even more to do with whether a student will obtain a four-year college degree.
Margaret Cahalan and Laura Perna provide an overview of the evidence in "2015 Indicators of Higher Education Equity in the United States: 45 Year Trend Report," published by the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education and the and University of Pennsylvania Alliance for Higher Education and Democracy (PennAHEAD). ...
The report offers a range of evidence that the affordability of college is a bigger problem for students from low-income families even after taking financial aid into account. Students from low-income families take out more debt, and are more likely to attend for-profit colleges. Indeed, a general pattern for higher education a whole is that even as the cost of attending has risen, the share of the cost paid by households, rather than by the state or federal government, has been rising. ...
The effects of these patterns on inequality of incomes in the United States are clearcut: higher income families are better able to provide financial and other kinds of support for their children, both as they grow up, and when it comes time to attend college, and when it comes time to find a job after college. In this way, higher education has become a central part part of the process by which high-income families can seek to assure that their children are more likely to have high incomes, too.
This connection is perhaps underappreciated. After all, it's a lot easier for professors and college students to protest high levels of compensation for the top professionals in finance, law, and the corporate world who are in the top 1% of the income distribution, rather than to face the idea that their own institutions of higher education are implicated in perpetuating inequality of incomes across generations. ...
[He also has a long quote from Alan Krueger on this topic.]pgl said..."The report offers a range of evidence that the affordability of college is a bigger problem for students from low-income families even after taking financial aid into account."
Which is why governments should be doing more in the way of financial aid.
DrDick said in reply to pgl...
Less loans and more grants, as well as expanding state subsidies back to their pre-1980 levels (about 70% of the cost per student). This comes as no surprise to those of us who have watched the steady erosion of state support for higher ed, shift from grants and scholarships to loans, and the decline in low and middle incomes since the 1970s.
When I was in college, you could support yourself adequately on a part-time minimum wage job, but nowhere close now.
"The report offers a range of evidence that the affordability of college is a bigger problem for students from low-income families even after taking financial aid into account." - This also is why advocates of replacing public education with vouchers are so dead wrong. Attending a school of your "choice" entails a lot of other costs besides just tuition - namely, transportation, food, travel time and other cost categories. Wealth gives you choices. Being poor means you have few, if any, choices.
November 12, 2010
In 1914, John Alexander Smith, Professor of Moral Philosophy at Oxford, addressed the first session of his two-year lecture course as follows:
"Gentlemen, you are now about to embark on a course of studies that (will) form a noble adventure…Let me make this clear to you. ..nothing that you will learn in the course of your studies will be of the slightest possible use to you in after life – save only this – that if you work hard and intelligently, you should be able to detect when a man is talking rot, and that, in my view, is the main, if not the sole purpose of education."
I had an Economics instructor explain the Economics of Education. Contrary to all economic theory, the consume of college education chooses to pay as much as possible and receive the bare minimum in return.
Paying $50,000 a year is clearly superior to paying $20,000 a year. Attending class and doing homework would be optional at the best universities ( as are grades at some liberal arts colleges)
Your instructor has misidentified the product being sold. What is actually being sold is the ability to become peers with an elite group of fellow students. The education, from an economics perspective, is simply packaging.
Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent.
I am an engineering washout. I left a chemical engineering major in shame and disgust to pursue the softer pleasures of a liberal arts education. No, do not pity me, gentle reader; do not assuage your horror and dismay at my degradation by flinging a filthy quarter into my shiny tin cup. Instead, hear my story, and learn why the United States lacks engineers.
Not long ago, I showed up for my first year at Smartypants U., fresh from a high school career full of awards and honors and gold stars. My accomplishments all pointed towards a more verbal course of study, but I was determined to spend my college days learning something useful. With my strong science grades and excellent standardized test scores, I felt certain that I could handle whatever engineering challenges Smartypants U. had to offer. Remember: Kern = real good at math and science. You will have cause to forget that fact very soon.
I had three options for a chemistry class: the intro course, the accelerated course, and the genius course. My high school chemistry background made me a good fit for the accelerated course, but my academic advisor warned me not to take it. The course instructor was a legendarily incompetent teacher, even by the dubious standards of Smartypants U's engineering department. He was so incoherent and capricious that academic advisors were warned to steer students away from his courses. So why was he kept on staff? His research was outstanding. My tuition dollars at work.
