Join 3,431 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Bad Education
May 17, 2011 9:00 AM   Subscribe

The Higher Education (Debt) Bubble - "[H]igh and increasing college costs mean students need to take out more loans, more loans mean more securities lenders can package and sell, more selling means lenders can offer more loans with the capital they raise, which means colleges can continue to raise costs. The result is over $800 billion in outstanding student debt, over 30 percent of it securitized, and the federal government directly or indirectly on the hook for almost all of it. If this sounds familiar, it probably should...

"What happens when the kids can't pay? ... The projected results are staggering: recorded defaults for the class of 2008 will nearly double, from 7 to 13.8 percent. With fewer and fewer students having the income necessary to pay back loans (except by taking on more consumer debt), a massive default looks closer to inevitable... higher education, for-profit or not, has increasingly become a scam."

While the prospects for debt slavery and modern-day indentured servitude are alarming, perhaps just as concerning is the increasing use of (facile) corporate management techniques by administrators to run the university like a business:
Formerly, administrators were more or less teachers with added responsibilities; nowadays, they function more like standard corporate managers—and they're paid like them too... Even at nonprofit schools, top-level administrators and financial managers pull down six- and seven-figure salaries, more on par with their industry counterparts than with their fellow faculty members. And while the proportion of tenure-track teaching faculty has dwindled, the number of managers has skyrocketed... the Department of Education estimates that by 2014 there will be more administrators than instructors at American four-year nonprofit colleges...

When you hire corporate managers, you get managed like a corporation... we have, in Bousquet's words, "the entrepreneurial urges, vanity, and hobbyhorses of administrators: Digitize the curriculum! Build the best pool/golf course/stadium in the state! Bring more souls to God! Win the all-conference championship!" ... Students apparently have received the message loud and clear, as business has quickly becomethe nation's most popular major.
BONUS
  • On the Bubble - "students have been willing to incur almost any debt load in pursuit of the credentials offered in higher education because those credentials appear to be the only way to secure a middle-class life... increasing numbers of undergraduates will graduate with student debt that will take decades to pay off, assuming they can find work at all. And many will feel compelled to incur still more debt for graduate training, with little subsequent improvement in their prospects"
  • Number of the Week: Class of 2011, Most Indebted Ever - "The Class of 2011 will graduate this spring from America's colleges and universities with a dubious distinction: the most indebted ever."
  • Study: Public, College Presidents Split - "The general public and university presidents disagree about the purpose of college, who ought to pay for it and whether today's students are getting their money's worth, a pair of surveys showed."
  • Is College Worth It? - "A majority of Americans (57%) say the higher education system in the United States fails to provide students with good value for the money they and their families spend. An even larger majority (75%) says college is too expensive for most Americans to afford. At the same time, however, an overwhelming majority of college graduates (86%) say that college has been a good investment for them personally."
  • The Value of College - "These interactive charts explore the attitudes of the public and of college presidents about the value, cost, quality, mission and payoff of higher education."
  • Interactive Map: Return on Educational Investment - "To spark a national dialogue about educational productivity, we've attempted to evaluate the return on investment (ROI) of almost every major school district in the country. By productivity, we mean how much learning a district produces for every dollar spent, after controlling for factors such as cost of living and students in poverty."
  • The Right Connection Between Housing Policy And Education - "Ultimately if your specific concern is delivering high-quality public services to poor people (who are, after all, the people who need them most) then you need to spend some time worrying about a state of play in this country that largely prices poor people out of wherever the quality of life is high."
  • Teacher Quality In Finland - "whatever approach you favor, if you're talking about Finland (or South Korea or Singapore) you're necessarily having a conversation about how to get different people into the profession than the ones who are currently there"
  • Trust For Teachers - "In Finland there are no standardized tests. In fact, there is really very little testing at all. Finnish teachers are not monitored or rated based on test scores, and teachers (as well as their students) have a great deal of autonomy. It is a system built on trust, and the film really drives home the notion that trust –rather than faux accountability – leads to real results, leads to teachers and students and members of government all wanting to live up to the trust given to them rather than simply scraping by."
  • The Consequences of the First Brain Drain in U.S. History - "The U.S. has long benefited from immigration policies that entice the world's best and brightest to arrive, learn and stay in America. The consequent creative and productive strengths have contributed significantly to the nation's global leadership in countless fields, especially high-tech innovation. But now, for the first time in history, talent appears to be migrating the other way. Not only are foreign nationals returning home after getting a top-flight education in American graduate schools, but U.S. policy now actually encourages them to take their diplomas and leave. And why shouldn't they? China, India, Chile, Singapore and other nations actively recruit talent – including native U.S. talent – with attractive, career-advancing jobs and abundant research funding. How can America retain valuable human capital? Is high-skill immigration policy reform sufficient? How might it differ from low-skill immigration policy reform? Can more robust STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) curricula in U.S. schools take effect in time to compensate? Expect a lively debate among leaders from public, private and academic sectors with real stakes in this historic development."
  • Craig Barrett, Former Chairman, Intel, Talks About Technology And Education - "You know, at the university level now, about 60 percent of the graduate students in engineering are foreign nationals - 60 percent... which means we're almost [ceding] engineering to foreign countries... At the university level, the worst thing in the world we can do is cut back on basic research in the universities, cut back on the state funding of the universities. That's the work force of the future. You know, and unfortunately, the U.S. is one of the very few countries in the OECD where the 25 to 35-year-old age group is worse educated than my age group."
  • Sleepwalking through America's Unemployment Crisis - "This is much more than a problem for the here and now. High and intractable unemployment has serious negative long-term consequences that threaten to become exponentially worse. This is a crisis. Substantial international research shows that the longer one is unemployed, the harder it is to get a job. This erodes an economy's skills base and saps its long-term productive capacities. And, if unemployment is particularly acute among the young, as is the case today, too many of the unemployed risk becoming unemployable... At its root, America's jobs crisis is the result of many years of under-investment in human resources and the social sectors. The education system has lagged the progress made in other countries. Job retraining initiatives have been woefully inadequate. Labor mobility has been declining. And insufficient attention has been devoted to maintaining an adequate social safety net. These realities were masked by the craziness that characterized America's pre-2008 'Golden Age' of leverage, credit, and debt entitlement... The resulting job creation, though temporary, lulled policymakers into complacency about what was really going on in the labor market... Left to its own devices, America's unemployment problem will deepen. This will widen the already-large gap between the country's haves and have-nots. It will undermine labor's skills and productivity. It will accentuate the burden imposed on the gradually declining number of people who remain in the labor force and have jobs. And it will make it even harder to find a medium-term solution to America's worsening public-debt and deficit dynamics."
  • Innovation: Still full of ideas, but not making jobs - "Americans once led the world in educational attainment, but this is now barely rising while other countries have caught up. That is a key reason why Dale Jorgenson, an economist at Harvard University, reckons overall productivity growth will average 1.5% in the coming decade, down from 2% in the previous two."
  • America's jobless recovery: Useless men - "the government isn't doing what it ought to be doing to make things better. It's not investing in training programmes, and improving the incentive effects of unemployment benefit programmes, and breaking the cycle of poverty and imprisonment in high unemployment communities"
(previously)
posted by kliuless (185 comments total) 212 users marked this as a favorite

 
Well, there goes my work day. Good thing I have tenure.
posted by erniepan at 9:13 AM on May 17, 2011 [21 favorites]


Yep.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:14 AM on May 17, 2011


I'd just been thinking about diving deeper into this issue recently since I'd been seeing articles about it in all of my favourite publications...thanks for this fantastic round-up!
posted by Phire at 9:17 AM on May 17, 2011


30 percent of it securitized, and the federal government directly or indirectly on the hook for almost all of it. If this sounds familiar, it probably should...

IANAE, but what would happen if federal guarantees were written so that they are invalidated by securitizing a loan? Granted, Congress and the Fed will still seize every opportunity to shovel cash at their buddies who are "too big to fail," but wouldn't it at least make some people think twice about skimming the cream off one crop of debt, sticking somebody else with the whey and using the proceeds to do it again?
posted by spacewrench at 9:19 AM on May 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wow, fantastic post. Thanks for bringing it all together.
posted by immlass at 9:21 AM on May 17, 2011


Man, MetaFilter is on a ROLL today. This is an amazing post I'll probably be digesting all summer. Thank you.
posted by absalom at 9:28 AM on May 17, 2011


The University of Washington, a state school facing a massive budget shortfall due to the state pulling funding, is actively prioritizing out-of-state matriculations, as non-residents pay much higher tuitions.

This leaves the state's best and brightest who want to a good education at a modest price in the lurch, forcing them into taking on debt when going to school outside Washington.

I'm really surprised there aren't more parents and students upset about this, but the general privatization of government-run education services is definitely another factor in the debt bubble.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:31 AM on May 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


My 17 year old son just got a brochure from my Alma Mater today. I'm afraid to click these links.
posted by COD at 9:34 AM on May 17, 2011


Two good links not above from zunguzungu: Hyperbole (and Progressive Bloggers) Fail Me: The End of Public Higher Education and Rationally In-Exuberant about Public Higher Ed.


Here's a key graf from the first link: I don’t expect Kevin Drum to have the answers, and we can debate what it will look like when this bubble finally bursts. Some people think it will be a good thing; I think it will be a clusterf*ck for the middle and lower classes. But we all need to open our eyes to the fundamental transformation of American society that it represents. The generation before Drum’s made it possible to get an excellent education even if you couldn’t afford to pay the $9,000 that Stanford charged in 1981. Kevin Drum’s generation enjoyed the benefits of that system and then they dismantled it. My generation is muddling through by going deep into debt. The next generation will not.

And from the second: Did California college students and parents suddenly and abruptly get exuberantly irrational about higher education starting in 1980? Or did Californians simply pass Proposition 13 in 1978, permanently destroying California’s ability to raise the tax revenues necessary to support itself? I think the latter is actually pretty much the whole story. After 1978, the state’s tax base went down substantially, so less money was available for public universities, and so tuition prices went up. This was the choice that was made, and we are now seeing its completely predictable and rational consequences: to pay for a sizable decrease in property taxes, the state of California has dismantled what was once the greatest and most egalitarian system of public higher education in the world. To put it another way, the price of giving tax breaks to people who are wealthy enough to benefit from lower property taxes has meant that the nearly-free education that primarily poor and middle class families were once able to take advantage of, now, is mostly gone.
posted by gerryblog at 9:39 AM on May 17, 2011 [47 favorites]


This may be a stupid question, but it's something that's puzzled me for a while now. I understand that an individual can't write off (if that's the correct terminology) college debt by declaring bankruptcy, so what's to stop them borrowing a huge chunk of money to pay off the college loans then, when the college loans are gone, declaring bankruptcy?
posted by veedubya at 9:39 AM on May 17, 2011


This has been asked and answered in AskMe, veedubya, though I can't find the link. The jist was that unless you were very careful how you did it (and did it over a significantly longer stretch of years than you're probably imagining) your debts couldn't successfully be discharged through bankruptcy in this way, and you may wind up on the hook for fraud in the bargain.
posted by gerryblog at 9:41 AM on May 17, 2011


Ah, here it is.
posted by gerryblog at 9:42 AM on May 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


Student loans can't be written off by declaring bankruptcy, generally speaking.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:43 AM on May 17, 2011


I love reading these links just as I figure out how my wife and I are going to pay for her master's degree.
posted by mkb at 9:45 AM on May 17, 2011


Does this mean the market will crash and people will be able to get degrees for supercheap like houses in neighborhoods full of foreclosures?
posted by mccarty.tim at 9:48 AM on May 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


The jist was that unless you were very careful how you did it (and did it over a significantly longer stretch of years than you're probably imagining) your debts couldn't successfully be discharged through bankruptcy in this way, and you may wind up on the hook for fraud in the bargain.

Also if you are in a situation where it makes sense to declare bankruptcy to get out of debt, it's going to be extremely difficult to get an unsecured loan for $20,000+ (which is apparently the average debt load for a student graduating from a four year university).
posted by burnmp3s at 9:50 AM on May 17, 2011


Can more robust STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) curricula in U.S. schools take effect in time to compensate?

I have my doubts that it can "take effect" period. People who enjoy working in those areas will probably continue to enjoy them, but for those who don't have a native affinity, why bother? It's demanding work, it's difficult for most people to learn to do. It's generally not celebrated in the culture at large (can you think of a widely celebrated American scientist or engineer since Einstein and Edison)? The economic rewards are generally middling, particularly for the difficulty of the investment. And even those who do have that affinity, the call for more people in these fields rings hollow, because it's not driven by any kind of real thirst for progress in those arenas, it's mostly a concern on the part of capital holders that a certain class of skilled labor might become more scarce and (heaven forbid) expensive.

Why is business such a popular major? Most people can see the writing on the cultural wall. The business of America is business.

I think it might be possible we could change our schools so that some larger portion of students are likely to fall in love with STEM fields. But I suspect until the culture at large genuinely values and celebrates them, it's going to be hard to move the dial much from where it is.
posted by weston at 9:52 AM on May 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


Cheers, gerryblog. Looks like it's doable but dicey.
posted by veedubya at 9:53 AM on May 17, 2011


Take an apprenticeship. The US seems to have ignored vocational training for the past 30 years putting a huge emphasis on higher education as the path to the middle class while ignoring skilled tradespeople who are still doing reasonably well for themselves.

There's been a skilled worker shortage brewing for the past 15 years as all of the baby boomers who fixed our stuff for the past 50 years are beginning to retire and we haven't been doing nearly enough to replace them. The median age of a worker in manufacturing is typically between 50 and 60! It's finally starting to be addressed by Congress as they recognize the problem but with the first batch of people born in 1945 due to retire this year and barely having 10-15 years left before our knowledge base of skilled workers all but dries up they're going to have to reform things fast.

The irony of paying $500/hour for a plumber and $80/hour for a lawyer through much of the late '10s will be quite amusing though.
posted by Talez at 9:55 AM on May 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think the most politically feasible fix for the market distortions caused by the availability of essentially unlimited (relatively) cheap credit is to cap student loans available to students at a given school in proportion to the median graduate income over 10 years, post-education.

