"Your life’s passing you... It's Easy!"
November 14, 2014 10:17 AM   Subscribe

If you feel "stuck," "isolated," and "unable to see the future," then a giant, publicly subsidized machine is hungry to prey on your dreams. Politically connected executives suck up billions in taxpayer grants and saddle tens of thousands of already poor students with a lifetime of debt for worthless degrees. Despite lawsuits, the scam continues.
posted by blankdawn (63 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm not sure what to make of this brave new world where interesting investigative journalism is coming from unexpected sources.
posted by poffin boffin at 10:23 AM on November 14, 2014 [4 favorites]


Planet Money did a series on this too. It was amazingly sad.
posted by sio42 at 10:25 AM on November 14, 2014


Having debt that is not dischargable in bankruptcy is so egregiously contrary to the public interest that those who voted for it should be dug up, tarred, and feathered.

When this loan bubble pops, and it will, one would hope there'd be a reckoning. But I doubt it.
posted by leotrotsky at 10:31 AM on November 14, 2014 [46 favorites]


And while the company may be closing its doors, 85 of Everest’s campuses aren’t: They will be sold off, likely to other for-profit college operators or to private equity investors, and will continue to recruit and enroll students.

Extracting the table scraps of the 20th century from the poor and working class is the only real growth industry in the United States. The rich are shutting down the factory and liquidating its assets.
posted by ryanshepard at 10:39 AM on November 14, 2014 [48 favorites]


EDMC, which is one of the worst of these companies, are headquartered here and though I'd feel bad that some friends of mine would lose their jobs, I'm really hoping that they keep on the path to bankruptcy that they're on.
posted by octothorpe at 10:44 AM on November 14, 2014 [3 favorites]


Most I know piling up this insane debt explicitly have no intent on repaying it. I'm not clear as to just what this implies for our future; when a vast majority of a generation is making those kind of fundamental social contract-rewriting noises.... Some might argue, however, that being saddled with egregious debt that even bankruptcy cannot discharge is itself a rewrite of the social contract.
posted by riverlife at 10:46 AM on November 14, 2014 [4 favorites]


Having debt that is not dischargable in bankruptcy is so egregiously contrary to the public interest that those who voted for it should be dug up, tarred, and feathered.

Agreed. I wonder how long until we get something in the US like the art/protest that Chile experienced with its high student debt and bankrupt facilities.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:48 AM on November 14, 2014 [5 favorites]


I feel incredibly fortunate to have dropped out of high school before for-profit colleges had so fully infested the country because I would have fallen for that shit so fast and so hard that I'd probably be digging out of the subsequent debt until I died.

When no one in your family and no one you've ever met has ever been to or even investigated going to college, you have no idea what it's about. I can't even articulate what a fucking mystery COLLEGE is to me, still, half a lifetime later. In my mind it's like a really expensive building where only very smart and serious people are allowed go. From that would-be first-generation perspective, there's no intuition; there's no knowledge base to draw from, nothing that can readily key you in to the fact that there's something different about Everest (or Phoenix, or whatever) compared to most other colleges. There's no way for you to know that college admissions departments aren't usually run by aggressive, manipulative salespeople. There's no way for you to know that they're lying to you.

Your total lack of knowledge and experience is naturally accompanied by an inability to perceive the fact that they're just trying to rip you off and cheat you out of money you don't have. You want to trust them, and the only thing you know for sure is that their admissions rep seems to believe in you and want you to succeed. You know they're encouraging you to do something positive for yourself and your future, and you know no one else has ever made you feel worthy of the effort before. So you want to listen to them, right? You want to pick up what they're putting down, you want to be the first person you know to get an education, you want to make it happen, go for the brass ring. How are you supposed to know it's all bullshit? Who's going to tell you?

