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The Method
August 24, 2013 7:40 AM   Subscribe

"Obama’s new education policy neatly showcases the spectrum of choice we now have in our political system: to be ground down a bit at a time by technocrats who either won’t admit to or do not understand the ultimate consequences of the policy infrastructures they so busily construct or to be demolished by fundamentalists who want to dissolve the modern nation-state into a panoptic enforcer of their privileged morality, a massive security and military colossus and an enfeebled social actor that occasionally says nice things about how it would be nice if no one died from tainted food and everyone had a chance to get an education but hey, that’s why you have lawyers and businesses."
posted by anotherpanacea (51 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
I also think it’s clearly intended to kill online for-profit education without the Administration having to say so directly by denying them access to the Pell Grants that are so crucial to their bottom line.

I think this is a great thing. The for-profit education industry is a scam on American taxpayers. I take it that Obama's plan is designed this way because the lobbyists for the for-profit education industry are powerful. Obama has to couch it in terms of results, he needs it to be politically difficult for the for-profits to oppose the initiative. It's hard for the for-profits to say "results? We shouldn't have to show results!" This is why Obama's plan seems savvy to me.

Why, for the present example, not just say, “For-profit education should make its profits off of the services it provides being valued sufficiently by its customers, not off of public monies intended to help needy students get access to non-profit education.”

Because (1) nobody in the US in the market for these educational programs has the kind of money that would allow them to pay out of pocket. And (2) the for-profit schools know that in a country where there's virtually no consumer saving, cutting off government grants and loans would kill them.
posted by Unified Theory at 8:13 AM on August 24, 2013 [11 favorites]


Obama's method: Massive giveaways to private industry in return for token concessions, then pretend it's a big step forward.
posted by anemone of the state at 8:28 AM on August 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


Unified Theory: "The for-profit education industry is a scam on American taxpayers."

I think you, me, and the author of this piece agree wholeheartedly with that. The author is just saying that it's not worth destroying American education and ruining the American public's conception of it by defunding many worthwhile not-for-profit institutions and lying about why we're doing it. If we want to cut off for-profit education from public funds, we should do it. This plan, however, is destroying the village to save it.
posted by koeselitz at 8:28 AM on August 24, 2013 [6 favorites]


I seem to have a lot of the same points of disagreement as Unified Theory above; I'm deeply skeptical of online and for-profit education. It's hard for me to believe that tracking employment outcomes is such an onerous task, and the hard data that would come by requiring grant-receiving schools to record what happens to their students after they graduate would be so valuable, I think the public has a right to demand it, especially if we're putting up the capital for these school's business model.

However, the article is easily worthwhile just for this quote: "fundamentalists ... want to dissolve the modern nation-state into a panoptic enforcer of their privileged morality"
posted by skewed at 8:35 AM on August 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


1. One of his interesting points seems to point out the asymmetry between students and institutions. Good call.
2. Universities are as rife with technocrats and do-nothing officeholders as the government is, if not more. My old employer (private university) had a Provost Emeritus who drew a six-figure salary while abrogating all responsibilities to the then-current Provost. These are the barnacles on the extant system that need to be shucked away.
3. No mention of the DoE or etc; directed all criticism to "the government" or "Obama" or, weirdly, Matt Yglesias.
4. Poor use of links & etc. to provide background material in this piece.
posted by boo_radley at 8:40 AM on August 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


People rightfully slam on the for-profit higher-ed sector, but let's just remember why it exists: The public university system in this country has failed in its public service mission. My own university, a large public land-grant institute you might call "Enormous State University," has done exactly zero with regards to making educational resources of any kind available to those who do not successfully fit the traditional student model. (And it does a pretty crappy job with those who do.)

People are screaming for higher ed but public institutions have failed to step up because they choose to not see beyond their traditional business model. Naturally the private sector will respond and fill that vacuum.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 8:41 AM on August 24, 2013 [5 favorites]


skewed: "I seem to have a lot of the same points of disagreement as Unified Theory above; I'm deeply skeptical of online and for-profit education."

I'm not sure you read the article closely enough. That is not a point of disagreement. The author is against for-profit and online education.
posted by koeselitz at 8:45 AM on August 24, 2013


I realize that, and probably phrased poorly. I should say that since I'm so down on for-profit (as the author is), I think requiring grant-receiving schools to compile and publish information about their student's outcomes, and to reduce availability of federal grants and loans to those schools who aren't helping their students improve their employability is reasonable.

I'm hopeful that this will end up showing that our nation's community college system is a great investment that we should dramatically expand. And if we did maybe these for-profit diploma mills would dry up anyway.
posted by skewed at 8:54 AM on August 24, 2013


Is there any actual analysis of the policy in this blog post? We must kill off the for-profit institutions that hovered up like 80% of federally backed financial aid through fraud for so many years, period.

In principle, inexpensive community collages could be shielded by simple rules that institutions lose federal backing if student repayment falls too low, obviously some overlap exists between legitimate but unlucky, incompetent, poorly located, etc. schools and exploitive for-profit schools, but that's unavoidable. Are the new rules aiming for this? Or did the for-profit school poke em' full of loopholes? Ain't finding out from this blog post!