The loan cap would be drawn down toward that level over a few years to give schools time to adapt. The data underlying the cap would be determined by a federal agency, not by self-reporting from the schools, since they plainly have no scruples about manipulating statistics (see, e.g., the US News rankings). Using the median mitigates the distorting effects of a few unusually successful graduates, while using the 10 year post-education period allows for entrepreneurs, doctors, lawyers, and others that see substantial increases in income after a while to show up in the data (e.g. finishing residency, making partner, going public, etc).

This is essentially equivalent to income-based repayment except that with IBR the government is still on the hook for the balance not paid by the borrower. This system reduces the impact on the government budget while enabling prospective students to be more informed about what they're going to get out of an education, at least in terms of income (which, for better or worse, is a major factor for many students).

Another, simpler reform would be to force colleges to spend a larger fraction of their endowment every year and to spend at least a certain fraction on need-based scholarships and grants.
posted by jedicus at 9:56 AM on May 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


spacewrench: "IANAE, but what would happen if federal guarantees were written so that they are invalidated by securitizing a loan?"

The pool of people able and wanting to make those loans would then shrink, and with that decreased supply, we'd expect the interest rate to rise. But I'm not sure what you're going after. People aren't buying college degrees and 'flipping' them to someone else who will flip it again. The rise in tuition is fueled mainly by dwindling alternative revenue sources. Every time the state pulls out its empty pockets for display, schools have to hunt money from elsewhere to meet rising health costs, diminished competitive bidding from vendors ("Boracle" & "ChalkBoard", for veiled examples), union agreed salary raises, and industry poaching underpaid employees.

Fortunately I think I'm well insulated from the debt bubble where I work. We don't have faculty unions threatening to strike for salary increases, our out of state tuition rates are lower than some place's in state tuition, leaving for a post at the University of California is a whole lot riskier now, and we have a substantial number of GI bill students.
posted by pwnguin at 9:59 AM on May 17, 2011


Lately I've been feeling extremely lucky to have been established in my profession before the economic nastiness of the last few years hit, because it seems like most people coming out of college in the last few years have had a hell of a time.

Now, I'm hoping that my daughter will be extremely lucky to be ready to go to college long after this tuition nastiness blows over. I would love to think that this can be usefully thought of as nastiness that will blow over.
posted by gurple at 10:00 AM on May 17, 2011


Another, simpler reform would be to force colleges to spend a larger fraction of their endowment every year

This would be reasonable, if tied to market performance. Otherwise, an economic downturn could decimate a school's endowment and long-term health, if set fractions have to be spent.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:01 AM on May 17, 2011




Does this mean the market will crash and people will be able to get degrees for supercheap like houses in neighborhoods full of foreclosures?


I know a few students that would probably sell you their diplomas for a few thousand bucks.
posted by Stagger Lee at 10:03 AM on May 17, 2011


It's starting to look like time to just make a strategic default on America. Walk away, send the keys to the bank, let them deal with it.
posted by Naberius at 10:04 AM on May 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


Another, simpler reform would be to force colleges to spend a larger fraction of their endowment every year.

This puts a bit too much focus on the high-endowment institutions, of which there are fewer than you think. The most obvious and most simple reform is the one the zunguzungu pieces I posted above highlight: increase state support of public universities. Reallocating expenditures and even raising taxes if we have too aren't just fairy stories -- we can really do it!
posted by gerryblog at 10:04 AM on May 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


if we have too

if only I could have afforded a proper education
posted by gerryblog at 10:07 AM on May 17, 2011 [1 favorite]




Another, simpler reform would be to force colleges to spend a larger fraction of their endowment every year.


I work for a Canadian academic institution, and we're burning through our reserves just to stay operational. The conservatives have handily strangled us, and it doesn't leave a lot of wiggle room.
posted by Stagger Lee at 10:08 AM on May 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


So will Goldman Sachs sell me a financial instrument for shorting a Student Loan Asset-Backed Security?
posted by Estragon at 10:09 AM on May 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


I guess that means an anthropology degree is the equivalent of a mcmansion in the exurbs purchased with a stated-income ARM?
posted by Afroblanco at 10:17 AM on May 17, 2011 [9 favorites]


This puts a bit too much focus on the high-endowment institutions, of which there are fewer than you think. The most obvious and most simple reform is the one the zunguzungu pieces I posted above highlight: increase state support of public universities. Reallocating expenditures and even raising taxes if we have too aren't just fairy stories -- we can really do it!

It's not so much the size of the endowment as the size of the endowment per student. There are at least about 40 private schools with endowments of over $220,000 per student. Only the wealthy students at those schools should pay tuition at all (which is now Harvard's model, more or less).

But yes I agree that public schools should receive more funding, but in exchange for that the growth in their tuition and costs must be reined in.

This would be reasonable, if tied to market performance. ... we're burning through our reserves just to stay operational

Then make it a requirement to spend a certain fraction of endowment income each year.
posted by jedicus at 10:18 AM on May 17, 2011




I guess that means an anthropology degree is the equivalent of a mcmansion in the exurbs purchased with a stated-income ARM?


At least you learned something. Could be worse, you could've enrolled in Business.
posted by Stagger Lee at 10:19 AM on May 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm trying to wrap my head around who will be the biggest loser in the end... besides graduates having massive debt, will people eventually just decide college isn't worth it and admissions drop off on a massive scale creating a snowball effect? (and community colleges bust at the seams?)
posted by starman at 10:21 AM on May 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm trying to wrap my head around who will be the biggest loser in the end...

The American taxpayer who discovers that his government is once again going to bail out a bunch of rich derivative-manipulating assholes who made money hand over fist using someone's life as a poker chip and then went crying for help when things didn't turn out perfect.
posted by hippybear at 10:24 AM on May 17, 2011 [27 favorites]


what's to stop them borrowing a huge chunk of money to pay off the college loans then, when the college loans are gone, declaring bankruptcy?

I'm not sure (not being a lawyer) if this is something that would fall under the definition of a 'preferential transfer', but my impression is that judges generally have latitude to reverse this kind of activity if they think it's going on close to the time of the actual bankruptcy filing. Someone who's closer to actual cases nowadays might want to comment further.
posted by gimonca at 10:26 AM on May 17, 2011


besides graduates having massive debt, will people eventually just decide college isn't worth it and admissions drop off on a massive scale creating a snowball effect? (and community colleges bust at the seams?)

That would be nice, wouldn't it. When I think of all the things I learned in high school and college which I DIDN'T need for work later, it seems like total overkill. Unfortunately, there's a huge pressure in this culture to keep up with the Jonses.
posted by Melismata at 10:29 AM on May 17, 2011


It makes me sad that I'm unlikely to go to grad school but there's almost no way for it to make sense. I think there must be tons of people like me; smart enough to have great jobs "in business", but not smart enough to get someone else to pay for my continuing education.

I sometimes see people like me on the subway; pretenders working office jobs but secretly going to the library every Saturday reading through what would have been our "core curriculum".
posted by 2bucksplus at 10:30 AM on May 17, 2011 [11 favorites]


That would be nice, wouldn't it. When I think of all the things I learned in high school and college which I DIDN'T need for work later, it seems like total overkill. Unfortunately, there's a huge pressure in this culture to keep up with the Jonses.

Yeah, was just visiting with some relatives whose oldest daughter is about to go away to school. They're refinancing their house to be able to afford it, despite the fact that it's a state school. It's such a cultural milestone now that people don't even have a second thought about it. Of course their kids will go to college--they're educated people, etc. etc.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:32 AM on May 17, 2011


I can't help but wonder about the long-term effects of creating a disaffected, underemployed, young, angry, underclass. Seems like it might be unwise.
posted by emjaybee at 10:33 AM on May 17, 2011 [26 favorites]


IANAE, but what would happen if federal guarantees were written so that they are invalidated by securitizing a loan?

All loans are securitised already. So there wouldn't be any point in writing such a guarantee - it wouldn't cover anything. (And they're securitised at the time they're made, more or less). Also, what pwnguin said: the cost and availability of loans would rise. (Securitisation, per se, isn't a bad thing - it's a tool like any other. It's just been massively abused).

So will Goldman Sachs sell me a financial instrument for shorting a Student Loan Asset-Backed Security?

Probably.
posted by Infinite Jest at 10:37 AM on May 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Against the advice of many, I took out INSANE student loans to attend the Ivy I'd dreamed of my entire childhood. You work your ass off for 12 years because everyone tells you that you can go to whatever college you want. And then you get that acceptance letter and it's like a dream. And at 18 years old, you're given the choice between staying in-state on the cheap or signing some papers and getting a loan that you can't possibly understand the ramifications of and going to the school that you've worked so hard for for so long. It takes a more mature 18 year old than I was to opt for the route of financial responsibility when massive loans are not only readily available, but are literally pushed upon you by financial institutions. This is 'good' debt, we're all told.

And you graduate into a collapsing economic climate and there's that harsh reality. The loan company wants their $800 + a month. Half of your monthly income, for decades, will go to paying for this piece of paper that was supposed to give you a leg up, not become your life-long ball and chain.

In the case of my alma mater, undergrads, most of them wealthy, pay through the nose so grad students in English shitting out nonsense about deconstruction and Virginia Woolf can be funded. So professors can get subsidized housing and tenure sabbatical in order to write treatises that only the students made to purchase their books will read. So the college can expand its endowment and lobbying activities. So the president can earn more than a million dollars a year. So the college can pay for musical acts to come and play at Spring Fling or whatever and so the college can have on-site medics for when students get alcohol poisoning. So anyone who wants to start a club about WoW or crumping can get $1,000 from the student activities council.

I just wanted to learn stuff, study with great people and earn a solid degree. I don't need Ghostface Killah to come and rap for me. I don't need grad students getting stipends to blab their opinions on Heidegger at me while I'm forced to meet with them about a paper I'm working on. I don't need fucking free swag with your insignia all over it at the start of the year. I don't need the college president to fly first class to washington to show his face for no real reason.

By a series of fortunate events, I no longer have to worry about my debt. But I am the exception, and I stand with my fellow Millenials who are quite literally getting screwed for life by just trying to pursue their genuine ambitions and dreams.

I would say "just go to state school." But that shouldn't be the solution.
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:41 AM on May 17, 2011 [41 favorites]


I can't help but wonder about the long-term effects of creating a disaffected, underemployed, young, angry, underclass. Seems like it might be unwise.

Went to a party this weekend of friends from college--we all graduated in 2006-2008. In attendance was a lawyer working at Applebees, an art teacher who has never been able to find a teaching job, a kindergarten teacher who was just informed that her contract isn't being renewed, a recent grad-school drop out . . . I could count the number of people who were not underemployed on one hand, and we all have student loan debt, to boot. The feeling in the air was one of palpable discontent. Everyone wants answers, solutions, advice, but our parents seem just as clueless, if not more, than we do. After all, they were often the ones who advised us to get teaching certificates or go into law or go to grad school, be educated, be practical, be employable. That was clearly bad advice, but hindsight is 20/20 now.

I agree that all of this feels pretty dangerous.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:41 AM on May 17, 2011 [25 favorites]


Stagger Lee: "Could be worse, you could've enrolled in Business."

I'm getting really, really sick of this dismissive scapegoating of a whole group of people based on nothing more than their chosen degree. Why did I go into Business? Because you can't get a job with a BA in Sociology. I may have sacrificed the dream of an idealized classical liberal arts education so I could have a job after I graduated, but that doesn't mean that I only care about money, or screwing over the stakeholders, or can only spew buzzwords.

Your education is what you make of it. I busted my ass getting involved on campus, and took an overload of courses every year so I could get a double major in Sociology. I've never been to a kegger, and I've never been drunk, but I've sure as hell spent a lot of time trying to learn about why the world works the way it does. Don't try to pretend like you're by default better than anybody in "B school". There are a lot of incredibly bright people around me pursuing a whole variety of interests that have nothing to do with investment banking or whatever it is that you're up in arms about, and we're here, reluctantly, because we'd rather work a job we don't fully enjoy and have an enriching life outside of work, than have to worry constantly about where our next paycheck is going for in the pursuit of 'freedom'.

There are idiots in business school, and there are idiots in law school, but there are a lot of assholes and idiots in the liberal arts and engineering, too. Get over yourself.
posted by Phire at 10:42 AM on May 17, 2011 [18 favorites]


Student loans can't be written off by declaring bankruptcy, generally speaking.

While I know this to be true of direct Federal loans, is this also true of school loans acquired from private lenders?
posted by Thorzdad at 10:45 AM on May 17, 2011



I'm getting really, really sick of this dismissive scapegoating of a whole group of people based on nothing more than their chosen degree.


Heh, dude, that was a joke.

I'm taking a grad level business course right now... although I have to admit, I do have a laundry list of better articulated criticisms of the course and discipline, just waiting for a platform.
posted by Stagger Lee at 10:46 AM on May 17, 2011


When I think of all the things I learned in high school and college which I DIDN'T need for work later...

I don't mean to single you out, but I don't think it's a good view of higher education that it should teach you only what you need for work, and nothing more. That's more the job of a trade school (but even then, there are things that you might not need to know for a job, that are nevertheless useful to fill in gaps between things that you do need to know).

I also don't mean to disparage trade schools, which don't get the love they deserve -- it's a great and useful thing to teach people how to do something that they can turn around and make a living doing.

College should be for people who like to learn things they might not need for work. Or they might end up needing it for work, or they might find themselves doing (or wanting to do) something different. Part of it is learning how to suffer through the difficult learning curve of a new topic; if you do it enough that you see the worth or connections of what you get on the other side of the curve, it makes it easier to bear in the future.

What most people get from college, though (IMHO) is a checkbox on a resume and a boatload of debt. That serves no-one but the holders of the debt and the people who are paid to ensure that the students (and their money) keep coming.
posted by spacewrench at 10:46 AM on May 17, 2011 [8 favorites]


I like how all these bubbles somehow demonstrate that it's wrong to give poor people nice things like houses and educations.
posted by mobunited at 10:47 AM on May 17, 2011 [17 favorites]


It's starting to look like time to just make a strategic default on America. Walk away, send the keys to the bank, let them deal with it.

That's what Bush did. You are the bank.
posted by General Tonic at 10:47 AM on May 17, 2011 [18 favorites]


When I think of all the things I learned in high school and college which I DIDN'T need for work later...