Being too arrogant to waste my gifts in some kiddie intro course, I enrolled in the genius course. Memo to freshmen, wherever you are: unless you are a certified, card-carrying prodigy with a four-digit IQ, do not EVER EVER EVER sign up for a chemistry class whose informal nickname contains the word "Turbo." "What happened?" said the comment on my second test. I wish I knew.
In high school I had grown accustomed to math classes that featured clear, helpful instruction from teachers who liked to teach and excelled at teaching. At Smartypants U, the jewel in the crown of American academia, my math instructor was a twenty-something teaching assistant whose classroom style never deviated from the following pattern:
1) Greet class.
2) Ask if there were any questions about the previous evening's problem set.
3) If so, work out the problem in question on the chalkboard, without further explanation.
4) Repeat step 3) as needed.
5) Announce the pages in the textbook from which the next problem set would be derived.
6) Perform a sample problem from the new problem set.
7) Ask if anyone has any questions.
8) Give the problem set assignment.
9) Dismiss the class.
Total elapsed time: never more than 25 minutes.
Clutching the shredded tatters of my pride and dignity, I trudged to the office hours of my math instructor every week, seeking an explanation for the increasingly mysterious problems in the textbook. My instructor welcomed my presence as she would welcome the Angel of Death. Irritated? She was terrified. Explain…the problems? Articulate…the steps? Relate…the concepts? I would ask questions, and she would respond by completing yet another sample problem as fast as she possibly could, blushing nervously. I felt like I was on a Star Trek episode. "Captain, I think I understand…the creature communicates through multivariable calculus problems!"
I know what you're thinking, and you're wrong. She was as American as I am. Spoke perfect colloquial English.
Engineering physics was only marginally better. The harried teaching assistant could actually explain the occasional physics concept. But he made sure you understood that a poor grade on any assignment reflected upon your merit in the eyes of God. "If you get a 60% below on ANY quiz," he wrote on the chalkboard on day one, "YOU ARE NOT STUDYING HARD ENOUGH." I wondered what would happen if you got a 30% on a quiz. Were you branded? Expelled? Excommunicated?
The social-life-killing workload was the stuff of gallows humor among the three or four upper-class engineers who could still laugh. "Sleep is for the weak!" they bellowed, when gathering at the listless engineering parties. "Your underwear has two sides," they whispered, pressing their furry acne-ridden faces into the ears of bewildered freshmen. "Use them."
Reader, let us not dwell upon the endless problem sets, the wretched grades, and the weary nights spent screaming at my inscrutable textbooks. Compose in your mind a montage of quizzes covered in red ink, classes wasted in the stupor of incomprehension, and frowning instructors muttering strange incantations in their eerie scientific argot. And of the hands-on laboratory portion of the chemistry class, I will say only that I still hold the record at Smartypants U. for most failed attempts at that hateful titration experiment. ("No - not dark pink! You filthy godless soul-eating beaker! Damn you to hell!") They assigned grad students to watch me after failure number six. And I still screwed it up.
Meanwhile, my friends majoring in the liberal arts pulled dandy grades while studying little. "You just wait," I thought, gazing upon them like the ant regarding the grasshopper in the summer. "You party and blow off homework now, but in ten years, you'll be making merely wonderful money as investment bankers and consultants, while I'll be getting laid off from a great job at General Electric."
My first-semester GPA was the engineering major average: 2.7. But to a former academic superstar, a 2.7 GPA was akin to a public flogging.
I nearly fainted when I learned that I received a 43% on the Physics final. I nearly fainted again when I learned that the class average was 38%. A sub-50% grade on a science test is a curious creature, as much the product of grader whim as academic achievement. "Hmmm…looks like he understood a tiny bit of this question. I'll give three points out of ten. Or should I give four? Whoops…tummy rumbling…better make it three." Having allegedly mastered 43% of the course material, I was now deemed fit to take even harder Physics classes. I wondered: at the highest levels of physics, could you get a passing grade with a 5% score on a test? A 3% score? A zero? Could drinking from a fire hose actually slake your thirst?