Now how many legitimate but underperforming schools would you sacrifice to prevent outright fraud from squandering 80% of federal financial aid? Just remember we're discussing particularly ineffective institutions so while maybe they try, the students might benefit more by being sent elsewhere.
posted by jeffburdges at 8:59 AM on August 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yes, obviously the "private sector will respond and fill that vacuum" by selling bullshit and fantasy, so long as they get paid by federal student aid dollars. Assuming the "technocrats" set the percentages correctly, this policy saves more students from wasting their shot at a higher education and crushing debt that cannot be discharges than it deprives. The real question is : Did the for-profit school lobbyists poke this full of loopholes?
posted by jeffburdges at 9:02 AM on August 24, 2013


People are screaming for higher ed but public institutions have failed to step up because they choose to not see beyond their traditional business model.

It was always lovely at the state school I attended to see expensive brand redesigns and ad campaigns, constant new construction (new business school building, new med school building, new dorms, new student center, and on and on...), expensive sports ventures (jumping up to Division I), and all the time the quality of education for most students stayed exactly the same. All this flash to chase new enrollments, but nothing to make it better for them once they're enrolled. But a big part of the problem is expectations - all that flash is really make-or-break for a lot of high school kids and their parents. Personally if I did it all over again I'd go with a tech school or community college, but when you're 18 the idea's firmly ingrained that those are lesser options to be avoided if at all possible. That whole higher education caste system that's been grist for the mill of a million hacky jokes and idiotic plot dilemmas since before you were born.
posted by jason_steakums at 9:14 AM on August 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's hard for me to believe that tracking employment outcomes is such an onerous task

I think this is a hugely difficult task because employment and earnings are time-dependent variables. And what is the value system that will underpin how the data is used to develop the ranking system? To use one example: what if a student decides to do the Peace Corps immediately after college? Is that a good thing because the graduate is giving something to people who need it, or is it a bad thing because the graduate is making very little money and majored in "take your pick" and doesn't have a job that is "relevant" to the major---whatever that means. I see students all the time who take very non linear paths after graduation to create a life that they can be happy with. Sometimes that life includes a high paying position with direct relevance to their major, and often times it does not. And over what time frame post graduation do you want to look at? 1 year, 5 years, 10 years? How long do we track the employment and earnings of students to make the ranking system that Obama is talking about? And how do you place value on graduates who select non-traditional routes because how they define a good life is very different from the definition conjured up by some DOE technocrat? I know a former student who majored in chemistry, and now 10 years out she is living off the grid and is homesteading. And she loves every minute it. Is that good or bad from the perspective of Obama's metrics and ranking system?

And all of these questions flow from the biggest problem I had with the speech/plan. Obama did not offer any kind of broad philosophy about the purpose and value of higher education beyond "getting the job" and how his plan relates to that philosophy. Does his plan respect the fact that education means different things to the very different people who get it at the huge array of schools that offer it? Will he punish institutions who have students who follow non traditional paths after graduation? I am worried that his attempt to backdoor the for profits (assuming that is one thing he is trying to accomplish) will create lots of collateral damage to the lower tier, teaching oriented, public universities which do a huge amount of the heaving lifting in higher ed with diverse student bodies having highly variable levels of preparation. The schools that won't be damaged are the elite institutions like the ones Obama attended. They will float above all these metrics I am sure.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 9:22 AM on August 24, 2013 [14 favorites]


We could merely track repayment rates rather than employment outcomes, actually that data already exists, no extra effort involved. In fact, you might specifically lobby for tracking employment outcomes over repayment rates if you were lobbying on behalf of fraudulent overpriced for-profit institutions. Why? Well, "employment outcomes" are easy to manipulate without actually repaying the money! Also, imposing overhead upon inexpensive schools increases their costs, making your clients look better.
posted by jeffburdges at 9:30 AM on August 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


I also think it’s clearly intended to kill online for-profit education without the Administration having to say so directly by denying them access to the Pell Grants that are so crucial to their bottom line.

If it's anything like Obama's K-12 education policy, the point is to kill public education while funding more and more money to private capital. I can't imagine what in Obama's education policy thus far is leading people to have any optimism about this whatsoever.
posted by gerryblog at 9:34 AM on August 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


We could merely track repayment rates rather than employment outcomes

I do like that idea a lot. It would respect the fact that graduates have free will as far as what they want to do with themselves after graduation, but also responsibilities if they borrowed money to get the education.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 9:34 AM on August 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


I wonder how this policy will play out with progressive universities like DePaul which actively seeks to educate first generation university students who will likely have poorer repayment rates than people who have more privileged backgrounds (and paler skin).
posted by srboisvert at 9:35 AM on August 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


The problem is that Obama is in thrall to finance capital. The magical phrase is "rent seeking behavior."
posted by wuwei at 9:38 AM on August 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


Just to be clear about it, from the plan itself:

Reduce Regulatory Barriers: The Department will use its authority to issue regulatory waivers for “experimental sites” that promote high-quality, low-cost innovations in higher education, such as making it possible for students to get financial aid based on how much they learn, rather than the amount of time they spend in class.