There's a way to avoid that.
Technical school.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:47 AM on May 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


Stagger Lee: "Heh, dude, that was a joke."

I don't mean to single you out, and I know it came across like a personal attack and I'm sorry for that, but I see this kind of sentiment on Metafilter over and over again, and, it's...trying.
posted by Phire at 10:47 AM on May 17, 2011


What most people get from college, though (IMHO) is a checkbox on a resume and a boatload of debt. That serves no-one but the holders of the debt and the people who are paid to ensure that the students (and their money) keep coming.

I'm in the position now where without the checkbox on my resume, I can't go further in my career- and have been told that my only option is to just go get the piece of paper, so I'm in school because it's no longer an option to not have it.

The whole student loan issue seems to come into play in a huge part when in order to get even the most basic entry level job, all employers want you to have the degree, which creates a cycle in which in order to work you need to have the degree that can't promise you work, and you have to pay for it somehow.
posted by Zophi at 10:56 AM on May 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


The differences between California (my former home) and WA have astounded me. I got my undergrad done debt-free in CA (2002) via a mixture of working through college, the GI Bill (pre-9/11; it's a much bigger boost now) and living at home. I went to community college and CSU, and the worst I had to pay for tuition was still less than $1000 a semester.

Then I came to WA, where even a single course at a community college quickly becomes a major expense. I look at my high school students who are doing their college planning and I wonder how they're supposed to pull the whole deal off anymore.

But I guess the whole point is that they're supposed to be in debt, and I was just a filthy cheaterhead in getting by so easily or something...
posted by scaryblackdeath at 10:56 AM on May 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


@ Phire:

I don't think the comment was directed so much at business majors as much as it was directed against a culture that emphasizes the technocratic function of colleges and the remunerative aspects of college degrees (whatever the major) over everything else.

I can think of a number of intellectually stimulating, society-improving ways to pursue a business education, just as I can think of any number of short-sighted or foolish reasons to get a "classical" liberal arts education -- and I would rather the businesspeople I have to deal with be former business majors than former econ majors, fercryinoutloud.

I take the disparagement of B-schools to be a shorthand version of the argument that spacewrench was making -- that higher education shouldn't just be seen as a transaction, but that it is about growth and a challenging form of learning and understanding. Which is a view that I think you share.
posted by a small part of the world at 10:59 AM on May 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


And another point -- I have no idea how anyone is sold on being a teacher from the financial point of view anymore. We continually raise the educational expectations for public school teachers, which pulls more and more money out of their pockets, and yet I don't see how you're possibly supposed to pay that back on a teacher's salary -- even a GOOD teacher's salary.

I've worked with several teacher candidates over the last couple years who were doing concurrent masters of ed & teacher credential programs. The signal-to-noise ratio in their assignments was astounding. So much bullshit, so little genuine preparation for teaching.

Such a racket.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 11:00 AM on May 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


Lutoslawski, I too went to Tufts! Well, then I transferred to B.C., which wasn't any cheaper. We had good tailgating, though. I remember when Cheap Trick played Spring Fling...and I also remember signing reams of paper that I later learned were promissory notes. *gulp*

Against all odds, I put my English degree to work in I.T. and paid off my student loans. But God help my kids: I don't know what things will look ilke when they hit college age...and i work at a college!
posted by wenestvedt at 11:01 AM on May 17, 2011


Phire: thank you for speaking up.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 11:02 AM on May 17, 2011


The whole student loan issue seems to come into play in a huge part when in order to get even the most basic entry level job, all employers want you to have the degree, which creates a cycle in which in order to work you need to have the degree that can't promise you work, and you have to pay for it somehow.

Yup. The problem with the way our society regards having an undergraduate degree is that it's requisite for office jobs (even if it's an unstated requirement, those without the piece of paper are often shouldered out of positions by applicants with it) even though it has little to no relevance to the skills needed for office jobs, beyond, maybe, a basic writing and computer class (skills that can also be learned either via on-the-job training or self-instruction, too). In that way, paying for a college degree is a basic tax you have to pay to be white-collar employable. And in some jobs, the educational requirements become even higher because you have people with masters competing for entry-level jobs (I've seen this happen in libraries where I've worked, both in some librarian positions where the skills required didn't necessitate an MLS, but the job post still specified it as a minimum requirement, and in library assistant jobs that were flooded with MLS-holding applicants who couldn't find librarian jobs in the first place).

This places a lot of pressure on colleges to become white collar trade schools. And I don't like that. But at the same time--and I've said it before--I think the sad truth is that most middle-class citizens just can't afford the money or lost income of going to college to gain knowledge for knowledge's sake. That's a luxury, whether we, in our democratic attitudes and despite the fact that our society doesn't treat it as such, like it or not.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:04 AM on May 17, 2011 [9 favorites]


I can't help but wonder about the long-term effects of creating a disaffected, underemployed, young, angry, underclass. Seems like it might be unwise.

I think that's been planned for... just redirect the anger towards the concept of government, not bad governance.
posted by weston at 11:07 AM on May 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


I can't help but wonder about the long-term effects of creating a disaffected, underemployed, young, angry, underclass. Seems like it might be unwise.

Why do you think the government is trying to implement an Internet kill-switch and indefinite detention for U.S. citizens? Why do you think they're trying to authorize Predator drones to fly over "high value targets" (U.S. cities)?

The government is already tacitly planning for an Egyptian Situation. They know it's coming and they're getting ready for it.
posted by Avenger at 11:15 AM on May 17, 2011 [11 favorites]


My offhand guess:
too much and too many links to fully work through in and comment upon.
The implication is that there is a bubble in higher education. A quick scanning of links suggests the university as corporate model, Finland's public school education at a lower level etc etc
And then neatly bringing it all together: should you bother to go to college and if you do how will you handle the debt burden.
Easy answer: hope for more wars and get the G.I. Bill and let tax payers worry about such things.
posted by Postroad at 11:25 AM on May 17, 2011


There isn't any shortage of STEM graduates, just a shortage of traditional STEM jobs. Don't worry though! We'll just keep making more technically non-STEM jobs for ourselves by importing science & mathematics tools into business. ;)

As for teachers, there are enough people interested in teaching, but the salaries are just not competitive. In particular, the republican's assaults on the retirement & benefits of state employees effectively lowers the salary, i.e. prospective teachers cannot plan upon those benefits continuing.

In fact, I would not personally expect that all the federal employee benefits will not survive the next 30 years. There are a lot more STEM PhDs that you might realize who've steered of clear NSA, FBI, CIA, etc. jobs over this.
posted by jeffburdges at 11:26 AM on May 17, 2011


I think that's been planned for ...

jamjam nailed it in last month's David Simon post.
posted by ryanshepard at 11:27 AM on May 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


Maybe people are so negative towards MBAs because they're the people who just fucked the country over. Maybe people are negative towards MBAs because they're seen MBAs coming into their workplace, laying off half the workforce, getting a raise, and then skating out of there before the consequences of their actions finish destroying the business and putting everyone else out of work.

Maybe if MBAs want people to hate them less, they should start doing a better job. Never forget that George W. Bush was "The First MBA President".
posted by vibrotronica at 11:29 AM on May 17, 2011 [10 favorites]


The fundamental problem with student loans is that the returns to education are high in the average case, but highly variable from person to person. Say Suzie decides to take a $100k loan for an elite education. She could turn out to be a doctor (and pay off the loan easily later on), or turn out to be an English teacher (and struggle to pay it off for decades to come). She doesn't know, her parents don't know, the school doesn't know, and the bank that made the loan certainly doesn't know.

This is why we should legalize investing in a child's future...literally. If Suzie needs $100k for school, she should be able to sell shares in herself, each redeemable for a fixed percentage of her annual earnings post-college. She'd advertise shares during her initial public offering using her high school GPA, aptitude test results, and career plans as selling points. Investors would evaluate her potential for success and bid for shares accordingly.

After college, the investors in Suzie stock would receive dividends that are entirely dependent on her performance. If she's decided to become a doctor, she may end up paying quite a bit more in dividends than the cost of tuition. If she's decided to become an English teacher, she'll end up paying much less. If she changes plans and needs to go back to school, that's fine: she can issue more stock as long as her shareholders think she'll make enough extra to justify the expense. And, of course, she can take herself private if she can come up with the cash to buy all her shares back.

Naturally, it would be far too complicated for every single person's shares to have a different price. Instead, banks would purchase huge swathes of shares from similar groups of students, and sell them as a group. One could invest in high-quality high school valedictorians intending to be lawyers for a fairly safe return, or in college sophomore English majors for pennies on the dollar.

You might think Suzie would be crazy to agree to pay a group of private investors a percentage of her income for the rest of her life. But the advantage of selling stock in yourself over selling a bond (taking a loan) is that the investors shoulder much of the risk. If Suzie gets a $100k education and ends up being an English teacher, investors take the financial hit. It's far more fair than our current system of student loans.

An investment-based tuition system is also good for the economy as a whole. Taxpayers don't have to subsidize loans, and it would be easier for low-income people to go to college (since they would be evaluated for earning potential, not their family's creditworthiness). Most importantly, society wouldn't waste resources loaning vast amounts of money to people who will never be able to pay it back.
posted by miyabo at 11:30 AM on May 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


Since I opened this can of worms, I may as well enjoy my lunch.

Here's the deal. I'm not personally opposed to training business, management, or whatever. Like I said, I'm taking courses. I even wish that more people in my institution would take the courses, for one thing it helps to establish a common language and framework.

But. I'm amazingly relieved that I didn't take business courses out of high school. I took arts, which turned out to be really useful, fascinating, and versatile. That helped me get my job. I was lucky. Let me underline that. I was lucky. Still am.

I appreciate my business courses, but I'm even more relieved that I'm not the one paying for them. These are job training, bringing direct value to the institution I work for. But they have a very specific value, to certain kinds of institutions and jobs, and I'm not sure that they'd have helped my job hunt any more than my arts degrees did.

My original snide comment was in reference to "business has quickly become the nation's most popular major."

This seems like desperation to me, more than anything, and I find the state of our economy and the role of education in it to be totally heartbreaking. Education shouldn't come with a crippling cost, and it should provide more than just training for a job.

Throw in some doubts about the quality of many business courses, and I worry that a lot of grads are putting their money on a lame horse. To reiterate, I'm not saying that all business courses are bad, or that people are silly for taking them. There are good reasons, and bad, for taking them, just like the arts. But for a lot of people I'm concerned about the soundness of the discipline, the quality of education, and the possibility of low returns after graduation.
posted by Stagger Lee at 11:30 AM on May 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


You might think Suzie would be crazy to agree to pay a group of private investors a percentage of her income for the rest of her life. But the advantage of selling stock in yourself over selling a bond (taking a loan) is that the investors shoulder much of the risk.

If Suzie does not live up to her potential, her capital assets (organs) can be easily liquidated and distributed to her shareholders.
posted by benzenedream at 11:34 AM on May 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


Never forget that George W. Bush was "The First MBA President".

... who hadn't run a business successfully up until he entered politics.
posted by hippybear at 11:34 AM on May 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Maybe people are so negative towards MBAs because they're the people who just fucked the country over.

I think they were talking about undergraduate business degrees, actually.
Also, MBAs run most large businesses in the US, so whenever just about anything happens that involves the private sector people with MBAs were heavily involved.

You know where you can get ahead without an MBA, though? Wall Street. A lot of people with those vaunted STEM and liberal arts degrees there.
posted by atrazine at 11:35 AM on May 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


and it would be easier for low-income people to go to college (since they would be evaluated for earning potential, not their family's creditworthiness)

The problem there is that 'earning potential' is intimately tied up with your family's economic class (and thus creditworthiness). Class mobility in the US is terrible, and that proposed system would make it worse: the safe investments (e.g. white middle and upper class males from educated and well-connected families) would get all the money and the vicious cycle would perpetuate itself.
posted by jedicus at 11:36 AM on May 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


But for a lot of people I'm concerned about the soundness of the discipline, the quality of education, and the possibility of low returns after graduation.

Which, sadly, is not just true of business curricula, in this age of draconian cuts to state university budgets and the triumph of corporate management at private universities.
posted by a small part of the world at 11:37 AM on May 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I agree that it there would be some need for public subsidy to ensure that low-earning-potential people can still go to college. But we should give low income people scholarships, not give them subsidized interest on multi-hundred-thousand-dollar loans as in the current system.
posted by miyabo at 11:39 AM on May 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well I can't keep up with the comments here, but my two cents are that if there is a class of people in America now that is hardworking, honest, and productive, it follows that there is a conspiracy to exploit them. Parents, homeowners, teachers, savers, engineers, doctors, servicemen and women, and now students. Who's next? What's left really?
posted by newdaddy at 11:40 AM on May 17, 2011 [6 favorites]


All this would be moot if older workers would/could retire. When companies need workers, they are willing to overlook impractical degrees. This is NOT a failure of higher education, even though it has plenty of problems.
posted by blargerz at 11:41 AM on May 17, 2011


Good point, blargerz. Will things improve when the baby boomers have mostly died off?
posted by Melismata at 11:42 AM on May 17, 2011


Miyabo,

This basic idea can also be implemented as a graduate tax, especially if it only kicks in above certain incomes.

For all the understandable unhappiness about the recent changes to University tuition fees in England & Wales, there are some good, progressive features of the system. Specifically:
-Below a minimum income, you don't have to pay the loans back
-Above that income, the percentage of your income that you must pay is capped
-The premium above the risk free rate that you pay to borrow money depends on how far above the minimum repayment income you are.
posted by atrazine at 11:43 AM on May 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is why we should legalize investing in a child's future...literally.

Assuming you're not being completely and utterly sarcastic here, boy is this a bad idea. Why on earth would Susie become an English teacher in this scenario? Or more accurately, why would her investors let her become an English teacher? We do need English teachers you know. Wouldn't her investors have a vested interest in seeing to it that she provide a maximum financial return, regardless of her happiness or personal well-being?

So with your scenario, what happens if, a few years down the road, Susie decides to quit her job and become a stay-at-home mom? Or live on a kibbutz for a year? What about when she wants to retire? Won't her investors want her to work a few more years? If her investors have a stake in her income, they are going to do whatever they can to influence her actions to maximize her income, and thus their income.

