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Think of higher education as the proverbial frog in boiling water.
February 3, 2011 9:51 AM   Subscribe

'The ever-increasing cost of education is not sustainable.' 'Higher education in America, historically the envy of the world, is rapidly growing out of reach. For the past quarter-century, the cost of higher education has grown 440%, according to the National Center for Public Policy and Education, nearly four times the rate of inflation and double the rate of health care cost increases. ''In June of last year student loan debt reached $830 billion, surpassing credit card debt in America.''All this happened while total federal student aid more than doubled, in constant dollars, from $60 billion ten years ago to $120 billion today. Sadly, more federal student aid simply fuels the rising costs. The cost of education tracks with the growth in federal aid; the transaction cost for students is not lowered. The federal money effectively flows directly to the operating expenses of the Universities-which seem to rise in direct proportion to the flow of federal funds.'

'Over the past 14 years the average debt for a graduating college student has doubled. Today the loan obligation of graduating seniors is more than $20,000 for public university grads and more than $27,000 for graduates of private universities. More than two-thirds of all college graduates have student loan obligations. The number of graduates in debt increased by 27% over just the past five years. And, not surprisingly, the default rate has grown each year.'

'Because all universities offer some kind of financial assistance, the nominal tuitions are not the amounts universities actually take in. Discounting, often in the range of 25% to 35% of tuition, is offered as financial aid. But even after the discounting the average realized tuition revenue at universities continues to grow. The College Board projects that in 15 years, the cost of a four year college education at a private university will approach $400,000 (at the current rate of cost increases).

Now it is true that college-educated people normally earn more than non-college-educated folks. But over the past two decades the costs of university education--tuition, room, board and fees--have increased at a rate six times greater than the increase in the average earnings of college graduates. And in the past decade college graduates' earnings have actually fallen. The value proposition is on a downward trajectory.'
posted by VikingSword (150 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite

 
ITT: What happens when education is run like a profitable business.
posted by Mr. Crowley at 9:54 AM on February 3, 2011 [18 favorites]


The question is: what are universities spending the money on?
posted by anitanita at 9:55 AM on February 3, 2011 [5 favorites]


Tell that to the government that uses the public University system as an ATM when the budget goes sour.

See: California.
posted by xtine at 9:56 AM on February 3, 2011 [14 favorites]


WELL AT LEAST WE DON'T HAVE SOCIALISM
posted by jtron at 9:56 AM on February 3, 2011 [49 favorites]


The question is: what are universities spending the money on?

Read the article.
posted by VikingSword at 9:56 AM on February 3, 2011


As pointed out, more and more, higher education becomes worth less and less. In our case, it also appears they are not getting any education at all - many of the fresh-outta-school engineers we've been interviewing can't do basic work, so we've stopped even accepting applications from them. The recent "stored procedures" joke on TDWTF hits a little too close to home.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 10:02 AM on February 3, 2011


It is not in rich people's best interest that the rest of us be well-educated, now that even skilled labor can be outsourced.
posted by DU at 10:09 AM on February 3, 2011 [12 favorites]


WELL AT LEAST WE DON'T HAVE SOCIALISM have the Pell Grant!
posted by battleshipkropotkin at 10:09 AM on February 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


The question is: what are universities spending the money on?

Well, if you are NYU, you buy the village building by building.
posted by milarepa at 10:10 AM on February 3, 2011 [7 favorites]


The question is: what are universities spending the money on?

Lawyers, to defend themselves against the families of students who shouldn't have been there in the first place? And counselors and extra security, while the students are still there?

And, also, more and more student services and extra curricular activities, so that the school can remain competitive. And PR departments, so they can keep those sometimes-fudged national ranking. So that they can remain competitive.

And...
posted by Melismata at 10:12 AM on February 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


What happens when education is run like a profitable business.

I don't think that's entirely it. It's a "truthy" explanation, but I don't think it's adequate. Many schools that are non-profits, and operated as non-profits (heck even operated like charities, soliciting donations from individuals and corporations) by people who really care, have had ridiculous fee increases.

I've seen it happen at my alma mater, which is a private college that in no way resembles a business in any way that I can detect. But they've gotten caught in what seems to be to be a keeping-up-with-the-Joneses spiral, where they've increased tuition and fees in order to fund new facilities (and some faculty positions, but seemingly mostly facilities) that they believe are necessary in order to attract students, so that they can reject enough of them to keep their USN&WR ranking, which in turn brings in more applicants, etc. Basically they are terrified of falling behind other schools, and breaking the large applicant pool -> high admissions standards -> high ranking -> large applicant pool feedback loop.

The underlying reason for this seems to be that students are willing to pay staggering amounts of money for what are largely amenities. I think this is only the case because many students are spending borrowed money. When it comes to spending their own cash, students are famously cheap; but when it's being rolled into a student loan, students are willing to spend more (or at least college trustees believe that they are willing to spend more, and the numbers appear to bear this out) in order to go somewhere with sparkling new facilities.

The for-profit/proprietary schools are essentially parasitic, in the sense that they feed off of the Federal loan program by giving students the absolutely bare minimum education that will allow them to get those loans, but I'm not sure whether they've really been driving the cost increases. There are always going to be schools like that, charging exactly what the government will give out in loans, and giving the minimum in return. They're not even new (my grandmother, when she was a fresh-off-the-boat immigrant, went to a proprietary secretarial school); it's just that the Federal loan programs have decoupled the student from the entity footing the bill. In the past, proprietary schools had to deliver some sort of value proposition that was in line with what they actually charged students (which might have been nothing but a diploma), because those students were paying cold, hard cash. When that's not the case, the schools seem to be able to get away with more. But the issue of proprietary schools looks to me like a symptom rather than the underlying cause.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:15 AM on February 3, 2011 [17 favorites]


You know who should be training people to be good employees? Employers. Way too much of what we now call "getting a practical degree to fall back" is really just subsidizing the corporations that hire graduates. But then, changing that would require treating employees as assets and not expenses.
posted by oneswellfoop at 10:15 AM on February 3, 2011 [49 favorites]


The artificial requirement of a Bachelor's degree for entry-level jobs that don't truly need one is what has driven up demand for post-secondary education. Cost has simply followed demand.
posted by rocket88 at 10:15 AM on February 3, 2011 [45 favorites]


The question is: what are universities spending the money on?

Football coach salaries.
posted by Orange Pamplemousse at 10:16 AM on February 3, 2011 [7 favorites]


From the article: In June of last year student loan debt reached $830 billion, surpassing credit card debt in America.

Muvva. And this in a bad economy, when I'd imagine more people were turning to credit cards to stretch their dollars (at a greater long-term cost).

SPOILER: costs are going to the campus improvement "arms" race, and to lure or keep professors, because no one wants to be paid a "below average" salary.

The answer to both of those issues is community college, especially for the basic courses. Plus, you have smaller class sizes, and professors you can often talk to in person, who might even remember you and give you referral letters if you are in a few of their courses.

But community colleges are hit hard for funding, even though some are extending their hours, offering classes as early as 5 AM and "in the middle of the night."
posted by filthy light thief at 10:17 AM on February 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


None of this is to deny the importance of a college education. A sound undergraduate education forms a basis for making a life. Graduate school, in contrast, is primarily about making a living.

Apparently I have no basis for making a life or making a living.

Otherwise the rest of the article re-hashes the same things over and over again. College rankings arms wars have driven tuition to astronomical levels, no one wants to pay for it and Millennials got screwed by the Baby Boomers yet again.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 10:17 AM on February 3, 2011


Higher education in America, historically the envy of the world

?

Man, this sort of thing can be hard to swallow sometimes. Will it ever suffice for Americans to be "among the best" at anything rather than the foam-finger #1 all-star champs of the world?
posted by Hoopo at 10:19 AM on February 3, 2011 [27 favorites]


The underlying reason for this seems to be that students are willing to pay staggering amounts of money for what are largely amenities. I think this is only the case because many students are spending borrowed money. When it comes to spending their own cash, students are famously cheap; but when it's being rolled into a student loan, students are willing to spend more (or at least college trustees believe that they are willing to spend more, and the numbers appear to bear this out) in order to go somewhere with sparkling new facilities.

Wow, blaming the victim AND "what we need is to make it even harder for the poorest students" all in one theory! Kudos to you, sir.
posted by DU at 10:19 AM on February 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


I recall 25 years ago reading the estimates of what college tuition would cost, and thinking "that'll never be, no one will be able to afford it." Turns out I was only half right.

But Herbert Stein observed, "That which is unsustainable will not be sustained." The fall is coming. Many, many colleges and 'universitiies' will disappear in the next 25 years.
posted by mojohand at 10:20 AM on February 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


Related:

Median Pay of Public University Presidents Rose to $436,000 Last Year(2010)

& STUDY: Pay For University Presidents RISES During Downturn(2010)

& this: ...University presidents may not be as generously compensated as their counterparts in the for-profit world, but their pay has been rising steeply over the past 15 years, especially compared to professors' incomes. One-third of presidents at public universities now earn more than $500,000 a year. The median pay for public-school presidents in the 2007-08 school year was $427,400, according to an annual compensation survey by the Chronicle of Higher Education. It was $100,000 higher at private colleges.[...] With base salaries well into the six figures, the administrators' total compensation is rounded out by perks like retirement payouts, retention bonuses, performance awards, expense accounts, and the use of well-appointed homes and cars. For instance, E. Gordon Gee, president of Ohio State University, took home a total of $1,346,225 last year, including a $310,000 performance bonus. Henry S. Bienen, president of Northwestern University, raked in $1,742,560, thanks in part to $590,929 in deferred compensation from the previous ten years. (Bienen, 68, has announced his retirement this year.) These totals do not include money both men earned from serving on corporate boards...from College Campuses Debate Administrators' Lofty Pay (2009)
posted by The Emperor of Ice Cream at 10:21 AM on February 3, 2011 [5 favorites]


Eye dont c whut the problam is. I got a degreee from a prestiseegious universitee. Money whale spent!!
posted by bengalsfan1 at 10:23 AM on February 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


I wonder if one can adapt elements of the healthcare reform to control costs of higher education. Any healthcare provider who accepts government money, must prove that at least 80% of the money goes to actual healthcare costs, and only 20% to administrative/profit etc. This is hardly a fool proof solution, but a beginning. Something must be done to control costs. Maybe this 80%/20% requirement can somehow be adapted to higher education?
posted by VikingSword at 10:24 AM on February 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


oops; re-do of my last link: College Campuses Debate Administrators' Lofty Pay
posted by The Emperor of Ice Cream at 10:24 AM on February 3, 2011


Kadin2048
Thanks for that, quite insightful. I hadn't thought of that. I was basing my opinion on my recent attendance of a local community college, that IMHO had all the symptoms of the for-profit type you discuss. The level of adjunct instruction smells suspiciously like the gutting of benefits in the private sector.