This is about charterizing higher ed just like we charterized K-12, creating new for-profit ventures to leech money from traditional education while exempting the new privatized system from any rules, assessment, or evaluation. This is exactly what Obama did to primary and secondary ed. This isn't about hurting the for-profits anywhere but in fantasy land -- at best all you're see for-profit scummery moving from one type of scam to another. At worst you'll just see double the scummery.
posted by gerryblog at 9:39 AM on August 24, 2013 [10 favorites]


Reduce Regulatory Barriers: The Department will use its authority to issue regulatory waivers for “experimental sites” that promote high-quality, low-cost innovations in higher education, such as making it possible for students to get financial aid based on how much they learn, rather than the amount of time they spend in class.

And that begs the question: "Learn what?"
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 9:47 AM on August 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


LastOfHisKind >

People rightfully slam on the for-profit higher-ed sector, but let's just remember why it exists: The public university system in this country has failed in its public service mission. My own university, a large public land-grant institute you might call "Enormous State University," has done exactly zero with regards to making educational resources of any kind available to those who do not successfully fit the traditional student model. (And it does a pretty crappy job with those who do.)

No offense, LOFK, but I think you're mistaken on some key facts. The public university system in the US can't perform its mission of public service if the public defunds it, and that's exactly what's been happening at the state level for some time. That's one of the biggest reasons that tuition costs have been increasing so much over the past two decades. States simply don't prioritize higher education, but nobody blames the legislatures even though they're the ones that are shifting the cost of education from taxpayers to students, creating a huge debt bubble for their banking and finance buddies to play around with and a reserve army of hugely indebted recent grads who are obliged to take and keep any job they can get.

People are screaming for higher ed but public institutions have failed to step up because they choose to not see beyond their traditional business model. Naturally the private sector will respond and fill that vacuum.

This is just totally wrong. Public institutions have ever-less cash and ever-higher administrative costs, both factors having absolutely nothing to do with their traditional "business" model. It's kind of perverse to use that term here since universities aren't businesses are should not operate by the same profit-oriented logics that businesses do. And the private sector is great at sucking education dollars from banks (through student loans) and the government, but not so good at all in actually educating students.

High-quality, affordable, public education from k-college is the crown jewel of a truly civilized society. What we're seeing here is a neoliberal scheme to wrench that jewel out with a screwdriver, and it's about halfway there. Obama may be a Democrat but the Democrats sure as hell aren't liberals right now.
posted by clockzero at 10:25 AM on August 24, 2013 [21 favorites]


I agree with jeffburdges: we should track repayment rates rather than employment outcomes. Incentives can work, but they need to be simple and hard to game. Repayment is precisely the simplest and most applicable metric gauging if government assistance with college tuition has provided an economic stimulus. Now, maybe we should be sending kids to college for reasons other than economic stimulus, but as Timothy Burke notes, the president failed to provide any other vision.

The problem with the "College Scorecard" is it is complicated and hence easy to game by politically well connected institutions. The plan even explicitly says it will take input from "state leaders [and] college presidents."

All the while, the real problem remains unaddressed: the incentives created by employers for over credentialing and the subsequent economic cost on the employed and unemployed.
posted by eigenman at 10:33 AM on August 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Whatever university taught Timothy Burke to write that rambling, shambling, stumbling one-sentence paragraph definitely needs to be closed.
posted by Slithy_Tove at 11:02 AM on August 24, 2013


They already do track repayment rates. It's one of the criteria of the Washington Monthly's Best Bang for the Buck ranking of US colleges.
posted by notyou at 11:06 AM on August 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Follow the money

From the comments at CHE:


Oh boy, if you think grade inflation is bad now, wait till they start tying federal monies to graduation rates. Maybe we should start giving puzzle-pieced diplomas to incoming students. The job they get later on will be based upon how many pieces of the diploma the student still has 4 years later.


--

It seems to make sense, but I hope everyone realizes that most of the colleges with high drop-out rates also serve the most at-risk populations and have open admissions standards. So it seems that the "formula" should at least include those variables. In other words, we should expect Harvard to have a 0% dropout rate and the Harold Washington Community College system in Chicago is probably doing a great job with what it has. I also hope it takes into account that many students leave because they finished enough training to get a good job. And some students already have a bachelor's degree or more, and come back to a college just to get trained in some new or newly needed technology. Gosh, that sounds more complicated doesn't it?


--


If we focus exclusively on the earnings of graduates in determining the value of a college education, we lose sight of the benefit to
society that accrues when students choose to enter careers that are not currently highly compensated, but which nonetheless have great value for the nation. If a talented graduate decides against entering, say, a highly compensated field such as finance, and chooses instead to work with Teach For America, how is the obvious social value of that choice calculated in this system?

