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Matt Taibbi on the Ripping Off of Young America
August 16, 2013 1:54 PM   Subscribe

Ripping Off Young America: The College-Loan Scandal. "The federal government has made it easier than ever to borrow money for higher education - saddling a generation with crushing debts and inflating a bubble that could bring down the economy."
posted by homunculus (142 comments total) 45 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oh, fucking hell. He lost my interest at that first paragraph, with the line:

covered from head to toe in the slime and ooze of the Benghazi and IRS scandals

You know, the scandals which were mostly made up by the lunatic fringe. And he's starting with that. I can't take the rest of it seriously.
posted by mephron at 2:04 PM on August 16, 2013 [22 favorites]




Oh, fucking hell. He lost my interest at that first paragraph, with the line:

What he was conveying was made clearer in the second paragraph.
posted by srboisvert at 2:09 PM on August 16, 2013 [14 favorites]


Come oooooon, debt holiday!
posted by cthuljew at 2:16 PM on August 16, 2013


The Whelk, that is a wonderful article, despite the author's misguided classification of those of us in our early 30s as "millenials".
posted by namewithoutwords at 2:16 PM on August 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


I really, really wished he had actually dealt with more of the issue around why college costs keep rising, since he blithely mentions that they're escalating even faster than "health care, energy, even housing"-- three of the very reasons that are causing costs to rise, not just new facilities. Interest rates and the inability to discharge educational loans are what make that average $27,000 debt so problematic.
posted by jetlagaddict at 2:17 PM on August 16, 2013 [7 favorites]


I'm an old man, and I'm really worried. An entire generation has sold itself into bondage.

The universities are like predators: chewing up each class of students to get all the nourishment they hold, then spitting them out onto the ground afterwards.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:21 PM on August 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


My son starts college in a week and a half. We and he have taken out loans to pay for this first year. The cost is outrageous, but we're willing to suck it up because he's going to the only college in the country for students with his particular learning issues. We're paying for the 5 to 1 student faculty ratio, not any fancy campus facilities! I hate sending him off into the world already handicapped by debt, but we all knew this was the place for him. All we can do is tell him not to worry about it now and just concentrate on getting everything he can out of college. But it is like a black cloud hanging over what should be a blue sky situation.
posted by Biblio at 2:23 PM on August 16, 2013 [6 favorites]


I find it interesting that the left is generally very anti-school-voucher but still pro-student-loan. There are really very similar programs with the exception that with school vouchers you get to keep the money.
posted by goingonit at 2:24 PM on August 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


The Federal government's easy money policy towards student loans has created a "tuition bubble" where these assets (the value of higher education) are grossly overpriced and many diploma owners underwater. Schools and their employees have profited like Wall Street bankers at the expense of students and taxpayers. Little wonder Taibbi uses the same hyperbolic rhetoric to describe student loans as he describes derivatives.
posted by three blind mice at 2:24 PM on August 16, 2013 [12 favorites]


Previously.
posted by Runes at 2:24 PM on August 16, 2013


While I'm no fan of inflated university tuition costs, it seems like a pretty natural economic phenomenon to me. There are sufficient "consumers" of university that are not price sensitive that universities compete on other factors - their brand, quality of facilities, famous professors, etc. Unless there was a shortage of students - and that does not seem to be likely - universities will continue to bribe students with their own tuition money.
posted by GuyZero at 2:26 PM on August 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


I find it interesting that the left is generally very anti-school-voucher but still pro-student-loan. There are really very similar programs with the exception that with school vouchers you get to keep the money.

Where is there a free school system after high school in the US?
posted by winna at 2:29 PM on August 16, 2013 [25 favorites]


> why college costs keep rising

Well, if affordable healthcare really is on the horizon for US citizens, there has to be a way to keep the upcoming generations safely muzzled. No debtor knows freedom.
posted by scruss at 2:30 PM on August 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


I wonder what would have happened if students and their families refused to take out loans to pay the higher tuition rates and either delayed school, chose schools with cheaper tuition, or opted not to go to school at all.
posted by MoonOrb at 2:34 PM on August 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


I didn't sell myself into bondage. I just have no loyalty or felicity towards my culture or most of the people in it. Not an ideal situation for me, but that's life.
posted by Teakettle at 2:34 PM on August 16, 2013


Where is there a free school system after high school in the US?

Point taken. But you can still make the exact same argument that all the money the federal government spends on subsidizing student loans should better be spent making tuition cheaper directly (of course, they actually spend negative money, but that's just another point against them). And that student loans end up sucking students from public schools and sending them to less-affordable and lower-quality private schools.

Also, we used to have a free post-secondary school system (kind of; in 1957 more than half of CUNY students attended for free) but we killed it. This is what we have instead. Maybe we should be madder about that?
posted by goingonit at 2:34 PM on August 16, 2013 [6 favorites]


Just out of curiosity, I had to check - there is a total of between $900 billion and $1 trillion in student loan debt in the US with approx 37 million students with outstanding debt (source) which is more in debt than any single state except New York, California or Texas has in total state GDP. In pure dollar value, that's 50 Detroits ($20 bn in debt). Just for perspective.
posted by jason_steakums at 2:35 PM on August 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


Schools and their employees have profited like Wall Street bankers at the expense of students and taxpayers.

Where the hell is this pile of money my wife and I should be rolling in? I seem to have misplaced it. Oh right, it never existed. Seriously, school employees are profiting?
posted by srboisvert at 2:36 PM on August 16, 2013 [30 favorites]


Just popping in to say that I went to a public university and am still currently paying $350 per month in student loans and yes I'm talking about undergrad and federal loans, ok bye and also fuck everything
posted by showbiz_liz at 2:36 PM on August 16, 2013 [14 favorites]


I'm an old man, and I'm really worried. An entire generation has sold itself into bondage.

That's basically how revolutions happen. We're looking at 1968 all over again in the next 2-3 years.
posted by empath at 2:39 PM on August 16, 2013


We're outraged so often the bile doesn't really have a chance to build up anymore.
posted by 2bucksplus at 2:41 PM on August 16, 2013 [8 favorites]


Where the hell is this pile of money my wife and I should be rolling in?

Administration.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 2:41 PM on August 16, 2013 [25 favorites]


Where the hell is this pile of money my wife and I should be rolling in? I seem to have misplaced it. Oh right, it never existed. Seriously, school employees are profiting?

Education Administrators, Postsecondary (2002) 97,000 nationally, average wage of $71,630.

Education Administrators, Postsecondary (2012) 123,000 nationally, average wage of $99,370.

Over the course of this decade, total employment has increased about 2% and median wages are up about 10%.

Does that answer your question?
posted by goingonit at 2:43 PM on August 16, 2013 [8 favorites]


Schools and their employees have profited like Wall Street bankers at the expense of students and taxpayers.

Some academic faculty are probably overpaid, and many university administrators are highly overpaid, but the notion that university employees are "profiting like Wall Street bankers" is largely ludicrous.
posted by kengraham at 2:43 PM on August 16, 2013 [17 favorites]


Where is there a free school system after high school in the US?

West Point, Annapolis, Colorado Springs, New London, King's Point.

Where the hell is this pile of money my wife and I should be rolling in?

Construction. IT. The banks.
posted by IndigoJones at 2:44 PM on August 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


I wonder what would have happened if students and their families refused to take out loans to pay the higher tuition rates and either delayed school, chose schools with cheaper tuition, or opted not to go to school at all.

They'd be working in the service industry. If they're lucky.

The irony of the student loans fiasco is that you're unlikely to get any professional-class job these days without internship experience, which are mostly unpaid or extremely low-paid. So to get that experience, you have to work crummy, low-paying jobs until someone somewhere retires/dies/etc. and maybe you get to make enough to make your loan payments AND eat food, but not enough to start a family, buy a home, or do anything that involves spending more than $100. Life for a twenty-something is super fun!
posted by MetalFingerz at 2:44 PM on August 16, 2013 [10 favorites]


Simple solution: don't go to college. While a postsecondary degree is a great signifier of middle class respectability, being an electrician may pay more.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:50 PM on August 16, 2013 [15 favorites]


goingonit: "Over the course of this decade, total employment has increased about 2% and median wages are up about 10%.

Does that answer your question?
"

No, of course it doesn't. School Administrators are mid-to-upper management. Having them grant themselves salary while supressing wages on their employees isn't interesting and it doesn't answer anything.
posted by boo_radley at 2:50 PM on August 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


srboisvert: Oh, fucking hell. He lost my interest at that first paragraph

Taibbi is fond of pseudo-gonzo writing like this, which is a shame. He covers some important topics and gets a lot of notice for it.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:52 PM on August 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


Yeah, wasn't in love with the first sentence, but the man deserves a Pulitzer.
posted by ambient2 at 2:54 PM on August 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


You can't talk about administrators and "median wages" in the same breath. Administrators are managers, and generally well above the median in terms of wages.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:54 PM on August 16, 2013


The Whelk, that is a wonderful article, despite the author's misguided classification of those of us in our early 30s as "millenials".

We were born in the early 1980s. That makes us millennials. Who did you think the old folks were whining about?
posted by Sys Rq at 2:55 PM on August 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty debt.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 2:57 PM on August 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


The irony of the student loans fiasco is that you're unlikely to get any professional-class job these days without internship experience, which are mostly unpaid or extremely low-paid.

Only in careers where there's an oversupply of workers. No one is taking an unpaid internship in engineering or CS.

But this is a bit of a derail into a long and pointless debate. No, not everyone has to go into engineering. But there's a basic economic reason employers offer unpaid internships and it's that there's someone out there willing to take one. And people are willing to take them because there's an oversupply of workers in the field. It's just reality that employment prospects are better in some fields than others.

Or, as KokuRyu suggests, become an electrician. No one is doing an unpaid apprenticeship.
posted by GuyZero at 2:57 PM on August 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


ambient2: Yeah, wasn't in love with the first sentence, but the man deserves a Pulitzer.

Eh, it's more than that first line. There are lazy generalizations, or at least phrasing that is so broad as to muddy the waters. And he keeps harping on the "scandals" that the president is avoiding. He's good at riling people up on big topics, but not a great writer.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:58 PM on August 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


You can't talk about administrators and "median wages" in the same breath. Administrators are managers, and generally well above the median in terms of wages.

It's a "problem" or phenomenon that affects most public institutions (and of course, to a far greater degree, private companies). The administrators at the municipal level are paid a hell of a lot. Same as school district administrators (at least in Canada).