So would it be safe to say the structure of the USN&WR ranking fuels this?
posted by Mr. Crowley at 10:24 AM on February 3, 2011


>> Football coach salaries

That list sums to $144M, which is .12% of $120B.
posted by JohnFredra at 10:24 AM on February 3, 2011 [6 favorites]


A dissenting view from 2009. It's more about loan debt than about costs, but part of its argument is that only a third of graduating college students owe any debt at all after they graduate and that most who do owe debt only owe < $20k on average, "just below the starting price of a 2009 Ford Escape." The problem, according to the author and those she interviewed? Too many spoiled kids are hellbent on going to their "dream college" and end up "overborrowing."

It attracted quite a few nastygrams.
posted by blucevalo at 10:24 AM on February 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


DU - You can insult him all you want, but until you refute Kadin's arguments, you're just noise. I think he's got a good handle on at least part of the truth.
posted by mojohand at 10:24 AM on February 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


The question is: what are universities spending the money on?

Orange Pamplemousse: Football coach salaries.

The top FIFTY EIGHT coaches earn ONE MILLION DOLLARS OR MORE. I'd like to say "fuck sports," but how much money does having a top team bring into the school? How much of that salary is paid by donations from gleeful alums, proud of their alma matter?

Amazingly, those look to possibly be higher salaries than NFL coaches (see more estimates for financial compensation).
posted by filthy light thief at 10:27 AM on February 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Generally speaking, as post-secondary education has grown more expensive students have grown to think of themselves as purchasers of a product (their degree, not an education) that schools are offering for a fee. Once they have paid the fee they believe they are owed the product, and anything that interferes with the delivery of the product (excessive amounts of homework, difficult tests, low marks, etc.) is regarded as an unfair burden, if not an outright violation of this arrangement.

Ten years ago my wife TA'd several undergraduate courses, and her students' attitude often amounted to "I have paid my tuition, shown up for class and handed in my essay, which is of the required length...now where's my A?" The quality of their work was beside the point. They had paid, dearly, to receive a piece of paper which would increase their earning potential, and that was that.
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:27 AM on February 3, 2011 [16 favorites]


Will it ever suffice for Americans to be "among the best" at anything rather than the foam-finger #1 all-star champs of the world?

Nope.
posted by reductiondesign at 10:28 AM on February 3, 2011


The question is: what are universities spending the money on?

Well, if you are NYU Columbia, you buy the village Harlem building by building in one fell swoop.
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:29 AM on February 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


Man, this sort of thing can be hard to swallow sometimes. Will it ever suffice for Americans to be "among the best" at anything rather than the foam-finger #1 all-star champs of the world?

Actually, this is one of the ones that is true. There are very good ("some of the best") institutions in other countries, and certainly Cambridge and Oxford come to mind as in the very top tier. But for sheer numbers of outstanding post-secondary schools, it's been hard to beat the US. The rest of world has historically flocked to US colleges and universities when it could afford to. Now there is a concerted effort by other countries to upgrade their higher education facilities. I agree with the author that we are losing our edge.

I found the article a little too facile. One phenomenon for all public universities is the slow withdrawal of state funding over the last few decades. As this has occurred, even state-supported tuition has skyrocketed. However, the article confuses the cost of education with tuition repeatedly. Not even for private schools is the tuition reflective of the cost, since they mostly have large endowments that are intended to offset real costs. However, some have described universities like Harvard as investment firms with side operations of colleges. Maximizing return is helped by asking students to pay more of the real cost of their education. What the article never addresses head on is how much the actual cost has increased, focusing instead on tuition increases. When I started in academe, the figure of 1/3 was bandied about as the approximate proportion of cost borne by the student. Today, it is over 50% even at my public university.
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:31 AM on February 3, 2011 [15 favorites]


And like any business, universities want to remain competitive on the salaries they pay their faculty.

Any article containing this sentence is not worth taking seriously about the economics of higher education. The fact that, during this era of skyrocketing costs, a larger and larger proportion of faculty labor has taken place off the tenure track, becoming adjunctified, casualized, de-benefited, and turned into poverty-level contingent work with no job security — this should be the starting point for any real analysis. The fact that Forbes doesn't even seem to realize that this has happened, while not exactly surprising (it's a publication by and for management, after all, not labor; check the byline here), should absolutely disqualify its analysis from discussion.
posted by RogerB at 10:31 AM on February 3, 2011 [45 favorites]


So the trend over the last ten years to build fancy buildings, attract star-scholars, and paying staff too well is the cause?

What were colleges doing in the decades prior?
posted by munchingzombie at 10:31 AM on February 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


So the trend over the last ten years to build fancy buildings, attract star-scholars, and paying staff too well is the cause?

University administrators and football coaches are not the same thing as "staff."
posted by blucevalo at 10:34 AM on February 3, 2011 [5 favorites]


> The artificial requirement of a Bachelor's degree for entry-level jobs that don't truly need one is what has driven up demand for post-secondary education. Cost has simply followed demand.

This is it, pretty much. Most of the jobs I had for the first ten years after I graduated could have been performed by virtually any literate person with a valid high school education, but they all required a bachelor's degree. On the blue collar side of things, my father walked out of high school and into a job as a pipefitter, but by the time he retired his position also required a university degree.
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:35 AM on February 3, 2011 [6 favorites]


Blucevalo, but are the parents going into debt? I know the only way I was able to pay for more than a quarter mil worth of undergraduate education for two kids was to ruthlessly save right from the first morning I walked from the hospital. There is a strong impulse to make available the best school your children can can get into. And that certainly fuels a lot of that inflation. But in the end I did have to tell my daughter that I was not going to pay Middlebury's ridiculous prices with very good alternatives 'only' costing 35K/year.
posted by mojohand at 10:37 AM on February 3, 2011


This being Forbes and the opinion of a Management School Dean, you won't hear any mention of the culpability of the banks, the rising financial sector interest in higher education and the infiltration of "management theory" into university leadership.

He dances around the issue with some skill I must say, but never quite admits that for all the spiraling costs, universities throughout the country are broke. He never connects the rising debt levels of the students with the pervasive student loan industry and its deals with university administrations. He ignores the fleecing that many universities (public and private) took after investing large portions of their endowments, pensions and other accounts into hedge funds.
posted by fartron at 10:39 AM on February 3, 2011 [10 favorites]


mojohand: I don't agree with or espouse the view I linked to. I put it up to add fuel to the discussion.
posted by blucevalo at 10:42 AM on February 3, 2011


Blucevalo, but are the parents going into debt?

There are quite a few parent loan programs (both federal and private), that way the whole family can join the fun!
posted by Think_Long at 10:43 AM on February 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


The artificial requirement of a Bachelor's degree for entry-level jobs that don't truly need one is what has driven up demand for post-secondary education. Cost has simply followed demand.

I think there is something of a chicken and the egg question here. I think a lot of companies now require a BA when they don't need them because so many candidates have them. Even with the BA requirement, they still get hundreds (or even thousands) of applicants. If they didn't require a BA, they'd get too many applications to deal with.

I think it creates a feedback loop where standards get raised to make the candidate pool shallower, more candidates get a BA and makes the candidate pool deeper, etc.
posted by VTX at 10:43 AM on February 3, 2011


The question is: what are universities spending the money on?

Read the article.


I don't know that I'd bother. It's a pretty standard broadly-right-wing attack claiming that it's all because of that dastardly financial aid and how students are stupid enough to pay for it because it's just loans, and universities need to tighten their belts and do... something... technological and just pull up on their bootstraps really hard to increase efficiency. *waves arms* Be more, you know, businessy!

In its discussion of what universities are spending the money on, it talks about shiny new facilities and hiring the best and brightest and so on and completely fails to mention the ultrasaurus in the room: universities are spending (lots of) the money on simply replacing lost state funding. That alone drops it from any serious consideration.

Kadin's example is fine for private schools, but ~75% or more of students will enroll in public universities.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:44 AM on February 3, 2011 [23 favorites]


RogersB is onto something here. But the faculty itself is often at fault for allowing this to take place. They never wanted a real union because they thought real unions were for blue collar workers and they were "professional." So the have the AAUP, which has a sub division that supports collective bargaining and strikes. But how many university strikes have you seen? And the faculty over time never wanted to bother with part-time people and so administrations simply kept upping the number of PT people they would hire. and then PT began teaching advanced courses too. Great! No benefits! no tenure! hire semester at a time..even charge for parking rights!

And those who should have overseen this ? regional accrediting agencies. But they never did a thing unless a school was clearly going under financially. All they did for shit box school was to issue a warning, allow them to keep accreditation, and visit a year later to renew the warning. Why? Because anything other than money matters might be construed as subjective...and so the percentage of part timers teaching went up and up and no one objected.

Much of what is said in these comments applies, but it is the sum and hardly any one notion.
The number of presidents making over a million a year is around 30-35 now, whereas a few years ago, under ten.
My real beef: what is taking place with out-of-state students--they bring in much more now, screw tax payers in the state, and force those people to send their kids out of state (higher cost) to get into schools. Why? out of state fee much higher and it helps the college budget.

the university in America today follows the corporate model: pay top money to adminisratiojn and CEO, charge the client a bundle, staff the place with cheap help to trim costs. Don[t worry about oversight: there is none.
posted by Postroad at 10:45 AM on February 3, 2011 [11 favorites]


> Even with the BA requirement, they still get hundreds (or even thousands) of applicants. If they didn't require a BA, they'd get too many applications to deal with.