Exhausted and demoralized, I stumbled into my next semester of engineering. My new math T.A. had all of my old T.A.'s inability to teach, but half of her mastery of English. One day in class I heard myself saying: "If I understood what I didn't understand about the problem, I would understand the problem, and therefore I wouldn't be asking a question." The T.A. stared at me across a void that seemed increasingly unbridgeable.
The course was called "Discrete Mathematics." Many people thought that the course was called "Discreet Mathematics." Wrong. To clarify: "Discrete Mathematics" is "the mathematics in which Kern was getting a D at midterm." "Discreet Mathematics" is "how Kern dropped that class along with the rest of his engineering course load and signed into liberal arts classes, all on the last day he was eligible to do so, because he couldn't stand the stress, abuse, and lack of comprehension anymore." No one waved goodbye to me at the engineering door.
The United States contains a finite number of smart people, most of whom have options in life besides engineering. You will not produce thronging bevies of pocket-protector-wearing number-jockeys simply by handing out spiffy Space Shuttle patches at the local Science Fair. If you want more engineers in the United States, you must find a way for America's engineering programs to retain students like, well, me: people smart enough to do the math and motivated enough to at least take a bite at the engineering apple, but turned off by the overwhelming coursework, low grades, and abysmal teaching. Find a way to teach engineering to verbally oriented students who can't learn math by sense of smell. Demand from (and give to) students an actual mastery of the material, rather than relying on bogus on-the-curve pseudo-grades that hinge upon the amount of partial credit that bored T.A.s choose to dole out. Write textbooks that are more than just glorified problem set manuals. Give grades that will make engineering majors competitive in a grade-inflated environment. Don't let T.A.s teach unless they can actually teach.
None of these things will happen, of course. Engineering professors are perfectly happy weeding out undesirables with absurd boot-camp courses that conceal the inability of said professors to communicate with words. Fewer students will pursue science and engineering majors, and the United States will grow ever more reliant upon foreign brainpower to design its scientific and manufacturing endeavors. I did my part to fight this problem, and for my trouble I got four months of humiliation and a semester's worth of shabby grades that I had to explain to law schools and employers for years. Thousands of college students will have a similar experience this fall.
So engineering is suffering in this country? It deserves no better.
James Heckman argues that we need to devote more resources to enriching the lives of young, disadvantaged children:
Schools, skills, and synapses, by James J. Heckman, Vox EU: America has a growing skills problem. One consequence of this skills problem is rising inequality and polarization of society. A greater fraction of young Americans are graduating from college. At the same time, a greater fraction are dropping out of high school. Trends in the production of skills from American high schools coupled with a growing influx of unskilled immigrants have produced an increasing proportion of low-skilled workers in the US workforce. More than 20% of American workers cannot understand the instructions written in a medical prescription. A further consequence of the skills problem is a slowdown in growth of productivity of the workforce.
The origin of this skills problem lies in the decline of the family in American society. Dysfunctional families retard the formation of the abilities needed for successful performance in modern society.
The importance of cognitive and noncognitive abilities
American public policy currently focuses on cognitive test scores or "smarts." Yet an emerging literature shows that much more than smarts is required for success in life. Motivation, sociability, the ability to work with others, the ability to focus on tasks, self-regulation, self-esteem, time preference, health, and mental health all matter. In an earlier time, these traits were part of what was called "character." A substantial body of research shows that earnings, employment, labour force experience, college attendance, teenage pregnancy, participation in risky activities, compliance with health protocols, and participation in crime are all strongly affected by non-cognitive as well as cognitive abilities. Heckman, Stixrud and Urzua (2006) show that in many dimensions of social performance, noncognitive traits are as important, or more important, than cognitive traits in predicting success.
Compelling evidence on the importance of noncognitive skills comes from the GED (General Education Degree) programme (Heckman and Rubinstein, 2001, and Heckman and LaFontaine 2008). GED recipients are high school dropouts who pass a test to certify that they are equivalent to high school graduates. Currently, 14% of US high school certificates are issued to GEDs. Previous research shows that the cognitive test scores of GED recipients and the cognitive test scores of persons who graduate from high school but do not go on to college are comparable. Yet GED recipients have the earnings of high school dropouts. GED recipients are as "smart" as ordinary high school graduates, yet they lack noncognitive skills. GED recipients are the "wise guys" who cannot finish anything. They quit the jobs and marriages they start at much greater rates than ordinary high school graduates. Most branches of the US military recognise this in their recruiting strategies. Until the recent war in Iraq, the armed forces did not generally accept GED recipients because of their poor performance in the military.