If we apply this simplistic notion of equating higher salaries and higher educational “value” too strictly, we will be punishing those educational institutions with a large percentage of their graduates who are working for the likes of TeachForAmerica, and who succeed in inspiring their students to go out and serve the common good. In designing these programs, the President needs to find a way to bring this consideration of socially valuable work into the equation.


posted by lalochezia at 11:19 AM on August 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


I can't say what clockzero did better, but I do want to underline how fucking sick I am of people thinking that everything needs a business model attached to it. Transportation, education, welfare, utilities. THERE IS A POINT TO GOVERNMENTS BEYOND FIGURING OUT WAYS TO FUNNEL MONEY TO BUSINESSES.
posted by mcstayinskool at 11:23 AM on August 24, 2013 [23 favorites]


This is a great essay from the consistently great Tim Burke. But I wish it included more discussion, even if just speculation, about the motivation behind this policy push, which is so bizarre, with all its easily foreseen unintended terrible consequences, coming from an administration that ought to be the most intimately familiar with the university system since Wilson's. Why would the Obama White House even think this form of "reform" to higher education funding was a good idea? Even considering the horrifying, destructive approach they've consistently taken to K-12 education, this is a head-scratcher to me.
posted by RogerB at 11:26 AM on August 24, 2013


The best thing Obama could do for higher education would be a twofold initiative:

1. Prevent states from defunding higher education by tying other forms of federal monies going to states to the education spending of those states (this didn't work because of opposition in Congress, but it's the right thing to do and they shouldn't give up on it)
2. Make accreditation of colleges and universities dependent on controlling administrative costs. Right now, college presidents and administrators' salaries are *huge*, there's a bloat in progress not unlike the slow upward tick of CEO pay.

Universities need to be properly funded, and they need to not be forced to waste the money they do have on inflated labor costs for administrators or other expenditures that aren't necessary to their core mission of providing high-quality education for Americans at the lowest possible cost.
posted by clockzero at 11:28 AM on August 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


Incidentally, there's some good stuff in the comments. I'd particularly like to see a discussion addressing these two critiques/responses:
[Sal:] I would suggest it puts too much stock on technocrats as individual actors. Their awareness of what they are doing is secondary to the outcome of what they do
[dave mazella:] [T]o what extent do you think this is a disciplinary issue, the fact that economists (or people who regard themselves as trained by economists, like Yglesias) are able to drive policy in all sorts of larger areas where they have no grounding? I think this certainly explains the overuse of “incentives” as a causal mechanism.
posted by RogerB at 11:32 AM on August 24, 2013


LBJ's presidency brought the the Vietnam War, but he also the Great Society. Obama's presidency gave us PRISM and drone strikes, and... what, exactly?
posted by Apocryphon at 12:24 PM on August 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Is any of this likely to happen anyway? Are Republicans in the House going to support anything Obama wants, good or bad?
posted by wittgenstein at 12:27 PM on August 24, 2013


I have mixed feelings on this initiative, although I also need to read more about it. I'm teaching at the kind of public university that should make a real difference in the lives of under-served communities: we have large minority, adult returning to school, and veteran enrollment.

The idea of tying funding to job outcomes raises all sorts of confusing questions about the value of education. I'd be hugely hostile to the idea if a self-proclaimed "CEO President" like Bush had put forward the idea. But I also see that education often is a pathway out of terrible lives for large segments of the population.

How much does improving students' lives intersect with their future earnings? From a middle class background, which is more patronizing, to discount material progress for those who really need it or to suggest learning for its own sake and a sense of purpose beyond the paycheck is only for the well-off, or those from educated families?

Sometimes I wonder if one purpose of education is to make people feel less of a need to become ostentatiously rich, and that the common perceived need is socially destructive. And yet populations are scraping to get by.

Our tenure and promotion committees are struggling to find objective measures of professor quality too--I guess we need some kind of numbers to point to, even though we realize they don't capture enough.
posted by Schmucko at 12:53 PM on August 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think the White House controls some of the big things (reporing, for inatance) directly through the Department of Education, and doesn't need Congressional approval. It may be the case that they can also control loan eligibility requirements directly through the DOE, barring Congressional action to defend for-profits (maybe in the name of protecting poorly performing schools.)

By the way, I checked my school's report card. We'd definitely be on the chopping block even though we're a non-profit, so take this post with a grain of salt: I'm an interested party.
posted by anotherpanacea at 1:00 PM on August 24, 2013


I think the article might be missing the point of Obama's move. What I see happening is the Obama Administration starting a meme that focuses on "outcomes", period. If deep learning takes place - i.e. knowing the facts; synthesizing the facts; applying the foregoing synthesis to novel situations - who cares *where* the learning takes place?

If there are 5th tier schools that are not up to making things work, off them! Why put more money down into a sinkhole. Too many American educational institutions are drinking at the public spigot and not innovating. I have seen this up close, and personal, all over the country.

Also, as pathetic as the for-profit education system currently is, it *can* get better. Those education corporations that want to meet the task of improving outcomes,and really delivering for the dollars they cost, will not suffer. What's wrong with that.