That's a good point.
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:45 AM on February 3, 2011


VTX - aka rising credentialism.
posted by idb at 10:48 AM on February 3, 2011


historically the envy of the world

I don't think the UK system is quite fucked enough to the point where we have to start envying you. Yet.
posted by Artw at 10:49 AM on February 3, 2011 [8 favorites]


Will it ever suffice for Americans to be "among the best" at anything rather than the foam-finger #1 all-star champs of the world?

No. We're a culture of one-upsmanship, for better and worse. If you're not first, you're last, etc... I think when we get to the point that we aren't #1 in a majority of fields, Americans will very quickly start realizing they liked how things were when America dominated everything, and the creature comforts that come with that, regardless of whether it was something they were previously against.

As for the actual article, I don't like that everyone wants to move into this online/digital realm. You give me the book in digital format, and I'm going to print the damn thing out. Working with textbooks on a screen is a pain, and what happens when the power is out or your computer goes on the fritz? And online classes? I've had several, and learned far less than in the traditional classroom setting. They work great for some people, but I think the push to move more and more classes online is not necessarily the best way forward.
posted by jellywerker at 10:50 AM on February 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't think the UK system is quite fucked enough to the point where we have to start envying you. Yet.

The word, I believe, was "historically." As in past tense.
posted by blucevalo at 10:51 AM on February 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


And the faculty over time never wanted to bother with part-time people and so administrations simply kept upping the number of PT people they would hire. and then PT began teaching advanced courses too.

On my campus (public), the Faculty Senate and the AAUP have been fighting this for quite a while, with, honestly, limited success, because of issues with the state government. So, at least in my case, "never wanted to bother" is not true, "haven't been able to effectively address" is more accurate, and we have managed to get the part-time faculty unionized and into their first round of negotiations, which is something, if not enough.

As for the actual article, I don't like that everyone wants to move into this online/digital realm. You give me the book in digital format, and I'm going to print the damn thing out.

Books are hardly the worst of it. Drop rates, across the nation (and the world, for all I know) are much higher than drop rates for face to face or hybrid classes. Seems like students actually want human contact with their professors. Huh.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:54 AM on February 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Read the article.

If I wanted to read I would go to college.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:54 AM on February 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


The top FIFTY EIGHT coaches earn ONE MILLION DOLLARS OR MORE. I'd like to say "fuck sports," but how much money does having a top team bring into the school?

For the vast majority of schools, far, far less than it costs them to run these programs. There are ongoing concerns about the sustainability of the sports-as-revenue-center model.

That aside, I think VikingSword and I have finally hit on something about which we agree: higher education is increasingly a massively overpriced scam funded largely by federal loans to students with universities--and employers to a lesser extent--as the main beneficiaries.
posted by valkyryn at 10:54 AM on February 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


I went to a well-regarded public university in the late 70's/ early 80's. It was in-state for me as well as being a land-grant college - so if any university could pass some savings on, it was this one.

I still go back to campus for football games, so I've witnessed the (substantial) changes that have been made. Rampant building. Multiple university/corporate hookups like on-campus restaurants and stores. Etc.

You'd think that, since they've already been granted the land and their corporate partnerships should bring in cash, that they would have been able to hold at least a small line against tuition increases. Nope. In-state tuition is now more than 1000% higher than when I graduated in 1982.

I guarantee you the education is not any better, though.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 10:55 AM on February 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


historically the envy of the world

The UK system may not be in the toilet, but the top end of the US system reliably comes out tops in any international comparison, with the UK in second place.

Talking of going down the toilet though, average student debt currently is £18,000 ($29,000) for a 3 year course and £24,000 ($38,700) for a 4 yr course. The new fees will see students at the top end pay an extra £5,700p.a., which as far as I can see will mean nearly a doubling in the cost in a single year for home students entering a UK uni in 2012.
posted by biffa at 10:56 AM on February 3, 2011


Turning the argument (schools cost too much) on its head for a second. I was struck by this sentence: "Just 10 years ago the cost of a four-year public college education amounted to 18% of the annual income of middle-income families. Ten years later, it amounted to 25% of that family's average annual income."

I wonder if part of the problem (clearly not all of it) is the stagnation of middle class income, given that for 90% of the US, wages have been essentially flat for the past four decades. This hasn't affected the upper class (which shows an enviable upward trend) and that is the class whose kids are more likely to attend private schools.

Obviously this doesn't address the 4x multiple in education cost, but it could be a factor w/r/t affordability.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 10:59 AM on February 3, 2011 [8 favorites]


At the school where I earned my graduate degree, they would send emails to us lecturers (I also taught) regularly, suggesting we apply for large grants to teach "interdiciplinary sustainability" lessons in our classes, or bragging about the 3-4 new multibillion dollar green buildings they were adding on campus, or the new corporate connections they were forging to improve the "educational experience" of those in the MBA program. Meanwhile, their endowment had shrunk by about 30% because of the financial meltdown of 2008, and they were heavily cutting the already bare-bones basic core requirements they ask of undergraduates, increasing class size and decreasing options for composition classes and essay writing classes. This despite the fact that many students at this school had difficulty reading and writing. And this school is a big-deal, big-name institution where the students are, theoretically, smart.

The students are equally part of the problem. As noted above, too many believe that they -- or, far more likely, their mommies and daddies -- paid for a product called a diploma and it should not require anything like studying or working hard. Instead they have lots of personal dramas and feel outraged about stuff.

Parents are mostly bourgeois folks who think they're purchasing a middle-class life for their kids, and who see college as a ticket to a job (increasingly, it ain't.)

Basically, no one involved in higher education in America - not the administration, the faculty, the parents, or the students - care about the basic and inexpensive point of a university/liberal arts education as traditionally understood, which was that it was a chance to read, think, and lift oneself up from ignorance. All you need to do that is one long shelf's worth of great books, a supportive and engaged group for discussion, intellectual curiosity, and time. This is disappearing from America's universities and everyone feels the vacuum, but no one knows how to replace it, and keep spending money trying to substitute everything else.
posted by fugitivefromchaingang at 10:59 AM on February 3, 2011 [28 favorites]


You'd think that, since they've already been granted the land and their corporate partnerships should bring in cash, that they would have been able to hold at least a small line against tuition increases. Nope. In-state tuition is now more than 1000% higher than when I graduated in 1982.

It would be important to look into how much state funding your land grant university is receiving this year compared to previous years. My guess is that it is a huge reduction.
posted by Think_Long at 11:00 AM on February 3, 2011


Wow, blaming the victim AND "what we need is to make it even harder for the poorest students" all in one theory! Kudos to you, sir.

The fact that a particular theory leads to some unpalatable or uncomfortable conclusions about culpability doesn't seem like a good argument against it.

And yeah, to be blunt, student choice does seem to have a significant role in cost increases, at least at the higher end of the tuition spectrum. If you ask representatives from colleges that are at the forefront of the amenities arms race why they're doing what they're doing, I can guarantee you that the answer is going to boil down to "well, that's what [we think] students expect." They're spending millions on facilities -- which are being paid for with tuition increases -- because they think that they can attract more applicants with those new facilities despite the higher price tag, than they could with older facilities and a lower one.

And at least at the schools I'm familiar with, they seem to be right; applicant numbers have actually gone up even as tuition has increased, which has allowed them to become more competitive in the admissions process rather than less. I'm sure at some point there has to be a maximum, even with public and private loans allowing students to amortize the cost out over years, but it doesn't seem to have been reached yet -- and some private colleges are up to almost a quarter-mil for a four-year degree.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:01 AM on February 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


Basically, no one involved in higher education in America - not the administration, the faculty, the parents, or the students - care about the basic and inexpensive point of a university/liberal arts education as traditionally understood, which was that it was a chance to read, think, and lift oneself up from ignorance.

The liberal arts philosophy is only a relatively recent addition to the university philosophy. Public funding of university education for the lower and middle classes was one of the great successes of the mid century progressive movement, but throughout time higher education has been primarily for the wealthy and designed to boost one's elite status.
posted by Think_Long at 11:03 AM on February 3, 2011 [7 favorites]


Instead they have lots of personal dramas and feel outraged about stuff.

And this was untrue of most undergrads at what point in time?
posted by blucevalo at 11:06 AM on February 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


The liberal arts philosophy is only a relatively recent addition to the university philosophy. Public funding of university education for the lower and middle classes was one of the great successes of the mid century progressive movement, but throughout time higher education has been primarily for the wealthy and designed to boost one's elite status.

I disagree. This philosophy goes back to the Greeks. Arguably, public funding of university education for the lower and middle classes weakened this idea of higher education because it fueled the rise of technical education, credentialism, and things like undergraduate business degrees. That's not to say that public funding wasn't a net positive for our society.
posted by fugitivefromchaingang at 11:11 AM on February 3, 2011


Don't worry about oversight: there is none.

There's anti-oversight. Students rating teachers -- what a way to get back at that SOB for daring to fail you!

Basically, no one involved in higher education in America - not the administration, the faculty, the parents, or the students - care about the basic and inexpensive point of a university/liberal arts education as traditionally understood, which was that it was a chance to read, think, and lift oneself up from ignorance.

I wish I could argue against that. I didn't spend a great deal of time in college -- partly because I was actually *learning* stuff, just not bothering with certain classes that I considered worthless.

Of course, looking back, I think that at least two of those "worthless" classes probably were worth a great deal, I was just too inexperienced to know that then.

I do know that where I learned the most was with a few others in a Professor's office beating on a particularly thorny problem -- one that even the professor didn't have a fast answer for.

That's what a University is really for -- giving you the opportunity to learn skills, learn knowledge, and most importantly, the skills and knowledge to keep learning.