Ability gaps open up early in life
Gaps in both cognitive and noncognitive skills between advantaged and disadvantaged children emerge early and can be attributed, in part, to adverse early environments into which an increasing percentage of US children are being born. Figure 1 shows the gap in cognitive test scores by age of children stratified by the mother's education. Similar patterns are found for noncognitive skills (see Heckman, 2008, and Cunha, Heckman, Lochner and Masterov, 2006). Gaps in ability emerge early and persist. Most of the gaps in ability at age 18, which substantially explain gaps in adult outcomes, are present at age five. Schooling plays a minor role in creating or perpetuating gaps, even though American children go to very different schools depending on their family backgrounds. Test scores for children with very different family backgrounds are remarkably parallel with age.
Figure 1. Trend in mean cognitive score by maternal education, IHDP study
Note: Using all observations and assuming that data are missing at random. Source: Brooks-Gunn, Cunha, Duncan, Heckman, and Sojourner (2006).
How do these early and persistent differences in abilities arise? Is the difference due to genes as Herrnstein and Murray claimed in The Bell Curve? Evidence from the recent literature in psychology and biology suggests that the genes versus environment distinction that was once much in vogue is obsolete. Extensive recent literature suggests that gene-environment interactions are central to explaining children's intellectual development. For example, breast-fed children attain higher IQ scores than non-breast fed children. This relationship is moderated by a gene that controls fatty acid pathways. Identical twins are affected by life experiences that substantially differentiate the genetic expression of adult twins. Further, the impact on adult antisocial behaviour of growing up in a harsh or abusive environment depends on the absence of a variant of a particular gene. A substantial literature shows that family environments play an independent role in creating adult abilities. Adverse family environments of children create problem adults.
The decline of the American family and the rise of social problems
The evidence on the importance of family factors in explaining ability gaps is a source of concern because a greater proportion of American children are being born into disadvantaged environments, where disadvantage is measured by the quality of parenting (Heckman, 2008). A divide is opening up in American society. Those children born into disadvantaged environments are receiving relatively less stimulation and resources to promote child development than those born into more advantaged families. Women who are more educated are working and earning more. Their families are more stable and mothers in these families are also devoting more time to child development activities than less educated women. Children in affluent homes are bathed in financial and cognitive resources. Those children born into less advantaged circumstances are much less likely to receive cognitive and socio-emotional stimulation and other family resources. The family environments of single parent homes compared to intact families are much less favourable for investment in children (Moon, 2008).
Enriching early environments can partially compensate for early adversity
Experiments that enrich the early environments of disadvantaged children demonstrate causal effects of early environments on adolescent and adult outcomes and provide powerful evidence against genetic determinism. Two of these investigations, the Perry Preschool Program and the Carolina Abecedarian Project, use a random assignment design and collect long-term follow-up data. They demonstrate substantial positive effects of early environmental enrichment on a range of cognitive and non-cognitive skills, schooling achievement, job performance, and social behaviours long after the interventions end. The Perry Program was administered to 58 disadvantaged African-American children in Ypsilanti, Michigan between 1962 and 1967. The treatment for this program consisted of a daily 2.5-hour classroom session on weekday mornings and a weekly 90-minute home visit by the teacher on weekday afternoons. The control and treatment groups have been followed through age 40. There is a consistent pattern of successful outcomes for treatment group members compared with control group members, even though an initial increase in IQ gradually disappeared within the four years following the intervention.
Such IQ fadeouts have been observed in other studies. Focus on cognitive skills alone misses the point. The Perry program operates primarily through improving the noncognitive traits of participants (Heckman, Malofeeva, Pinto and Savelyev, 2008). At the oldest ages tested, treated individuals scored higher on achievement tests, attained higher levels of education, required less special education, earned higher wages, were more likely to own a home, and were less likely to go on welfare or be incarcerated than controls even though their IQs were no higher than those in the control group. In the similar, but more intensive and earlier starting Abecedarian program, IQ gains were found to last into early adulthood.