I live across the street from the BC provincial Ministry of Finance and treasury. So it's disconcerting to see the people making the decision to cut services because of "restraint" are driving to work in their Boxters, BMW's and Jaguars.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:58 PM on August 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


Electricians wouldn't have houses to wire if there weren't architects to design them.
posted by BlerpityBloop at 2:58 PM on August 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


I wonder what would have happened if students and their families refused to take out loans to pay the higher tuition rates and either delayed school, chose schools with cheaper tuition, or opted not to go to school at all.

They'd be working in the service industry. If they're lucky.


If only a few did that then yeah, sure. But if enough people declined to go to college it would decrease demand for post secondary education enough to drive prices back down.

After all, that's what's behind the huge expense in the first place...a large, inelastic demand. College education has become like a diamond engagement ring. Everyone thinks they need one and will pay almost any price to get one. They'll even take out a loan. But ultimately, most of them are useless trinkets.
posted by rocket88 at 3:00 PM on August 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


Or, as KokuRyu suggests, become an electrician. No one is doing an unpaid apprenticeship.

We're doing some marketing work for a skilled trades recruiter in Canada. Some jobs they are advertising start out at $80,000 a year, and that's after 3 years of technical training at a technical college. To get into the program, you need Grade 11 math. Like, what have I been doing with my life?

I've heard many people say that we need liberal arts to have a well-rounded society, but alls I know is if I was paid more I would sure be buying more books and hanging a lot more artwork on my wall.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:01 PM on August 16, 2013 [10 favorites]


Electricians wouldn't have houses to wire if there weren't architects to design them.

I'll shut up in a second, but we also do work for architectural technologists. They design houses. They are doing fine. They also get a technical degree.

And if you know how to use Revit (there are no courses for that) the world is your oyster.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:02 PM on August 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


I usually love Taibbi, but there's a dickish broad-brush indictment of higher education here that is unfair and unhelpful. Blame trustees, administrators, lenders and politicians, fine. But to lump "tenure-track faculty" in with other examples of collegiate waste is just stupid. Who does he think those faculty are? Where does he suppose they come from? Who does he think is servicing their loans? Schools keep junior faculty salaries low by drawing upon a desperate, seemingly endless pool of low-wage adjunct labor. Young professors are as much victims in this cycle as students are. In fact, they are those students.

As a professor, watching my best students line up every spring to go off to internships and post-college jobs in investment banking and consulting is a glimpse straight into the abyss. They do it because they're smart, the jobs pay, and they want to get out from under their debt loads as soon as they can. What they don't realize is that these corporate jobs inculcate values and habits that are antithetical to the ones they've learned in college. For our brightest kids, Wall Street is undoing the good that college has tried to do. Is it any wonder, then, that a liberal arts education is seen, increasingly, as a luxury we neither want nor can afford?

The last link that needs to be drawn here is the way that political dissent against this desperately unfair system is stifled by a system of dual bankruptcy: financial ruin weighs on the losers and wealth without accountability corrupts the winners.
posted by R. Schlock at 3:04 PM on August 16, 2013 [46 favorites]


Education Administrators, Postsecondary (2002) 97,000 nationally, average wage of $71,630.

Education Administrators, Postsecondary (2012) 123,000 nationally, average wage of $99,370.


This is a complete red herring if you're trying to figure out why college costs what it does. Cut all those salaries down to whatever you think is "reasonable" (and, really, just how low do you think the pay of University Administrators should be?) and you have lowered the total budget for the universities by an utterly negligible amount. Yeah, the amount paid to College Presidents is a big gaudy number, but it's essentially irrelevant to the overall budgetary picture.
posted by yoink at 3:05 PM on August 16, 2013 [10 favorites]


Not born rich? Don't want to be an electrician or plumber? How about: fuck you
posted by theodolite at 3:05 PM on August 16, 2013 [22 favorites]


Community colleges are awesome. If you are looking for a college education and want to get your GEs out of the way, or aren't quite sure what you want to do, go to a community college. Smaller class sizes, MUCH cheaper, and flexible schedules for folks working full- or part-time. And if you're a snooty high school kid, you can take some courses to see what college could hold for you (or just get those GEs done even faster). Oh, and some college profs also teach at community colleges, so it's not like you're getting some sub-par education.

Community colleges, huzzah!
posted by filthy light thief at 3:06 PM on August 16, 2013 [19 favorites]


Taibbi's solution is to turn off the spigot of school loans to reduce the demand for college that inflates costs. So which folks and their children will be volunteering to not go to college in order to keep costs down for those who do?
posted by JackFlash at 3:06 PM on August 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


BlerpityBloop: Electricians wouldn't have houses to wire if there weren't architects to design them.

In California, you don't need an architectural degree or certification (or whatnot) to build smaller structures. And you can always work with a licensed architect to build something bigger, which is what happens in architectural firms.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:08 PM on August 16, 2013


he government actually stands to make an enormous profit on the president's new federal student-loan system, an estimated $184 billion over 10 years,

Taibbi must be smoking some strong shit if he thinks 18.4 bil a year is a lot to the Federal government.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:10 PM on August 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


Taibbi's solution is to turn off the spigot of school loans to reduce the demand for college that inflates costs. So which folks and their children will be volunteering to not go to college in order to keep costs down for those who do?

Maybe Taibbi will volunteer to never send his kids to college.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:12 PM on August 16, 2013


One interesting question is why more quality for-profit schools haven't sprung up giving people great educations at the lowest possible prices? I'd imagine they'd be in very low-cost cities and have very few amenities, but would deliver a high-quality education, maybe even in three years instead of four. Why doesn't this happen?

The seemingly obvious answer is that the student body doesn't want it. The student body likes cheap money and wants to spend it on overpriced, over-amenitized college experiences because the bill only comes due much later, in the foggy future. Meanwhile, the fun starts right now.

I hate to say it, but it largely seems like a case of consumers making short-sighted decisions based on cheap money, in some ways analogous to the way consumers purchased much more expensive houses than they could afford when it was easy to do so.

Though it would all still work out if there were actually enough high-quality jobs out there.
posted by shivohum at 3:12 PM on August 16, 2013


I think the philosophical debate BlerpityBloop meant to convey is:

BRIAN: Without trigonometry there would be no engineering!
BENDER: Without lamps there would be no light.
posted by kyrademon at 3:13 PM on August 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


BlerpityBloop: "Electricians wouldn't have houses to wire if there weren't architects to design them."

Don't wanna derail, but I, with no college degree, did design my workshop (which, because of assorted design and building elements, is a "habitable structure" per California's Title 24 Energy Efficiency Code). Because it has "unusual roof loading" and is an "experimental design", the city building department did then make me get sign-off from a Professional Engineer on the structural engineering. But that's because my building has a living roof, is engineered for 120 lbs/sq.ft. in a region where roofs usually run 10-15lbs/sq.ft., with 2 hour fire walls and extra sound-proofing.

If you're just building a 2 or 3 story residential or light commercial structure, all that stuff is covered under the prescriptive building codes, and the only thing an architect is to that process is a glorified graphic designer. In fact, your average contractor knows a hell of a lot more about building a safe structure than your average single-family residential architect (if there is such a thing).

I will once again point to the press release about that Krueger and Dale study from ages ago which points out that unless you're very low-income, college largely functions as a high-pass filter. And with grade inflation, it probably does that less effectively than it used to. As witnessed by the number of menial jobs these days that want a college degree.

What we need to do is to find ways to better help those low-income kids, because at middle-class and above college is an inefficient way to learn and a tremendous economic drain.
posted by straw at 3:13 PM on August 16, 2013 [10 favorites]


I'm repeating myself, but the real red herring here is that a US high school diploma is worth squat. Didn't used to be, not by a long shot.

Which is an entirely different thread, of course, but it's this squat value that helps push up demand for college education. Combine that with the siren call of pay it off later, well, no wonder we're where we are.

Perhaps if we tried the German system.....
posted by IndigoJones at 3:13 PM on August 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


One interesting question is why more quality for-profit schools haven't sprung up giving people great educations at the lowest possible prices?

Because no one shops for a college degree based on the price?

"Pricing is Positioning" is marketing 101. A more expensive college degree is a better college degree. Otherwise, why would it be so expensive? QED.

An education is personally enriching and a societal good but unfortunately it's bought and sold like any other commodity. And people are buying.
posted by GuyZero at 3:18 PM on August 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


I hate to say it, but it largely seems like a case of consumers making short-sighted decisions based on cheap money, in some ways analogous to the way consumers purchased much more expensive houses than they could afford when it was easy to do so.

Why blame the victims here? In economic terms, the lenders are savvy financial actors ruthlessly exploiting an inefficiency built into the marketplace. Of course, that "inefficiency" is the inability of kids to make rational decisions on the basis of their inexperience and a lifetime's absorption of our culture's message that education is an inherent good.

I actually believe in that message. What I don't believe in is a system that is predicated on cynically transforming that idealism into debt-slavery. If we don't want to become a society that thinks it no longer needs higher education for a significant portion of its members, then we badly need to reform this malfunctioning market. Students need legislated protection against lenders and schools. It's as simple as that.

Help us Elizabeth Warren. You're our only hope.
posted by R. Schlock at 3:18 PM on August 16, 2013 [11 favorites]


Also, we used to have a free post-secondary school system (kind of; in 1957 more than half of CUNY students attended for free) but we killed it. This is what we have instead. Maybe we should be madder about that?

People forget that Ronald Reagan basically paved his way into the California governor's mansion and later the White House by destroying that system, because of the right-wingers in California who insisted he do something about "the mess in Berkeley."
posted by jonp72 at 3:19 PM on August 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


Sorry, I can't shut up. I used to be a high school teacher, and after that for about 5 years I worked on projects for a non-profit trying to introduce parents and teachers and students about how to launch into a tech career (Canada has a booming job market for tech careers).

What's relevant to this discussion is that parents and teachers often have little idea about what kinds of jobs are out there, and what training you need to get those jobs.

Instead, there is a general effort to get high school kids into liberal arts programs. It's what teachers understand. It's what parents understand. It's what kids understand.

But it's not a wise investment decision.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:22 PM on August 16, 2013 [12 favorites]


the lenders are savvy financial actors ruthlessly exploiting an inefficiency built into the marketplace.