And the reason that most recently minted BS/BA students are worthless is that they either didn't have the chance, or refused the chance, to gain those skills. The ones that did often go graduate school. There are exceptions, and the hardest part, in the real world, is finding them, because they're the ones you want to hire.

Disney has a slogan of "Hire for attitude, train for aptitude," and that's very much where I've ended up going. I need someone who can learn and keep learning, not someone who has carefully collected letters.
posted by eriko at 11:13 AM on February 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


the top end of the US system reliably comes out tops in any international comparison, with the UK in second place

It's worth noting that the top end is the top end, and not really an indicator of a country's entire higher education system. I don't think anyone can deny the US has some of the most valuable jewels in that respect, but as a graduate of a Canadian university I never once felt envious of the quality of education offered by regional universities in the US compared to what we have here. This argument seems a little like making the case that based on the Mayo Clinic, Mount Sinai, and Johns Hopkins Hospital that the US has the best health care system in the world.
posted by Hoopo at 11:16 AM on February 3, 2011 [8 favorites]


The students are equally part of the problem. As noted above, too many believe that they -- or, far more likely, their mommies and daddies -- paid for a product called a diploma and it should not require anything like studying or working hard. Instead they have lots of personal dramas and feel outraged about stuff.

I went to a small state school that catered mostly to working adults. The average student was 35 and I saw a lot of the same stuff. The school was very concerned about how hire-able the school's graduates were. To this ends, they frequently told the students, "You are the product, not the customer."

There was some question of the college really holding themselves to that standard but I really like the idea behind it. I wish more schools would adopt this philosophy because I think it would really raise the standards for getting a degree. Companies could hire graduates with a degree and have a good idea of not only what classes they had taken and what knowledge they had been exposed to but what they actually learned and what knowledge they actually retained.

Besides, if they can bring themselves to give our more failing grades to preserve standards and get students to re-take classes until they've really earned their degree, that would be good for business right? The smart, hardworking students who take the time to really internalize what they learned could basically get a discount by not having to re-take classes.
posted by VTX at 11:19 AM on February 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


And the reason that most recently minted BS/BA students are worthless is that they either didn't have the chance, or refused the chance, to gain those skills.

Is there any evidence that today's graduates are any less prepared for the world than previous generations? This thread is starting to feel like a general "higher education" complaint thread than what the initial post was about.
posted by Think_Long at 11:20 AM on February 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


The students are equally part of the problem. As noted above, too many believe that they -- or, far more likely, their mommies and daddies -- paid for a product called a diploma and it should not require anything like studying or working hard. Instead they have lots of personal dramas and feel outraged about stuff.

Parents are mostly bourgeois folks who think they're purchasing a middle-class life for their kids, and who see college as a ticket to a job (increasingly, it ain't.)

Basically, no one involved in higher education in America - not the administration, the faculty, the parents, or the students - care about the basic and inexpensive point of a university/liberal arts education as traditionally understood, which was that it was a chance to read, think, and lift oneself up from ignorance.


Ok, that's annoying, but as we've established, a university degree is exactly what you're describing; a very expensive entrance fee to the Land of Jobs. Which you must pay if you want a job that will make any money whatsoever. Kids know it and their parents know it. And so of course, they expect special treatment; they have just mortgaged themselves to the hilt to pay for this ticket, because they had no choice, and deep down, lots of them do resent it. And then on top of paying out the ass, they now have to work hard.

It's not the professor's fault, of course, but it's hardly surprising.

In my opinion, many people do not need college, in the classic, search-for-knowledge sense. They could learn whatever they need to learn on the job or in a training program of their chosen profession. Possibly, later in life, they'll decide to pursue some forms of advanced knowledge if they want to, or possibly they'll be content with what they can teach themselves. This would not be a failure of character on their part, or even a crisis in terms of our nation.

Except that, of course, we have this cockamamie entrance fee to most forms of wage-earning in this country, even those that aren't particularly academic. My mother was a real-estate closer, and had been for 20 years, and was damn good at it. But she was frequently told she could not promoted for lack of a degree, when clearly, that had nothing whatever to do with her job.

Of course, prices are now reaching the point where more people have to go w/out degrees whether they want to or not, but it's not likely more jobs for the less educated are going to spring up soon.
posted by emjaybee at 11:26 AM on February 3, 2011 [10 favorites]


The US system is oriented toward college. Sometimes I wish it could be different. It's a good example of lock-in and path dependence.

I went to school for Computer Science. For the most part, I saw it as "learning a trade" -- which, for me, it pretty much was. If things were different in the US, I could have learned most of what I learned on-the-job. In fact, I think you saw a lot of this during the 90s tech boom : kids dropping out of college to work in the field, because lots of companies were hiring. By the time I came along, though, the current dynamic had set in, where entry-level jobs are increasingly scarce, and a college education makes sense because it does give you a leg up on the (increasingly fierce) competition.

I think lots of "learning a trade" degrees could be learnt on-the-job, but that's just not what our system is oriented to. I can't speak to the whole liberal arts degree thing. Maybe people should have to pay money for those? Never understood why people invested the time and money in a degree that wouldn't help them get a job -- but then again I've never had anything to fall back on, had to borrow my way through school, and knew from the get-go that someday I'd have to pay back those loans.

(I will say, though, that since graduating, I've been reading literary fiction like a fiend, which was pretty much always part of the plan)
posted by Afroblanco at 11:29 AM on February 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think lots of "learning a trade" degrees could be learnt on-the-job, but that's just not what our system is oriented to.

Of course not. It wouldn't make sense for me as an employer to pay, in the form of paid time training and resources spent on someone to teach you or even less than productivity, than I get out of experienced employees when I can get you and/or the government to pay for it instead.
posted by VTX at 11:36 AM on February 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Join the Mobile Infantry and save the Galaxy. Service guarantees citizenship. Would you like to know more?
posted by Brocktoon at 11:37 AM on February 3, 2011 [14 favorites]


I disagree. This philosophy goes back to the Greeks.

One Sophist is said to have snorted when he was asked to cut the cost of attending his disquisitions: "I cannot cut my course into slices. The finest fish are sold whole." I don't think what you're saying is entirely accurate.
posted by blucevalo at 11:37 AM on February 3, 2011


Hoopo: Will it ever suffice for Americans to be "among the best" at anything rather than the foam-finger #1 all-star champs of the world?

Are you saying the foam finger is a lie?

*sobs*
posted by filthy light thief at 11:41 AM on February 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


Afroblanco: I think lots of "learning a trade" degrees could be learnt on-the-job, but that's just not what our system is oriented to.

Well, to be fair, I think the university system is better than that. If you learn your trade on the job, you learn nothing -but- your trade. You get people who can do the job competently, but are totally ignorant outside of that one area of knowledge.

The only problem I have with the 'college is the new high school' paradigm is the cost and debt burden it imposes (which I think could be dealt with, at least in part, with more community colleges and greater acceptance of them.) Our society can only be made better by having higher education become more pervasive.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:44 AM on February 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


student choice does seem to have a significant role in cost increases, at least at the higher end of the tuition spectrum. If you ask representatives from colleges that are at the forefront of the amenities arms race why they're doing what they're doing, I can guarantee you that the answer is going to boil down to "well, that's what [we think] students expect." They're spending millions on facilities -- which are being paid for with tuition increases -- because they think that they can attract more applicants

This is all true, but administrations should still be blamed (at least as much as students) for the existence of this student-as-consumer marketing-wars dynamic. If any significant proportion of institutions' administrations just refused to sell themselves on amenities, refused to "market" themselves or even think of themselves as competitors with their peer universities, refused to participate in the U.S. News rankings wars and the selectivity stats games, refused to talk about education in terms of "efficiency" and "productivity" in the terms of management theory — in short, if they refused to think of themselves basically as purveyors of a commodified education — then we wouldn't be where we are now.
posted by RogerB at 11:48 AM on February 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


I love to go back and read comments when the total is over 75 of them. Then I check to see how many actually deal with the specifics of the post itself and how many by contrast wander off to slightly related or non-related topics.

The two best things that happened to American education:
The land grant act
and the G.I. Bill for Education after WWII.
posted by Postroad at 11:50 AM on February 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't think what you're saying is entirely accurate.

To be more clear: higher education has always had (big) problems. Pre-WWII, it was too often a place for the elite to make connections with other elites (secret societies, eating clubs, etc.) And the professoriate was already starting down the road of specialization and professionalization that has led to today's unreadable academic jargon. But the problems of today are, I think, due to the fact that there is essentially no one involved in higher education in any great numbers who cares about liberal education classically understood, while back in the day it used to at least get lip service and used to, perhaps often by sheer inertia, hold some sway over what a university looked like and how people saw it.
posted by fugitivefromchaingang at 11:54 AM on February 3, 2011


blucevalo: Reminds me of when a sophist asked Socrates how he could claim his wisdom was worth anything, since he did not charge anything for it. Socrates is said to have replied:

"[I]t is generally accepted among us with regard to beauty and wisdom that there is an honorable and a shameful way of bestowing them. For to offer one's beauty for money to all comers is called prostitution; but we think it virtuous to become friendly with a lover who is known to be someone of honor. That's how it is with wisdom. Those who offer it to all comers for money are known as Sophists, prostitutes of wisdom, but we think that he who makes a friend of one whom he knows to be gifted by nature, and teaches him all the good he can, fulfills the duty of a citizen and a gentleman."

Obviously this isn't a viable model for educating the public, but it does suggest a different philosophical basis than mercenary sophistry. Also, it's easily the classiest example I've ever read of one person calling another person a whore.
posted by Grimgrin at 11:54 AM on February 3, 2011 [16 favorites]


Well, to be fair, I think the university system is better than that. If you learn your trade on the job, you learn nothing -but- your trade. You get people who can do the job competently, but are totally ignorant outside of that one area of knowledge.

Total canard. My education was very technical. Yes, I had the standard battery of electives, and those were fun and (somewhat) educational. But honestly? I've learned so much more since graduating, just from reading good books and staying up on science, current events, and history. That all comes from innate curiosity; when I graduated college, I decided to learn all the things I would have learned had I studied something more humanities-based. And I just never stopped.