So that's the worst part of it for me -- the preying, the emotional manipulation. Because even though I know I'll never go to college, I still feel that desperate desire for the one thing everyone in the world tells you is equivalent to intelligence and success almost every day.
posted by divined by radio at 10:52 AM on November 14, 2014 [99 favorites]


Part of this is society's fault for making the poor think that any old college degree is a ticket to a better life.
posted by Renoroc at 10:53 AM on November 14, 2014 [8 favorites]


IMO, riverlife, the fact that individuals have to sell themselves into indentured servitude by taking on debt to finance the education necessary to get a shot at a decent job is unconscionable. I don't blame the students who take on debt they have no intention of ever repaying.
posted by starbreaker at 10:54 AM on November 14, 2014 [9 favorites]


While we're laying blame, I'll include the failure to invest in public education. It used to be American states considered universities, college, and junior colleges as an essential and useful service for the uplift of all Americans. An inexpensive education used to be a cornerstone of American values.
posted by Nelson at 11:05 AM on November 14, 2014 [17 favorites]


Most I know piling up this insane debt explicitly have no intent on repaying it.

A friend of mine is sitting on $50,000 in student loans for a social work degree. She has zero intention of paying it back. She's just going to pay the minimum for income based repayment for the rest of her life, i guess.
posted by empath at 11:07 AM on November 14, 2014 [1 favorite]


Whoa, there's a branch of them in my office building. Lots of vaguely-unfortunate-looking students coming & going, but the massage clinic has been closed "due to weather" for a couple of days now. I should run over to the main floor and see what's up...
posted by spacewrench at 11:08 AM on November 14, 2014 [1 favorite]


Its spokesperson, Kent Jenkins ...

How could someone named "Kent Jenkins" not be a crook?
posted by octobersurprise at 11:09 AM on November 14, 2014 [5 favorites]


useful service for the uplift of all Americans

First, that sounds dangerously close to communism so you better watch your mouth and second who wants to uplift "all" Americans? You don't spend 75% of your budget keeping certain people down only to turn around and try to uplift them! I mean, that there is just a terrible investment strategy. Who's your hedge fund guy?
posted by aramaic at 11:09 AM on November 14, 2014 [6 favorites]


Also, you know if you provide inexpensive education then those people will get ideas, if you know what I mean.
posted by The Whelk at 11:12 AM on November 14, 2014 [8 favorites]


I'm the opposite end of the student debt despair rainbow from the people at for-profit colleges (law degree), but I definitely didn't really have any intention of paying it off. In that position I was lucky enough to have federal consolidated loans that would get forgiven after 25 years, so I just accepted that I'd be making income based repayments for most of my working life then pay a huge tax bill on the forgiven loan amount.

Thanks to being able to access some familial wealth on my wife's side this year, I've actually made some huge strides towards having a manageable amount (it's still six figures, but it's lower), and I'm still coming to terms with the prospect of actually trying to pay it off. I hadn't realized quite how much I had given up on ever being free from student debt.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:16 AM on November 14, 2014 [3 favorites]


Renoroc: Part of this is society's fault for making the poor think that any old college degree is a ticket to a better life.

I was talking about higher ed and familial expectations with a co-worker recently. Her kids are my age, in their mid-30s, but one of them dropped out of high school and never went to college. He ended up doing quite well as a musician, but before he found his fame, his parents were really concerned because they had previously assumed that their kids would all get college degrees, and she said "at least a masters."

That floored me, because she didn't strike me as one who held a lot of stock in the status quo, but she said she and her husband were the first generations in their families to go to college, and their parents pushed them to have better lives than they did, primarily through higher education.

Then I realized we're not really that far from a time when higher education did equate directly with better pay, because the alternative was a factory job, which was a sight better than minimum wage, but being a blue-collar worker wasn't a doomed position. You could raise a family like that, and even afford to have one parent stay home to raise kids, cook, clean, and the general housework.

The education system is not the only broad party to blame. The general shift away from manual labor as a viable profession for a significant group of people, and the lack of any substantial range of replacement options has pushed education as the only way to get ahead.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:19 AM on November 14, 2014 [24 favorites]


I'm told all this would be easily solved if we just let the university be run more like a business. Oh wait...
posted by tychotesla at 11:20 AM on November 14, 2014 [11 favorites]


The rich are shutting down the factory and liquidating its assets.

What's this called? Asset stripping? The plutocrats realized how much wealth was contained within the modern industrial nation-state and now they want it. Because they have to have all of it.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 11:26 AM on November 14, 2014 [19 favorites]


the person with the social work degree will most likely qualify for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness, which in short, means after working for a qualifying government agency or public service position (anything from actual social work to just working for the state government), and making 120 payments during her employment in such a capacity, which is generally 10 year, the balance of the loans will be forgiven.