An estimated rate of return (the return per dollar of cost) to the Perry Program is around 10%. This high rate of return is higher than the post-World War II return on US stock market equity (5.8%) and suggests that society at large can benefit substantially from such interventions in the lives of disadvantaged children. Interventions in the later lives of disadvantaged children, such as job training, convict rehabilitation, and reduced classroom sizes, have much lower returns (Cunha, Heckman, Lochner and Masterov, 2006).
Using an empirically determined technology of skill formation, Cunha and Heckman (2006) simulate an early childhood intervention that moves children from the bottom 10% of family resources to the 70th percentile. This intervention achieves Perry results. To achieve similar results using adolescent interventions requires spending 35-50% more in present value terms (Heckman, 2008).
Fifty percent of the variance in inequality in lifetime earnings is determined by age 18 (Cunha and Heckman, 2007). The family plays a powerful role in shaping adult outcomes that is not fully recognised by current American policies. As programs are currently configured, interventions early in the lives of disadvantaged children have substantially higher economic returns than later interventions such as reduced pupil-teacher ratios, public job training programs, convict rehabilitation programs, adult literacy programs, tuition subsidies, or expenditure on police. This is because life-cycle skill formation is dynamic in nature. Skill begets skill; motivation begets motivation. Motivation cross-fosters skill, and skill cross-fosters motivation. If a child is not motivated to learn and engage early on in life, the more likely it is that when the child becomes an adult, he or she will fail in social and economic life. The longer society waits to intervene in the life cycle of a disadvantaged child, the more costly it is to remediate disadvantage.
Brooks-Gunn, J., F. Cunha G. Duncan J. J. Heckman, and A. Sojourner. "A Reanalysis of the IHDP Program," 2006. Unpublished manuscript, Infant Health and Development Program, Northwestern University.
Cunha, F. and J. J. Heckman. "Investing in our Young People.", 2006. Unpublished manuscript, University of Chicago, Department of Economics.
Cunha, F. and J. J. Heckman. "The Evolution of Uncertainty in Labour Earnings in the US Economy," 2007. Unpublished manuscript, University of Chicago. Under revision.
Cunha, F., J. J. Heckman, L. J. Lochner and D. V. Masterov. "Interpreting the Evidence on Life Cycle Skill Formation," eds. E.A. Hanushek and F. Welch, 2006. Handbook of the Economics of Education, 12, 697-812, Amsterdam: North-Holland.
Heckman, J. J. "Schools, Skills, and Synapses", Fall 2008. Economic Inquiry, 289-324.
Heckman, J. J. and P. A. LaFontaine. "The GED and the Problem of Noncognitive Skills in America," 2008. Unpublished book manuscript, University of Chicago, Department of Economics.
Heckman, J. J., L. Malofeeva, R. Pinto and P. Savelyev. "The Effect of the Perry Preschool Program on Cognitive and Noncognitive Skills: Beyond Treatment Effects," 2008. Unpublished manuscript, University of Chicago, Department of Economics.
Heckman, J. J. and Y. Rubinstein. "The Importance of Noncognitive Skills: Lessons from the GED Testing Program," May 2001. American Economic Review, 91(2), 145-149.
Heckman, J. J., J. Stixrud and S. Urzua. "The Effects of Cognitive and Noncognitive Abilities on Labour Market Outcomes and Social Behavior," July 2006. Journal of Labour Economics, 24(3), 411-482.
Herrnstein, R. J. and C. A. Murray, 1994. The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life. New York: Free Press.
Moon, S. H. "Skill Formation Technology and Multi-dimensional Parental Investment," 2008. Unpublished PhD thesis, University of Chicago, Department of Economics.
A laptop is only a tool like a screwdriver. It really does not matter which screwdriver manufacture I pick (other than mileage may vary) to assemble a do-it-yourself kit. What matters is the do-it-yourself kit. The laptop is inconsequential because you are still working with the same kit. Give a bad teacher better tools and you still have a bad teacher.
Re:Why laptops? (Score:2)
Using desktops is even more complicated. You need a 'lab' to use desktop machines. The classroom will be effectively useless for any non-computer based work. If the computers are to be used 'ubiquitously' for parts of all classes, every classroom would have to be a 'computer room'.
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