Outcomes, outcomes, outcomes - that's what it's all about.

btw, there are a lot os so-called 2nd, 3rd, and 4th tier universities that should have to meet this challenge, too - and, let's not leave out community colleges.

I am a huge supporter of public education, but let's not deceive ourselves by forgetting that public K20 education is filled with too many ossified dinosaurs (especially at the administrative level) who just take their paychecks as they deftly ride the latest "improvement or outcomes" meme as deftly as they can.

Look at California as one example. Why aren't the administrative functions of USC, CCC, and UC combined? That's Billions, right there - with more effiencies brought by *correctly and efficiently* binding systems together, under pressure for good outcomes. Why not?

Look at K12 in California. 1000 school districts, with every one of them funding six-figure "District Supervisors" who are incentivized NOT to create inter-district efficiencies.
posted by Vibrissae at 2:23 PM on August 24, 2013


Vibrissae: "Look at California as one example. Why aren't the administrative functions of USC, CCC, and UC combined? "

One reason might be that USC is a private institution, that only formally revoked it's Methodist heritage in 1952. No idea what CCC is. And UC is basically what you're talking about.

Oregon has a similar structure, OUS, which performs some very similar functions. For example, it uses the combined buying power to reduce the costs of BANNER, Blackboard, travel costs, insurance, etc.
posted by pwnguin at 3:12 PM on August 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


The other major component counting against Vibrissae's position is, again, the new "experimental" for-profits themselves will not be held to any standards of efficiency or assessment or results. That's how the shell game has been played at the K-12 level and the section of the proposal I quoted above demonstrates they're planning on doing the exact same thing to higher ed. The purpose of all this is to destroy the traditional educational system and replace it with an alternative that enriches private capital; everything else is window dressing.
posted by gerryblog at 3:40 PM on August 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


We live in a democracy. In order to implement your policy choices, you must win elections. Analyses which complain about a dearth of choices are getting the analysis exactly wrong and blame their inability or unwillingness to convince others of the value of their policy choices.

It has a long tradition. Gramsci is the modern equivalent, but the thought goes back to Marx. It is the basis for the argument of left wing dictatorship (of the proletariat in its most famous formulation). And it cripples the left with a belief that it is impossible to win electoral battles. The right of people to vote means you must convince a very sizable proportion of the populace to win the ability to make policy choices.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:18 PM on August 24, 2013


I wish I could favorite this comment 85 times:

I do want to underline how fucking sick I am of people thinking that everything needs a business model attached to it. Transportation, education, welfare, utilities. THERE IS A POINT TO GOVERNMENTS BEYOND FIGURING OUT WAYS TO FUNNEL MONEY TO BUSINESSES.

The attempt to turn higher education into profitable, vocational training is the final front of the three-decade-long war on public education in the United States. It is sickening, and many people working toward those ends are already in senior administrative positions on many campuses and systems (check how many higher ed administrators in your state come from Colleges of Business, it's a pretty good indicator).

As a professor (in California), I see the administrative bloat described above as well, and it is tremendously problematic. I don't think it's feasible to do the ultra-consolidation Vibrissae describes, for a number of reasons, but I do think quite a bit of consolidation could take place, most especially in K-12. In my county alone, which isn't super high-population (at least, not for CA), there is an independent school district for every town with a population greater than 25,000 people or so. All of those school districts have their own superintendents, who all make six figure salaries, and several assistant superintendents who also make six figures. (The town where my university is, for instance, is ~72,000 people, with 2 public high schools. There are 4 assistant superintendents, each with his/her own staff, including eight directors. All of those people are paid considerably more than the most senior teacher in the district.)

But that's just a practical facet of the much larger problem: school administrators at all levels increasingly see themselves as executives--and want the kind of pay that entails--and view reform in their school systems as moving them to a business model of operation.

The practical results of this include that, as schools are defunded of public money, they lack the political will to fight back against it; worse, many use such defunding to "prove" that educational institutions must increasingly seek to 'raise revenues themselves,' i.e., operate on a for-profit model. The primary philosophical result is that educating a human being is reduced to mere vocational training.
posted by LooseFilter at 6:26 PM on August 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also, I think Vibrissae meant to type CSU, not USC. He/She is referencing the three major public college systems in CA: the University of California (10 campuses and five medical centers, ~235,000 students), the California State University (23 campuses and eight off-campus centers, ~440,000 students), and the California Community Colleges System (112 colleges, ~2.4 million students). Given the very diverse missions of each of these systems, as well as the scale of each, I don't think any kind of Total Consolidation is really feasible. Though it certainly could have pretty huge political benefits.
posted by LooseFilter at 6:40 PM on August 24, 2013


man, i was so sure someone would've jumped on tim's wonderfully mean description of matt yglesias by now! c'mon, dig this:
As always, Matthew Yglesias is a great portrait of what happens when a well-meaning kid with a good education settles down to become a technocratic barnacle on some encrusted rock.
i know it's petty of me, but i'm *always* up for a good rip on yglesias.
posted by waxbanks at 7:17 PM on August 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