The lenders are the federal government, since 2010.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:22 PM on August 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


In theory the UK has student loans, but it's radically different. You don't pay anything until your income is over £21,000, and then only 9% of income over that threshold. After 30 years any outstanding balance is written off. In comparison the US system seems like usury.
posted by Segundus at 3:24 PM on August 16, 2013 [7 favorites]


the lenders are savvy financial actors ruthlessly exploiting an inefficiency built into the marketplace.

The lenders are the federal government, since 2010.


Right.
posted by MoonOrb at 3:24 PM on August 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


>Where the hell is this pile of money my wife and I should be rolling in?

Administration.


It's a lot more complex than this. I have worked mostly for state schools, so that colors my view, but some factors:

1. State funding has been slashed dramatically. 30 years ago, it was not unusual to see states paying 40-50% of their college/university budgets. Now the average seems to be around 10%, maybe a bit less. The gap has to be filled somehow -- what we do not pay for collectively, we pay for individually.

2. The drive to "guild the campuses" is driven by the demands of students and their parents. They want a nice-looking campus, and, if you don't build it, they won't come. Or, they will come and transfer when they can, which causes a mess in the school rankings. The school ranking system is, of course, part of the problem, as is the idea of shopping for an education like you would buy a car. Anyway, these pressures divert money into nicer accommodations, although universities have always had an endless appetite for building.

3. STEM education, where all the focus is, is really expensive -- classes require labs and specialized equipment, and the faculty are paid considerably more because they could "work in industry" (although few of them would like it, I think, but I could be wrong). Business faculty get paid similarly. Since these are the programs that are growing, costs grow as well.

4. Yeah, there are a lot more administrators, but there is a lot more for them to do. The state and federal governments make significantly greater demands for reports than they did a few decades ago. And they probably should -- education needs to be regulated as much as any other critical element of society and the economy -- but there seems to be an endless demand for reports consisting of the same information in different forms. Add in that decisions are being made in many cases, by political appointees who have no experience with higher education beyond attending a university, and you have skewed decision-making.

5. 4-year graduation rates aren't great. Small and rich schools are the ones with rates above 80%, which means that a fifth a the students are paying at least for an extra year (adding 25% on to their tuition). Really good advising can help with this, but that, of course, requires hiring more administrators (or more faculty who teach fewer classes so they can do administrative work).

Anyway, it's not as easy as "greedy colleges screw students."
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:24 PM on August 16, 2013 [33 favorites]


The lenders are the federal government, since 2010.

There is plenty of non-subsidized private lending going on here too. And those numbers get calculated into the totals. But your point is well taken. I should have written "the lenders and schools are ruthlessly exploiting..."
posted by R. Schlock at 3:25 PM on August 16, 2013


Because no one shops for a college degree based on the price?

Yes. That's the problem I'm pointing to. The reason they don't is because it's not money out of their pocket for many years.

In economic terms, the lenders are savvy financial actors ruthlessly exploiting an inefficiency built into the marketplace. Of course, that "inefficiency" is the inability of kids to make rational decisions on the basis of their inexperience and a lifetime's absorption of our culture's message that education is an inherent good.

Yes and no. They wouldn't be exploitable if they weren't also interested in looking the other way. I agree it's a cultural issue, but to call the students purely victims is letting them off the hook too easily. They're victims in large part because they wanted to do what looked fun and what everyone else was doing and not think too much about it -- and because the loans pushed off the pain till much later.

Not to mention -- what about the parents? Are they not involved in the process? I mean, are people responsible for any decisions they make?

Still, again, if there were good jobs available, this problem could be mopped up. And their non-existence really isn't students' fault.

Also, why did the allowable loan amounts keep going up so fast? That's another thing I'd like to know. If the loans were capped at $20,000/year, how much do you want to bet there'd be a lot of colleges offering tuition at that rate?
posted by shivohum at 3:29 PM on August 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


People forget that Ronald Reagan basically paved his way into the California governor's mansion and later the White House by destroying that system

Well, he certainly fucked about with it, but "destroy" is too strong a word. University remained extremely affordable in California long after Reagan. The real ramp up in fees has happened more recently, particularly since the Great Recession. But even now, for an undergraduate degree, UC and Cal State tuition are not absurdly high. UC students pay $13,000 p/a in tuition, Cal State students pay $7,000 p/a, Community College students pay $1,000 p/a. A lot of UC students do their first two years at a Community College, so relatively few are facing full tuition for the full four years. Moreover, students whose parents earn less than 80,000 p/a get their tuition waived. I'd like to see the cost lowered, but it's not the life-crushing burden some seem to think (of course, there are professional and other degrees with much, much higher fees and there can be other complications that leave people with staggering debt loads, but looking at the typical student completing a typical Bachelor's degree, it's still a remarkably accessible system).
posted by yoink at 3:29 PM on August 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


Here in Texas, it's a combo of deregulating tuition and simultaneously cutting state support for the schools, as much as anything. I can say as a tenured professor in the public university system, I starved for quite a few years to get up to the current lower-end middle classishness. Money does not go to faculty--but to facilities, a big pile of consultants and an increasing number of associate and assistant deans (a lot of 'em there to try to seek outside funding). But in fact the real problem is that the state cut off the funding and regulation that used to keep student costs down. The rest is really kind of a rounding error.
posted by LucretiusJones at 3:36 PM on August 16, 2013 [7 favorites]


Perhaps if we tried the German system.....

It's intriguing, but it really penalizes students who are slow starters -- a lot of your life path is already set for you by the middle of your high school years. I would be surprised if it didn't reinforce class divisions as well. But maybe someone who knows the system better can speak to that.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:37 PM on August 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


I have total confidence that congress will act quickly and decisively to make sure that every penny of this generation's mountain of student debt can be paid back in full through a lifetime of menial labor.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 3:38 PM on August 16, 2013 [6 favorites]


Given that it would be better for everyone* if the "unpaid internship" concept didn't exist in any field, I think maybe the answer might be to use the awesome power of the state to make unpaid internships illegal.

*: Aside from a few vampires.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 3:42 PM on August 16, 2013 [7 favorites]


GenjiandProust I pulled this off the spiegel international website:

International experts are amazed when they see that teachers here are expected to divide up children -- after only four years of school -- into gifted and ungifted, into fast and slow, and into future manual laborers and future scientists. Naturally no one would accept a three-class system of voting rights, but the three-tier school system is defended by conservative politicians as if it were something sacred.

posted by bukvich at 3:43 PM on August 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


If the loans were capped at $20,000/year, how much do you want to bet there'd be a lot of colleges offering tuition at that rate?

Are you talking about tuition only or residential costs? A middle-of-the-road state school probably costs $10-15K for tuition and fees (maybe double that for out-of-state students) and another $10-15K for food and housing. Living at home would reduce that but obviously constrains the student to programs that their state university has, which may or may not work. Also, living at home is not exactly cost-free. And that tuition is already low, given the large number of teachers who are low-paid per-course lecturers....
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:44 PM on August 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


But in fact the real problem is that the state cut off the funding and regulation that used to keep student costs down. The rest is really kind of a rounding error.

Yeah. The notion that universities are somehow raking it in and that profs or administrators or somebody gets to swim in their Scrooge McDuck money piles is just childish nonsense. A modern university is just an inherently immensely expensive thing to run. Highly trained, intensive human labor has just gotten more and more and more expensive over the last century or so (that's why middle class houses used to be able to have lots of highly-skilled craftspeople plastering the ceilings and building in cabinetry and so forth, and we get sheetrock stapled up in a day and buy our furniture at Ikea). All the things people like to point to as the "reasons" for the rising costs of university are just window dressing on that basic fact. Pay the administrators less, pay the superstar faculty less, build crappier dorms for the students etc. etc. and you've changed nothing essential in the equation.

So the real question is "who is going to cover that cost"? The state can cover it, but it does become a bigger and bigger drain on the state budget (people like to say "Oh, University in California used to be free, obviously we could afford to do that again" but this is an error: the percentage of the state budget devoted to higher eduction would have to be a great deal higher now than it was back in the "good old days" to cover the full cost of everyone's tuition). We can lower the cost by teaching fewer students; but that will mean solidifying the elite status of the students who do continue to go to college; and they will obviously be disproportionately children of privilege. It really is a difficult problem.
posted by yoink at 3:48 PM on August 16, 2013 [9 favorites]


from the article:

a few years ago, when Obama moved to eliminate private-lender middlemen from the servicing of federally backed loans

The depressing thing about this is that it's been partly reversed, and no one seems to have noticed (except the unfortunates who are now dealing with private servicers). Direct loans are still held by the Dept. of Ed., but over the last year the servicing has been transferred to private loan servicing companies. I've had very negative experiences with one of those companies (MOHELA) -- huge payments taken in error, with no record of it in my account; slow and sometimes incomprehensible responses; incompetent, rude phone service; etc. This is the exact opposite of my experience dealing with the federal lenders directly, and from what I can tell from googling around, it is a very common complaint.

This came about because of a provision buried in the ACA, presumably lobbied for by the companies who lost so much business when the original reform was passed. It's hardly news that corporations have too much say in our democratic process, but this is a particularly depressing example of it.
posted by gerstle at 3:49 PM on August 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


I found it interesting that when a local community college (CCSF) lost its accreditation last year, ALL of the violations were administrative. The various reporting etc that a school is required to do these days HAS to be driving up the costs.

As a side note, it was interesting to read about how many people on the accreditation board had conflicts of interest. For instance, many of them worked for for-profit schools, like Phoenix University.
posted by small_ruminant at 3:50 PM on August 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


C'mon, we're always told how good debt is healthy and a great way to go forward - and yes, to an early grave:

High Debt Could Be Hazardous to Your Health

"If young people are drowning in debt, their blood pressure may be on the rise and their health could suffer. A new Northwestern Medicine® study has found that high financial debt is associated with higher diastolic blood pressure and poorer self-reported general and mental health in young adults."

But that's OK, because if you're in poor health, high cost of medical care will give you more debt and the virtuous cycle can keep escalating!

But meanwhile, it will make you feel better about yourself, before the stress hits home:

What, Me Worry? Young Adults Get Self-Esteem Boost from Debt

"Instead of feeling stressed by the money they owe, many young adults actually feel empowered by their credit card and education debts, according to a new nationwide study."