You know what? I don't regret a damn thing. I made the right decision. And you know what? I'm always in situations where I want to talk books with people, and they're all like, "yeah, I read that back in college, but it was so long ago and I don't remember anything." And it makes me glad that I discovered literature later in life.
posted by Afroblanco at 11:54 AM on February 3, 2011 [4 favorites]


Well, if you are NYU Columbia, you buy the village Harlem building by building in one fell swoop.

This comment (and the one it came from) remind me of dot coms in the boom years. Amazon, for example, poured money into anything that would encourage (or prevent inhibition of) corporate growth. Gold-plated servers, corporate acquisitions, etc. As a result, they had a dominant market position when the money dried up - they were able to build their infrastructure and acquire customers when it was cheap, when the cost of money, for them, was near zero.

Once the dot-com meltdown happened in 2001, Amazon became thrifty (they focused on commodity PC servers - I think HP - over Sun Enterprise whatevers, laid off many non-core employees, and closed the expensive Seattle distribution center).

I see a parallel with the universities. Money is free(-er) than for them than for other businesses (and I include non-profits as businesses), so it makes perfect sense for universities to spend on growth and future stability (such as purchasing the neighborhoods around them).

Perhaps when money becomes more expensive, they will do what Amazon did, and focus on their core business.
posted by zippy at 11:54 AM on February 3, 2011


...but are the parents going into debt?
Most universities figure-in a Parent-Plus loan (in addition to the student's Stafford loans) as part of the yearly "financial assistance" package. So, yes, it's expected that parents also take-on debt.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:58 AM on February 3, 2011


Join the Mobile Infantry and save the Galaxy. Service guarantees citizenship. Would you like to know more?

If you can't afford school, that's certainly the alternative we have now.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:03 PM on February 3, 2011


I dropped out after 3 years of school because of money problems. All I know is that I'd be doing better, financially and career-wise, if I had just never gone in the first place.

My old classmates, the ones who just graduated in '10? Those kids are SOO fucked right now.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 12:04 PM on February 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


To add a bit of history (indeed, learned at a university):

Universities were once places for
scholars - primarily clerics - to get together to discuss theology, law and maybe some other stuff if they still had time. And they went on like this for several hundred years. Only a very few clerics went to university, of course; the promotion of seminary and/or university training for clerics was post-Reformation movement.

it was really in the 18th century that universities, in Britain at least, began to become finishing schools for genteel young men, as well as continuing to be a training ground for clerics and (some lawyers). (I don't know when lawyers began to be primarily university trained, rather than training at the inns of court or something).

But what are they supposed to be now? Still a place to train clerics -- and scientists and historians and engineers and researchers? But most of our students won't go on to do those things. A finishing school, only now for the middle class? I realise that is how many people think of the "college experience" both before and after; I can't say that this seems like a worthy public investment. Or is a university a research institution, occasionally annoyed by these whiny creatures called undergraduates who seem to think that they should receive some teaching, just because they pay (at least a chunk of) the bills?

We have to talk about what a university is - why is it important, what does it have to offer for society, who truly benefits from a university education and who is just forced to go by credential inflation. the medieval university knew what it was (eventually); the nineteenth century one did too. but what is the purpose of a university in the 21st century?
posted by jb at 12:09 PM on February 3, 2011 [8 favorites]


I wonder if the skilled laborers of old feudal societies actually noticed how slowly and methodically the old corporations(kingdoms) lulled them into indentured servitude. I'm sure the origins seemed as well-meaning as our college loans.
posted by any major dude at 12:12 PM on February 3, 2011


That all comes from innate curiosity; when I graduated college, I decided to learn all the things I would have learned had I studied something more humanities-based.

Is this really innate, though? I don't want to say that you decided to learn these things only because of your college electives--I suspect that your pre-college education, formal and informal had a lot to do with it--but that kind of curiosity is what the liberal arts claim they are trying to instill with those electives (and broad pre-college curricula).
posted by Marty Marx at 12:18 PM on February 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


It would be interesting to see what effect removing the exemption for educational loan debt from the bankruptcy laws would have on the price escalation. As long as edu debt is not forgivable under bankruptcy, there nothing keeping the system from requiring ever-escalating debt-loads on students.

Students don't want to take-on huge debt (despite the fancy spin provided up-thread) They simply see no good way to avoid it.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:20 PM on February 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


When I started in academe, the figure of 1/3 was bandied about as the approximate proportion of cost borne by the student. Today, it is over 50% even at my public university.

At my school system (one of the biggest in the US), it's gone from 100% state supported (no tuition in the 60s) to 80% student tuition supported this year. People are angry at the administration for trying to raise tuition (I just sat in on a contentious public meeting about that). Other people get upset that professors are now rewarded for bringing in money (grants) as opposed to being good teachers. But the same people aren't the slightest bit upset that the legislature has completely dropped the ball on state support.

Where do you think the money is supposed to come from? Our union pickets and goes crazy on the first two, and you hear crickets sound when you mention the latter. And I don't think that the real cost of an education here has gone up very much, it's just that the state has decided to support it as little as possible.

It's the state legislators that people should be mad at. Stop killing the messengers.
posted by overhauser at 12:27 PM on February 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


This being Forbes and the opinion of a Management School Dean, you won't hear any mention of the culpability of the banks, the rising financial sector interest in higher education and the infiltration of "management theory" into university leadership.

This is at least part of it; academia is on board with the decades-long movement to run everything "like a business".
posted by steambadger at 12:32 PM on February 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


That list of college football coaches salaries is mind-boggling. My alma mater, New Mexico State has had four winning seasons in 40 years (2-9 last year, 3-9, 3-10 the two years before) and still the coach gets $375,000. While that's down on the list (91st), it doesn't begin to match the complete incompetence of the teams. I can be one of the absolute worst in my profession and make hundreds of thousands?
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 12:33 PM on February 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


I wonder if the skilled laborers of old feudal societies actually noticed how slowly and methodically the old corporations(kingdoms) lulled them into indentured servitude.

Say what now? This just doesn't jive with any reading of history of which I'm aware. If you're talking about serfdom, that was largely for the unskilled. Skilled laborers were part of guilds, which constituted a significant social, economic, and political force in the Middle Ages. "Indentured servitude" as such was actually a much more modern financial device associated with the colonial period, but still associated with the unskilled.

In short, what the hell are you on about?
posted by valkyryn at 12:33 PM on February 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


Is this really innate, though?

Well, I was a highschool dropout, so I don't think highschool helped very much! Actually, in my personal case, it was a combination of innate curiosity, sudden access to information (HELLO broadband internet!), and being surrounded by people who were better-educated than me (and feeling a little intimidated by it)

But my main point is that it would be really really cool if we could separate "job training" from "education." Job training has a specific goal in mind, and I think all young people should be given some form of this. Education should be seen as a lifelong thing, and for some people maybe secondary to job training, depending on their interests.
posted by Afroblanco at 12:33 PM on February 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


One other issue not brought up but germane to the plight of universities in the US. We often speak as though educating undergraduates is the core mission of a university. But that's like saying the core mission of Microsoft is selling operating systems. Without coders writing new software, there would be nothing to sell. Universities are where knowledge is manufactured. Nowhere else is pure knowledge valued and rewarded. Without that function, colleges and universities would be stuck teaching what we knew 300 years ago. This critical function of academe is what is lost when faculty are criticized for bringing in grants to do research "instead of teaching". Where the hell do people think the content comes from? The Bible? Well, I guess some do.
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:35 PM on February 3, 2011 [5 favorites]


It's the state legislators that people should be mad at.

Well, actually, if we're going there, it's ourselves we should be mad at for holding state legislators to the ultimatum that there should be no new taxes to support education. They wouldn't be deciding not to support education if there weren't sufficient evidence to show that withholding support was a popular move in a time of economic stagnation.
posted by blucevalo at 12:36 PM on February 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


This just doesn't jive with any reading

Common mistake. The word is "jibe".
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:36 PM on February 3, 2011


Mental Wimp: No, that was brought up repeatedly in this thread. Mostly people questioning "Does it make sense to combine the functions of education and research?". Now in cases where a large portion of those studying are themselves going on to do research, it makes perfect sense. But that's not the situation we have today.
posted by Grimgrin at 12:47 PM on February 3, 2011


Higher education is not just about job training. It's also about networking, becoming an educated person, and moving up in social class (which is about a lot more than just money). Even if the net present value of a college education has a negative expectation for lifetime earnings after accounting for opportunity costs, it's a price that many people would still willingly pay for the bump in social status.
posted by Jacqueline at 12:55 PM on February 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


a larger and larger proportion of faculty labor has taken place off the tenure track, becoming adjunctified, casualized, de-benefited, and turned into poverty-level contingent work with no job security

I've mentioned this anecdote before, but I knew an instructor at American University (not sure if she was classified as a TA, adjunct, or something else) who also worked at Starbucks and would sometimes wear the green apron to class. When students asked why, she'd tell them that Starbucks, unlike the university, provided health insurance.
posted by exogenous at 12:57 PM on February 3, 2011 [21 favorites]


Having scanned the article and not seen data comparing the rate of growth of specific items, I looked for his CV and found very little -- he's been in b-school administration for 20 years. While these are indeed some of the competing hypotheses for costs and cost-effectiveness, without actual data this is all just guesses with a focus on the guesses with more feel-good.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 1:03 PM on February 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, actually, if we're going there, it's ourselves we should be mad at for holding state legislators to the ultimatum that there should be no new taxes to support education.

Which brings us back to the question: why do we need new taxes to support to schools? Where were the old taxes going?
posted by Melismata at 1:03 PM on February 3, 2011


Not enough jobs to meet the demand; BA becomes a ticket to admission. Fewer jobs lead to greater and more desperate competition, thus people are willing to pay more and more for it. The finance industry sucks up more and more of the money you make as a result of the college degree. Fancy word for this situation is "rent seeking entities."