"We live in a democracy" is the most facile possible response to this piece, in no small part because he's talking precisely about the ways in which we don't.
posted by gerryblog at 7:18 PM on August 24, 2013 [6 favorites]


No one will weep when these reforms put a lot of for profit schools out of business, although I certainly hope that the system will keep the vocation schools healthy -- but what will get people howling is the impact it would have on non-selective traditional private colleges, whose results simply can't justify their cost premium over public schools. Hopefully the ratings will factor in state taxpayer support along with the loss rate on federally guaranteed loans, but even so I wouldn't want to have my pension or job future baked onto some small leafy campus whose only argument over Directional State University down the road is its intimate class size.
posted by MattD at 7:23 PM on August 24, 2013


> In order to implement your policy choices, you must win elections.

Unfortunately, as you yourself have pointed out on numerous occasions, most people believe that there is no choice other than Democrats and Republicans, and those two parties have gamed the electoral environment to essentially freeze out any other party.

So what, exactly, does what you are writing have to do with anything, if our only choices are Democrat and Republican, and both of them want to tear down the educational system? Are you simply saying, "Deal with it, and shut up about it," and adding an extra helping of "It's your fault, you there in the electorate"?
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 7:54 PM on August 24, 2013 [5 favorites]


THERE IS A POINT TO GOVERNMENTS BEYOND FIGURING OUT WAYS TO FUNNEL MONEY TO BUSINESSES.

In the past, definitely. Now maybe. In the future, I honestly don't know. I'd happily accept a serious attempt at a libertarian utopia that forbid all the bullshit jobs because frankly all our ideologies were conceived of in a vastly different environment for labor, etc. If we crushed the bullshit, say by shortening the work week, then maybe government would need to reform eventually.
posted by jeffburdges at 11:18 PM on August 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


The tacit assumptions of this plan pose much of the problem. First, it assumes (probably correctly) that state and federal funding for education cannot be expanded, or cannot be minimally expanded. It also assumes that debt forgiveness for current debtors is entirely off the table. There's not even a token attempt to consider, let alone argue for those possible solutions. And it quite happily refuses to mention the problem of administrative bloat, except perhaps to imply with its talk of "innovation," "disruption," and "deregulation" that this is the result of the university as a public or government-supported institution which those gods of efficiency in the private sector can harmlessly, simply pare away.

Most troublingly, however, it sees higher education entirely as a quantitative financial issue rather than as a qualitative social or even, well, educational issue. It's not enough to reduce higher education to a jobs training program; higher ed. must also provide significant ROI so that both students and creditors can profit. (And of the two groups, it's the second that the plan really addresses most. Jobs are first and foremost a means of repaying student debt, and some proportion of student debt in this plan is considered inevitable.)

The idea here is to completely convert higher education into a means for businesses to recruit interns and already-trained employees. It socializes business expenses -- not even risks, if all goes to plan -- and privatizes business profits. Along the way, there are some efforts to reduce the expenses overall, but these require a jettisoning of arguments about what "higher education" might mean, what its qualities ought to be, in favor of

The same "socialized expense, privatized gains" is true, in slightly different fashion, for the deregulation proposals floated in the plan. (That's leaving aside the extent to which MOOCs already parasitize existing public infrastructures, from the way they rely on established institutional prestige to their use of the Internet and the ".edu" domains.) They ask vulnerable student populations to be the guinea pigs of venture capitalists and entrepreneurs, and all in an environment where basic standards of accreditation and regulation will be suspended.

The whole thing starts from a very bad place and unsurprisingly ends up in a worse one.

It has a long tradition.

In other words, it's been convincing people for a rather long time.

The right of people to vote means you must convince a very sizable proportion of the populace to win the ability to make policy choices.

Except that this is demonstrably untrue: for example, polling data showed that some form of single-payer was far and above the most popular model of health care reform back in 2009-10, but it was certainly not the policy choice that was made.

The process we have does not enable the majority of the population to make policy choices, it enables the majority of the population to express a preference for particular members of the political class who take on the power to make appointments, with the policy-making power distributed among both elected and non-elected members of a narrow range of professional classes. This is by design; the Constitution, in good neoclassical Enlightenment fashion, imagines that in a democratic system ochlocracy (unrestrained popular rule) is a more likely and more threatening evil than tyranny (a failure of virtue in a personated sovereign).

One of the more popular arguments for voting for Party X for the Presidency, for instance, is about controlling who gets to nominate and appoint Supreme Court justices, people who both have the opportunity to change their principles once appointed and people who end up making decisions about policy issues that few if any can predict at the time(s) they vote for the representatives who possess the powers of nomination and confirmation. It becomes rather difficult to locate just where the policy decision even happens in such a process, let alone to make an informed decision or an informed case years out in multiple elections.