"Researchers found that the more credit card and college loan debt held by young adults aged 18 to 27, the higher their self-esteem and the more they felt like they were in control of their lives. The effect was strongest among those in the lowest economic class.
Only the oldest of those studied -- those aged 28 to 34 -- began showing signs of stress about the money they owed."
posted by VikingSword at 3:54 PM on August 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


I didn't grow up in the German system, but I live there now and there are certainly complaints about it. The one I have most often heard is that a career switch is in many cases viewed as being extremely difficult, if not impossible -- if you went to school for X, but later decide you want to do Y instead, too bad. You lost your chance.
posted by kyrademon at 3:57 PM on August 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


The community college system is probably something that should be part of the solution, but at the same time, the people who often bring it up *are* in California. It is not nearly as good everywhere. From what I can tell, roughly four times as expensive, here, if $1k/year is accurate for full-time, and I've seen some people have huge problems with credits not transferring--I mean, they transfer, but what you end up with are courses that don't actually meet the very specific criteria of the four-year degree program. So you end up getting stuck taking even more classes, and even the initial ones weren't something you could pay for out of pocket.

We have a society that has collectively made decisions that prioritize the wealth of the old over the economic stability of the young--lower taxes, at-will employment, low minimum wage, cutting K-12 education budgets on top of cutting the budgets for state universities, etc, etc, etc. One policy change just cannot fix 50+ years of that trend. The working class would not be herding their kids off to college, loans or no loans, if you could take your high school diploma and get a job and eventually buy a little house and a car and raise a couple of kids and feel secure that hard work was going to be enough.
posted by Sequence at 4:03 PM on August 16, 2013 [7 favorites]


> I bow to your proximity, but I've heard, though I do not know for a fact, that the German system is not quite as rigid as all that, that you can over ride the official choice if you insist - but realistically, most people, and most parents have a pretty good idea of what direction their child is likely to go by teenage years.

Of course nothing is perfect, but one particular good feature is that it gets adolescents dealing with adults as colleagues rather than as adversaries.

Hey, it can't be worse than the system we currently have.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:03 PM on August 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


There are also some programs that are trying to make cheaper degrees happen: the vaunted if severely flawed 10k degree program in Texas, a state program in New England that had no dorms and was basically in an office park. The problem is that even those subsidized or beyond bare bones programs is that they're still expensive and they're not really replicable on a bigger scale. There was an interesting piece in Inside Higher Ed today about the College of America and the first graduate of their competency-based program: it will be interesting to see how that works out.
posted by jetlagaddict at 4:06 PM on August 16, 2013


The one I have most often heard is that a career switch is in many cases viewed as being extremely difficult, if not impossible -- if you went to school for X, but later decide you want to do Y instead, too bad. You lost your chance.

Japan pretty much works the same way (although the last 20 years of restructuring are changing the culture).

Basically, unless you come from an upper-middle class family and get put into the right preschool, Grade 9 JHS graduation examinations are everything. They define your life.

Do well, you get put into the enriched program at one of top high school schools that will prepare you to get you into a good university.

If you're not particularly academic, you might get lucky and get streamed to an "industrial high school" or trade school, and end up working for a utility or as a technician. Good stuff.

If you have any kind of learning disability, or just can't study, you get streamed to a "minimum essntials" program. You graduate and work as a bar girl, a convenience store clerk, or something stupid. If you're lucky you leave school at 15 to work in construction.

And that is it. Life has been decided at age 15. There are no second chances. There are no career changes.

If you are exceptionally clever, and have exceptional interpersonal skills, you may be able to start your own business.

But in Japan, like in many parts of the world outside of the US, there are no second chances.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:17 PM on August 16, 2013 [6 favorites]


A modern university is just an inherently immensely expensive thing to run.

But need it be? My name brand alma mater routinely asks me for money for huge capital intensive products that we lived without - bigger and better sports centers, bigger and better student centers, comfier dormitories, fancier food courts, bells and whistles, moon pies and penny whistles - all very pleasant, of course, all very keeping-up-with-the-Yaleses, but I question the academic value of a lot of it.

On the other hand, here's what the profs are making on average. And it seems some at least have been pleading poverty at least since 1905.

But in Japan, like in many parts of the world outside of the US, there are no second chances.

In many parts of the US, at least as far as high schools are concerned, there are scarcely any first chances. Dismiss the Krautish and the Japanese system if you like, but they seem to be doing a better job overall than we are. You got something better, I'm all ears.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:27 PM on August 16, 2013 [8 favorites]


I recently learned that nurses can have their license to practice suspended if they default on student loans. 1. doesn't that make is impossible for them to pay back their loans? 2. What has a student loan got to do with their ability to provide quality care?
posted by Foam Pants at 4:34 PM on August 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


My name brand alma mater routinely asks me for money for huge capital intensive products that we lived without - bigger and better sports centers, bigger and better student centers, comfier dormitories, fancier food courts, bells and whistles, moon pies and penny whistles - all very pleasant, of course, all very keeping-up-with-the-Yaleses, but I question the academic value of a lot of it.

Sure, you could do without a lot of it; but if you actually break open the university's books you'll also find that none of that is a major part of their budget. Sports programs very often fund their own capital projects (that is, the new sports center is probably entirely off the university's books; it'll be funded by sports receipts, donations and commercial underwriting). Dorms, similarly, are often constructed and run by independent for-profit companies that contract with the university. Food courts will be paid for out of profits generated by the businesses that contract with the university to operate in them. No doubt you could put the whole thing through a wringer and find some savings in there, but they'd amount to something like the salary of one assistant professor; they wouldn't make a meaningful difference to the overall costs of keeping the institution running.
posted by yoink at 4:37 PM on August 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


From what I can tell, roughly four times as expensive, here, if $1k/year is accurate for full-time, and I've seen some people have huge problems with credits not transferring--I mean, they transfer, but what you end up with are courses that don't actually meet the very specific criteria of the four-year degree program. So you end up getting stuck taking even more classes, and even the initial ones weren't something you could pay for out of pocket.

I've seen examples of this too. California seems to have an unusually practical setup:
   - community colleges are very affordable
   - CC students get funneled into four-year schools
   - degree program requirements are harmonized between CC and university
   - credits transfer straightforwardly
In many other places, one or more of these components don't work well. Community colleges are running out of classroom capacity. Students get limited advising from unavailable counselors. Students can't get into courses their programs require. CC and university curricula don't line up, and, as a result, CC students make slower progress toward a degree than their peers who started at four-year schools. Which course credits transfer and which courses are considered sufficiently equivalent introduces another set of complex constraints on what classes to take when and where and in what sequence.

As a personal example, my alma mater didn't accept CC credits at all. It did offer very extensive financial aid. Financial aid is one of the biggest components of a school budget.

My alma mater also draws a lot of alumni gifts, including, recently, one of the largest gifts to an academic institutions in history. Our dorms generally suck, our athletic center is small, we had no student union on campus, and most of our buildings haven't been renovated since the 50s. You know where that money is going? New buildings for STEM departments. STEM facilities are unbelievably expensive. And after they are built, their maintenance is also extremely expensive.

Call me dismissive, but it's really hard to see ranty one-liners about "overpaid administrators" or "pampered students" as anything other than stubborn ignorance.
posted by Nomyte at 4:41 PM on August 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


You got something better, I'm all ears.

The Canadian system works better. School are funded by provincial governments. Colleges and universities are too. So tuition, while high in some cases, is lower than in the States.

Most Canadian universities have co-op programs, where students can work for several months for an employer before graduation.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:44 PM on August 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm an old man, and I'm really worried. An entire generation has sold itself into bondage.

Er, hasn't an entire generation sold its children into bondage? The kids in post-sec aren't the ones making the decisions.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:45 PM on August 16, 2013 [15 favorites]


And after they are built, their maintenance is also extremely expensive.

Yeah. I suspect that one of the things that sets people off on the "OMG, look at the fancy dorms!!" road (other than the fanciness of the dorms being one of the things they actually get direct experience of when they're taking their kids on campus visits etc.) is that "buildings" (or some such label) is often a really big percentage of a university budget: what people don't realize is that that huge chunk is building maintenance. Just keeping the damned lights on, the a/c running, all the machines that go "ping" continuing to go "ping" and so forth is an endless money pit.

Oh, and while it's true that STEM disciplines cost a lot more than others to equip and staff and so forth, it's also the case that they bring a lot more money in to the institution as well, in the form of public and private grants and industry partnerships and so forth. It all tends to even out in the wash, although each side will tend to spin the numbers to their own advantage.
posted by yoink at 4:49 PM on August 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


The Canadian system is basically totally nationalized though. University employees are de facto government employees - you can look up rank-and-file university admin people in the government sunshine lists of people making over $100K in Ontario.

I like the Canadian system a lot and I think it does a great job for both Canada and the US considering how many Canadian university grads head south over the border.

But it's a level of socialism that Americans would never abide.
posted by GuyZero at 4:50 PM on August 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


The student body likes cheap money and wants to spend it on overpriced, over-amenitized college experiences because the bill only comes due much later, in the foggy future. Meanwhile, the fun starts right now.

The current student body near me has repeatedly turned down a huge, really unnecessary, rebuild of the current student union/rec facilities.

Most of the objection is that their fees will be raised, but the construction will be nowhere near complete when they graduate.
But I have heard a significant number of students object to saddling future classes with debt and fees they had no opportunity to vote for.

So, there may be hope yet.
posted by madajb at 4:53 PM on August 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Most Canadian universities have co-op programs, where students can work for several months for an employer before graduation.

In Ontario at least, Waterloo has co-op and other universities may have something similar to some degree. But only Waterloo does crazy stuff like trying to get first-year English undergrads actual paying jobs. A lot of Ontario universities just let students get summer jobs like most US schools.
posted by GuyZero at 4:53 PM on August 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


But it's a level of socialism that Americans would never abide.

The California higher education system would like a word with you. All the employees of the CCs, the Cal States and the UCs are essentially government employees. You can look up what any of them, down to the lowest paid administrative assistant, earned in various publicly accessible databases. It's actually not all that different from the Canadian model.

In summation, the US is a land of contrasts.
posted by yoink at 4:53 PM on August 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


The California higher education system would like a word with you.

But California does not prohibit the existence of Stanford or Santa Clara University (or whatever it's called). I'm not sure if it's actually legally possible to open a private university in most Canadian provinces.
posted by GuyZero at 5:09 PM on August 16, 2013


This may be more present with loans for graduate degrees, but I remember many of my law school colleagues seemingly spending more money than necessary. I think a lot of this spending was funded by borrowing. I remember thinking something similar when I later got a teaching certificate--many of my classmates would remark about their student loans, but I'd also watch them spend their money on stuff they probably didn't need.