And you'd further contribute to a class divide in society between the owners and the owned. As bad as lender/debtor is, it's still an improvement over actual ownership of people.
posted by zachlipton at 11:43 AM on May 17, 2011 [12 favorites]


I've read about the new system in England and Wales. Sadly, I don't think it really measures up to my modest proposal above.
posted by miyabo at 11:44 AM on May 17, 2011


Good point, blargerz. Will things improve when the baby boomers have mostly died off?

No, it will improve when they retire. But I'm not saying it won't improve until then, it could improve sooner, due to other factors.
posted by blargerz at 11:45 AM on May 17, 2011


I remember when I was going to college. They raised tuition rates 19% two years in a row, and there was another increase of 9% the next year!

(I actually remember seeing a newspaper in a friends apartment with a headline about a 19% tuition increase and I'm like "Why do you have last year's paper on your table?" It was actually that days)

But yeah this is really a disaster. Tuition rates, and student loan interest rates just got worse and worse after I left.

The money you pay back in student loans compared to the education premium in terms of income over the first 20 years probably makes education a bad investment. You might be better taking out a huge credit card loan, and starting a business. And if the business fails, you just declare bankruptcy and move on. You can learn a lot of what you need online now anyway if you're industrious.
posted by delmoi at 11:47 AM on May 17, 2011


I think maybe part of the problem is that getting a bachelor's degree is too easy. College professors get pressured to pass students that can't write or don't show up to class from the administration who want higher enrollment. Since it's so easy (except for the money) to get one, employers think if you don't have one, there's something wrong. Banks giving out loans aren't concerned with how well the student is going to do in classes, they just hand out money.

There are tons of smart people out there that don't need a BS or BA to do well in their chosen field. A "higher education" degree should be something that people choose to do rather than something they're forced to do to have a hope of a middle-class job.
posted by demiurge at 11:48 AM on May 17, 2011 [7 favorites]


~Will things improve when the baby boomers have mostly died off?
~No, it will improve when they retire.

Which, for a rapidly increasing number of boomers, is becoming a near-impossibility.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:48 AM on May 17, 2011


For middling office jobs, a B.A. is a nice indicator of a baseline level of obedience.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 11:50 AM on May 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


This may be a stupid question, but it's something that's puzzled me for a while now. I understand that an individual can't write off (if that's the correct terminology) college debt by declaring bankruptcy, so what's to stop them borrowing a huge chunk of money to pay off the college loans then, when the college loans are gone, declaring bankruptcy?
How are they going to get those loans, though?
Against the advice of many, I took out INSANE student loans to attend the Ivy I'd dreamed of my entire childhood. You work your ass off for 12 years because everyone tells you that you can go to whatever college you want. And then you get that acceptance letter and it's like a dream. And at 18 years old, you're given the choice between staying
Yeah, but if you go to an Ivy then you probably do have a much better chance of getting a job. Remember, it's the networking that counts, so you (should anyway) have a lot of friends who are entering elite society and can help you out.

It's the kids who take out massive loans to go to state school who are getting screwed.
posted by delmoi at 11:53 AM on May 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


30 percent of it securitized, and the federal government directly or indirectly on the hook for almost all of it. If this sounds familiar, it probably should...

In a rational system that doesn't waste government funds, why the heck would you want to securitize federally-backed student loans anyway? There are only three main cost drivers/risks involved: inflation risk, default by the federal government, and the costs of servicing the loan. Since risks 1 and 3 are the same for most any loan the bank could make and risk 2 would most likely accompany the total collapse of the entire banking system anyway, there shouldn't be any reason to invest in such a loan if the loan is priced properly. We already have a billion ways to hedge against inflation risk and federal default, so there shouldn't be any point to such an investment unless the federal student loan is just a massive subsidy to the banking industry.

Oh wait. It was! That's why we're moving to direct loans now. We'll see how that works out...
posted by zachlipton at 11:56 AM on May 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


No, it will improve when they retire.

No, because just as they voted to run down education so they can have tax cuts, they will vote themselves public money for their retirement at the expense of anything else.
posted by rodgerd at 11:57 AM on May 17, 2011 [7 favorites]


This is why we should legalize investing in a child's future...literally.

What you would do is to form a syndicate that would invest in a whole cohort of university age young people. You fund their education up to a reasonable amount, and in return they pay the syndicate a dividend that depends on how much money they make.

These "natural persons" would have the same rights that you and I might traditionally associate with real people (like IBM and McKinsey), so of course they should be allowed to deduct their costs from revenue before arriving at earnings.

To make this practical, we'll assume that their first few tens of thousands of dollars of income are used to cover expenses, so we won't expect our cut from that. After that though, we'll want a certain percentage of their income as dividends. For administrative reasons and to avoid differential equations (sorry quants!) we'll split these earnings into so-called "bands", the marginal income in each band will pay out a different percentage to the syndicate, that percentage to increase in higher bands.

Now, since you're investing in an entire cohort, by the time that cohort is earning and paying dividends you can use that return to fund the education of the next generation of securitiesstudents.

Now you make a collective deal amongst a whole bunch of people, like a building or investment society (or just a "society" for short), that everyone who's a member of the "society" can have the syndicate invest in their children. Get everyone invested, and bingo! You have a system that's just about crazy enough to work
posted by atrazine at 12:00 PM on May 17, 2011 [8 favorites]


It's the kids who take out massive loans to go to state school who are getting screwed.

This. Also the kids taking out massive loans to go to for-profit trade schools.

I took out significant-but-not-crippling loans to go to college (and I am horrified to see that the comprehensive fee for 2011-2012 is ~$18,000 more than it was in 2003-2004; what the hell), and having that diploma got me the job I have now, which lets me comfortably make my loan payments.

A friend of mine took out way, way more loans for a two-year private culinary school. He's paying $500/month right now (it'll go up to $700/month in August), and he's working at the deli counter of a supermarket. His situation is not sustainable; there is no way he will be able to pay back his loans.
posted by Vibrissa at 12:01 PM on May 17, 2011 [2 favorites]




No, because just as they voted to run down education so they can have tax cuts, they will vote themselves public money for their retirement at the expense of anything else.


Well, there are other economic trends going on that you can't blame them on.
For example: the Canadian government is trying to "reduce the cost of civil service" by refusing to hire vacant positions left by retiring workers.
Universities have been choosing not to fill tenure positions for a while.

You'd think that it meant there was less work being done, but more often than not the cost of labor is just shifted to outsourcing and casual or temp workers. So graduates still get to look forward to a job teaching (if they're lucky) but now they're more likely to be a sessional forever.

It's an ugly trend that really puts the lie to the "But there'll be great jobs when the boomers retire" shtick.
posted by Stagger Lee at 12:03 PM on May 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


English shitting out nonsense about deconstruction and Virginia Woolf can be funded

I had to put down my coffee over this one.

Voice in favor of "worthless" liberal arts degrees, here. I went to college with no idea of what I wanted to do with myself. And by the time I figured it out, I had spent 6 scholarship-funded years in a state school, earning two bachelors and a masters (BA English, BS Psychology and MA English), and as I finished I was fundamentally unemployable. But I had learned a LOT about a lot of things. And when I figured it out, the elusive Answer Of What I Wanted To Do With My Life, I found that the answer neatly tied together everything I'd ever been taught: video game design.

I don't think I'm alone among former liberal arts students in that I apply my studies in a practical way on a daily basis...yes, even understanding deconstruction helps me think about the way elements work in a game. In my work I find that no type of learning is worthless, because for me learning isn't only about the narrowest application of a skill. It's about knowing different ways to think about things.

I work in a creative field, and I get that not everyone does. But if I hadn't taken courses in Virginia Woolf and Cognitive Psychology, I wouldn't be as good at my (seemingly unrelated) job today. I can't imagine I'm alone in this.
posted by erinfern at 12:05 PM on May 17, 2011 [33 favorites]


No, because just as they voted to run down education so they can have tax cuts, they will vote themselves public money for their retirement at the expense of anything else.

Who is "they"? Anyone who depends on public money for retirement would want tax hikes, not cuts.
posted by blargerz at 12:06 PM on May 17, 2011


It's the kids who take out massive loans to go to state school who are getting screwed.

These kids should not be taking out massive loans. No one should be taking out massive loans. Can't find a school with tuition you can afford? Tough luck. Don't put yourself in a shitty situation by taking out massive loans.

First sentence of the (first) link: "The Project On Student Debt estimates that the average college senior in 2009 graduated with $24,000 in outstanding loans."

$24,000 is not a massive debt.

posted by trueluk at 12:07 PM on May 17, 2011


It's an ugly trend that really puts the lie to the "But there'll be great jobs when the boomers retire" shtick.

Some portion of a job will become available for each boomer that retires. That job may or may not be "great". I say some portion because not all will be replaced, due to the factors you mention.
posted by blargerz at 12:09 PM on May 17, 2011


In that way, paying for a college degree is a basic tax you have to pay to be white-collar employable.
Emphasis on the "white".

As you note, lots of jobs benefit from intelligence but not so much from college-taught skills. But simply testing potential hires for intelligence has been ruled illegal for decades due to disparate racial impact. You can't even mimic the colleges and combine testing with affirmative action (see the Ricci case a couple years ago) lest you risk a more straightforward discrimination lawsuit. So what you're left with if you need more-intelligent-than-average workers is one legally safe option: to use a college education as a proxy for intelligence. This probably has greater disparate impact, since now you're not only discriminating based on standardized testing (having effectively required from your new hires a very expensive SAT/ACT), you're also discriminating against anyone who grew up without the time and/or money for college. But it's what the courts allow, so it's what employers do.
posted by roystgnr at 12:10 PM on May 17, 2011 [11 favorites]


I guess another question that should be asked (again) is "who is buying all this debt?"
posted by newdaddy at 12:11 PM on May 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


As you note, lots of jobs benefit from intelligence but not so much from college-taught skills.

. . . I hate to say it, but the skills required in many white college jobs don't necessitate a particularly intelligent employee population so much as having warm bodies in chairs.

(Yes, some white collar jobs do. But many don't.)
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:13 PM on May 17, 2011


I guess another question that should be asked (again) is "who is buying all this debt?"

Banks, hedge funds, pension funds, sovereign wealth funds... anyone who buys debt.
posted by blargerz at 12:13 PM on May 17, 2011


And the biggest elephant in the corner:

Why are private universities given tax-exemptions when they are clearly operating for-profit?
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:15 PM on May 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


Yeah, but if you go to an Ivy then you probably do have a much better chance of getting a job. Remember, it's the networking that counts, so you (should anyway) have a lot of friends who are entering elite society and can help you out.

Thanks for the reminder that I didn't snort coke with the right crowd in college. Seriously, though, it is the networking that counts - but I learned this only retrospectively. In school I had this crazy notion that working hard and getting good grades would somehow benefit me (it really doesn't).

Plus you'd be surprised how hard it is, even for an Ivy grad, to climb into the social elite these days. All my 'friends' who went to work for Lehman after graduation? Unemployed now. It really isn't the club it used to be, for better or for worse. You wouldn't believe how many of my classmates work in the service industry, and not because they're trying to be actors or lack ambition.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:23 PM on May 17, 2011


First sentence of the (first) link: "The Project On Student Debt estimates that the average college senior in 2009 graduated with $24,000 in outstanding loans."

$24,000 is not a massive debt.


Yeah, I hear this number tossed around a lot. My guess is that this doesn't paint a very accurate picture of the problem. That is the *average.* But I fear the truth is that most kids either graduate with no debt at all - because they're parents paid or they got serious aid - or they graduated with basically the whole bill in loans, so upwards of six figures.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:25 PM on May 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


Lutoslawski:...I stand with my fellow Millenials who are quite literally getting screwed for life by just trying to pursue their genuine ambitions and dreams.

You're genuine ambitions and dreams required you to go to an Ivy League school. Isn't that special? This is why we're (the Millennials) labeled the 'Entitlement Generation.'

Lutoslawski: I would say "just go to state school." But that shouldn't be the solution.

Why shouldn't that be the solution?
posted by trueluk at 12:25 PM on May 17, 2011


I took out significant-but-not-crippling loans to go to college (and I am horrified to see that the comprehensive fee for 2011-2012 is ~$18,000 more than it was in 2003-2004; what the hell), and having that diploma got me the job I have now, which lets me comfortably make my loan payments.

A friend of mine took out way, way more loans for a two-year private culinary school. He's paying $500/month right now (it'll go up to $700/month in August), and he's working at the deli counter of a supermarket. His situation is not sustainable; there is no way he will be able to pay back his loans.
I have a friend who worked his way through college and got scholarships and ended up graduating debt free... with a film degree. Then he moved back with his parents and started working at K-Mart. They weren't to happy about it, so he ended up going to law school and taking on a ton of loans.

He (stupidly) moved to Florida and now he has a law degree and passed the bar. He still can't find a good job, and he's having trouble paying back his student loans. He's really screwed.
posted by delmoi at 12:28 PM on May 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


You're genuine ambitions and dreams required you to go to an Ivy League school. Isn't that special? This is why we're (the Millennials) labeled the 'Entitlement Generation.'

God that entitlement generation stuff is such bullshit. I know very, very few people who feel they're entitled to live out their dreams. I know far more in debt for medical expenses because they can't find a job that will give them health insurance, or who have lived at home for years after college because they can't afford to pay for both an apartment or student loans.

I fail to see how we're any more entitled than our parents. In fact, seems to me that we have to work harder and longer and be more educated to get to the same place they were when they graduated with their degrees.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:33 PM on May 17, 2011 [19 favorites]


(Also, hi, went to a state school. Lived at home for the last two years and still graduated with 35k in debt.)
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:34 PM on May 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


But I fear the truth is that most kids either graduate with no debt at all - because they're parents paid or they got serious aid - or they graduated with basically the whole bill in loans, so upwards of six figures.

You're right. Here's some data from my Alma mater:

Average debt of graduates 2009: $19,128
Proportion of graduates w/debt 2009: 60%

Which means, 40% of graduates had no debt and the remaining 60% had an average debt of around $50,000.
posted by trueluk at 12:34 PM on May 17, 2011


Can't find a school with tuition you can afford? Tough luck. Don't put yourself in a shitty situation by taking out massive loans.