The 120 payments are made at the lowest possible amount based on whatever income-based repayment schedule they can get.

This was a very rough description. it may only apply to federal loans and grants tho, not private loans. not sure tho.
posted by sio42 at 11:27 AM on November 14, 2014 [3 favorites]


Most I know piling up this insane debt explicitly have no intent on repaying it. I'm not clear as to just what this implies for our future; when a vast majority of a generation is making those kind of fundamental social contract-rewriting noises....

Student loans haven't functionally been loans since the College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007.

Income-Based Repayment and Public Service Loan Forgiveness basically created a system in which the federal government pays you to go to college now in exchange for your participation in an additional progressive income tax system later, with how long you have to pay those extra "taxes" determined by the profession you go into.

The people not planning on repaying their full student loan "debts" aren't rewriting the social contract, they're just taking Congress up on its offer to subsidize their education and living expenses. Meanwhile, the amount of student "debt" likely to be written off thanks to IBR and PSLF (or even flat-out defaulted on) is still nowhere near the amount of subsidies given to corporations or sweetheart deals given to defense contractors.
posted by Jacqueline at 11:30 AM on November 14, 2014 [15 favorites]


When no one in your family and no one you've ever met has ever been to or even investigated going to college, you have no idea what it's about. I can't even articulate what a fucking mystery COLLEGE is to me, still, half a lifetime later. In my mind it's like a really expensive building where only very smart and serious people are allowed go. From that would-be first-generation perspective, there's no intuition; there's no knowledge base to draw from, nothing that can readily key you in to the fact that there's something different about Everest (or Phoenix, or whatever) compared to most other colleges. There's no way for you to know that college admissions departments aren't usually run by aggressive, manipulative salespeople. There's no way for you to know that they're lying to you.

Yeah, this is actually one of the really big things with which I struggle with public and charter school college boosterism in high needs areas; I want my (former) students to go college and I know many of them are capable of it, but I am also terrified that I am delivering them right into the hands of vultures because many of them are in a position that makes them really academically unsophisticated. They should have the same opportunities as kids from other backgrounds, but when those opportunities are the chance to spend a lot of money and get into profound debt for a degree with limited chance of getting a decent job, I don't know that I really think that needs to be shared. There are a lot of kids who are being told that they need to go to college, that if they go to college everything will be okay, they will get jobs and have good lives and be respected, and really isn't always true, especially if you don't have the guidance and experience to navigate a complex system.

I think we're going to have a few generations of smart, hard-working kids from difficult backgrounds who are VERY, VERY angry because everyone has lied to them and told them that college is the way to succeed and, even if you don't end up caught in one of these scams, a college degree (even from a really good university) is no kind of a guarantee.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 11:31 AM on November 14, 2014 [20 favorites]


There's a couple of different student loan forgiveness programs (empath's friend, for example, probably qualifies for public service loan forgiveness--where paying the minimum make sense, by the way--and in any case her federal loans will be forgiven after 20 or 25 years)...

...but they might as well be on the moon for the students in this story. How are you going to find out about these programs unless you have the Internet and the social network savvy to even know what terms to google?

There's a line in the article about how eliminating existing federal loans for these students entails billions of dollars being written off. Yeah, so what? Try to get the money from the college, sure, but then write off the loans. What these students received wasn't an education, except in modern personal finance, so why not use that federal guarantee to pay back the lenders without requiring the students to pay punishing amounts of debt for much of the rest of their lives? We did it for banks, and students are a way better cause.
posted by librarylis at 11:35 AM on November 14, 2014 [8 favorites]


When I was a kid, one of my teachers had some variant of this poster up in our classroom.

First thing that happens when I get a time machine is that fucker gets punched in the mouth.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 11:48 AM on November 14, 2014 [5 favorites]


after working for a qualifying government agency or public service position (anything from actual social work to just working for the state government), and making 120 payments during her employment in such a capacity, which is generally 10 year, the balance of the loans will be forgiven.