I'm not sure the extent to which this happens with undergraduate students. I wasn't as aware of the extent to which my classmates were funding their educations with loans.

I understand that there are many virtuous student-borrowers who live below their means--many of whom are no doubt reading this thread--and I also understand that my observations may have been off the mark, and that even if student-borrowers did drive BMWs or have data plans or cable TV at times when those things were luxuries, that the marginal difference between what they would have had to pay even if they lived without the luxuries and their actual debt may not be that big of a deal. What I wrote above reminds me a little bit of the welfare queen stereotype we would hear so much about in the 80s and 90s. On the other hand, these were things I observed.

So I still have to wonder about letting student-borrowers completely off the hook here. It seems dumb to lay this all at the feet of the borrowers, but I'm also troubled by glossing over the accountability for the people who actually borrow the money.
posted by MoonOrb at 5:11 PM on August 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


But only Waterloo does crazy stuff like trying to get first-year English undergrads actual paying jobs. A lot of Ontario universities just let students get summer jobs like most US schools.

UVic has expanded the co-op program pretty much across the different faculties in undergrad.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:13 PM on August 16, 2013


But California does not prohibit the existence of Stanford

No, but then Canada doesn't legally prohibit private universities either.
posted by yoink at 5:15 PM on August 16, 2013


So I still have to wonder about letting student-borrowers completely off the hook here. It seems dumb to lay this all at the feet of the borrowers, but I'm also troubled by glossing over the accountability for the people who actually borrow the money.

This is definitely true (a bunch of teenagers aren't brilliant at managing their money!? Unpossible!), but it's hard to know exactly how to address it. You can't really blame young people for not having a good grasp of just how much it's going to suck paying money back over years and years when they're still at an age where it's really hard to grasp what that means. Certainly it would do no good to just scold them for irresponsibility. I'm not sure what the solution is, really; it's hard to conjure anything up that doesn't seem outrageously paternalistic.
posted by yoink at 5:19 PM on August 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


No, but then Canada doesn't legally prohibit private universities either.

Well, private universities are pretty strictly regulated, and are politically unpopular in Canada, mostly because they receive subsidies from government while being designed to generate a profit (they usually don't).

Private "universities" typically end up being MBA diploma mills for foreign students who must be too stupid to get into public universities in Canada, which welcome foreign students with open arms.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:20 PM on August 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Simple solution: don't go to college. While a postsecondary degree is a great signifier of middle class respectability, being an electrician may pay more.

Can I just say that this attitude drives me nuts? You wouldn't like to live in an America where no one, or only children of the affluent people, could afford a college education. Maybe it's cost-effective for you to advise your own children to be plumbers, but it's definitely not good policy to tell everybody to do so.
posted by newdaddy at 5:42 PM on August 16, 2013 [11 favorites]


Without revealing too much, my university president makes 238K not counting bonuses in a state university system. Her HR group can't make the university payroll, as in they did not pay everyone or did not pay correctly. So, I am inclined to the administrators not being a value proposition that some are arguing. I can hope this is an isolated instance, but really if you are talking all that CEO-mensch talk one hopes you actually can make payroll happen. I include the Chancellor who is at 320K. I wish he would pay attention to his campuses.
posted by jadepearl at 5:52 PM on August 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


Can I just say that this attitude drives me nuts? You wouldn't like to live in an America where no one, or only children of the affluent people, could afford a college education. Maybe it's cost-effective for you to advise your own children to be plumbers, but it's definitely not good policy to tell everybody to do so.

In my scenario, the issue isn't tuition, it's skills training. While my suggestion was "electrician" or "power engineer", I'm the son of a plumber. My dad retired at 68 and had a very active working life that has likely prolonged his own life.

However, there's a skills mismatch in many of the G7 countries at the moment. Going to uni and taking on debt to get an English or History degree is not a wise investment. I think becoming a plumber or a carpenter does not mean you never go to the library.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:11 PM on August 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


In Canada, when I went to medical school for 3500$ a year, I was effectively borrowing from the government. A loan I will be paying back several times over in income tax of the course my medical career.

Have the federal government lending and collecting and administering student loans just seems like... duplication?
posted by cacofonie at 6:15 PM on August 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


College should be cheaper, but more people should give more respect to people who choose not to do the whole "bachelors right after high school" thing.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:16 PM on August 16, 2013


Simple solution: don't go to college. While a postsecondary degree is a great signifier of middle class respectability, being an electrician may pay more.

The problem is this is a game theory kinda thing and only works if an entire cohort by and large opts out of going to college thus hopefully forcing the price down. On the other hand, if you opt-out and everyone keeps chasing the dream, you're doubly fucked.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 6:19 PM on August 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


Not necessarily, since plumbers, et al. often earn more (and have lower debt burdens) than many people with four-year degrees.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:22 PM on August 16, 2013


Just leave kids. If you've already acquired student debt in the U.S., hey indebtedness isn't grounds for extradition. If you're starting school, go study abroad where it'll cost only a fraction, even with airfare home for Christmas and Summer. Just leave, you'll benefit immeasurably from the experience, I promise.
posted by jeffburdges at 6:27 PM on August 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


How long will plumbers, electricians, and skilled blue collar trades earn more, though? This sort of advice, gained by experience, is not predictive of what the job market will be like when this current generation of students graduates. And with all the advice I'm hearing about going to trade/technical schools instead of taking on a the burdens of college debt, I have a feeling that competition for that small pool of jobs is going to get real stiff real quick.

This is a systemic problem - a generic college degree has been a defacto requirement for white collar work for some time now. Even when it is abjectly silly. We have way too many people who need to go to college to get a decent job than should have to. And that isn't the fault of the universities or the kids.
posted by Zalzidrax at 6:44 PM on August 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Private "universities" typically end up being MBA diploma mills for foreign students who must be too stupid to get into public universities in Canada, which welcome foreign students with open arms.

The private universities in Alberta are all religiously affiliated, as far as I know. Add them all together, and they probably have fewer students than the smallest public university, U of Lethbridge (7K), much less the 30K and 40K in U of C and U of A respectively. My understanding is it's as much a case of the publicly provided service being so good and so affordable it's not really possible for the private sector to directly compete, like with roads.

This high degree of public education (all at a high quality) leads to other savings; out West at least, most students are commuter students who go to the closest university. I went to the University of Calgary, which offered as good an engineering education as I could get anywhere in the country, and at the same time I was able to live at home, which is a massive cost savings. I've always been a little baffled at the US model where for so many people an education is only good if it also comes with four or more years of housing and food costs tacked on to it.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 6:51 PM on August 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is a systemic problem - a generic college degree has been a defacto requirement for white collar work for some time now. Even when it is abjectly silly. We have way too many people who need to go to college to get a decent job than should have to. And that isn't the fault of the universities or the kids.

I think it's actually because there is no middle class to enter into after you receive a degree.

After visiting Canada I did some monday-morning numbers crunching, because I couldn't figure out how the middle class had it so good just north of the border, when technically, they should all have a little bit less, since the GDP per capita for Canada is less, and they have less arable land and agreeable climate to work with, etc.

So here's what I figured out:

The biggest difference between the two countries is Income Distribution. The top 1% in America earns 25% of gross income, and in Canada, they earn about 10%. I split this out in to GDP per Capita numbers, and started looking at the additional costs. (I'm not sure this is even appropriate, as GDP per capita is obviously different from straight income, but maybe an actual economist can help me out here.)

Anyway, if you just assume that GDP is split the same way, check out the figures:

In Canada, the top 1% split 173 billion for an average of $505k. In the United States, the top 1% split 3.75 trillion for an average of 1.2 million.

Now, how about the rest of us? In Canada, the bottom 99% split the remainder and get approximately 46k per person. In the United States, the rest of us get 36k per person.

But it gets worse. I started to think about the military and healthcare burdens we carry, which is again, much more than Canada. For our military, we spend $3800 per head, while Canada spends $580 per head. We spend $8,200 per head for our healthcare, while Canada spends $4,500 per head.

So that leaves 24k for the 99% in America, and 41k for the 99% in Canada.

And yet it still gets worse.

Think about how little ultra-wealthy individuals in America pay in taxes, versus the rates Canadians pay. In Canada, as far as I can tell, there's no way out of paying 30% of your income past making 130k a year. In the US, you can earn hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars and pay only 12 or 13% in taxes.

That leads to the next problem: our government is simply underfunded. We only collect 26% of our GDP in taxes, while Canada recovers about 32%, and countries whipping both of us in a lot of metrics collect closer to 40% and more. And, since very important parts of our economy are privatized, we typically pay far more than other industrialized nations with a poorer result, because projects fight their way through not one but two or even more bureaucracies before they become a reality.

(Picture telling a government employee to install a cable in a university, versus putting out a bid, having the private corporation fail to deliver or default, and then starting all over again. Now go to the next college. Who knows what they're doing, and is more likely to provide a reliable result if the next college has to go through the bidding process again?)

In a nutshell, all of America's wealth and capital is continuing to get concentrated into tinier and tinier circles, so the ultra-wealthy can endure all of these price hikes with ease. Their income has nearly tripled since 1980, while America's middle class has largely remained stagnant.

When the wealthy complain about paying all of the taxes, they are telling a narrow truth, because they fail to mention that they are now taking all of the money out of the system. The middle class doesn't have a dime to pay taxes out of, because we are being squeezed by a lack of a truly progressive tax system and the burden of wars (that fund private corporations) and privatized healthcare.

I'm a perfect example of this phenomenon. I would love to take time off and really investigate how the machine works and fight the embedded aristocracy currently bankrupting our country, but since my father only gets $700 a month to live on because he is completely disabled, and I don't have any reasonably cheap options for my own health care (thank God he qualifies for Medicaid), I have no choice but to work dawn to dusk, and I'm one of the lucky ones.

That's how the system works now, not out of design, but out of institutional effect. It's the same reason there's pressure from corporations to avoid immigration laws: when they are required by law to pay the minimum wage, which is shockingly low in this country, wages for more skilled workers -- namely, anyone who speaks the native tongue -- will go up. Of course, they didn't wake up thirty years ago and meet in a small cafe on K Street -- or who knows, maybe they did -- but the armies of accountants, lawyers, and propagandists they can afford to pay -- yes, I am staring straight into the dark heart of Fox News -- are very aware of this, or they are ordered to act in a certain way because of these realities.

Now that the meat hooks are out for the next generation, pay attention to where the leashes lead. I am only doing well because I never went to college and I happen to be in IT.