That is fine advice, but it's not what most kids are/have been told. "College debt is good debt," and "With a college degree, you'll be able to get a good job and pay it off." 18-year-olds who've never had to be financially responsible for themselves have no idea what they're signing up for.
posted by Vibrissa at 12:40 PM on May 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


Sorry, my math was wrong.

(4,320 (graduating students) * $19,128) / (60% of 4,320) = $31,880 of debt per student
posted by trueluk at 12:40 PM on May 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


I guess another question that should be asked (again) is "who is buying all this debt?"

More specifically, I think the question might be who is (a) taking the risk and (b) buying the upside.
posted by weston at 12:43 PM on May 17, 2011


Who is "they"? Anyone who depends on public money for retirement would want tax hikes, not cuts.
posted by blargerz at 12:06 PM on May 17 [+] [!]


Tea Party politicians, almost all of whom are baby boomers, are seriously raising the specter of abolishing Medicare and Social Security. They are planning it in stages: anyone 55 or over will have Social Security and Medicare, anyone below will either be "self-funded" or get small vouchers from the Fed to invest in our lovely stock market.

So, that's the plan. Fuck you young'uns, we got ours.

I keep seeing this pattern over and over again when it comes to boomers. They had every benefit that their parents (the Greatest Generation) had given them growing up and, once they got old enough to pay taxes, immediately set out to tear everything down.

We get cheap education, you don't. We get lots of jobs, you don't. We get healthcare, you don't. We get retirement, you don't. Not on our dime, anyway. The world ends when we die. After us, deluge.
posted by Avenger at 12:43 PM on May 17, 2011 [35 favorites]


But I fear the truth is that most kids either graduate with no debt at all - because they're parents paid or they got serious aid - or they graduated with basically the whole bill in loans, so upwards of six figures.

I was wondering about that. This [PDF] is the report that the $24,000 figure comes from. I just kinda skimmed it, so I might've missed something, but I think that the survey question was "Report the average per-undergraduate-borrower cumulative principal borrowed" (page 8), which sounds like the average only includes people who borrowed.
posted by Vibrissa at 12:55 PM on May 17, 2011


//This is why we're (the Millennials) labeled the 'Entitlement Generation.' //

Actually, we are all entitled to live out dreams, if we so choose. We just aren't entitled to be paid for it.
posted by COD at 12:56 PM on May 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


And all those previous generations just got lucky.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:00 PM on May 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


"A majority of Americans (57%) say the higher education system in the United States fails to provide students with good value for the money they and their families spend. An even larger majority (75%) says college is too expensive for most Americans to afford. At the same time, however, an overwhelming majority of college graduates (86%) say that college has been a good investment for them personally."

That's my favorite quote from the list of links. 86% of graduates say college was a good investment. We read all of these complaints about college being too expensive, graduates not finding jobs, and defaulting on loans yet the vast majority of graduates are satisfied with their investment.

So why the disparity between Americans who say the system fails to provide good value and graduates who are in fact satisfied?
posted by trueluk at 1:02 PM on May 17, 2011


I can't help but wonder about the long-term effects of creating a disaffected, underemployed, young, angry, underclass. Seems like it might be unwise.

Just a smidge.

By a series of fortunate events, I no longer have to worry about my debt...

How'd you swing that!??!

Sadly, I don't think it really measures up to my modest proposal above.

Turns out there is such a thing as too fucking clever. You just put a smile on my face.

Regarding the 24k figure:

Does that include dropouts? I had to leave school after 3 and a half years because I ran out of money. I have 75k of debt. I bet I'm not the only one, and I'm sure this would definitely skew the number.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 1:05 PM on May 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think the sad truth is that most middle-class citizens just can't afford the money or lost income of going to college to gain knowledge for knowledge's sake.

I think that knowledge for knowledge's sake is and always has been an entitlement of the upper classes, and unfortunately it will probably remain that way. Middle class and lower students have been bamboozled into thinking it was something they could get away with, and it's not, not without a steep cost which will probably keep them from moving up the class ladder themselves.
posted by maxwelton at 1:06 PM on May 17, 2011


You're genuine ambitions and dreams required you to go to an Ivy League school. Isn't that special? This is why we're (the Millennials) labeled the 'Entitlement Generation.'

My genuine ambitions and dreams were to get a top-notch education, and growing-up in my innocence I believed that meant the Ivy league.

I never felt 'entitled' to anything. I still don't. I believed that if you worked hard enough you could go to the school that you wanted to go to without giving up the rest of your life to pay for it.

Naive? Of course. But give me a break. We've all been 16. I can assure you that I am good and jaded and cynical now.
posted by Lutoslawski at 1:06 PM on May 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


They had every benefit that their parents (the Greatest Generation) had given them growing up and, once they got old enough to pay taxes, immediately set out to tear everything down.

Ideological conservatives have been against government funded social programs for nearly 100 years -- this is not a new phenomenon. It's just now their ideas are getting taken a bit more seriously, due to the size of the national debt.

Sure many republicans want to tear it all down damn the torpedos, but remember, there were plenty of democrats who overpromised on what "free" money for education, retirement, healthcare and houses could deliver. They cared not one whit for sustainability.

It is just a clusterfuck all around, there is no free lunch, people are out for themselves, and don't hold your breath for any saviors.
posted by blargerz at 1:07 PM on May 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


That's my favorite quote from the list of links. 86% of graduates say college was a good investment. We read all of these complaints about college being too expensive, graduates not finding jobs, and defaulting on loans yet the vast majority of graduates are satisfied with their investment.

Unemployment among college grads, even young ones, is not that bad. It's less than 5% on average. I've sent around entry level warm-body (corporate sales, basic analyst) office job opening notices to my fraternity and gotten no nibbles. People in the 5% unemployment category look at the 10% category (HS only) and think that's a pretty good investment.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 1:12 PM on May 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


86% of graduates say college was a good investment... So why the disparity between Americans who say the system fails to provide good value and graduates who are in fact satisfied?

What about all the people who dropped out or didn't go because it was too expensive? Also, that 86% includes people who graduated years ago, back when college may have been expensive but wasn't as ridiculous as it is now. I think it's pretty reasonable for someone to believe both that their degree was a good value and that the educational system today is kinda fucked up.
posted by Vibrissa at 1:19 PM on May 17, 2011 [2 favorites]



86% of graduates say college was a good investment... So why the disparity between Americans who say the system fails to provide good value and graduates who are in fact satisfied?


In order to address this, you probably need to isolate some variables. Look at the differences by degree, type of institution, cost, debt load, etc.
posted by Stagger Lee at 1:25 PM on May 17, 2011



Unemployment among college grads, even young ones, is not that bad. It's less than 5% on average. I've sent around entry level warm-body (corporate sales, basic analyst) office job opening notices to my fraternity and gotten no nibbles. People in the 5% unemployment category look at the 10% category (HS only) and think that's a pretty good investment.


It isn't unemployment that's the concern, it's underemployment. Particularly coupled with debt load.
posted by Stagger Lee at 1:26 PM on May 17, 2011 [6 favorites]


So why the disparity between Americans who say the system fails to provide good value and graduates who are in fact satisfied?

The graduates might be satisfied because they feel like they're better off than they would be if they didn't have a degree -- which is why people enter the system. But the system as a whole could still stand for some improvement.

Also, are they surveying recent graduates? The fact that graduates are satisfied means that the higher education system worked when the current graduates are in college. That doesn't necessarily mean it works now.
posted by madcaptenor at 1:32 PM on May 17, 2011


I think the question might be who is (a) taking the risk and (b) buying the upside.

An interesting question. Normally it's the banks that take the risks. But since college debt is entirely non-dischargable (THANKS A FUCKING LOT, CLINTON) the risk is entirely upon the individual taking the loan, and what they are risking is their future solvency (and thus, happiness).

Also, I really wish people would stop blaming "THE BOOMERS" for all this bullshit. It's not the boomers. If you really think it's the boomers, I would bet hard money that you're in your twenties and still stupid as shit. We got the "go to college = money" bill of sale. They got the "hard work and loyalty = retirement at 65" bill of sale. It's all bullshit. The rich are feeding off the corpse of the middle class, and the slimmer the pickin's, the more the rich bare their teeth.

Stop blaming age brackets and start blaming income brackets.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:33 PM on May 17, 2011 [25 favorites]


Newsweek highlighted the debate over the perceived usefulness of certain degrees in its recent list of the "Most Useless College Degrees." One blogger said, in an open letter to Newsweek and the Daily Beast:

"It’s clear that you feel that there is such a thing as a wasted education. That alone is an extremely dangerous concept." (full letter here)

I agree. There are important things to consider when making decisions about your education, but to imply that certain types are inherently worthless is pointlessly judgmental, limiting and divisive. As erinfern says above, "learning isn't only about the narrowest application of a skill. It's about knowing different ways to think about things."
posted by bassjump at 1:58 PM on May 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


As erinfern says above, "learning isn't only about the narrowest application of a skill. It's about knowing different ways to think about things."

If only that were the common thing happening at colleges these days.

What's really happening is the kids are enrolling at a 4-year sleepaway camp, filled with an attitude of "well, I paid for it, so I deserve it" about "earning" their degrees, and they will do or say anything required to get that 3.5 gpa and a lambskin at the end of their time.

Well, anything except actually doing hard work in a course and coming out the other end with new knowledge. They'll put endless hours into their Greek or finding ways to hook up, but if they're taking a Computer Science course, you'd better not ask them to do a project longer than 10 lines in their 300 level course or they'll throw a shitfit clear up the ladder about how you're asking too much of them.

They don't want to be challenged; they want to be affirmed. They don't want to have their horizons broadened; they want to have their social calendar filled and the food service to have pizza and Pepsi at every meal. If a professor flunks a student for anything other than plagiarism, they can expect to be called into meetings and have to justify why that kid who turned in every homework assignment (without completing any of them) and didn't demonstrate any knowledge on in-class projects and earned a 1.3 on their test scores for the semester shouldn't be passed. You know... somehow... just passed.

I've not had a conversation with any of the college students in this town which show they're learning different ways to think about anything. Mostly they talk about Four Loko and fucking and get resentful if you have a conversation which doesn't reference hip hop in some way.

If they'd just stay off my lawn, everything would be fine.
posted by hippybear at 2:12 PM on May 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


$24,000 is not a massive debt.

It is if your annual income is $15,000.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 2:33 PM on May 17, 2011 [14 favorites]


If a professor flunks a student for anything other than plagiarism, they can expect to be called into meetings and have to justify why that kid who turned in every homework assignment (without completing any of them) and didn't demonstrate any knowledge on in-class projects and earned a 1.3 on their test scores for the semester shouldn't be passed. You know... somehow... just passed.

Do these "meetings" actually happen? I've heard this before. But I've failed students and I've never been to one of these meetings.
posted by madcaptenor at 2:36 PM on May 17, 2011


Lutoslawski: I would say "just go to state school." But that shouldn't be the solution.

Why shouldn't that be the solution?


Just to offer an alternative data point, I did the opposite of Lutoslawski and turned down acceptance at a dream private college in order to take a full-ride scholarship at a state school. I was guided by my parents, who balked at the idea of taking out huge loans.

Unfortunately, the state school ended up being a terrible, terrible fit for a naive, school-loving 18-year-old: it was huge and impersonal, the average student didn't have a lot of interest in academics, classes weren't challenging, advisors were indifferent at best. I got lost pretty quickly, ending up with a wasted college career. So, I'm lucky now in that I have no student loan debt, but I got almost nothing out the the whole experience. If I want to get a better job than "secretary", I'm going to have to pay to go back to school anyway.

Not saying this would happen to everyone, but I hate the suggestion that large state schools are a totally fine educational alternative to more academically-intense and challenging (if more expensive) colleges.
posted by missix at 2:36 PM on May 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


Do these "meetings" actually happen? I've heard this before.

Well, either they happen, or the man I live with has been late coming home and making up stories about why he was delayed. I'm going with the bet that he's telling me the truth rather than suspecting him of lying to me about such things.
posted by hippybear at 2:38 PM on May 17, 2011


They'll put endless hours into their Greek...

I was really confused, thinking that "putting hours into practicing your Greek is a good way to get a 3.5", and then I realised you weren't talking about Classics majors (or language) majors.
posted by jb at 2:45 PM on May 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


and then I realised you weren't talking about Classics majors (or language) majors.

Yeah, that took me a few seconds to parse as well.
posted by atrazine at 2:48 PM on May 17, 2011


missix: I teach at a very large state school. I can see how it would be a bad fit for someone like you. And I struggle with how to make my classes challenging enough that I would have liked them while not totally losing the people who are just there to squeak by with a C-minus. I struggle with advising my students because I have so many of them and the ones who really need advising don't come to me, but there are just too many of them for me to reach out to them.

Some of our students get lost, and it hurts me. What I don't know is whether there are ways to solve this problem that don't require throwing money at it, because blah blah blah budget cuts blah blah blah our state has no money blah blah blah. (Even if there were ways to solve this problem, a lot of the big state schools, like mine, are "research universities" and their faculty are not necessarily all that interested in providing a high-quality undergraduate education.)
posted by madcaptenor at 2:48 PM on May 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I feel compelled to respond here. I get overwhelmed pretty quickly with this many statistics from conflicting resources...But while my family doesn't represent any extreme position here, we're pretty jacked by student loans; we're severely limited by them. Each month, together we pay more in student loans than we do on our rent. I worked full time, and schooled full time to help mitigate costs of college. My wife had undergrad paid for by her folks, so we only carry her grad school debt. We're certainly not as bad off as most, but the fact that over 25% of our combined income is marked for paying back student loans highly impacts our ability to become financially secure and save for the future.

Now, my wife is employed and is about at the median wage for her field, she will probably experience some more growth over the course of her career (thank goodness). My experience on the other hand in college, was much like missix's and have since only been able to attain jobs that are classified as "secretary." I'm lucky that I've landed some 'cool' secretary jobs, but that's all they are; to advance to anything better paying, I would need to go back to school and incur more debt. The thing that is the absolute kicker: I worked these kinds of jobs before I ever went to college. My pay has stayed the same (dollar ammount...fuck you inflation) since my 2nd year of community college.