The problem is not enough jobs, and the finance sector profits off it. That's it. These other things talked about in this thread are the symptoms.
posted by wuwei at 1:05 PM on February 3, 2011 [5 favorites]


The problem is not enough jobs, and the finance sector profits off it. That's it. These other things talked about in this thread are the symptoms.

Yeah, uh, no. It may be true that the finance sector is profiting off the scarcity of jobs, but it doesn't make sense to say that this caused the scarcity of jobs. That would seem to need to come from somewhere else. Profiting off other people's unemployment is shitty, but it isn't the same thing as putting them out of work.
posted by valkyryn at 1:08 PM on February 3, 2011


Yeah, uh, no. It may be true that the finance sector is profiting off the scarcity of jobs, but it doesn't make sense to say that this caused the scarcity of jobs. That would seem to need to come from somewhere else. Profiting off other people's unemployment is shitty, but it isn't the same thing as putting them out of work.

Huh. If only we knew why the bottom of our economy mysteriously dropped out.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 1:12 PM on February 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Which brings us back to the question: why do we need new taxes to support to schools? Where were the old taxes going?

Why indeed. Why do we need to have taxes for anything?
posted by blucevalo at 1:13 PM on February 3, 2011


>>Football coaches>>

I believe at most schools, revenue generating sports are in essence a separate business. They fund themselves through ticket sales, TV contracts, alumni donations, etc. So the coaches million dollar salary is not coming out of anyone's lab budget at the University. Now, you can certainly argue that there are better uses for that million bucks, but it is not contributing to the escalation of the cost of a college education.
posted by COD at 1:15 PM on February 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


but it doesn't make sense to say that this caused the scarcity of jobs.

I'd say that the scarcity of jobs is caused by our insistence on increasing the population. What are we up to now, 300 million?
posted by Melismata at 1:17 PM on February 3, 2011


Which brings us back to the question: why do we need new taxes to support to schools? Where were the old taxes going?

For the most part, two things IMO.

1) the aging baby boomer population bubble and their increased usage of entitlement and pension benefits is eating a larger share of tax receipts.

2) the refusal of those same people to pay taxes now for the same benefits they enjoyed and needed as young adults, the primary thing being higher education. Remember, marginal tax rates are at historic lows. (But don't tell that to my angry retiree uncle, who got a free college education through the GI Bill, uses medicare and social security benefits to survive, and thinks that all taxation is stealing).
posted by overhauser at 1:18 PM on February 3, 2011 [14 favorites]


Huh. If only we knew why the bottom of our economy mysteriously dropped out.

Our current economic climate has certainly caused a spike in college enrollment but the dramatic rise in tuition costs predate that collapse by at least two decades.
posted by VTX at 1:24 PM on February 3, 2011


Huh. If only we knew why the bottom of our economy mysteriously dropped out.

The collapse of viable jobs for the American working class is a long and controversial topic not really suited to this kind of quip. Nor is it something that suddenly appeared in 2008, or even the beginning of the housing bubble in the late 1990s. Manufacturing jobs have been in decline for decades, and the reasons for that are a derail.
posted by valkyryn at 1:28 PM on February 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


Which brings us back to the question: why do we need new taxes to support to schools? Where were the old taxes going?

We need new taxes to replace the taxes that have been cut by legislatures year-after-year.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:31 PM on February 3, 2011 [5 favorites]


If there were some (legal) means of preventing anyone form going to college until age, oh, 25, 30, I suspect a lot of the demand would go down. Or at least it would get you a more demanding student body.

Something for when I become Emperor of the World.
posted by IndigoJones at 1:46 PM on February 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


We need new taxes to replace the taxes that have been cut by legislatures year-after-year.

That would certainly fit well with a progressive narrative, but it is unfortunately not actually true.

Take a look at historic federal receipts and outlays. Look at, say, 1950. The federal government had a revenue of $370 billion that year (2005 dollars), serving a population of 150 million people. In 2009, there were twice as many people in the country, but we brought in $1.9 trillion, over five times as much revenue. Sure, that's down a bit from the height of the boom, but the historic trend is moderately increased taxation even including various tax cuts over the past 30 years.

So where's the money going? Well debt service, for one thing. We spent $164 billion on it in 2010. That's a growing sector of the budget. And Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security expenditures are just through the roof. The first two went from non-existent in 1965 to almost 4% of GDP today. Likewise, Social Security cost us $11 billion in 1960 and $615 billion in 2008.

Over time, tax revenues are up. Not as high as they would be if certain tax cuts hadn't been passed, to be sure, but they're still up over time, and not passing those cuts would not have made up for the massive increases in spending we've seen over the past fifty years. Moderately increased taxation does not pay for massively increased spending.
posted by valkyryn at 1:48 PM on February 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Take a look at historic federal receipts and outlays...
I was referring to state legislatures. The ones, by and large, responsible for directly financing universities.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:52 PM on February 3, 2011


From the article:
Happily, free market capitalism abhors a vacuum, so the increasing cost of education has inevitably given rise to alternatives, including a new, for-profit college industry. There are today about 2 million students enrolled in institutions like the University of Phoenix, Corinthian, Kaplan and DeVry University

Huh? Happily, students are getting ripped off by worthless for-profit schools? Statements like that kill any credibility this author if he thinks that people are getting educated at places like Phoenix.
posted by octothorpe at 2:02 PM on February 3, 2011 [4 favorites]


One of the things he mentions in the article is getting rid of libraries, because students will "have every book at their fingertips" online. Has he ever even bothered to visit a university library? Until Google scans every book in existence, it's a place to keep that rare copy of a 1930s Chinese science fiction allegory, not a substitute for Borders. He seems to completely miss the function of universities as repositories of information, rather than simply technical training grounds.
posted by Tubalcain at 2:10 PM on February 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


Afroblanco: Total canard. My education was very technical. Yes, I had the standard battery of electives, and those were fun and (somewhat) educational. But honestly? I've learned so much more since graduating, just from reading good books and staying up on science, current events, and history.

A couple of points:

1. I have to suspect that your education, although technical, certainly helped you learn on your own after school. It is very difficult to build up your education from nothing.

2. Some people can educate themselves effectively (obviously, or we'd never have advanced.) However, this is not necessarily something that is true of most people.
posted by Mitrovarr at 2:34 PM on February 3, 2011


And like any business, universities want to remain competitive on the salaries they pay their faculty. That gives rise to the comparative faculty salary survey. Since no university wants its faculty paid in the bottom half of their comparator group, the effect of every survey is to raise average salaries. It's the Lake Wobegon effect: No one can be below average.

What a fucking crock of shit. There are always universities in the bottom half of comparisons- it's IMPOSSIBLE that they're not- but the idea that faculty salaries are to blame for rising costs of higher ed is ridiculous. The fact is that even at the lowest-paying colleges, there will always be far more people applying for faculty positions than there are positions. One place I was shortlisted at (but was not hired) got 190 applicants for a tenure-track position that paid, in 1995 dollars, $30,000 a year. They had at least a hundred applicants who could have, and willingly would have, filled that position. There are hundreds- thousands- of similar stories in academia (and that's just in the US). Only elite schools have the luxury of raising faculty salaries to be competitive. The rest? Low pay, high teaching loads, furloughs, and they STILL have unending queues of desperate applicants wiling to debase themselves for a job.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 3:49 PM on February 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


One expense no one ever seems to mention is IT. At my university there are now five IT employees for every faculty member. Twenty years ago, the ratio was 1:5. That's a massive increase in full-time, benefits-earning staff, and it has to be paid for somehow. Add in the continuous purchase of hardware, the continuous upgrading and revamping of software, fitting hundreds of classrooms with PCs and projectors, costly deals with vendors (Free Photoshop for everyone with a University ID!) and it really starts to add up.

BTW my university is PROUD of the fact that they continue to pay their faculty the lowest salaries in our NCAA conference. They brag about it to visiting parents, to make it seem like they're offering a good deal.


posted by philokalia at 4:33 PM on February 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


(and in spite of the rock bottom salaries, we still get 150+ applicants for assistant professor positions in super-obscure humanities fields....)
posted by philokalia at 4:35 PM on February 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm adjunct. I teach a full load (5 courses over 2 semesters). My wages are well below the poverty line ($15,000/year). My classrooms are always full. Students take my courses because they know I will be teaching them. I bring students into my program. I have NO benefits. I typically have no office, only a cubicle. I do get a 50% discount on my parking.... I guess that's something. Adjuncts are certainly not getting the tuition. Over 50% of the courses in my department are taught by adjuncts and teaching assistants. I wish I could keep my job. I love my job. I love the subject matter and dear god, I love my students. But this is looking more and more like my abusive marriage. He treats me like shit, but I keep sticking around because I love him.
posted by madred at 4:40 PM on February 3, 2011 [9 favorites]


Supply and demand. In the last ~20 years a BS/BA has been viewed by more and more to be required to get a good job, so more and more kids are looking at college as mandatory. Especially in light of the lack of manufacturing jobs and the destruction of the strength of unions in the US


One expense no one ever seems to mention is IT. At my university there are now five IT employees for every faculty member. Twenty years ago, the ratio was 1:5. That's a massive increase in full-time, benefits-earning staff, and it has to be paid for somehow.

This isn't just universities. I work for a govt. agency. There are about 400 employees who work for the "core" business function (directly in support of doing what we were created to do), and 800 people in the "support" group - IT, HR, janitorial, etc. I don't know what that number should be, but it stands out to me that more attention is given to our non-core function groups than our core function groups.
posted by SirOmega at 4:42 PM on February 3, 2011


I don't know what that number should be, but it stands out to me that more attention is given to our non-core function groups than our core function groups.

Your Windows exchange server certainly isn't going to keep itself running.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 4:44 PM on February 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeesh, I just read that back to myself. WAYYY too snarky. What I guess I meant to say is that running a business with modern tech and labor standards requires pretty hefty expenditures in support.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 4:48 PM on February 3, 2011


I agree, software isn't going to support itself. But how many people does it take to run a group of servers. How much do you really need if you were to start your IT department over from scratch?

Authentication system (LDAP/AD)
Mail/Cal system (Exchange, Notes, Cloud based)
VM Cluster to support LoB apps (Inventory tracking, HR, Class registration system)
File servers

Helpdesk
Network support (wired/wireless)
Field Hardware Support (broken computers, printers, copy machines, etc)

The issue is that a lot of big companies now both buy *and* customize the LoB software they use in house. So you spend money on the purchase, maintenance agreement for the software, plus a bunch of programmers to customize it to your needs. So you get these huge fleets of developers, most of which cant seem to carry their weight, trying to work with some vendor's crappy API to implement something someone is going to use once every six months.
posted by SirOmega at 5:08 PM on February 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm a working adult and I really respect online course delivery.

I have a degree from a prestigious liberal arts college and an even more prestigious grad school, and I recently took an online course through a community college in Northern Virginia fairly recently. It was challenging and interesting, and what really smarts is that I'm still paying back student loans on the undergrad and grad school, and this course was just as challenging (or possibly more so). I believe I learned more in this online course primarily because I knew I was not going to get spoon fed a lecture on the material (there were powerpoints posted in their portal, but that and email and a chatboard for questions was about it). The final exam was proctored in a test center. I studied really hard and took it extremely seriously.

When I discussed this experience with a friend, I was reminded of how coddled we were at our cute New England college. You would have had to have been a moron to get a C. You would have had to not try at all because you were too uninterested and depressed to even try. And I had a major that made people shudder because they were afraid of calculus, analysis, or topics that seemed more challenging than they were. Professors were pretty compassionate and kind and sometimes lenient, even.

On this online course, if you didn't log in to the course site at least once a week, you were automatically dropped from the course. The entire class grade was exclusively based on the proctored tests (each worth 100 and a final, of which there were four plus a final exam (and the final could not be dropped) and he would drop the lowest one, and ten ten point quizzes that were administered on a timed clock. If you didn't finish the quiz in ten minutes, the system shut and submitted whatever you had managed to get to. He posted the final grades on his website (using PIN numbers instead of names) and no one I went to school with was ever given an F (the ones that would have were encouraged and permitted to withdraw and they generally either dropped on their own or were asked to leave school and that was rare). If you didn't do your reading and didn't study and didn't do well on the exam, the online instructor at the community college had no problem giving his faceless online students an F. No extra credit, no partial credit, no cuts, nothing. Either pass the exam or fail.
posted by anniecat at 5:18 PM on February 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hahah that's a good one, janitors, helpdesk and crappy developers are robbing the coffers.
posted by Ad hominem at 5:39 PM on February 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


Huh? Happily, students are getting ripped off by worthless for-profit schools? Statements like that kill any credibility this author if he thinks that people are getting educated at places like Phoenix.

If we are talking job training DeVry ought to be enough right? If we are talking entree into polite society maybe not.I think the poster who said universities need to figure out what they are is right. Sure we all think that an educated society is a laudable goal, but to make a four year liberal arts degree a litmus test for employability is a bit crazy.

Regarding on the job training. In the olden days employees were not expected to be out the door in a year so training was an investment. I'm still not sure what job a liberal arts degree prepares you for. That's why all the want ads say BA and 2+ years of experience.
posted by Ad hominem at 6:03 PM on February 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm still not sure what job a liberal arts degree prepares you for.

Liberal arting?
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 6:06 PM on February 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Liberal arting?

Does it pay enough that I can pay off my loans and still eat?
posted by Ad hominem at 6:09 PM on February 3, 2011


Does it pay enough that I can pay off my loans and still eat?

YOU FOOL.

Of course not. All it means is that you know how to use a semi-colon and you won't embarrass your parents friends too terribly at cocktail parties.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 6:10 PM on February 3, 2011 [1 favorite]



Of course not. All it means is that you know how to use a semi-colon and you won't embarrass your parents friends too terribly at cocktail parties.


My parents friends think I am fancy because I went to college for 2 years and don't wear sneakers to work.
posted by Ad hominem at 6:15 PM on February 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


My parents friends think I am fancy because I went to college for 2 years and don't wear sneakers to work.

Got me beat.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 6:16 PM on February 3, 2011


Come to Australia. The ANU is the best ranked university in Australia, second highest ranked in the world outside the US / UK (behind ETH Zurich), consistently in the top 20 universities in the world (currently above King's College London, and the same level as Stanford when I was there). An undergraduate degree is $22K a year for liberal arts, $26K for pretty much everything else (law, economics, business, engineering etc), so close to the average for a private college education in the US, but from a school that's way above average. Bonus - legal drinking age is 18!
posted by obiwanwasabi at 6:18 PM on February 3, 2011


Mental Wimp: No, that was brought up repeatedly in this thread. Mostly people questioning "Does it make sense to combine the functions of education and research?". Now in cases where a large portion of those studying are themselves going on to do research, it makes perfect sense. But that's not the situation we have today.

That assumes the two are separable. I don't believe they are, at least not if you want both to thrive. The burning interest in a topic is essential to both research and higher education and the path from undergraduate to graduate education is not a quantum jump but a spectrum. To separate the two, you would have to have graduate programs without undergraduates. That means undergraduates would have no opportunity to be exposed to researchers, research, or the vital nature of what they are learning. Undergraduate school would become everywhere like an extension of high school. I realize that it's already like this in some places, but that's not a rationale to extend it. No undergraduates would be exposed to the thinking of real thinkers, and would be taught by people who have only second-hand knowledge. Might as well just have onliine, for-profit teaching, but it would kill graduate education and academic research in this country.
posted by Mental Wimp at 6:31 PM on February 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


A doubling of the total debt after 14 years is actually pretty good. That's a 5-6% increase per year in the amount of debt while tuition prices have been rising like 12-13%.
posted by humanfont at 6:57 PM on February 3, 2011


Of course not. All it means is that you know how to use a semi-colon and you won't embarrass your parents friends too terribly at cocktail parties.

My parent would be embarrassed by the lack of apostrophe for the possessive parents'. No seriously, she would.

I'll see myself out.
posted by sonika at 7:52 PM on February 3, 2011


This is one of the many reasons i don't want to have kids. By 2028, the average cost of a college education will be $5,000,000, and i don't have that kind of scratch. I wurk fer a livin', durnit.
posted by ELF Radio at 7:53 PM on February 3, 2011


In 2009, there were twice as many people in the country, but we brought in $1.9 trillion, over five times as much revenue. Sure, that's down a bit from the height of the boom, but the historic trend is moderately increased taxation even including various tax cuts over the past 30 years.

The most realistic way to look at this is as a percentage of GDP. That's helpfully provided in the link you gave.

Over the period 1940-2009, federal outlay averaged 20.5% of GDP.

It fluctuates a lot year by year for various reasons (ie, massive increase with WWII) but averaging over a whole decade to smooth this out some, we get:

Federal outlay as percentage of GDP:

1940s - 21.4%
1950s - 17.6%
1960s - 18.6%
1970s - 20.1%
1980s - 22.2%
1990s - 20.7%
2000s - 20.0%

So federal spending in the 2000s is lower than the overall 1940-2009 average, about the same as the 70s, and definitely lower than the 80s & 90s.

Federal tax receipts show the same general pattern. The overall average is 17.4% of GDP, and by decade, federal tax receipts as a percentage of GDP:

1940s - 14.4%
1950s - 17.2%
1960s - 17.9%
1970s - 17.9%
1980s - 18.3%
1990s - 18.5%
2000s - 17.6%

So the tax receipts from the 2000s were lower than any of the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s.

As noted above, this is a bit off point, as direct aid to universities is mostly through states, not federal government.

Looking at the similar data for state & local governments, and doing a bit of re-calculation to show this as a percentage of GDP:

1977-79 - 4.9%
1980s - 5.2%
1990s - 5.7%
2000s - 5.8%

(The state data only goes back to 1977.)

This makes me think that the total of federal+state+local taxes is probably pretty constant as a percentage of GDP, and what do you know--since 1977, it is pretty close to that:

Total federal, state, and local receipts as a percentage of GDP:

1977-79 - 23.1%
1980s - 23.5%
1990s - 24.2%
200s - 23.7%
posted by flug at 8:25 PM on February 3, 2011 [7 favorites]


In 2009, there were twice as many people in the country, but we brought in $1.9 trillion, over five times as much revenue. Sure, that's down a bit from the height of the boom, but the historic trend is moderately increased taxation even including various tax cuts over the past 30 years.

No, the trend is not “moderately increased taxation”. Tax revenue has grown by a factor of five because economic output has grown by an even larger factor. Tax rates have fallen drastically. In 1960, the highest marginal tax rate was 91%. In 2009, it was 35%. To put this in perspective: Bill Gates made somewhere around $150 million (this is a rough guess based on past years) in stock dividends last year. The absolute maximum he would have had to pay on this in taxes was $52 million. In 1960, that number would have been $135 million. Does this read like moderately increased taxation over time to you?

So where's the money going? Well debt service, for one thing. We spent $164 billion on it in 2010. That's a growing sector of the budget. And Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security expenditures are just through the roof. The first two went from non-existent in 1965 to almost 4% of GDP today. Likewise, Social Security cost us $11 billion in 1960 and $615 billion in 2008.

Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security expenditures are through the roof because they are now paying benefits to more people than they have ever paid them to before. The baby boomers are now entering their retirement years. For the most part, they are claiming pensions that they have earned in the last forty years by paying their taxes into the system.

I’m more entertained by what you left out of that list of expenditures: the $689 billion spent on the US military in the last year. This number is unbelievably large. It’s bigger than the next 19 biggest military budgets in the world combined, and larger than China’s military budget (the second highest in the world) by a factor of six. A major portion of this funds the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
posted by spitefulcrow at 11:22 PM on February 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


I’m more entertained by what you left out of that list of expenditures: the $689 billion spent on the US military in the last year.