Most voters are not technocrats; "issues" in American electoral discourse map crudely and poorly, if at all, onto the specifics of the actual policy choices and the mechanisms of policy choice. You're not only failing to convince the "left" you identify about how best to participate in that process, you're not even assuming a particularly credible or accurate description of the process itself.
posted by kewb at 5:01 AM on August 25, 2013 [6 favorites]


One of the most important factors driving price (tuition) at public colleges and universities has been the decline in state support for higher education. According to State Higher Education Finance FY 2012, a report issued by the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association, annual revenue per student adjusted for inflation was $11,084 in 1987 and in 2012 it was $11,095, hardly a staggering increase. Over the same period, however, government support has declined from $8,497 to $5,906 per student, while net tuition increased from $2,588 to $5,189.
Statement on the President’s Proposal for Performance Based Funding.
More to the point, however, is that according to the Digest of Educational Statistics, the average salary for a full-time faculty member at a public institution in 1999-2000 (in constant dollars) was $77,897. In 2011-12 the average salary for the same full-time faculty member was $77,843 (in constant dollars). So when measured in constant dollars (i.e. adjusting for inflation), salaries for full-time faculty at public institutions have actually declined...
posted by gerryblog at 6:17 AM on August 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


This is just totally wrong. Public institutions have ever-less cash and ever-higher administrative costs, both factors having absolutely nothing to do with their traditional "business" model.

One wonders why administrative costs are going up.
posted by gjc at 7:26 AM on August 25, 2013


kewb: "The idea here is to completely convert higher education into a means for businesses to recruit interns and already-trained employees. It socializes business expenses -- not even risks, if all goes to plan -- and privatizes business profits."

There's three parties here: the public, the alumni, and the employer. When you say "socializing business expenses", you mean, shifting them from the public to the alumni, the people who's expensive education will raise their income and reduce unemployment. Seems fair.

I'd argue the era before student loans was the era of truly socializing expenses and privatizing gains. The data behind Gerryblog's link is pretty clear that the public is rapidly removing support for the state university system, and tuition is raised to cover the gap.

And yea, anyone whose degree program yields gains to individuals less than the cost of the degree is going to have a bad time under the current model. So perhaps I should add a fourth actor, but it won't make your argument any stronger.
posted by pwnguin at 11:23 AM on August 25, 2013


I wrote:
People are screaming for higher ed but public institutions have failed to step up because they choose to not see beyond their traditional business model. Naturally the private sector will respond and fill that vacuum.

clockzero responded:
This is just totally wrong. Public institutions have ever-less cash and ever-higher administrative costs, both factors having absolutely nothing to do with their traditional "business" model. It's kind of perverse to use that term here since universities aren't businesses are should not operate by the same profit-oriented logics that businesses do. And the private sector is great at sucking education dollars from banks (through student loans) and the government, but not so good at all in actually educating students.

High-quality, affordable, public education from k-college is the crown jewel of a truly civilized society. What we're seeing here is a neoliberal scheme to wrench that jewel out with a screwdriver, and it's about halfway there. Obama may be a Democrat but the Democrats sure as hell aren't liberals right now.


Allow me to illustrate my point. Suppose I'm a 30 year old high school graduate working as a cashier at a grocery store somewhere in the rural part of the state. I've got a small child. I pay my state taxes and help support Enormous Support University. I want to get a college-level education and make something more of myself. Will ESU establish a satellite campus in my town? No. Will ESU put course material online and let me take classes over the internet? No. If I happen to live in the same town as ESU, will they let me take evening or weekend classes, part-time, so I can keep my job and not starve? No. ESU has made it clear that they are not there to help or serve me. Their business model is to run a research institution that, as a sideline, also provides some educational resources for 40k or so full-time students. And football. Providing educational resources to the general public is not even in their worldview. So when they tell me, a struggling cashier, "We need your taxes in order to educate people more important than you," that's a tough sell.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 11:59 AM on August 25, 2013


pwnguin: There's three parties here: the public, the alumni, and the employer. When you say "socializing business expenses", you mean, shifting them from the public to the alumni, the people whose expensive education will raise their income and reduce unemployment. Seems fair.

But what you describe is really a result of employer overcredentialing, the use of the college degree as a "filter" before the interview stage of most hiring processes. You're not showing that college degrees improve earnings so much as that the lack of a college degree eliminates the possibility of a middle-class job for many people. Real wages, remember, have stagnated; you're not showing college as a ticket to financial gain, you're showing it as a requirement for the middle class to tread water.

Companies seem mostly to respond by complaining that the university isn't handing them specifically pre-trained employees, as here:
The Boeing Company in 2008 began to rank colleges based on how well their graduates perform within the corporation; it plans to conduct the same evaluation again this year, says Richard D. Stephens, senior vice president for human resources and management.....Colleges' responses, Mr. Stephens says, have affected where Boeing focuses its internship programs and hiring.

"To expect business to bring graduates up to speed," he says, "that's too much to ask."
Indeed, the rhetoric around the "skills mismatch" is essentially a long litany of complaints by businesses that a four-year degree doesn't stand in for what used to be called on-the-job or employee training programs funded and operated directly by businesses. Using the link you provided, take a look at the overall numbers for employment by education, especially the sections reporting stats for on-the-job training for anything above the lower-paying H.S. only jobs. it's clear where the burden of training employees for specific professional roles has gone, and where it's stayed.