We're lucky that frugality is a virtue to both of us, and we hope to someday...someday be able to bootstrap ourselves up to the middle-class, but things like purchasing a house someday, retirement and helping our own child with college (good luck son, you're on your own, I hope you become a plumber) are very much going to be lofty goals for us. Whereas when my parents were my age, they already had their own home (a small, fixer-upper) made the today-equivalent of 60k a year had legitimate health insurance, and neither of them finished college. Neither of them had ANY student debt.

Both my family, and my wife's family were solidly middle class...but us? We're going to be lucky if we get there someday. And i mean that. A turn of luck one way or the other and we could just as easily be on foodstamps again.
posted by furnace.heart at 3:09 PM on May 17, 2011 [10 favorites]


Forgive me if this is a naive question, but it seems strange to me that in this whole thread there is no mention of automation. Isn't it the very goal of businesses to have as few people on the payroll as possible? How is it surprising that there are so few jobs? Isn't it possible that businesses simply require fewer workers -- not workers with different skills?
posted by Wordwoman at 3:10 PM on May 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


British students are learning that it pays to take their degree abroad
With UK tuition fees ready to soar as high as £9,000 a year, school-leavers are choosing to go elsewhere
posted by Lanark at 3:27 PM on May 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


a lot of the big state schools, like mine, are "research universities" and their faculty are not necessarily all that interested in providing a high-quality undergraduate education

No kidding. Most of our so-called top-tier universities have created a system in which faculty are not hired on the basis of their undergraduate teaching skills, generally not evaluated or promoted on the quality of their teaching, not managed by department chairs who are particularly concerned with undergraduate teaching, not granted tenure for the quality of their teaching, and are ultimately told they can't be fired absent gross misconduct, whether they can teach or not. Indeed, faculty who care too much about teaching can be at a disadvantage, as that takes away time from the research and publications needed to advance in their careers. And under this system, we're somehow surprised that the quality of undergraduate education keeps plummeting?

It's not that professors as a whole are evil or lazy; they are just responding to the incentives placed upon them, and those incentives at many universities say not to care very much about teaching, so a lot of professors don't. Those college instructors who do give a darn about teaching undergraduates tend to wind up as adjunct lecturers with low pay, zero job security, and even lower status and respect in many departments. Or they wind up teaching at community colleges, where they tend to get about the same respect society gives to middle school Spanish teachers, except with fewer chances for career advancement.

The problem isn't just that higher ed is being run like a business. The problem is that the management of many schools doesn't consider the quality of their undergraduate education, the thing their thousands of students are paying them millions of dollars to receive, to be a significantly important area in which to invest.
posted by zachlipton at 3:27 PM on May 17, 2011 [8 favorites]


Interesting how some people are saying that students who take out massive loans to attend good schools deserve to get screwed.

It seems to be part of this ongoing movement to create a tiny upper class (the people who could go to good schools without debt, because their parents could pay) and a big unwashed underclass (everyone else, because taking on $200,000 in debt is dumb).

Then we can go back to the way things were in the Gilded Age, with a few rich, moneyed elites lording it over everyone else, using their valuable degrees as symbols of their wealth and power, while everyone else slaves away in the muck. I guess that's not really just the Gilded Age though, is it. More like all of human history.

But, hey, that sounds OK, let's blame the uppity 17 year old who shoulda known what they were signing up for.

Actually... get bent.
posted by crackingdes at 3:37 PM on May 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


That's my favorite quote from the list of links. 86% of graduates say college was a good investment. We read all of these complaints about college being too expensive, graduates not finding jobs, and defaulting on loans yet the vast majority of graduates are satisfied with their investment.

So why the disparity between Americans who say the system fails to provide good value and graduates who are in fact satisfied?


Bernie Madoff's clients were absolutely thrilled with their investments until the house of cards came crashing down many years later.

Once you pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars you don't have into an education, you've got some pretty good reason to practice a bit of self-denial and tell yourself that it was all worthwhile. After all, only a fool would spend that much money and not be satisfied, right? Besides, once you have a degree, you have a vested interest in convincing everyone that your degree is worth top dollar (the same way homeowners want to keep home prices high and shareholders want to keep stock prices high), so you're going to want to talk up its value. And of course a college degree of some sort is used as a filtering mechanism for an enormous number of jobs, so even 200K seems cheap compared to being completely unemployable in your desired field, whether or not that's a socially optimal system of employment and wealth allocation.

So how much are people actually satisfied with their college experience vs convinced they purchased an asset that's worth something close to what they paid for it?
posted by zachlipton at 3:58 PM on May 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Lutoslawski In the case of my alma mater, undergrads, most of them wealthy, pay through the nose so grad students in English shitting out nonsense about deconstruction and Virginia Woolf can be funded. . . I just wanted to learn stuff, study with great people and earn a solid degree. . .I don't need grad students getting stipends to blab their opinions on Heidegger at me while I'm forced to meet with them about a paper I'm working on.

Isn't that why people go to Amherst, Williams, Swarthmore, et cetera rather than an Ivy?
posted by mlis at 4:05 PM on May 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


Stagger Lee: "This seems like desperation to me, more than anything, and I find the state of our economy and the role of education in it to be totally heartbreaking. Education shouldn't come with a crippling cost, and it should provide more than just training for a job.

...for a lot of people I'm concerned about the soundness of the discipline, the quality of education, and the possibility of low returns after graduation.
"

I completely agree with you, but I don't know that this is something that can be fixed. Education, especially classical education that focuses on teaching how to think about problems, has always been a privilege, and to a certain extent the exclusive domain of the relatively rich. That hasn't really changed, even though we often like to pretend otherwise.

We saw a demand for education, and in turn for universities, because the economy increasingly needed skilled workers for an information economy, as opposed to the trades. But this demand for training has been conflated with a demand for a classical education, and the increasing number of students desiring training and credentials for a job has been mistaken for an increasing thirst for education in its ideal form. And so universities that traditionally provided the latter are falling over themselves to provide the former, because that's where the students are coming from, and we're mourning the diminishing integrity of a classical education, all the while neglecting the question of whether or not one institution can or should provide both types of 'training'.

I think it's important to have both types of education. It's important to know how to run a business or code a website or design a building, but it's also important to know how to think about problems, and to know how previous people thought about problems. We need an acknowledgment of that duality in post-secondary education, and a way to reflect that in the training that's provided. People need to feel like they can get training for a career without giving up studying classical thinkers...they need to feel like they can study classical thinkers without cutting themselves off from pragmatic career opportunities. Not everyone who studies the humanities has to become an academic, but so many BAs are going into grad school because they simply don't see any other options for themselves. And furthermore, the people who aren't interested in being scholarly need to feel free to choose that without any stigma.

But I don't know what the solution is. My business school offered a lot of electives, but some people just took the easiest courses available to boost their GPA so they could get hired by top companies. In many senses, it was a waste of their time and money as well, because they didn't want anything beyond a job, but the one-size-fits-all system that is our current university system means that they had to at least pretend to have some passing interest in the humanities.

I'm preaching to the choir here. There are far more problems than that, starting with parents who groom their children to work the system, the culture of research academia, the undervaluation of knowledge for its own sake. I'm just rambling at this point. The state of post-secondary education is incredibly depressing to me, but I don't know what to do, and where we can start to fix it.
posted by Phire at 4:08 PM on May 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


Isn't it the very goal of businesses to have as few people on the payroll as possible?

I think you're confusing means and ends with this part of your comment, but I think you're absolutely correct that automation is one underlying cause among the "structural issues" driving unemployment rates.

Sometimes I'm reluctant to mention Marshall Brain's Manna because the writing is, well, in the awkward hard SF tradition, and I wonder if his vision of utopia isn't a non-starter for many people. But I think it's a potentially important story, because I don't see a lot of people connecting the dots. Consider the wide acceptance of capital concentrated in a relatively small number of hands, and of the idea that most people should live (or not) on their merits as an employee. Then extrapolate automation trends.

There might be a buffer as more people learn to do the automation work itself. This may be what we're seeing with the expansion of IT. But people have also been working on making software development easier, augmenting the power of developers, and even automatic software development. Broadly applicable success at that last bit would be singularity-class event, and it would essentially establish a capital-holding class that would have no need for any labor force.

Maybe nothing that extreme ever happens (although I'm not willing to count on it). Even then, I think it's useful as a thought exercise, because while we might never essentially eliminate employment as we know it, it's likely there will be growing portion of would-be labor for which that's the essential reality. Right now, our society-wide response seems to be to argue that these people are in this position because they deserve it. We're going to have to come up with something better.
posted by weston at 4:10 PM on May 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


On a related note: Armies of Expensive Lawyers, Replaced by Cheaper Software.
posted by weston at 4:24 PM on May 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


Does anyone else think that "Armies of Expensive Lawyers, Replaced by Cheaper Software" sounds like an Onion headline?
posted by madcaptenor at 4:40 PM on May 17, 2011


These kids should not be taking out massive loans. No one should be taking out massive loans. Can't find a school with tuition you can afford? Tough luck. Don't put yourself in a shitty situation by taking out massive loans.

Unemployment among college grads, even young ones, is not that bad. It's less than 5% on average.

These are my two favorite troll statements of the day. I graduated high school in 2001. Most of my peers got out of college in '05 or '06. Most out of grad school in '07-10. When we went in to college in 2001 the tuition costs were significantly cheaper than when we left. All of the people we were supposed to listen to: teachers, parents, guidance counselors, college admissions, student loan officers, and any other mentor said the same damn thing: it's a lot of money now but it will be worth it. The loans are cheap. You'll pay it off in no time, because by the time you graduate you will be earning $40, $50, $60, $70K/year. You'll pay it off in no time.

I am part of the "exception to the rule" group. I dropped out and worked my ass off to get a decent paying job to where I can afford student loans with ease. Most of my friends, older and younger are all screwed. $24K in loans isn't bad, huh? When you can't so much as make a payment, or are on your third deferment, it doesn't matter. The economy went to such shit that there is no job for us. I know lots of people who are taking the $10/hour jobs working in warehouses instead of teaching. Barista instead of graphic design. From finance to fine dining. Even nurses had to start doing travelling gigs and moving at random every six months. All with major debt loads that they cannot afford.

The baby boomers can't retire. Gen X doesn't move up to fill the Baby Boomer gap, there's not much at the bottom. Go ahead, blame the college students who actually listened to their mentors and took on the debt. Tell them that $24K in loans isn't a major debt when they make $20K/year. Tell them that they are employed in jobs with minimal pay and no benefits and tell them they should be happy. I'm very lucky not to be in that position for now, but given many people I know, I'm never far from falling back to it.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 5:07 PM on May 17, 2011 [19 favorites]


In the case of my alma mater, undergrads, most of them wealthy, pay through the nose so grad students in English shitting out nonsense about deconstruction and Virginia Woolf can be funded. . . I just wanted to learn stuff, study with great people and earn a solid degree. . .I don't need grad students getting stipends to blab their opinions on Heidegger at me while I'm forced to meet with them about a paper I'm working on.

You do realise that that "nonsense about deconstruction and Virginia Woolf" and "opinions on Heidegger" were the "stuff" that you go to university to learn, right? Or, at least, if you are studying those topics. And that those grad students are the "great people" who were the best at learning that stuff, and worked their butts off to learn it -- that's why they were accepted into PhD programs and funded. Sure, some grads end up teaching outside of their specialties -- just like faculty have to. I've taught African, Chinese and medieval history, though my specialty is 16th-18th century Britain. I still knew more than any of my students about how to study history. As for being "forced to meet with them" - I only ever met with students to help them improve their papers. If your paper truly needs no improvement, your TA will let you know - probably with great enthusiasm. It's extremely rare to see a paper, even from a good student, which needs no improvement.

Of course, if you aren't interested in learning stuff or improving your skills, it would be very annoying.

------------------------------------

I don't think that pointing out that unemployment among those with college degrees is relatively low is a troll - I think it's a good point. As badly as some college graduates are doing, unemployment among those without degrees is much higher.

I keep hearing how we have to tap into our "human capital" - and I start to think about whether that is just fooling ourselves. I feel like population growth and increased efficiency in all sectors has devalued human capital. We really have more people than we have work, leading to more and more unemployment, underemployment and competition for that work.
posted by jb at 5:12 PM on May 17, 2011 [6 favorites]


I find it odd that I cannot declare bankruptcy on my student loans -- I understand that I cannot "give back" my education like I could a house or a car, but still, I find it odd all the same.

I also find it odd that, increasingly, my credit score is looked at when determining my suitability for employment.

But, on different note, I whole heartedly believe people ought to invest in their education as much as they can, because you'll spend most of life inside your own head and hopefully it is a well-furnished, comfortable, even enjoyable place to be.
posted by Shit Parade at 5:19 PM on May 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


The baby boomers can't retire. Gen X doesn't move up to fill the Baby Boomer gap, there's not much at the bottom.

THIS.

Instead of talking about students who took out loans they realized they couldn't afford, or universities, how about we talk about THE PEOPLE WHO CONTROL HALF THE WEALTH IN THE COUNTRY. There aren't a lot of them. As they say in business school, "the efficiencies are out there, we just need to find them."
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 5:22 PM on May 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


is this also true of school loans acquired from private lenders?

Yes. 11 U.S.C. § 523(a)(8) exempts educational debt from discharge in the absence of proof of "undue hardship." The source of the funds does not wind up mattering.
posted by valkyryn at 5:57 PM on May 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


To put it another way, the price of giving tax breaks to people who are wealthy enough to benefit from lower property taxes

Not to derail, but this is a misconception, albeit a popular one. Property taxes affect everyone, whether or not said taxes are paid directly. Renters pay property taxes indirectly, because landlords pass on the costs of property taxes as part of rent. But property taxes also increase the price of every single good or service in a community, because they increase the overhead of every business. This is a big reason why the same consumer good or professional service costs more in places like New York City or San Francisco than it does in bumf*ck Nebraska. The commodity cost is similar, but a business in NYC is paying way more per square foot than the same business would somewhere cheaper, and it needs to pay its employees more for the same work because those employees' own rent is higher than it would be elsewhere.

TL;DR: property tax cuts/freezes/caps affect everyone, not just property owners. California may have shot itself in the foot in 1978, but it wasn't a giveaway to rich people the way its frequently made out to be.

posted by valkyryn at 6:03 PM on May 17, 2011


At this point, I feel that the best course of action is to throw up.
posted by sinnesloeschen at 6:05 PM on May 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


At this point, I feel that the best course of action is to throw up.