Yeah, but no one in that sector wants to hire them because they got their subpar degree from a worthless non-accredited university.
posted by poffin boffin at 11:48 AM on November 14, 2014 [6 favorites]




How are you going to find out about these programs unless you have the Internet and the social network savvy to even know what terms to google?

As soon as you leave school and enter the repayment period, your student loan servicer sends you all the info about these programs in the mail and via email. Repeatedly.
posted by Jacqueline at 11:52 AM on November 14, 2014


after working for a qualifying government agency or public service position (anything from actual social work to just working for the state government), and making 120 payments during her employment in such a capacity, which is generally 10 year, the balance of the loans will be forgiven.

None of these plans consider working for state government as a contractor sufficient to count toward the service requirement, do they? If not, I suppose I could always try to stick with my current job for the next ten years... Also, how does it work if the debt is now joint debt, but started out as your spouse's debt?
posted by saulgoodman at 11:57 AM on November 14, 2014


And you could be forgiven for thinking hey, there's no campus, so overhead is low, so tuition can't be so bad, but this was your second mistake. Your first was staying on the phone long enough to let them uncover your confirmed need.
posted by GrapeApiary at 11:58 AM on November 14, 2014 [1 favorite]


First, that sounds dangerously close to communism so you better watch your mouth and second who wants to uplift "all" Americans?

There's a reason this sarcastic note rings true. Reagan was the first to play that bell. He wanted an end to uppity middle class students with the leisure time to protest.
posted by clarknova at 12:39 PM on November 14, 2014 [1 favorite]


"Man, I hope we get the fucked up college situation fixed sometime in the next 18 years before my kids make it to college."

"Man, I hope we get the fucked up college situation fixed sometime in the next 14 years before my kids make it to college."

"Man, I hope we get the fucked up college situation fixed sometime in the next 10 years before my kids make it to college."

"Man, I hope we get the fucked up college situation fixed sometime in the next 5 years before my kids make it to college."

Things aren't looking so good. :(
posted by edheil at 12:42 PM on November 14, 2014 [14 favorites]


i was referencing the PSLF just for the specific person mentioned above...i know that these students in the story most likely won't be able to take advantage it.

saulgoodman - the way it works is that every so often, you need to get your employer to certify that you have worked X length of time as a public service employee. if you google it you'll see all the info about it. i'd call whoever the loan servicer and ask them. and then call back and talk to a different person just to make sure they both say the same thing.

also, this is one of the things it is actually good to ask HR about.
posted by sio42 at 12:52 PM on November 14, 2014 [2 favorites]


What's this called? Asset stripping?
"Unleashing trapped profitability."
posted by Rat Spatula at 1:09 PM on November 14, 2014 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I don't blame these people either starbreaker. They're in a Kafkaesque situation.

Jacqueline points out the various options/methods these people will have to manageably repay, but I sense a shift in their worldview that basically amounts to, We won't pay, under any circumstance. My feeling is that they sense that the rich have gotten theirs, and now so will they. I don't know that it's explicitly said or thought that way, I just think that that's the unconscious motivation.

I could be, of course, projecting.
posted by riverlife at 1:23 PM on November 14, 2014 [2 favorites]


My brother went to college late and graduated in his 30s. Good state school, good grades, but he has something like $80k in student loans and had to defer it for a number of years. Ten years later he's married and he and his teacher wife have managed to get a small house, but he has made very little progress on the student loans. His attitude is "there's no way I'll ever pay that off before I die, so I'm going to just keep deferring it as long as I can." He is pretty hopeless about it. I was lucky enough to get a scholarship to undergrad, but the $8,000 (eight thousand) I borrowed for my one year of grad school took me TEN YEARS to pay off due to a series of low-paying jobs and deferments. If you don't get into a big money profession after graduation, something like EIGHTY thousand dollars may as well be 8 million.
posted by freecellwizard at 1:29 PM on November 14, 2014 [6 favorites]


Not to worry. Once President-elect Romney takes office, there will be, in short order, plenty, maybe even endless, new jobs for everyone in the New Crusades™ against the freedom-hating jihadists.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:35 PM on November 14, 2014


God, I wish that these folks had time to organize themselves into protests. Someone should be outside of all of these campuses until the duped poor get their money back. (Or at least turn into a mob and loot the office fixtures.)
posted by klangklangston at 1:38 PM on November 14, 2014 [2 favorites]


riverlife, once I saw that I'd they'd take less per month by garnishing my wage than they'd get if I scrimped to make the monthly payment, I said, "Fuck it. Let 'em garnish." Even with garnishment, I still paid off my debt before I turned 30. Like you said: the richest among us got theirs. Why shouldn't I get mine?
posted by starbreaker at 2:01 PM on November 14, 2014 [2 favorites]


"A nation's greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members."