At the higher degree levels, the on-the-job training numbers shift entirely to the internship category, itself something that businesses increasingly arrange in concert with institutions of higher education. (In fairness, you may have been referring to this when you pointed to the shifting of burdens in the pre-loan era, but the student-loan era has clearly not improved matters.)

I'd argue the era before student loans was the era of truly socializing expenses and privatizing gains.

The shift from public funding to loans is hardly disjoined form the long anti-taxation, anti-public spending campaigns of businesses and the wealthy executive classes that run them. As argued in the article posted by gerryblog:
If we were truly interested in controlling or reducing tuition, we would increase public funding of higher education both at the state and federal level by taxing the rich, particularly the top 1% who have benefited disproportionately from government bailouts and have been the recipients of the lion’s share of income growth since the 1970s. One way to accomplish this would be through a financial transactions tax.
If employers want to use higher education as a way to save on training expenses, they'll have to be made to pay for their benefit somehow. Shifting the burden onto younger graduates, the net effect of the loan program, basically ensures that the economically disadvantaged are locked out of both higher education and class mobility, either through simple refusal to take on the burden or through debt burdens in a time of low employment for recent graduates and frankly indefensible hiring standards.
posted by kewb at 12:30 PM on August 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


What about using as a metric not the students' future earnings (return on investment mentality) but the fraction above poverty level? (Perhaps in comparison with incoming demographics.) That would promote a different set of values: that government-supported education should provide the opportunity for people to rise to sufficiency but beyond that is the realm of the individual to choose.
I want to get a college-level education and make something more of myself. Will ESU establish a satellite campus in my town? No. Will ESU put course material online and let me take classes over the internet? No. If I happen to live in the same town as ESU, will they let me take evening or weekend classes, part-time, so I can keep my job and not starve? No. ESU has made it clear that they are not there to help or serve me. Their business model is to run a research institution that, as a sideline, also provides some educational resources for 40k or so full-time students.
Way to tilt at that straw-man you've set atop that windmill!

I teach at a campus of a state university system that provides evening classes, online classes, has us teaching 15 hours a semester (with research to fit in on the side, with student involvement a major factor). When I see the headlines I think, yay, we're just the kind of environment that everyone says needs to be promoted. Then I read the fine print and recoil.

I think academic values and business values are at some point at odds, and this is in fact part of why the business community is so eager to "reform" education and to paint it as hopelessly anachronistic in its approach. Meanwhile the business community's idea of "innovation" is to ride the inevitability of Moore's Law and inflate every bubble and swoon at every buzzword (social media! MOOC!) The historical perspective and non-monetary values imparted by true education can help one in all areas of life, but independence from exclusive concern with the bottom line still troubles some.
posted by Schmucko at 1:05 PM on August 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Allow me to illustrate my point. Suppose I'm a 30 year old high school graduate working as a cashier at a grocery store somewhere in the rural part of the state. I've got a small child. I pay my state taxes and help support Enormous Support University. I want to get a college-level education and make something more of myself. Will ESU establish a satellite campus in my town? No.

I hope you can understand why this is an unrealistic complaint. Building satellite campuses wherever anyone might need them would rapidly become outrageously expensive, and is so far from what anyone expects universities to do that it's not even worth discussing.

Will ESU put course material online and let me take classes over the internet? No.

Why would it matter to you if it's ESU putting course materials online? If it's online, it doesn't matter where it originates! Here, take some online courses from Stanford or MIT!

If I happen to live in the same town as ESU, will they let me take evening or weekend classes, part-time, so I can keep my job and not starve? No.

You can do this at some universities, though, so citing it as a complaint against higher education in general doesn't make any sense.

ESU has made it clear that they are not there to help or serve me. Their business model is to run a research institution that, as a sideline, also provides some educational resources for 40k or so full-time students.

You're either talking about an actual school that you have some kind of problem with or you're generalizing to the point of futility. Please try to clear your mind of that "business model" stuff, because universities and colleges are not businesses. Universities are research institutions that teach, colleges are primarily just teaching. They are there to educate people, but any random institution isn't necessarily going to be the right choice for any random individual.

And football. Providing educational resources to the general public is not even in their worldview.

You're just wrong about this. You don't demonstrate understanding of the difference between providing educations to students and making educational materials and services available to people who are not students. You can get educational materials at libraries and take classes at community colleges, you know. That's what they're for.

So when they tell me, a struggling cashier, "We need your taxes in order to educate people more important than you," that's a tough sell.

The only place where anyone is saying that is in your imagination. Educational institutions don't decide who is important by nefariously locating their campuses away from the future homes people who haven't been born yet and then further mean-spiritedly refusing to accommodate people who can't take classes during big blocks of the working week.

Nothing that you've said proves your point because you're misinformed about how higher ed works and is supposed to work. What you seem to think universities are supposed to do is actually the mission statement of community colleges, for instance.
posted by clockzero at 8:18 AM on August 26, 2013


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