And, not coincidentally, I'm saving up to get the hell out of here.
posted by deanklear at 7:48 PM on August 16, 2013 [49 favorites]


On preview, what deanklear said.

People go to college because they think it's necessary to maintain or advance their positions in life in the face of a disappearing middle class. And the sad thing is that they're both technically right and it still isn't going to save a lot of them. I mean me.

It's not surprising to see people take risks to try to maintain the level of financial and social success that was advertised to them, even when the risk isn't worth it.
posted by tychotesla at 8:11 PM on August 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


Help us Elizabeth Warren. You're our only hope.
posted by R. Schlock


William Greider, "Elizabeth Warren Tackles Wall Street," from The Nation July 22-29, 2013
posted by spitbull at 8:29 PM on August 16, 2013


I can overlook A LOT of Taibbi's gonzoid excesses, seeing as he was virtually the lonely voice in the wilderness 5 years ago, accurately reporting - sans slavish euphemisms - on the US-led avariciousness that nearly brought the world economy to its knees while the mainstream media was still trying to find the doorknob and the right medications.

Coming from Rolling Stone, a pleasant surprise, decades after it abandoned the excellent journalism that made it what it was for a time - worthwhile.
posted by Twang at 8:36 PM on August 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


After visiting Canada I did some monday-morning numbers crunching, because I couldn't figure out how the middle class had it so good just north of the border, when technically, they should all have a little bit less, since the GDP per capita for Canada is less, and they have less arable land and agreeable climate to work with, etc.

I think you overstate the difference a little. Canada came through the Great Recession relatively unscathed, so they're doing better than the US at the moment. But you don't have to go back far in the comparative data to find very long stretches where the middle class in the US was doing substantially better than they were in Canada. The differences are, in the end, considerably smaller than the differences between high-ranked and low-ranked individual states within the US: that is, from the standpoint of standard of living and economic prosperity etc. Canada is essentially in the position of being among the more prosperous US states, but not the among the most prosperous.
posted by yoink at 9:13 PM on August 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


The irony of the student loans fiasco is that you're unlikely to get any professional-class job these days without internship experience, which are mostly unpaid or extremely low-paid...

Thank you for this, MetalFingerz. Until I read your comment it had not been brought home to me that poorly paid internships are designed by wealthy people to ensure that the best jobs go to their children and those of their friends, and serve the same function that restricting access to college education did in prior generations, of limiting class mobility and promoting class loyalty in critical professions such as the media, big law, and upper corporate management, and that heavy student loan debt which must begin to be paid back relatively quickly is pivotal in making the whole scheme work.
posted by jamjam at 9:26 PM on August 16, 2013 [8 favorites]


Others, however, view the easy money as the massive subsidy for an education industry, which spent between $88 million and $110 million lobbying government in each of the past six years, and historically has spent recklessly no matter who happened to be footing the bill – parents, states, the federal government, young people, whomever.

Do they have editors there at Rolling Stone?
posted by Ghost Mode at 9:38 PM on August 16, 2013


Republicans don't want to fund higher education, thus state funding goes down and tuition goes up.

The university is a good thing and should be supported.

We can just write this debt down/off later.

It's stupid, but it's part of the Bush Hangover, make no mistake. Relax, and save your energy for when the time comes. Note the experiments in the US with the Australian system.
posted by kadonoishi at 9:53 PM on August 16, 2013


We need to lower the administrator wage. It's just not fair that they can afford to pay their loans.

And almost forgot: Service guarantees citizenship! Would you like to know more?
posted by Brocktoon at 10:29 PM on August 16, 2013


After visiting Canada I did some monday-morning numbers crunching, because I couldn't figure out how the middle class had it so good just north of the border

It's called "home equity loan." Pretty good deal when median price of a house doubled in one decade.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:29 PM on August 16, 2013


you don't have to go back far in the comparative data to find very long stretches where the middle class in the US was doing substantially better than they were in Canada

Canadian here, so excuse my bias—but I just don't see the "substantially". In what ways were Americans doing "better"? We up here seem to have plenty of cars and homes and toys, plenty of healthcare and education, plenty of food and entertainment and fun. I'm not seeing where there's room for "substantially better" in this picture.

And given that we have a better overall social environment — lower crime rates, better overall healthcare and public education, better labour protection laws, pretty good safety nets, etc — I really can't see where "substantially better" can be even remotely true.

But then, as said, I'm biased. Enlighten me, please.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:45 PM on August 16, 2013


All I got from this thread is that I'd rather live in Canada. In the United States of America, I grew up, left, then watched from abroad as I realized every nasty thing the foreigners said about us was true, and that there really are better ways of doing things. We ARE savages, we are imperialists, we are gutting our people and recreating serfdom. What? Am I wrong here? That's why I opted out. I was all set to do ROTC and be a part of a world I believed in in the 90's that would have included a double bachelor, masters, and likely phd with all the accompanying debt. I wanted to be an economist, you see, because I wanted to save the world and fight for great justice. Then, Iraq. I quit the army. Then The Bush Era and the housing bubble and the recession and all that. I got away and stayed away. Now this, the bailouts, the NSA...whatever guys. Thanks for the passport, but I'm happier out here where the exploitation is transparent, the economic burdens are poverty, not debt, where no one believes the system is there to help them, and most of all, where without a college degree I can feed myself purely because I know my field. It's more merciless, and I don't have an institutional or national apparatus through which to leverage my idealism, but I live in a world that, to me at least, doesn't use my dreams and idealism and hopes for the future as fuel to crush and enslave the next generation. I don't care if the alternatives suck, debt slavery is NEVER the answer, but that's what you're building, America, and I refuse to play.

Forgive me this moment of America-bashing. In terms of what you're doing with college education, you deserve every word of it.
posted by saysthis at 11:33 PM on August 16, 2013 [7 favorites]


I think you overstate the difference a little. Canada came through the Great Recession relatively unscathed, so they're doing better than the US at the moment. But you don't have to go back far in the comparative data to find very long stretches where the middle class in the US was doing substantially better than they were in Canada. The differences are, in the end, considerably smaller than the differences between high-ranked and low-ranked individual states within the US: that is, from the standpoint of standard of living and economic prosperity etc. Canada is essentially in the position of being among the more prosperous US states, but not the among the most prosperous.

Yes, but the reason why Canada remained unscathed is because their government, acting as a responsible party for their citizens, took one look at CDOs and said, "Nope." That's how a government is supposed to work: protecting the average citizen from the powerful, and in most cases, erring on the side of the citizen because a country that doesn't cater to its citizens is not a democracy. It's just a country where a regular vote happens, which is practically disconnected from any policy.

In fact, Canada has not had a fiscal crisis similar to what America regularly endures. There was no S&L crisis, no "dotcom" bust, and Canada's monetary policy encourages conservative fiscal attitudes and savings. Plus, when you have an actual middle class, there is money that can be saved. As evidence, just watch the Brookings Institution bang their head against the wall while trying to defend America's way of doing things:
That Canadian banks are more closely, or carefully, regulated is fairly well-known. The specifics, however, deserve more attention.

The Canadian regulatory edifice is more centralized. There is no provincial equivalent to America’s state-chartered banks. All of Canada’s banks are federally chartered and overseen by federal agencies. One government-owned entity—the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC)—plays a dominant role in shaping mortgage default-insurance policy...

Three additional features of the edifice stand out. For starters, over-leveraging is discouraged. The ceiling on leverage ratios (assets to capital) for Canada’s financial institutions is capped well below the U.S. norm (an average of 18:1 compared to over 25:1, respectively)...

Last but by no means least, CMHC, working alongside the banks, transparently plays a role in circumscribing residential mortgage securitization. Indeed, the great bulk of all lending in Canada takes place within the banking system itself, not through a largely unsupervised secondary market for bundles of loans and securities supposedly backed by other bundles of loans and securities—the “shadow banking system” that has burgeoned in the United States.

Contrary to what Americans might think, Canadian executives are handsomely compensated...

To an extent Canada may have avoided a hyper-risky mortgage market because, ironically, policymakers there seem less preoccupied with promoting ownership of “affordable” housing. Which is not to say that Canadian policy, at both the national and provincial levels, hasn’t furnished an ample supply of low-cost housing. To the contrary, so much is available at low rents that households may actually be less inclined to buy their dwellings... Perhaps even more important is the fact that macro-level fiscal policy in Canada differs rather fundamentally from America’s. It restrains the demand side more than does the U.S. national tax structure, which arguably rewards consumption while mostly dunning incomes and saving.

Although housing prices in Canada’s major urban centers (notably Vancouver and Toronto) have increased markedly since the 1980s, the country did not experience a U.S.-style housing bubble... Mortgage interest is not tax-deductible in Canada. The result, not surprisingly, is to induce less private investment in housing than there has been in the United States... Indeed, consuming in general is a bit less of a great national pastime in Canada, in part, because it is more heavily taxed.
That's right... CEOs still get rich, the poor still have access to housing at decent prices, and all of the policy results in sound banking and no bubbles. So let's invite our neighbors over for a little summit, fix our side to match, and then get back to business -- right?
Clearly, there is something to be said for studying Canada’s more centralized, and apparently better-coordinated, regulatory bodies. America’s assortment of financial watchdogs, jealously guarding their turfs and leaving gaping holes unmonitored, appears in dire need of correction. But let’s not kid ourselves: Even Canada’s seemingly comprehensive arrangements almost certainly fall far short of constituting a “systemic risk regulator,” capable of foreseeing and averting every imaginable form of financial excess. The Canadian system seems to have done a commendable job managing risk in one sector—mortgage lending. Given that the world’s financial meltdown originated with the U.S. sub-prime bust, the way Canada dodged it was no small accomplishment. Whether Canadian regulators and financial companies will remain as unscathed by crises begot from other sources, including novel mutations of financial assets likely to be invented in the future, remains very much an open question.

Also, here’s another caveat: In retrospect, cautious Canadian-style risk-management looks highly desirable. Yet before the crash, that same prudence might have seemed like too much of a good thing. In fact, financial systems such as Canada’s, which are less reliant on versatile non-bank capital markets, could seem insufficiently entrepreneurial. With twenty-twenty hindsight, we now know that Wall Street’s risk-takers were reckless. But during the boom, few of us were as skeptical of the borrowing binge they facilitated. Rather, their innovative financial instruments were mostly deemed creative ways of leveraging and deepening scarce capital. In other words, it is not too much to say that when times are rotten, we wistfully look to exemplars of moderation. When times are good, moderation often looks like a virtue only in moderation.
It's paragraphs like those that drive me to imagine hanging myself by my own toenails. Yeah, Canada may have avoided the world's largest known financial meltdown, but what about the hypothetical ones we are thinking about that don't even exist yet? Sure, we could have a safe, well regulated banking system, that could be relied upon by both corporation and citizen alike, but it "could seem insufficiently entrepreneurial" and that might curtail "innovative" financial instruments -- you know, like the ones that wrecked the world economy for tens of trillions of dollars.