Like so many other appalling stories I read here, this is a logical consequence of a sick society - a confluence of two anti-patterns:

1. Ethical business is meaningless - profits are the only measure.
2. Tiny crimes committed by individuals are punished harshly; huge crimes committed by businesses are either ignored, or occasionally, they are forced to put back some of the money (almost none of which ever benefits the victims).

Assuming you're an antisocial personality who doesn't care about hurting people in quantity, there's no downside to setting up a machine to extract billions of dollars that are supposed to go to education and simply pissing it away. Worst case, you get caught, but you still make a gazillion dollars.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 2:14 PM on November 14, 2014 [21 favorites]


I know the for-profit sector quite well, from past technology-based engagements. What I don't understand is how sanctioned accrediting agencies give the worst of the for-profit sector institutions credibility via accreditation.

The accrediting committees *must* know what's going on, but they continue to keep the worst of the worst for-profits open. What's with that?

The for-profit business model is mostly a work of evil genius. Just imagine, all you have to do is get someone to sign on the dotted line - even a homeless person (UOPhoenix was accused of doing this) - and they are then "qualified" for a Pell grant or other federal loan. This means that you and me - taxpayers - are paying a significant % of tuition, and thus helping some of these for-profits to scam their victims.

What I further don't understand is how - just like the banks - the scum that run the worst for-profits are able to keep clear of prosecution.

All that said, I have met very senior for-profit executives who really want to educate students, but even so, the cost they charge is egregious. They feed on the naivete' of the general public, and the loosey-goosey relationship with accreditation agencies. (why aren't the latter hauled into committee hearings and made to testify why they accredit places like Corinthian/Everest, etc.?).

I have attended for-profit college conferences; they are WAY more about the *business* of education and far less about educating. I hope the entire sector gets outed, and that their victims are made free of unconscionable debt.
posted by Vibrissae at 2:22 PM on November 14, 2014 [6 favorites]


Vibrissae: What I don't understand is how sanctioned accrediting agencies give the worst of the for-profit sector institutions credibility via accreditation.

If I recall from the frontline special, the for-profit operators would snap up small struggling private colleges, knowing that they could maintain the accreditation.
posted by dr_dank at 2:33 PM on November 14, 2014 [3 favorites]


The plutocrats realized how much wealth was contained within the modern industrial nation-state and now they want it.

More like they figured out that "brands" have higher profit margins than "doing stuff."
posted by rhizome at 2:34 PM on November 14, 2014 [2 favorites]




The time in my life I've felt most a failure as an educator was last year - statistically my best yet - when I couldn't convince one of my students that Full Sail University was a terrible school and attending it was a terrible idea.
posted by absalom at 3:35 PM on November 14, 2014 [5 favorites]


What I find so utterly infuriating about this whole situation is that these people who were duped into these overpriced degrees will be hounded by this debt for years. It will most likely adversely affect their ability to find housing and employment for a decade, if not more. That regulators are just throwing up their hands and saying that too many people took out loans for them to offer any kind of meaningful debt relief is appalling. It reminds me of the people who were duped into fraudulent loans before the housing crisis. The banks got a bailout, but the homeowners had to suffer the foreclosures and evictions.
posted by Lycaste at 3:37 PM on November 14, 2014 [4 favorites]