I sympathize, but some people can't afford to waste precious food in this way.
posted by madcaptenor at 6:52 PM on May 17, 2011 [6 favorites]


That is fine advice, but it's not what most kids are/have been told. "College debt is good debt," and "With a college degree, you'll be able to get a good job and pay it off." 18-year-olds who've never had to be financially responsible for themselves have no idea what they're signing up for.
Not only that, but it was pretty much true for a long time. Complaining about people believing things that have been true, and are currently true is ridiculous. The argument is that people should have expected the 2008 financial collapse and planned accordingly, and anyone who got screwed because of it (i.e. student loan debt with little job prospects, or being upside down on a house they paid too much for)
Not to derail, but this is a misconception, albeit a popular one. Property taxes affect everyone, whether or not said taxes are paid directly. Renters pay property taxes indirectly, because landlords pass on the costs of property taxes as part of rent.
that's true, but the value of an individual apartment is probably going to be a lot less then the value of an opulent manse
posted by delmoi at 7:18 PM on May 17, 2011


Mister Fabulous:

These are my two favorite troll statements of the day.

I made the first statement. I'm no troll.

I graduated high school in 2001.

I graduated high school in 2002.

Most of my peers got out of college in '05 or '06. Most out of grad school in '07-10. When we went in to college in 2001 the tuition costs were significantly cheaper than when we left.

Same here. Tuition up 50-100%. But 27% inflation since '01.

All of the people we were supposed to listen to: teachers, parents, guidance counselors, college admissions, student loan officers, and any other mentor said the same damn thing: it's a lot of money now but it will be worth it.

Funny, I don't remember hearing that, but if I had I'm sure I would have paid close attention. Those people (minus your parents) are in the education business so they sure do know what they're talking about.

The loans are cheap. You'll pay it off in no time, because by the time you graduate you will be earning $40, $50, $60, $70K/year. You'll pay it off in no time.

This house is cheap. You'll double your equity in no time, because by the time you're ready to move, the home value will already be up 5%, 10%,15%, 20%/year.

Use your head, do some research, make your own decision. And honestly, were either of your parents even making $70k/year when you started school?

$24K in loans isn't bad, huh? When you can't so much as make a payment, or are on your third deferment, it doesn't matter. The economy went to such shit that there is no job for us. I know lots of people who are taking the $10/hour jobs working in warehouses instead of teaching. Barista instead of graphic design. From finance to fine dining. Even nurses had to start doing travelling gigs and moving at random every six months. All with major debt loads that they cannot afford.

Smart nurses. Move to a new city if you can't afford where you're at now.

Here's how you can alleviate that $10/hour situation:

I have this $10/hour job in Portland, $1300/month. My rent is $800/month, and I have these student loans to pay off. Fuck, I can't afford more than $100/month on these loans. Fuck! I can't afford to live in this city. I better move. Where should I move? Googles 'state by state unemployment' 6 of the top 8 are in the midwest. Googles '2008 presidential election county by county votes' Looks like Des Moines, Kansas City, Omaha and Lincoln are the major, somewhat progressive cities in the midwest with the lowest unemployment. Wonder what the rent is in those cities? I could continue, but I'll leave that as an exercise for the reader.

What I'm trying to say is, I live in one of those cities. I have cheap rent with an apartment downtown, blocks from campus. I make a comfortable amount, but wish I made a lot more (I would make over twice what I make per year if I lived in California and, of course, had a job there as a programmer). I'm looking at buying a house. Of all the houses on the market, I can (conservatively) afford to buy 75% of them. On $10/hour you could get a loan that would cover 13% of the houses on the market. 13% isn't great, but you can buy a fucking house on $10/hour here! The housing market here, by the way, took virtually no hit. I'm trying to illustrate that the economic situation discussed in this thread, and others, is so foreign to where I live, and other cities throughout the midwest (and other regions of the country I'm sure), that I just don't understand why these people don't move to one of these cites. Move to somewhere you can afford, that is doing well economically (we're building a new $225 million arena). You'll live so cheaply that you won't need more than $10/hour, but you'll sure get more. And you're money will take you further anyways.
posted by trueluk at 8:46 PM on May 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


Or, you know trueluk, you could move to someplace which doesn't rank as a "somewhat progressive city" and help change the balance a bit away toward the side of the scale you prefer.
posted by hippybear at 9:01 PM on May 17, 2011


Or, you know trueluk, you could move to someplace which doesn't rank as a "somewhat progressive city" and help change the balance a bit away toward the side of the scale you prefer.

yeah, but not everyone wants to fight that fight.
posted by madcaptenor at 10:05 PM on May 17, 2011


Hehe. Lots of disgruntled PDX'ers in this thread.

Portland is pretty but man, what a shitty place to try and make a living.
posted by bardic at 10:22 PM on May 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


Moving can be such an emotional thing; I can't imagine that it's good advice for everyone.
posted by ZeusHumms at 11:26 PM on May 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Portland is pretty but man, what a shitty place to try and make a living.

I live in Portland, not exactly a secret. But the previous two places I lived in were Ohio, and before that, Michigan. My personal employment prospects, based on my education and career path were better here when I moved in 2007.

Use your head, do some research, make your own decision.

Because when I was done with high school, at the age of 17, I was well prepared in making financial decisions that were valued in the tens of thousands. Uh huh.

Smart nurses. Move to a new city if you can't afford where you're at now.

I agree that, if you can, moving can be a solution. But there is a cost to moving. Sure, the nurses and other medical professionals I know that started doing travelling gigs were making money, but most people can't put up with it for much more than a few years. You can't settle down in the slightest as a traveler. When you are single, without kids, don't own a home and don't care where you are relative to family, it's easier to move. Start changing any of those factors and it becomes exponentially more difficult.

My point is that most of my friends had been fed the same line for years, starting early on in our education going back to elementary school. You'll go to college, you'll get your degree, you'll get a job and all will be well. Problem is that the line was bullshit, everything has been stacked against our favor. There's a definite possibility that we (this is the collective "we" I'm talking about) will be the new "lost generation."
posted by Mister Fabulous at 12:20 AM on May 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


I have this $10/hour job in Portland, $1300/month. My rent is $800/month, and I have these student loans to pay off. Fuck, I can't afford more than $100/month on these loans. Fuck! I can't afford to live in this city. I better move. Where should I move? Googles 'state by state unemployment' 6 of the top 8 are in the midwest. Googles '2008 presidential election county by county votes' Looks like Des Moines, Kansas City, Omaha and Lincoln are the major, somewhat progressive cities in the midwest with the lowest unemployment. Wonder what the rent is in those cities? I could continue, but I'll leave that as an exercise for the reader.

So if you can't afford to live where you're living now, you're supposed to scramble together thousands of dollars in moving expenses and savings, quit your job, move halfway across the country, quickly find a cheap place to live that's relatively safe and habitable, find a new job, and start over in a new city where you have no friends, family, or any other kind of support network? That sounds like a great plan! Now try doing that with kids. Or a sick parent who you have to care for. Or an intense dislike of chain restaurants. Or any other reason why we aren't all moving to Omaha right this instant.

Yes, it's a luxury to live in nice places and moving is sometimes necessary, but let's not forget that there is a reason why the market has decided that the same home costs a whole lot more in San Francisco than it does in Omaha: more people want to live there. People want to live in interesting places and generally enjoy their lives. They went to college because a degree was supposed to be something to permit them to do just that. That's what everyone told them college would buy: stay in school so you can get a good job and a good life. A degree was supposed to be an investment in your future, not a ball and chain. No one goes to college in order to move to the midwest and be a barista for decades until their loans are paid off.

So you might say that's too bad, you signed the loan so you deal with it. Even so, plenty of students are easily graduating with $40K or more in student loan debt. With interest, that's well over $400/month for 10 years. The federal government advice is that student loan payments shouldn't exceed 8% of gross income. By that benchmark, you'd have to be making over $60K/year ($5K/month). That's almost four times your $10/hour wage. At $10/hour less student loans, you'd be hard pressed to be making minimum wage, so why exactly did you go to college?

None of this addresses the fact that it's a rather poor allocation of societal resources for large numbers of young people to spend many thousands of dollars they don't have to receive an education in some specialized area in order to perform unskilled labor in return for little money while living in a city they don't want to live in.

Finally, unemployment numbers are misleading. They only count unemployed people who are actively looking for work. Missing from that figure are the underemployed, who might be working part-time or in jobs that don't take advantage of their skills, but who would still be looking for better jobs if the market allowed, and those who have simply given up looking for work and have dropped out of the statistics.
posted by zachlipton at 12:47 AM on May 18, 2011 [10 favorites]


let's not forget that there is a reason why the market has decided that the same home costs a whole lot more in San Francisco than it does in Omaha: more people want to live there.

Funny, I thought it was because the entirety of San Francisco is 47 square miles and there is no land surrounding it to expand into as suburbs.
posted by hippybear at 5:00 AM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I can't help but wonder about the long-term effects of creating a disaffected, underemployed, young, angry, underclass. Seems like it might be unwise.

What's the best way to subdue a disaffected, underemployed, angry underclass? Dangle the illusion of a better life in front of them and then hock them in debt to pay for it. Make sure you demonise all the people underneath so that they're really incentivised to take on that debt. Instant acquiescence, no shots fired.

You know what happened when people had free higher education (in the UK anyway) and unprecedented social mobility? The 60s.
posted by Summer at 5:12 AM on May 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yes, it's a luxury to live in nice places and moving is sometimes necessary, but let's not forget that there is a reason why the market has decided that the same home costs a whole lot more in San Francisco than it does in Omaha: more people want to live there. People want to live in interesting places and generally enjoy their lives.

My theory is that "life" is just as enjoyable in either place, but that big cities offer much better employment opportunities. In KC, when Sprint lays off a few thousand people, it's a miserable time finding a new job in town. In silicon valley and NYC there's a much greater chance your skillset is in demand by more than one employer. So large populations beget even larger populations and ever growing rents.

Also:
So if you can't afford to live where you're living now, you're supposed to scramble together thousands of dollars in moving expenses and savings, quit your job, move halfway across the country, quickly find a cheap place to live that's relatively safe and habitable, find a new job, and start over in a new city where you have no friends, family, or any other kind of support network?

Being broke is too damn expensive. This is why it's so important to have savings / emergency funds. Or at the very least, access to credit. And to an extent, the internet does offer a support network; during my last move, I turned to AskMefi for advice and was not disappointed. I assume Facebook and other social networking sites offer similar benefits.
posted by pwnguin at 6:42 AM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm surprised no-one's yet mentioned Peter Thiel's new investment program called 20 Under 20, where he'll find 20 promising teenagers and pay them $100,000 to start a company instead of going to college. I guess it's a little off topic. Still, the article linked is worth a read, if only for the comment by the "Dilbert" creator Scott Adams at the end:

"I understand why the top students in America study physics, chemistry, calculus and classic literature," Adams wrote. "But why do we make B students sit through these same classes? That's like trying to train your cat to do your taxes—a waste of time and money."
posted by baejoseph at 7:13 AM on May 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


where he'll find 20 promising teenagers and pay them $100,000 to start a company instead of going to college.

I hope he's not expecting to get too much money back.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 7:16 AM on May 18, 2011


I hope he's not expecting to get too much money back.

As I read it, the 100k is a payment, not a loan. It's a pretty controversial program though, if that's what you were hinting at.
posted by baejoseph at 7:24 AM on May 18, 2011


re: automation (cf. globalization)

also btw...
-Higher-education bubble: Blowing up grad school (re: thiel)
-Is higher education a bubble?
-Can you have a bubble in something that can't be sold?
if we want to understand why competition doesn't seem to work to bring down the price of education, we need to think in terms of market failures, just as market failures explain why competition doesn't work to bring down healthcare costs in the US
i think that involves political economy, but i also like the way yglesias put it:
In Kuhnian terms, we're at a point where the prevailing academic approach in macroeconomics is accumulating more problematic anomalies but behaviorist critics haven't really produced a workable alternative paradigm. Consequently, actual practical policymakers are relying a lot on economic history, intuition, etc.
add in political sclerosis and that leaves monetary expansion, which while problematic -- and imo, um, inelegant* -- has at least been somewhat effective (until, of course, it isn't...), so if muddling thru short-termism isn't 'the answer', how do we create/design institutions that build trust?

---
*or why not have the government (or a national infrastructure bank) become an employer of last resort?
Within the MMT community, smart people have given a great deal of thought to institutional forms under which which fiscal policy might be used to regulate activity. As far as I know, they have mostly converged upon the institution of a “job guarantee (JG)” or an “employer of last resort (ELR)”, whereunder the size and wage of a “buffer stock” of public labor would become the economic instrument of macro stabilization. This is an ambitious idea, both politically and technically. Not only must one develop appropriate policies for stabilizing the economy on the fiscal side (i.e. the equivalent of a Taylor Rule for ELR wage levels), but one must also plan and implement real-world projects for a variable-sized pool of (hopefully) transient workers. These projects should usefully employ and develop the productive capacity of ELR participants, while remaining distinct from and and not interfering with the ordinary private and public sector workforces. (As I understand the proposal, ELR employees would be distinct from other public employees, in that they’d be paid a standard, low but livable, package of wages and benefits. ELR employment would always be viewed as a backstop that individuals would be encouraged to transition out of, rather than as permanent employment.)
posted by kliuless at 8:32 AM on May 18, 2011 [3 favorites]



Lutoslawski In the case of my alma mater, undergrads, most of them wealthy, pay through the nose so grad students in English shitting out nonsense about deconstruction and Virginia Woolf can be funded. . . I just wanted to learn stuff, study with great people and earn a solid degree. . .I don't need grad students getting stipends to blab their opinions on Heidegger at me while I'm forced to meet with them about a paper I'm working on.

Isn't that why people go to Amherst, Williams, Swarthmore, et cetera rather than an Ivy?