It's called "home equity loan." Pretty good deal when median price of a house doubled in one decade.

Citation? As far as I can tell, Canada's debt to net worth is still better than United States before the bust, and it looks even better if you factor in how the healthcare system works. Here's a headline for you:

A middle-class adult in Finland owns $122 for every billion dollars of his or her nation's wealth. In Canada it's $13. In the U.S. it's 60 cents. Only middle-class adults in China and India earn less.

I'm afraid America is still deeply invested in the denial side of the twelve step process. It's a shame.
posted by deanklear at 12:51 AM on August 17, 2013 [7 favorites]


what about the parents? Are they not involved in the process? I mean, are people responsible for any decisions they make?

Parents are every bit in the dark about these things as their kids. They're too busy working trying to salvage a life for their families. The idea that parents (or their kids, for that matter) should be perfectly-informed players, capable of parsing their every possible option into an exacting and perfect, financially-responsible decision, is utter fantasy. The system is stacked heavily against them in those regards.

In my experience (with two kids) the biggest fail point in the planning cycle lies with the supposed "counselors" at the high-school level. WTF are they there for, if not to help shepherd students (and, by extension their families) toward making a good, informed decision with regards to post-secondary education.

My experience has been that these people are barely better than an animated rack of university recruiting flyers. There's scant little actual "counseling" going on in those offices. They're mostly just ensuring the stream of fodder into the college loan machine flows unabated.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:05 AM on August 17, 2013


Where is Matt Taibbi's Pulitzer? He singlehandedly redeems the rest of Rolling Stone magazine.
posted by Renoroc at 5:30 AM on August 17, 2013


It boggles my mind that I made the choices I made that will keep me in debt until I die.

I graduated from undergrad with $1000 in student loan debt. My parents didn't support me, so I worked my way through a state college. I didn't see that as an accomplishment at the time.

So, when I scored a freakishly high score on the LSATs, various law schools pitched woo. NYU, calling to me across the country, was is? the most expensive law school in the country. They didn't offer me financial aid because of my parents' assets, even though I had been estranged from my family since age 17.

So I made a very stupid decision and went to NYU. Loans came pouring in. When federal loans weren't enough, I took out private loans.

So, I will have bad credit until I die. My health is now FUBAR, so I can't work full-time legal jobs. I did public interest until my health went FUBAR, so I made minimal payments to my loans during that time.

Now the feds will work with me, but the private loans? They said, 'pay $30,000 now or we will sue you.' Do I have 30K? No. At their fullest, I have 2k in my bank accounts, and that is almost immediately withdrawn for bills.

As I now tell my community college students, 'don't be me.' True, I went from a commuter school to someplace where the rich and powerful hob nob, plus NYC is its own reward, but oh my God it was not worth it.

I was very, very, very stupid.
posted by angrycat at 6:01 AM on August 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


That's right... CEOs still get rich, the poor still have access to housing at decent prices, and all of the policy results in sound banking and no bubbles.

You're right about executive compensation, but housing is overvalued to a greater extent in Canada than just about any other country in the world.

As far as I can tell, Canada's debt to net worth is still better than United States before the bust, and it looks even better if you factor in how the healthcare system works.

Canada's debt-to-income ratio has been higher for about the last year than it ever was in the U.S. leading up to the 2007-2008 crisis. Comparing debt to net worth is not a great measurement right now because of the housing bubble and the fact that many Canadians' net worth is tied up in a house that isn't worth as much as most people appear to think, especially now that zero-down, 40-year amortizations have been scrapped for the more reasonable mortgage rules that existed when the current Conservative government took power.

By and large, Canadians aren't going to lose homes to pay medical bills or student loans, but that doesn't mean that Canadians aren't going to lose homes.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 6:11 AM on August 17, 2013


There is far less government subsidy of the students and the universities.

Universities need to radically upgrade campus facilities in order to attract students. In the 1940s, let's say, it was considered okay to house four guys in a room on bunk beds. Now everyone wants a single. With Wi-Wi. And television. And an en suite shower. Then there is the new rec center, the new student union, that new sciences building, etc. And let's not forget the fancy gourmet cafeteria(s) with kosher/halal, vegan, organic, paleo, and nut-free options.

Costs for things like journals have exploded.

While college professors and administrators aren't getting rich, there is no doubt that they make a lot more now than they did 60 years ago in adjusted dollars. When my parents got into academia in the early 60s, this career path was considered to be one of "noble poverty." Now a full professorship is an upper middle class gig. A full professor at West Virginia University makes $107k, an associate makes $80k and an associate makes $64 (averages) in Morgantown, West Virginia!

The ranks of college administrators have swelled greatly even in the last 20 years. It used to be, for example, that a schools admissions staff would be one guy plus an assistant. But now schools think that accepting a tiny percentage of applicants is a mark of great prestige. How do you get that to happen? Get ten times more people to apply through aggressive promotion and doing things like sending out tons of "we invite you to apply for early admission" forms (which used to mean you were practically a lock to get admitted and now just drive up application numbers). So the admissions office grew from one guy plus an assistant in 1985 to more than a dozen today, plus assorted assistants, infrastructure and technology. To make another example, when my father was Dean if Sciences at Rice University, the Dean's office consisted of him, his secretary who effectively functioned as assistant dean, and one other person. He continued to lead a research group the whole time. That same office is now ten people.

Finally, I have to disagree that people don't shop by price. They do -- just not the way you think. It's no secret that some of the top research universities are sitting on such huge endowments that they could afford to charge very little. And at times one or two of them has charged significantly under what the comparable competition was charging. But here's the thing: they do see it as a competition. There are only so many top undergraduates in physics, for example, and MIT, UCLA, Caltech, Harvard, Stanford and so on are competing to get those students. So of course they are continually looking at what influences students to pick one school over another. The lower-priced schools, believe it or not, found that they were losing students they wanted to the higher priced schools on the basis of price. So they raised tuitions and started getting the share of top students they thought they should be getting.


These things all add up to huge tuition increases.
posted by slkinsey at 6:46 AM on August 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Those railing against how much college professors make should recall that in 1969, 78% of college faculty were tenure-track or tenured, and as of 2013, that number is now 33%. Most adjunct faculty, teaching 10 courses a year, make more like $21,000 per year. For that reason, it's hard to blame faculty salaries for the cost of college--paying adjuncts next to nothing actually saves you a ton of money. It's terrible for the actual educational mission of the college, and pretty shitty for the adjuncts, but it saves the taxpayers and tuition payers a ton of money.

(Full disclosure: I am full time faculty at a public college (not tenure-track because this particular college doesn't grant tenure). Those who know my full name can google me and see how much I make because it is part of the public record for all state employees of Georgia. You can also use that "actual cost of living" post from a few weeks ago to see that my salary is not sufficient to raise a kid in Atlanta.)
posted by hydropsyche at 7:06 AM on August 17, 2013 [6 favorites]


Yeah undergrad debt is crazy but homie I owe Law School money
posted by smackwich at 7:50 AM on August 17, 2013



I went to University right after highschool. I did about 2 years worth of credits with money my parents had put aside in some savings thing. I went to a local Uni so was able to live at home. When it got to the point of needing to go the loan route I left. Even after two years I just wasn't sure what I wanted to do and decided to do some 'dream' stuff while I figured it out. It was a good decision at the time for me. I ended up working at a decent and enjoyable job for about ten years. It was a job that depended on being physical and a car accident with a bad back injury made me rethink that path. I decided I should go back to school and get a degree.

I was early 30s by then and didn't want loan debt. I thank my younger self for making that decision. I'd be screwed now. For the first year or so I managed to work and take part time courses. It was tough. Ended up moving, literally, into my sisters garage, work and part time it. I got a lot out of that stint in terms of learning and education so don't regret it. Life happened though and I was given a once in a lifetime opportunity to do something that I just couldn't turn down. It entailed leaving school, leaving work and sticking and everything I had in storage for six months. What would happen after that was completely up in the air. Hard decision but one I again don't regret because I ended up meeting my husband during that time.

It also meant that I still didn't officially have a degree. Personally I consider myself as having a degree because I have more then enough credits, including graduate level credits that I was give special permission to take. They're just not the right ones to count in what the Uni needs to say you have a degree. It was my choice to take the graduate course that wouldn't count but I decided that the opportunity to get the actual education they gave was more important then the piece of paper. I could always do what was necessary later on.

Now I'm in my early 40s and am working at finding some meaningful work. My search has given me a pretty good idea of what's going on out there. At this point considering what's out there and my location having an official finished degree wouldn't make much difference if at all. I've been told I'm over qualified for many of the jobs I have applied for. The jobs that are more available and pay decently are all specifically skilled and applied type jobs which require specific education.
I've looked into going back to school again in one of these fields but that's more money and time that I don't have.

I laugh at it a lot. I'm educated, have a lot of experience under my belt but I just don't easily fit into a slot that people want. This is partly due to my own choices, partly due to not understanding how the job and work situation was changing over the past twenty years, partly due to the overall economic state and partly due to thinking, as I was told that I should get a University type education cause then it will be golden.

I'm currently working at getting my own thing going. I can't regret the path I took because value the higher education I got as a personal thing. I enjoy learning. Always have. Education in what I'm interested in and passionate about just doesn't necessarily equal a paying job.

If I was starting out again now, with the wisdom I have gleaned I would do it different. First thing out of highschool I would do is get some sort of applied, skill specific education, a trade, medical assistant, vet tech. Anything I found somewhat interesting. The things that mostly need diplomas and take less then four years to do. Community college type things. I would tell people who told me I was 'wasting my intellect' and 'oh you can do so much better' to shove the hell off. I would get a decent paying job and work for works sake. Then I would work at pursuing the higher education that I really wanted to do, with some money and support already existing and the security of having a papered 'skill' to always fall back on.