So this is the next bubble? I wonder what's next. We've had the stock market, we've had the real estate, we've had healthcare. What's the next big bubble? And then I remember - hey, memories... they're not forever, they're for, like, between 5 and 7 minutes long - see how Republicans can get re-elected over and over again. So, that's how we've had more than one giant stock market bubble, more than one giant real estate one (remember the S&L fiasco followed by the CDO?) and it seems after this education bubble bursts, they'll wait a bit and then the customer/sucker is ready to be shaved again! After every bubble, there's supposed to be reform and regulation and so on. But how effective is it? How optimistic are we that there won't be another banking crisis after the last taxpayer bailout, given the laughable "regulations" passed by the Obama team (in the face of fierce Republican opposition - and now that they're back in power, even those will be watered down) and too big to fail? So the education bubble will burst, some kind of noises will be made about reform, they'll wait a little - until there's a fresh crop of students and young people still not in debt and they'll get mowed again! You watch this shit long enough and you realize that nobody is even talking about learning from history - unless it's about what scam worked best. Maybe it's time to invest in some tulip bulbs in Amsterdam - surely nobody remembers that, not if they studied history in one of those new Everest type schools.
posted by VikingSword at 4:01 PM on November 14, 2014 [6 favorites]


I racked up $100k in federal loans pursuing my PhD in the humanities -- at state schools. I'm employed in my field (in itself something of a miracle), and I teach for a state school, so I believe that I am eligible for the 120 payments/10 years and out deal -- assuming both that I stay here for 10 years and that the laws that established the forgiveness programs don't get repealed and/or drastically rewritten. But the feeling of being trapped in massive debt for the next decade (at least) is terrifying and unbelievably depressing -- and I'm in a much better position than a lot of people. It also doesn't help that I'm teaching and living someplace that I don't particularly like and wondering if the career path I've followed for the last 12 years (8 years of grad school, 4 years of adjuncting) wasn't a huge mistake.

On topic: For-Profit Online University
posted by Saxon Kane at 4:56 PM on November 14, 2014 [4 favorites]


nobody is even talking about learning from history - unless it's about what scam worked best

Surely this.

And I'd like to think your idea about investing in tulip bulbs is hyperbole, but, really, in my view it's a fifty-fifty call you're just slightly ahead of the curve here....
posted by riverlife at 5:28 PM on November 14, 2014 [2 favorites]


"The time in my life I've felt most a failure as an educator was last year - statistically my best yet - when I couldn't convince one of my students that Full Sail University was a terrible school and attending it was a terrible idea."

Huh. I had no idea that Full Sail was a university now, or that they were crap. Back in the '90s, I briefly looked at them for their recording production program but saw it was wildly out of my price range, even though they did have a pretty great reputation.
posted by klangklangston at 5:45 PM on November 14, 2014 [1 favorite]


God, I wish that these folks had time to organize themselves into protests. Someone should be outside of all of these campuses until the duped poor get their money back. (Or at least turn into a mob and loot the office fixtures.)
posted by klangklangston at 4:38 PM on November 14


Not sure I'd recommend that actually. The looters would be treated roughly and the cheap fixtures are insured.
posted by maniabug at 11:28 PM on November 14, 2014


I'm not sure Full Sail is necessarily terrible depending on the field but it is certainly terribly overpriced and aggressively marketed.
posted by atoxyl at 2:06 AM on November 15, 2014


So this is the next bubble? I wonder what's next. We've had the stock market, we've had the real estate, we've had healthcare. What's the next big bubble?

Sovereign
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 4:31 AM on November 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


I got my first mortgage last year, and saw that the rate was half that of my student loans. I then became obsessed with paying off my Masters Degree as quickly as possible.
posted by yorick at 7:00 AM on November 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


"One of the deep ironies of Corinthian’s collapse is that there are, experts say, effectively too many victims for there to be any reasonable way to compensate them . . . It would cost the government billions to forgive the outstanding debt of former students . . . "

No, the answer is right there. But we don't have the political will to do this because the poor don't matter. They shouldn't have signed papers they didn't understand, stupid poors. if they weren't so lazy, they'd have gone to school and gotten a better job.

I think we should forgive the debt. Forgive the debt, extract every last cent of profit from the executives that were involved in this (because we absolutely need to do this in no uncertain terms or this will keep happening) and pay for it with a tax on for-profit schools. I know that's simplistic and the cost would just be past down to the next crop of for profit victims ... The whole system is rigged.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 11:01 AM on November 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


@ devined

" I can't even articulate what a fucking mystery COLLEGE is to me, still, half a lifetime later. In my mind it's like a really expensive building where only very smart and serious people are allowed go."