Yeah, and actually whenever youngsters ask me for advice on school, I always tell them that if they want to go the fancy route, go to one of the schools you mentioned - someplace without a grad program. I wish I'd done that. I think it makes an enormous difference.
posted by Lutoslawski at 9:33 AM on May 18, 2011


Yeah, and actually whenever youngsters ask me for advice on school, I always tell them that if they want to go the fancy route, go to one of the schools you mentioned - someplace without a grad program. I wish I'd done that. I think it makes an enormous difference.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:33 PM on May 18 [+] [!]


Yes, because none of the professors at those universities were ever graduate students. Or, if they were, the diploma came with a brain-transplant.

Actually, I understand your complaint that you felt that you received all of your instruction from graduate students who had less experience than tenured faculty (because experience does make a difference, though I think you would have found that your tenured faculty have just as many "opinions about Heidigger," only that they are even more convinced of their own correctness). Graduate students at elite universities also complain about this; they would like some teaching experience, but feel like too much of the teaching burden -- especially the one-on-one instruction -- has been downloaded on to them by faculty who have little interest in undergraduate education and who have been promoted to their position by a system which places little emphasis on teaching interest and quality. What you ran into is a conflict between the university's role as a teaching institution and its role as a research institution. Graduate students at your institution also probably received far less instruction and support for their teaching duties than graduate teachers at less prestigious universities (where grads also do to much teaching, but because of budget reasons).

Ironically enough, I did my undergraduate at an extremely large state university with a graduate program, and still had most of my instruction from tenured faculty (except for one weird year involving sabbaticals affecting 3/5 of my classes). But that was because my university was not very prestigious and faculty were actively sought and promoted based on both teaching and research. (Also, I figured out that in classes with sections, if you took Section 01 it was probably the instructor's). Yet at the same time, I learned a great deal from my graduate student section instructors when I had them, because they provided a different perspective on the same material than the primary lecturer did, they were sometimes were more of an expert in a given topic than the primary instructor and also because, being graduate students in the topic, they still knew way more than I did.
posted by jb at 10:22 AM on May 18, 2011


My theory is that "life" is just as enjoyable in either place,

You have GOT to be kidding me. From time to time I get tired of my progressive, lefty little group-think bubble and venture elsewhere. Much of the time I'm confronted with sexist, racist, and homophobic people who have no interest in creating anything, and who ridicule any art that isn't presented by corporations, preferably on television. Also, they have terrible taste in food. Life everywhere is not equal.
posted by small_ruminant at 12:03 PM on May 18, 2011


(I am not saying Omaha is one of those places- I've never been there.)
posted by small_ruminant at 12:05 PM on May 18, 2011


I think that's a rather closed-minded view of the world. I like my lefty enclave as much as anyone, and there's a reason I live in Northern California and not in Omaha, but there is a lot of value in interacting extensively with people who have different viewpoints and lifestyles. The midwest is more than must sexist racist homophobes, and the Bay Area is more than hipsters and Naderites.

I've spent a decent bit of time in Omaha actually, and there are definitely lovely people and certain charms to the place. It's also the kind of place where it is literally an unusual occurrence to see a pedestrian on the sidewalk, where it's hard to find a restaurant that isn't a chain or looks just like a chain, and where healthy eating is such a foreign concept that ordering a salad "with dressing on the side" will get you a salad with the normal amount of dressing poured around the outer edge (sadly, I am not kidding).

So yeah; there are lots of good reasons why I don't live in Omaha, but that doesn't mean everyone there is so horrible. Heck, Obama even carried NE-2, the district centered on Omaha, in 2008.
posted by zachlipton at 1:29 PM on May 18, 2011


I'm not saying anything about Omaha. I am saying that not all towns are equal insofar as what their dominant culture values. It is NOT as easy to be gay in Stockton as it is in San Francisco or even Oakland.
posted by small_ruminant at 1:35 PM on May 18, 2011


It is NOT as easy to be gay in Stockton as it is in San Francisco or even Oakland.'

True, but unless there are gay people in Stockton, the fine people of Stockton will never have a chance to overcome their prejudices.

There's a reason why the call in the '70s was "Come Out, Wherever You Are".

I accept that not everyone has the strength or guts to fight that fight, but if that fight isn't fought, we'll never win the battle for the hearts and minds of the country.
posted by hippybear at 1:51 PM on May 18, 2011


Your argument is that people should live in places that actively oppress them for the good of society? You're asking a lot. If someone feels like fighting that fight, good for them. I am not one of them and it's a lot to ask. If I had kids, I sure as hell wouldn't be subjecting them to an environment I found toxic to their mental, emotional, spiritual, creative, etc. well-being and growth.
posted by small_ruminant at 1:53 PM on May 18, 2011


My argument is the same one which has been made since Stonewall. That coming out and living life as an openly homosexual person is a political act which has effects on the world around you, and that a vast majority of those effects end up being positive in the long run.

I'm not the first to say this, I won't be the last. If it's not something you are able to do, then do whatever you must to live a life you feel comfortable with.

But it's pretty much a fact at this point -- people who have no contact with homosexuals tend to Other them the most, and people who know homosexuals tend to be the most accepting of them. Either you're wiling to be known and change minds, or you are not. If you are not, you either move or live in the closet.

This isn't my math. It's been around for decades at this point. I'm surprised you don't already know this stuff.
posted by hippybear at 2:02 PM on May 18, 2011


But back to the original point- your experience in Stockton will not be equal to your experience in San Francisco. They are not equal.

I am very aware of "this stuff," thank you. However, telling people how they should be living their life is something I am working very hard to get out of that habit of. The older I get the more I know that I know nothing about other people's battles. I am not about to start condemning them for failing to fight the political/social fight that's uppermost on MY agenda.
posted by small_ruminant at 2:21 PM on May 18, 2011


I haven't condemned anyone, nor have I directed any of my comments at an individual at all.

But there is a real THING here on MetaFilter about telling (particularly LGBT but also other sort of) people that they need to move out of whatever place they're living in and make their way to one of the big Acceptable Coastal Liberal Enclave cities, where they will be welcomed and warm and their lives will be perfect.

And, well, for starters, it's bullshit. Big cities have as much if not more problems with things like gay bashings than small towns. But secondly, there's so much Red State Othering which takes place here already, encouraging people who share your values to leave those places and abandon them to the Them... that's just not wise.

Anyway, I haven't told anyone how to live their lives. All I've done is point out that there is a real need for liberal / progressive / LGBT people to remain in the places they are and not flee to the big cities, because there is good work they can do if they have the will to remain in place and still be out and be themselves.

Other than trueluk, who I was responding directly to, I haven't aimed any of what I have said in this thread at any individual at all, and have been making my points from a macro level. If you've taken anything I've said in any other way, I cannot help that. But please read my words and don't project any malice or judgement into them. What I am saying are clear facts and should be acknowledged as such.
posted by hippybear at 2:30 PM on May 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


you can't get a job with a BA in Sociology

Why do people keep saying this, when functionally speaking you can? Between you and the damn engineers going on about how we're going to end up in a cardboard hovel, its like... you have to put someone else down to feel better about yourself? Jesus, that's really rude.
posted by Phalene at 5:55 PM on May 18, 2011 [3 favorites]


Many With New College Degree Find the Job Market Humbling - "Employment rates for new graduates have fallen sharply, as have starting salaries for those who can find work."
The median starting salary for students graduating from four-year colleges in 2009 and 2010 was $27,000, down from $30,000 for those who entered the work force in 2006 to 2008, according to a study released on Wednesday by the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University. That is a decline of 10 percent, even before taking inflation into account. Of course, these are the lucky ones — the graduates who found a job. Among the members of the class of 2010, just 56 percent had held at least one job by this spring, when the survey was conducted. That compares with 90 percent of graduates from the classes of 2006 and 2007. (Some have gone for further education or opted out of the labor force, while many are still pounding the pavement.)
-Trade In The Nontradables
-College Conspiracy
posted by kliuless at 7:49 AM on May 19, 2011


The job market being worse than in the past for college graduates does not mean that going to college was a bad idea; the contrast would be that same population not going to college. From that survey (which is tiny, only 153 members of the classes of 2009 and 2010), from people who said they would have done something different:
Been more careful about selecting my major or chosen a different major 48%
Done more internships or worked part time 47%
Would have started looking for work much sooner while still in college 38%
Would have taken more classes to prepare for a career 27%
Would have gone to a different college 14%
Something else 9%
Would not have gone to college 4%
posted by a robot made out of meat at 8:59 AM on May 19, 2011


There is an update on Georgia State vs. Cambridge Press, Oxford Press, and Sage too.
posted by jeffburdges at 11:39 AM on May 19, 2011


Phalene: I don't mean that as a slight against sociology. I have a BA in sociology, and I think it's one of the most underrated disciplines in the humanities.

But I knew I didn't want to do grad school. I wanted to start working. I'm also an incredibly risk-averse person, so for me, I wanted to maximize my job hunting chances. It was a very mercenary decision. I admire a lot of my friends who HAVE studied what they love, because I'm too chicken to give up the promise of future security. Yes, you can find a job with a BA Soc....but it's harder.

And that's kind of my point. Everyone has different reasons for choosing their degree. Saying a business major is characteristic A is about as useful as saying sociology grads are doomed to live in cardboard boxes. It's a spiteful and false stereotype that accomplishes nothing.
posted by Phire at 10:49 PM on May 19, 2011


oh hey, i missed the graduate post/discussion thread...
posted by kliuless at 6:32 AM on May 20, 2011


That comment up there about finding it pointless that student clubs would get $1000 to run?

At my first ever uni we were promised a good amount of money (we were certainly paying a lot of it for not much education in return) but it never came. If it did college culture would have been AMAZING. We were full of creative types missing an outlet; we could have done some serious work with that.

I wouldn't want to be in a university that didn't value college life. Bringing in performers for the students? Supporting student activities beyond the academic? HELLS YEAH. We're not just brains in meat machines.

[[the first college was in malaysia, the second in australia. student loans were never an option due to citizenship/residency issues; my parents had to pay for my education, which was full fee both places. aussie full fee is about 4x more expensive than aussie locals on hecs debt, and while i was on a partial scholarship it was still a massive expense when coupled with the fact that i couldn't get centrelink or medicare or whatever. at least i had some familial privilege - i wonder what other students had to face to even get a chance at a decent education that they can't get at home.

am i employed? two years after graduation, no. mostly because my bridging visa confounds people and no one knows what a 'bachelor of creative industries' is. but the visa's the big factor. i can't even go into debt ifi wanted because my visa won't let me! so much for my dad retiring. it's embarrassing, but until immigration hurries up and gives me permanent residency not much will change.]]
posted by divabat at 6:38 AM on May 20, 2011


An attempt to extract information and learn from sequentially reading the posts of an huge thread on learning, or "Hi, I am on Meta attempting to preempt an oneliner on my overthinking a bunch of posts"

So I said to myself, being half baked from 10 hours of translation: let's try and see what I can learn from a thread on learning. I'll time myself and see what I can read and write down in one hour. It's an almost random, unordered sequence of toughts, it might be interesting.

In order of appaerance:

- Universities: some of them (both private and public) are attempting to attract student from wherever it is more profitable
to have a student from;
- California: 1978's Proposition 13 is likely to have reduced the tax base --> less funds --> more expensive tuition -->
less people taking advantage of inexpensive education --> more persistant ignorance for the underprivileged;
- Student loans: can't be written off by declaring bankruptcy
- STEM Education: a culture centered/incensing business is unlikely to plant the seed for better/more STEM education dmenad; Business
is primarily concerned with the progress in STEM education as far as it reduces the average cost of STEM workers;
- Apprenticeship: ignoring vocational training in favor of higher education has led to an enduring shortage of skilled workers;
- Cap on students loans: to prevent cheap credit from distorting student loans, a cap proportional to the median graduate
income over 10 years, post-ed, is proposed;
- Some people would love to be more educated: "I sometimes see people like me on the subway; pretenders working office jobs but secretly going to the library every Saturday reading through what would have been our "core curriculum";
- Other people would rather risk losing their house then not sending their kids to college, perceived as a milestone attainment;
- One user appears to be mildly angered by what appears to be a distraction of funds toward (at least apparently) utterly useless activities/courses;
- Drawning from personal and friends' experience, some people feel kind of betrayed from the advices they had accepted in the past
to attain an "higher education", and now don't know who to ask for advices;
- An user has realized that not following one's dream studies isn't an obstacle to attain the desidered education, if one is
willing to do a job that isn't the dreamed one and is willing to study on spare time;
- An user advices against considering advanced education as useless because the notions learned were not subsequently useful
in one's actual job; part of learning is enduring enough to learn how to see through the initial learning curve;
- One user has seen his/her career stop because of the employer's demand for a particular title; a cycle is created by the
employer's demand in which, in order to advance one's careers, one has to to pay for a degree that can't promise a work;
- An user believes that higher education shoudn't be seen as a transaction, but rather as a chance for growth and a challenging
form of learning and understanding;
- Teacher preparation: an user gathers from his/her experience with teacher candidates over the last couple years, who were doing concurrent masters of ed & teacher credential programs, that they received little genuine preparation for teaching.

Time over. What I gather from this is that people are interested in learning, as they probably intuitively understand that knowledge is likely to be useful, but some are frustrated by the fact that learning doesn't necessarily yeld sufficient and secure enough returns, in terms of income and job quality/security. I think that it is likely that the nature of this thread has self-selected the users that has posted a comment, so we don't really have a population representative sample here.

Yet, my wild guess is that most people have studied enough to have appreciate the benefits of an higher education, but are now less prone to believe that studying will benefit them on the workplace both in the short and in the long term; more thant disillusioned, I believe they are disappointed .

One more wild guess is that many enterpreneurs are excessively focused on looking for "talents", possibily not knowing or wishfully disregarding the fact that, if "talent" is indeed rare, then possibly an higher average education would yeld more "good enough" employees. Yet many still think about employees as a shelf resource (comparable to goods and services), that can be tailored to their personal needs, possibily overnight and for free.
posted by elpapacito at 5:57 PM on May 20, 2011 [6 favorites]


-Once Again: Is College Worth It?
-The Rise of the Five-Year Four-Year Degree
-Are Young College Grads Too Lazy to Work?
-The College Majors That Do Best in the Job Market
posted by kliuless at 11:56 AM on May 23, 2011


« Older Marvel.com now has many animated series (all episo...  |  After 45 years, $2.5 billion, ... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments