Posts Tagged Higher Education Bubble

Field Work at DU

I didn’t do the field work.   I was the field work.

For the last several years, I’ve been lucky enough to be invited to be the Conservative for Inspection by the Students at Prof. Christina Foust’s class on Anarcism and Conservatism.  It’s always a terrific experience, being able to put conservative ideas in front of a set of students who probably don’t hear them very often on campus.  And Prof. Foust, despite admitting to being left-of-center, has been unfailingly gracious, has always let the discussion go where it may.

This year was no different, although instead of me responding to questions and expounding on conservative solutions to the world’s problems, we tried to get the students more involved, asking them to explain their questions, come up with their own answers, and show how rhetoric is used to frame an issue by one side or another.  Many of the students who take the course are prospective business students for some reason, so they tend to be focused on economic & business questions, and we did indeed spend a fair amount of time on those.  But when we took up the question of taxing & spending, I took the opportunity to reframe it as one of government power, in a way that readers of this blog will be familiar with.  It was, I hope, a small revelation for them.  As was the emphasis on federalism and the role of the states as laboratories of democracy.

One student asked an interesting question about what they, as individuals, could do to help out with regards to the economy.  I decided to take an economic rather than a political attitude towards the question.  Alluding to Arnold Kling’s analogy of the Great Recalculation, as opposed to the Hydraulic Model of the economy, I suggested that 1) they should make themselves as appealing to potential employers as possible, and 2) they should think about starting businesses of their own.  Both are necessary, as our economy adapts, and we struggle to figure out what goods and services people are willing to pay for.

At the end of the class, we took up the question of higher education, and how their time at the school would affect their lives.  With most of them being business majors, I thought it was a good opportunity to mention the value that the much-derided humanities could have in their lives later on.  Although I was a physics and math major, I took a number of history courses in school.  I was graduating in 1987, and I had every reason to believe that my career would be spent fighting the Soviet Union.  My ability to do that, to maintain perspective on that great struggle, and to stay grounded in it, would be enhanced by a greater understanding of world and European history. Even after I changed careers, I found that my most rewarding moments in b-school and as an equities research analyst were when I saw how understanding business, and understanding human nature and how the world works, are really one in the same.

The key element, I think, is that they need to take the classic authors on their own terms, not the politically-charged and ethnic- and gender- and all-too-abstract ways that many professors would try to present them. Immediately after the class, I happened to pick up a copy of the September 2001 Journal of Political Science, just to see what people were writing about before the world changed.  There was an article about “Thucydides as Constructivist.”  It’s a shame I didn’t look at it immediately before the class, because it’s exactly the kind of thing I would have advised the students to avoid, as utterly irrelevant to the historical lessons they should be getting from the History.  Thucydides is writing a history of a war that actually happened, between two states and two ways of governing, and it’s important not to lose sight of the story he’s telling.  The biases we should care about stem from his own political and military involvement in that war, not from some backward-projected modern critical categories.

Last week, the guests had been anarchists, so I took advantage of the home field advantage to compare (unfavorably) the OWS protestors with the Tea Party, in particular to show how the rhetoric being used by the Occupation is deliberately aimed so as to confuse the differences between the two.  Hey, these kids are going to be making decisions someday; best that they know right from wrong.

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Build a Fence Around the Bubble

Looks as though a lot of The Occupation could use a good college-level education.  Someone’s noticed that The Occupation of those without an occupation is as much about the Higher Education Bubble as much as anything else (h/t Instapundit), only those involved don’t even realize it.

There’s just one thing that confuses me: a lot of these POWS seem to be mad that they were forced to accumulate a ton of debt with the stew-dent loans that they were tricked into taking to support them for 7 years while completing their degrees in Recycling Studies and beer pong. Now they find out – not only can they not get a job in the field that they picked to “follow their bliss” butt they’re expected to pay their loans back too! That is so unfair. No wonder they want to spread the the other 1%’s wealth around.

Butt seriously: why are they occupying Wall Street? Shouldn’t they be occupying the administration buildings of the universities? Aren’t they the ones cranking out worthless degrees that they’re charging $10-100,000 a year for? How, exactly, is this Colgate-Palmolive’s fault? Other than the fact they’re successful, greedy capitalists?

Actually, the American Association of University Professors noticed, too:

The dedicated students whom we teach at institutions of higher education are being forced to pay more for tuition and go deeper into debt because of cuts in state funding, only to find themselves unemployed when they graduate.

The majority of college and university faculty positions are now insecure, part-time jobs. In addition, attacks on collective bargaining have been rampant throughout the nation, as our job security, wages, health benefits, and pensions have been either reduced or slated for elimination.

Therefore, it is time to stand up for what is right.

Evidently, what’s “right” doesn’t include university faculty – or their former students – having to live in the real world, where all jobs are always insecure, health benefits have been disappearing for decades, and most of us have had to provide for our own pensions for our whole working lives.  We actually accept these economic realities for ourselves, and bristle at the notion that someone else feels entitled get a lifelong scholarship for them, on our dime.

In fact, they’d like the laws of economics not to apply to higher education at all.  Heavily subsidized, colleges have not necessarily put this money towards decreasing class sizes or improving instruction.  Instead, they have raised tuition to match the subsidies, and put the money towards branding and administrative bloat.  In Colorado, at least, they’ve managed to avoid accountability for their spending.  Look at the University of Colorado website, and while you’ll have no trouble at all finding out where the money comes from, good luck figuring out how it gets spent.  For years, the legislature has tried to get a straight answer to the question, “how much does it cost to educate a student from enrollment to awarding of a bachelor’s degree?”  No dice.

Worse, as far as the students are concerned, colleges & universities have been marketing the generic bachelors degree as the key to lifetime employment security, regardless of the degree.  This, at the same time as they have been marketing themselves to the taxpayers as the engines of technological growth.  That 25%-30% of CU’s bachelor’s degrees over the last decade have been in psychology, the social sciences, or area & ethnic studies somewhat undermines both claims.

Now, I know of some sociology majors who, after have complete four years of college, have returned home to help out with the family business, and find the work fascinating.  That’s fine if you’re expecting a $50,000 debt for finishing school.  But I’m guessing that most people don’t have that opportunity.  They, like their parents, have to work for someone else, and “Bring Your Kids To Work Day” is pretty much over by the time they’re 22.  So they need a degree that will help prepare them for that.

This is not an attack on the liberal arts, or to suggest that math and science be studied solely in preparation for an engineering career.  The wild success of The Teaching Company is proof that adults, with real financial obligations, can be enticed to pay hundreds of dollars for quality courses in history, philosophy, literature, music, and science.  It’s proof that adults, with real world experience, realize the value of those subjects in helping them make sense of the world and grapple with tough issues.

The whining of the professors and their former students is, on the contrary, evidence of how the modern university instead cheats its current students by utterly failing them in this regard, and how easy it is to prey on college-bound students and their parents who only want the best for them.

That they have been the victims of a swindle almost as colossal as Social Security is undeniable.  Too many students have been sold a bill of goods by their government and the universities they attend.  Too bad they don’t have the critical thinking skills to be protesting at the right address.


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