No, College is really just an expensive building that only people who can afford it are allowed to go. How "smart" you are doesn't really matter. Literally anyone can go to college. Even people who somehow breezed through highschool never learning how to read. All you need is to have the funds.

"...Because even though I know I'll never go to college, I still feel that desperate desire for the one thing everyone in the world tells you is equivalent to intelligence and success almost every day."

As someone who works with a staffing agency I will tell you that college degrees are most certainly NOT equated with intelligence. I've met some pretty stupid people with degrees from IVY league schools because their parents were wealthy, famous or had connections with the school. However it is true that it's hella lot easier to get you a job if you have a degree. But contrary to popular belief it's not really because those candidates are more "intelligent." My field is administrative support- Receptionists, Secretaries, Assistants, etc. Generally speaking Receptionist work is something that a 13 year old can do. You pick up the phone; You answer it; you take down messages. The end. You don't even need a highschool degree let alone a college degree to have these skills. And yet every single client across my desk that is looking for a receptionist WANTS the candidate to have a FOUR-YEAR UNIVERSITY Degree. Sometimes they even demand that the degree be ivy league. Why? There ar various reasons for this, but primarily it's only because of numbers. They realize this job can be done by their pre-pubescant neighbor just fine, but they don't want to have to rummage through 500 resumes. If you DEMAND that the person must have a 4 year degree however... you now only have to look through 100 resumes. THAT'S the primary reason. Before the internet took off, it was way easier to get a candidate without a degree a job. But since internet job boards became the norm, employers and staffing people now get 1,000 responses to a help wanted ad when they used to only get 150 responses. No one wants to rummage through all those resumes and cover letters and one -way to limit the amount you receive is by requiring that people who reply must have a certain degree, had a certain major had a certain GPA- etc. I kid you not I have a client right now that is seeking a receptionist who has a 4 year degree from an IVY League school, has at LEAST 3.5 GPA from that school, majored in finance - all to just answer the stupid phone 5 days a week. It's a different world than it used to be, that's for sure. A college degree is nothing but hype as far as 'intelligence' is concerned however it still holds plenty of importance in the real world of job getting for reasons that have little to do with intelligence.
posted by rancher at 11:09 AM on November 15, 2014 [6 favorites]


Theoretically, a college degree is supposed to indicate that one has learned how to learn, regardless of the particular content of one's degree (although the specific content that one has learned may itself be also applicable). Humans are natural learners, but one important ideal of a higher education, to my mind, is that it is metacognitive in scope and purpose. It enables one to understand and take control of the learning process itself. Just purely in terms of employability and future career prospects this is obviously important and useful: there's no job that exists where you can learn a discrete set of facts and operations and master for all time. Learning how to learn is crucial because it enables you to keep up with the state of the art, and in fact to advance it.

But beyond that, and this imho is the true importance of "higher education" in whatever institutional or non-institutional form it takes, learning how to learn is in a very real sense subversive and revolutionary because it enables one to reevaluate the way the encyclopedia of knowledge itself has been constructed; re-vision in the strong sense of seeing again, seeing new. It means the ability to challenge the very premises upon which past and currently existing knowledge has itself been generated, to redefine the objects and methods of study. And this sort of meta-cognitive, meta-epistemological thinking cannot be kept within strict disciplinary or vocational boundaries. If you can revise literary study, then you can revise plumbing, then you can revise political theory, then you can revise gardening, etc. It is a critical method of inquiry that can and will lead to subversion of existing paradigms in whatever field of study it is applied.

The real danger of the economic capture of higher education is that it undermines the revolutionary potential of education -- and that's precisely the point of the concerted attack on the liberal arts (including both the humanities and the so-called "pure" --as opposed to applied-- sciences), the push for quantifiable assessment, the ideology of education as a consumer product that one acquires purely for economic reasons, and all the other challenges to education currently underway. I become increasingly frustrated with the mentality of many students that anything that is not directly related to their major and/or future career is worthless because it is inapplicable to "the real world." Part of this is just natural youthful rebellion -- I was like that too at that age, and, off topic, this is part of the reason why I think no one should go to college until they are at least 21. But they've been fed the line that college degree = job, and so why the hell should they care about anything that won't get them a job? I'm not so much frustrated with them -- I can't be, because it isn't their fault that they've been taught to think this way. But it is profoundly disturbing because it forecloses on the possibility of education that is truly liberatory and empowering of students. Instead, they are caught in a vicious cycle where they take out loans to go to college to get the degree they need to get a job to pay back the loans that they took out to go to college to get the degree so they could get a job to pay back the loans ...