I left that out because military spending, as a percentage of the federal budget, hasn't actually changed all that much since the 1940s. We've spent, adjusted for inflation, between $2.5 billion and $3.5 billion pretty much the whole time, and this isn't the first time defense expenditures have been as high as they are. As the question seemed to be couched as "Why are current levels of taxation no longer adequate?" that seemed to be a logical approach.
posted by valkyryn at 2:20 AM on February 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, and I should mention that something like 10-15% of the budget is actually spent in universities doing basic research. Or, at least, it used to be. The military spent a huge amount on science research in the 1950s-1980s, enough that a lot universities really didn't have to spend anything on their science and engineering departments, meaning they could use donations and endowment money on humanities programs.

That money has significantly dried up since the end of the Cold War, and corporate funding hasn't replaced it. Corporations do spend a lot on R&D, but not nearly as much in universities as the Pentagon did. Lots of it is either in-house or at dedicated R&D corporate outfits, not physics departments. So despite the fact that the universities lost that massive chunk of their revenue, they didn't pare back their science programs, they just started funding them from their main revenue stream, forcing them to compete with humanities programs and driving up tuition.

This phenomenon isn't responsible for all of the increase in tuition, but the current spike in tuition increases started right around the time the Pentagon started spending less on basic research.
posted by valkyryn at 2:25 AM on February 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


There seems to be a lot of snark directed toward liberal arts majors in this thread... I really don't understand why. Sure, liberal arts types aren't contributing as directly to innovation as science & math people, and maybe their skills and knowledge aren't as concrete and measurable. But I think studying history and literature and philosophy and culture and art are important, too. Those people learn about the past accomplishments in their field and become better able to understand and develop creative, progressive ways of thinking about society, art, film, literature, politics, how we live and how we express ourselves... isn't that important too? Culture memory is important, and maybe even provides some philosophical underpinnings for the technological innovations. I think our culture would lose something valuable if all those philosophy majors studied useful subjects like business or marketing instead.

I think the real question is, how can we evolve our society such that having a degree in history or English isn't quite so worthless. More and more of our entry-level, unskilled jobs are going away (for whatever reason), so perhaps the ability to think creatively and draw intuitive, interdisciplinary connections between liberal arts subjects is more essential to the job of the future than you think. Someone has to be able to teach all those younguns about where we came from and where we're going.

[Caveat: Of course, I was one of those head in the clouds liberal arts majors, obviously. I'm not particularly happy with my financial situation now, but before the recession hit I made a decent living with the... liberal arting. It is possible... just incredibly difficult.]
posted by crackingdes at 6:32 AM on February 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


There seems to be a lot of snark directed toward liberal arts majors in this thread... I really don't understand why.

Because I studied journalism for 3 years. Snark is all I have.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 8:16 AM on February 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


But I think studying history and literature and philosophy and culture and art are important, too.

Yes, which is why it's a real shame that universities aren't actually teaching them anymore. Check this out. Liberal arts and hard sciences majors learn more in college than business or education, despite the fact that business and education are, by numbers, the biggest undergraduate programs in the country.

But liberal arts majors themselves aren't necessarily getting all that much out of their degrees either, even by the terms of what constitutes a successful liberal arts course of study. So it isn't terribly surprising that the degrees are perceived as being kind of useless. Sure, history and philosophy don't necessarily have any immediate, professional application, but the theory is that they instill critical thinking and learning skills that are applicable everywhere. But if students aren't even getting that, the whole thing is just a crock of shit.
posted by valkyryn at 8:20 AM on February 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Very interesting article, thank you. My work is related to higher ed and I've been thinking about this a lot recently. Perhaps this is getting a bit too far afield, but maybe one of the reasons for the situation described in the article, is that it doesn't really matter how much students learn in college? The same kind of social environment that privileges business majors over liberal arts also rewards the behavior that characterizes those students.

The student who spends their time delving into the great works, exploring their curiosity, broadening their horizons... or as the article says, "deep engagement with complex ideas and texts, difficult and often solitary study, the discipline to write, revise, and write again"... may find that despite the joy of expanding their mind, graduation will see them with few job opportunities, so they starve while paying for that degree. Meanwhile, the student that spent their time doing business internships and networking through their frat house learns much less, but graduates with a job offer in hand.

The benefits of the first approach certainly accrue over time, but with such a shaky social infrastructure in place, it can be hard to get there.
posted by crackingdes at 9:15 AM on February 4, 2011


Let's be fair. Basketball coaches get a good chunk of change as well.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:17 PM on February 4, 2011


This isn't remarkable. In fact, it is exactly what classical, supply-and-demand economics would predict.

Most of us understand why the government can't just print more money. The price of everything would just go up.

This is exactly the same scenario. The only difference is that in this case, the government is printing a special kind of money -- money that can only be used for one thing. It is no surprise when then price of that thing just goes up accordingly.

Subsidies (i.e., cheap loans) increase demand. Increased demand causes the price to rise.

Consider:

* The US massively subsidizes education. The price of education rises far beyond the rate of inflation.

* The US massively subsidizes housing. The price of housing rises far beyond the rate of education.

* The US massively subsidizes health care. The price of health care rises far beyond the rate of inflation. (Except, of course, the kinds of health care -- like cosmetic surgery -- that do not typically get subsidized. Costs in these areas have plummeted.)

Pointing this out inevitably draws attacks, like:

Wow, blaming the victim AND "what we need is to make it even harder for the poorest students" all in one theory! Kudos to you, sir.

I don't pretend to have an answer to this dilemma. The only really clear thing is that the laws of supply and demand aren't *statutory* laws, that can just be altered with a pen and a lot of hand-waving. They are fundamental natural laws, and well-intentioned attempts to manipulate markets (from student loans to price-control regimes) almost always trigger equal and opposite consequences.

The real shame is that important issues like these are so easily demagogued. Even though the system is clearly broken, no politician in his right mind would ever propose changing it. "Look!" people would scream. "He hates poor people!"

- aj
posted by Alaska Jack at 2:46 PM on February 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Cheap loans may indeed be part of the problem. Or rather, unlimited loans, just as in housing.

Whereas direct subsidies to education in the form of state support led to low costs for tertiary education throughout the developed world after WWII. Subsidised loans are a bad way to fund education -- if we want to have accessible tertiary education, it should be funded like primary and secondary education.
posted by jb at 3:28 PM on February 4, 2011


There seems to be a lot of snark directed toward liberal arts majors in this thread... I really don't understand why.

I didn't intend any snark, although I could see how it came across that way. Apologies. It was just more a general puzzlement as to why someone would choose to spend their education time and money learning something that won't help them get a job, especially since a lot of the liberal-arts-type-stuff can be learned outside of school. I mean, granted, I've had to read a lot of great books without the guidance of a teacher or discussion forum. Likewise, I've had to learn about art by going to museums and forming my own completely subjective opinion. I'll admit, it's embarrassing when I mispronounce things that I've only ever encountered in books. But honestly? So glad I went to school for CS instead of anthro (which I actually was considering at the time).

Different strokes, I guess.
posted by Afroblanco at 3:34 PM on February 4, 2011


I should also mention that I'm equally puzzled as to why someone would go to school for business. I mean, business? Really? Can't you learn that by ... working? Or starting a business? I guess if you're going to one of the elite institutions, it probably helps with networking. But if you really wanted to go into business, wouldn't it make more sense to study whatever business you want to go into -- like biology for biotech, CS for computers, engineering for machines -- and then just get out into the field?
posted by Afroblanco at 3:39 PM on February 4, 2011


All businesses have certain things in common; the need for accounting, economic analysis (so you can decide how to allocate resources), contract and employment law issues, capital formation and so on. That's what they teach in business school, although networking is also a big attraction. These things are not obvious, and a failure to appreciate their importance is a major factor in the failure of small businesses or the difficulties facing the self-employed person. It's not that 'the system' is set up to screw smaller businesses so much as people being terribly ignorant of how the economic system functions and thus not having a good understanding of how to run their business. I have worked for a bunch of companies that failed to understand this, and found it all hopelessly perplexing for years. The thing is, we all know the basics of buying things we need with the money we get for selling our labor, and since business involves buying and selling we tend to assume we understand business as a general thing and just need to build up the skills unique to the particular business we find interesting - cooking for restaurants, mechanical engineering for widgets, and so on. This assumption is hopelessly wrong, and smart people can fall into this trap as easily as anybody else - maybe more so, because smart people think they can handle all of that stuff themselves. I'm great at math, but that doesn't make me good at financial planning.

Fortunately, you don't have to go to business school. You can either hire someone who knows what they're doing (and hope that you're a good judge of character and value for money), or you can do what I did - face up to my own ignorance and hit the books. Not the super-expensive college textbooks, although some of them are excellent (and can easily be found cheap if you buy used). Get college review books. I have found these consistently excellent. If you look on Amazon you should be able to get all 7 of them, new, for under $100 - which would make an outstanding business library. But even non-business people would get good value from one or two of them. I've never seen them in a bookstore and don't recall spotting them in the library either; I think they're mostly sold through college bookstores or something.
posted by anigbrowl at 8:14 PM on February 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm equally puzzled as to why someone would go to school for business. I mean, business? Really? Can't you learn that by ... working?

Businesses now use college degrees as proxy requirements because high school diplomas are, on average, worthless as indicators of how willing and able a given potential hire will be to show up on time, not cuss at the public/their boss, and do a reasonable job of learning on the fly. Given that a decent of college students can barely read when they get to college, this makes a certain amount of sense. In short: business degrees are for people who really don't need to be in college except for the fact that they need a box checked on their resume before anyone will hire them due to the collapse of secondary education standards.
posted by valkyryn at 7:41 AM on February 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


In short: business degrees are for people who really don't need to be in college except for the fact that they need a box checked on their resume before anyone will hire them due to the collapse of secondary education standards.

I would add that students who get business degrees are mostly interested in becoming a highly paid executive, not starting and running a small business that will stay small. For the latter, you don't really need college. For the former, many go on to get the evil MBA degree. (Oh, yes, I said that. And I am trolling there.)
posted by Mental Wimp at 9:16 AM on February 8, 2011


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