In this day and age with the internet, the growth of online and distant education and schools offering a lot more part time opportunities there are so many more options in how you can get a higher education. My sister, who lives in Vancouver did a 4 year Bachelors degree from a University in England, with a medical assistant job and a family. She is now working in job, related to that degree that she loves. She has no debt. Her medical job was okay. It was work and as she says she can always fall back on it if need be.

Over the past few years I've talked to young people who are trying to figure out what to do. I tell my story. I talk about options. I've told them that there are different ways to get the education that they desire that they aren't necessarily told or know about. That going 'all in' with debt and all that it entails isn't the only and in my opinion the best way anymore. Or at least what has been the traditional way. After talking to me a couple of young girls decided not to go to University but instead take a two year diploma at a local college. I'm evil. I lost track of one, but the other is now working and pursuing the course of education that is her big dream. I couldn't be happier. She's going to do all right.

Sorry this turned into a big ramble. I feel horrible and sick about the situation that younger people are in now. I get annoyed when I find out that even with what is going on kids the getting a higher University type education no matter what and as soon as you can way of doing it is still pushed as the superior goal. Of course that's going to work for some people but more and more it seems to be screwing people up with debt and no jobs they're qualified for.
posted by Jalliah at 7:53 AM on August 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


Law school is the educational scam of the early 20th century. There is no way to pay off the debt without selling your soul to biglaw (which nowadays means you had better have attended a tier 1 law school). And with the way the industry is contracting, there are fewer and fewer of those jobs at the same time as we are cranking out more and more JDs.
posted by slkinsey at 7:55 AM on August 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


The California higher education system would like a word with you. All the employees of the CCs, the Cal States and the UCs are essentially government employees. You can look up what any of them, down to the lowest paid administrative assistant, earned in various publicly accessible databases. It's actually not all that different from the Canadian model.

Contrasts, indeed. I teach in a non-Californian state university, and you can likewise look up online how much I am paid. I went to graduate school in Canada, though, and am familiar with the extent to which the state university system employing me is different from the Canadian model: tuition is much larger, and the opportunities to fund one's education sanely are fewer, in the US state university in question.

Moreover, the students' attitudes toward their educational situation (and the range of attitudes of the general public, perhaps) are very different. Around the time I graduated, the Quebecois students in the city where I lived spent months engaging in hands-on democracy over the tuition issue, while their American counterparts in my classes tend to ignore the basically quixotic nature, in the face of their much higher educational costs, of their part-time service-industry jobs, and view as inevitable an education-funding system whose interest in them is often exploitative. (I admittedly have only anecdata of various friends and my students, here.)

I agree that the enormous costs of running a university have to do with scale, i.e. running a massive university is, as has been pointed out in more detail by e.g. yoink, inevitably expensive. The tuition issue seems to reflect a state of affairs larger than any university, though.

Many students in many universities don't really have any serious academic or vocational interests. Instead, they are university students largely because a large range of occupations that require complex non-academic skills are increasingly hard to come by (see "corporate attempts, with government collusion, to eliminate the middle class and destroy durable economies in favour of short-term profits"), and mass unemployment is dangerous, and we (thankfully) don't have conscription, and hey! let's monetize this state of affairs, too!

I hate the "hurf durf humanities/arts/pure sciences" complaints because nobody with a serious academic interest in the humanities/arts/pure sciences is contributing to university-bloat; there are too few of them and society could easily support everyone with a genuine interest in ethnobotany or modal logic in pursuing those interests. Perhaps even more obviously, society has an immediate economic interest in supporting people in the acquisition of more immediately economically practical skills.

However, one can go to any university classroom, remove the students who are in the class because they have a genuine academic or vocational reason to be there, and be left with most of the students, who won't be able to articulate precisely why they are there. In fact they are there for reasons of cultural or parental pressure, or even more likely because society offers very little else to do for their demographic or everyone told them that going to university would improve their economic situation.

In other words, demand for the university's services is artificially high, and costs are high for the same reason, i.e. the whole "everyone go to college ('cause we gutted the rest of the economy and need to randomly take serious humanities disciplines and pretend that they are somehow vocational training for unrelated office jobs)!" thing contributes to higher tuition in two distinct ways.

This problem doesn't get solved without the existence of a more diverse range of viable opportunities for everybody, and some way of ensuring that people are invested, at least for the time being, in pursuing some such viable opportunity by the time they are 18.
posted by kengraham at 7:57 AM on August 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


Eventually online education is going to cause a big collapse in secondary education. It's one thing if you can afford a school with a 7:1 student:faculty ratio. But there is just no reason why it sitting in a lecture hall while a TA regurgitates a lecture is better than streaming a video of an inspiring professor delivering the same content. And here's the thing: that inspiring professor only has to record the lecture once. Some combination of streaming lectures and office hours (which could be videoconferenced as well) will radically reshape core courses.
posted by slkinsey at 8:00 AM on August 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


Does anyone have any links to analyses that break down real university budgets and show exactly where the increases and decreases over the last 20 years in costs and revenues have come from?
posted by shivohum at 8:03 AM on August 17, 2013



Oh just wanted to add to my above post. I'm not dissing the value of a University type education at all. In my perfect life I would be a permanent University student. If I had a trust fund to live on I would be going to school all the time. I'm school nerd. Now I just attend Oxford, Stanford and MIT lectures online, while doing dishes.

I just wish that I had a medical office assistant diploma so I could apply to the four jobs that are being offered currently in my area or a lab tech diploma so I could possibly work in our hospital lab to cover a techs maternity leave. Heck I wish I was a certified plumber. There's a shortage in my area. lol
posted by Jalliah at 8:06 AM on August 17, 2013


My employer, like most "community", "directional", or "commuter" public colleges, does not have gigantic classes or TAs. My state has the HOPE scholarship and generally low tuition at public schools, except at Georgia State, UGA, and Georgia Tech, where coincidentally you will find the gigantic classes and TAs. It is important in conversations such as these to remember that higher education in the US is highly heterogeneous, varying particularly by state, and that more Americans attend community colleges and colleges like mine than attend the big name brand schools you may be thinking about.
posted by hydropsyche at 9:06 AM on August 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Administrative and managerial work should be automated via machine learning as fast as humanly possible. We'll create a far more fair world by replacing all administrative and managerial jobs with software that employs a simple transparent thought process. And more importantly eliminating administrative and managerial work eliminates the major avenue "[shifting workers] from relatively useful to relatively useless occupations as a measure to assure public order."
posted by jeffburdges at 9:46 AM on August 17, 2013


>The Canadian system....

Actually, I was still on about high school education when I asked for suggestions.

I'll shut up now.
posted by IndigoJones at 11:46 AM on August 17, 2013


Canadian here, so excuse my bias—but I just don't see the "substantially". In what ways were Americans doing "better"? We up here seem to have plenty of cars and homes and toys, plenty of healthcare and education, plenty of food and entertainment and fun. I'm not seeing where there's room for "substantially better" in this picture.

Hell hath no fury like a Canadian whose innate superiority to Americans has been questioned ;)

The ways in which I was saying (along with every economic study ever done) that Americans were doing better than Canadians were the strictly measurable economic ways that the comment to which I was replying was referring. In terms of median incomes, for example (median, not mean), Canada lagged behind the US for much of the late C20th. And yeah, sure, the differences are small and vastly outweighed by the similarities (which was my basic point). By all those basic measures of economic well-being, Canada has always been somewhere within the general statistical range of the US states--never doing as badly as the worst-performing states, never doing better than the best-performing. Being a middle-class Canadian is very like being a middle class American. Citizens of both countries are invested in wildly exaggerating the differences for various reasons, but it really is the narcissism of minor differences. (I have lived for seven years in Canada and for 15 in the US, so I speak from pretty good experience.)

And as for Canada's ability to avoid the banking crisis--well, yay for better Canadian banking regulations. But it's idle to pretend that Canada has some kind of magic "never suffer an economic downturn" magic that the US lacks. I lived in Canada in the late 80s and early 90s and the economy was really struggling then; there were boarded uo shop windows dotted all along Montreal's main downtown street, and several long standing retail institutions went belly up. Canada went through recessions in the early 80s, the early 90s and another quick slump in the mid 90s. The Canadian economy has its ups and downs like any other, and there will come a time, again, when the average middle class American is better off, economically, than the average middle class Canadian. In the end, it's just not a very meaningful set of statistics, and its a little unseemly (dare I say unCanadian?) how gleefully self-congratulatory many Canadians have been about there recent turn at the top of Fortune's wheel.
posted by yoink at 3:02 PM on August 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


yeah at my school we have small classes taught by adjuncts who are generally well-qualified and underpaid. I taught a class of eight this summer.

In contrast, in law school in my experience going to class was only a participatory experience insofar students were terrorized via the socratic method. Otherwise, yeah, you could just turn on a tape.

But then again, in my lawyering classes, the hands-on classes that law professors sort of looked down on, the whole deal involved student participation: in addition to handling cases of our own, we listened and chimed in on other students' case experiences. And I stuck to my teachers in those classes like glue.

So, yeah, I bristle when I hear financial crises at the college level put at the door of the lecture model of teaching. True, there are situations where you could just listen online and get what's going on. But there are many, and I'd argue the most beneficial, educational situations that are not like that
posted by angrycat at 3:39 PM on August 17, 2013


So what can be done about qualification inflation? It seems that a large part of this is that almost every job now requires a bachelor's degree. So people feel forced to get one, and at the same time, because everyone is getting one, it's being devalued to the level of what the high school diploma used to be. Is there any way to deal with this problem? Every graduate of the class of 2013 could decide not to go to college, but they'd still see a job market where employers ask for a BA to do jobs that in no way should require that qualification.

(Some years ago I saw a restaurant, not opened yet, with a sign in their window saying they were hiring waiters -- bachelor's degree required. For waitstaff?! I vowed never to eat there, and they didn't stay in business long anyway.)
posted by litlnemo at 6:06 PM on August 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


So what can be done about qualification inflation? It seems that a large part of this is that almost every job now requires a bachelor's degree.

Yes, have a growing, healthy economy. The reason for qualification inflation is the high unemployment rate. There are plenty of unemployed college graduates begging for jobs so why not require a college degree? The last time there was a healthy economy for non-graduates was during the 90s when there was high employment and companies couldn't be so choosy.

Fix the economy and you fix the employment problem. Unfortunately there are a lot of businessmen and their hired politicians who like high unemployment and cheap, over-qualified labor so don't expect things to improve soon.
posted by JackFlash at 6:19 PM on August 17, 2013 [1 favorite]








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