So I don't know how much of that made sense or just seems like random babbling, I'm totally exhausted right now and not necessarily thinking in coherent thoughts. But anyway: that we as a society still make an individual's educational opportunities reliant on their economic status is shameful. It's absolutely the single most important investment in the future that we can make, and there's no reason why every single person in the US shouldn't be able to go to college for free, no reason why education in any way should be limited by economic status. OK, I'll go lie down now...
posted by Saxon Kane at 3:24 PM on November 15, 2014 [5 favorites]


"She's just going to pay the minimum for income based repayment for the rest of her life, i guess."

Among the public librarians I know, myself included, that-plus-PSLF is pretty much SOP.
posted by box at 4:24 PM on November 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


I'm British but my dad's American. In the 1950s, his rich father went totally bankrupt just as he was due to go to university in North Carolina, so he had a choice of the 3 courses the state chose to subsidise: forestry, agriculture or architecture. For his entire tuition and board for 5 years? i think you guys do? (UK=3) his father paid $2,000. Even by the standards of the time it was cheap, he says. He even got an overseas trip. And a lifetime of high-paid employment (he chose architecture, which is good for migration (because he hated country life not because he meant to end up here). Medical degrees are too, if you need to know.)

@riverrun, it's one thing to not intend to pay off your debt: between mental illness, and other crap, it doesn't look like i'll have paid off mine by the time it gets forgiven (that won't last, UK, and was never, ever my plan); but it's another that it is actually inheritable, so if you don't pay off your student debt your grandchildren will have to. Or presumably your first wife's cousin's son-in-law or whoever inherits...
posted by maiamaia at 4:52 AM on November 16, 2014


@rancher When i was young, it was quite normal for dumb jobs to hire by taking on the first person who seemed okay who walked through the door, sacking them after a day or two if necessary, repeat. It must've been rare to have to sack 2 people. Modern interviews, hiring, meetings to discuss etc probably take longer and certainly cost more. (No. of candidates was narrowed down by putting a handwritten sign in the window and taking it down. One place i worked, they even kept it for re-use!)
posted by maiamaia at 4:56 AM on November 16, 2014


I have most of a bachelor's degree that I will never finish and a great job as a software developer. It's difficult, but not impossible, to get a good job without a degree, especially if you can demonstrate proficiency.

I attended a reputable state school for almost ten years at 6-9 credit hours a semester as an older student with a full-time job and a family. I had a 3.5 GPA. When I got to about 100 credit hours out of a 120 credit hour degree, I was told that my plan of study was no longer valid and that I had one semester to finish my degree or I would have to take all of the new courses in the revised plan of study. I would need 160 credit hours all together to finish my degree. That would have taken me years to finish. I was already in my early 40s. So I said "fuck it" and dropped out. (My advisor suggested applying my credits to a general studies degree, but that's worse than useless in my field.)

So the good news is that I have a good job. The bad news is that I have $70K in debt with no degree to show for it.
posted by double block and bleed at 11:27 AM on November 16, 2014


I wish I could favorite Saxon Kane's comment more than once. Very insightful and absolutely true.
posted by freecellwizard at 7:15 AM on November 17, 2014


The real danger of the economic capture of higher education is that it undermines the revolutionary potential of education

And this goes all the way up the chain of professions with the theoretical ability to change the system in which all of this operates. From saddling students with non-dischargeable debt, to underpaying academics unless they are active in the status quo (being publishable), to underpaying in writing and publishing industries, to underpaying public school teachers, all of which affect the ability to pay back student debt, the pathways to changing the world through independent thought and pulling oneself up by their bootstraps have all had fairly-insurmountable roadblocks installed by those who already have the privilege of membership in the existing power structures. Call it "The War Against Evolution."
posted by rhizome at 11:01 AM on November 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


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