Knowledge is not a business


This summary of the corruption of higher ed strikes a chord with me.

In their Fall 2012 article in Dissent, Aaron Bady and Roosevelt Institute Fellow Mike Konczal reveal what higher education used to mean and how it was systematically destroyed. Bady and Konczal transport us to 1950s-’60s California, where bipartisan support for a University of California system built the state into a land of prosperity and innovation, a burgeoning middle class sent its children to college for free, and progressive Republicans happily funded education to support inclusion and social mobility for California’s next generation. In 1960, the Donahoe Act, or the Master Plan for Higher Education, represented California’s commitment to educate anyone who wanted to be educated. Despite the concurrent trends of racism, sexism, and American imperialism that pervaded that era, California’s higher education system was a golden example of what America could achieve.

So what happened? Where did it go? In 1966, Ronald Reagan was elected Governor of California and began dismantling the promising work of the past 20 years. Previously, admission had been free, except for a few relatively small fees, but the Reagan government lifted regulations on how much schools could charge in fees, allowing costs to skyrocket. Also, incentives were created for colleges to accept out-of-state students, who would pay higher fees. Both of these strategies shifted the financial responsibility for higher education onto students rather than the state. The process of culturally redefining higher education as not a right, or a public good, but an investment, subject to the whims of the marketplace and corporate capitalism, had begun.

Oh, also…goddamn you, Ronald Reagan, I wish there were a hell so you’d be burning in it.

Comments

  1. whheydt says

    In Fall 1966, UC Berkeley went onto a quarter system. The “incidental fee” (that’s what they called it) was $81 per quarter. To put that in perspective for the younger readers, room and board in a university run dorm was about $900 to $1000 per year (3 quarters) at that time.

  2. Akira MacKenzie says

    I suspect that when the last historian writes about the final days of humanity (which should be in a few years now)k they will write that our dying species once could have chosen another path. A path where knowledge and education was prized, equality was an expectation of society, caring the environment was a priority, we took care of each other, and we were all citizens of the world.

    Then the Americans voted for Ronald Regan and doomed the whole fucking human race,

  3. raven says

    There is something cuckoo about college these days.

    I went to a good state U. back in the Dark Ages.

    And graduated debt free, although I was also totally broke. This was not unusual.

    My yearly tuition and fees was something on the order of $600 but every year kept rising. It was heavily subsidized by the state.

    These days, that tuition and fees is around $7,000 a year and still rising as the state subsidy gets less and less.

  4. machintelligence says

    Back in 1966 even out of state tuition was not too incredibly high at state schools. If memory serves me right, the out of state tuition at Michigan State University was around $350 per quarter and room and board at a dorm about the same. I don’t think it cost much over $2000 for the year. In state was much lower, of course. Four years later it had increased to $600 per quarter, but was still a bargain. My total student loan debt was $2700 for 4 years, and I paid it off during grad school on a teaching assistant’s stipend. Ah, the good old days (ignoring the war in Vietnam.)

  5. redwood says

    In 1978, after one year of paying out-of-state tuition at San Francisco State University, I got my MA by paying $100/semester for tuition. Is it 50 times that now? 100 times?
    When Reagan ran for president in 1980, my mother was all set to vote for him. I told her he would screw up her benefits and she scoffed at that, saying he was old like her so he would be on her side. I told her that he didn’t need Social Security like she did and wanted to cut it. By the time the next election rolled around, she had realized he seriously didn’t have her best interests at heart.

  6. raven says

    When I went to college, the prevailing idea was, “anyone who wants a college degree should be able to get one.

    It might not be easy but it was always supposed to be possible.

    In practice, it actually worked reasonably well.

    It was one of our better ideas. An educated population is a huge advantage for a society in any way you want to look at.

    These days, I’m not sure how much of that principle is left in the USA.

  7. Rich Woods says

    And where the US goes, the UK sooner or later follows.

    I’m glad I’m not a student now: the amount of debt is terrifying. And now our lovely caring, sharing* government are looking to flog off the student debt loan book and lift the interest limit.

    * They only care about other people like themselves and are happy to share out public property to the same, effectively guaranteeing an income stream from taxpayers to private companies and their bonus-pocketing executives.

  8. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    To a Republican, getting ahead means placing obstacles in everybody else’s way.

    The only game they understand is zero-sum.

  9. unclefrogy says

    the reasoning used to motivate the political will though often unstated was the anti hippy reaction of the same tea party christian pro war segment of the population that is choking on resentment and being manipulated even now.
    he was the first in a long line of reactionary ass holes to be governor of california. He did not do the mental system any favors either.
    uncle frogy

  10. David Wilford says

    Some are fighting back against tuition hikes, thankfully:

    http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/06/04/appropriations-increases-and-tuition-freezes-reshape-state-funding-picture

    … While an improving economy is undoubtedly responsible for the increased appropriations and subsequent tuition freezes in some states, politics seem to be playing a larger role in the discussion.

    High tuition prices have become increasingly unpopular among the general public over the past few years. In a recent survey of parents of 5th through 12th graders conducted by Gallup for Inside Higher Ed, about a third of respondents said they would restrict the colleges their children applied to because of price, and another third said they were “somewhat likely” to do so. Other surveys show that cost is becoming a factor in more and more college decisions.

    Several higher education leaders said last fall that they would try to leverage the antipathy toward tuition hikes this budget cycle by promising to hold down tuition prices on the condition that state legislators increased appropriations for higher education.

    University of Minnesota administrators were particularly successful with this strategy, receiving about $79 million in increased state appropriations, enough to “buy out” the potential tuition hike and a recurring investment in high-priority research areas.

    “People certainly do feel that the rate of tuition increases has been high, but the general public doesn’t always connect the dots between decreased state support and tuition price,” said Eric Kaler, president of the University of Minnesota. “Being able to have this conversation, and clearly show the connection between state support and tuition, helped the general public be more sympathetic.” …

  11. kevinalexander says

    It’s social darwinism. If you can’t win by running faster, by being stronger or by being healthier then you can still win by tripping the other guy, by crippling him or by poisoning him.
    As long as you can afford a good school for your kids then you give them a head start by denying the same to the rest.
    It’s part of a set of Republican moves such as crippling girls chances so their sons get ahead.

  12. says

    The barriers to getting a college degree ought to be intellectual, not economic. It turns universities inside out to make it all about how much money the kids will bring in.

  13. anchor says

    “It turns universities inside out to make it all about how much money the kids will bring in.It turns universities inside out to make it all about how much money the kids will bring in.

    Yep, and makes the whole point of higher education all about how much money one can make. Knowledge, understanding, science, are merely means to that preeminent end.

    The disease is catching.

  14. Dick the Damned says

    Awwwww! You shouldn’t be blaming Reagan (& Thatcher) for fucking with the fundamentals of decent society. The blame lies with Milton Friedman & the Chicago school of economics that he led. He got a Nobel Prize for his economic theories. For instance, he wanted to deregulate all professions, even medical!

    It must’ve sounded appealing to the right wing followers, but it sounds like teh crazy to me.

  15. No One says

    Thirty years ago you would have been metaphorically “shot” for trying to sell water in plastic bottles. It’s about perceiving a need and sticking yourself in the middle to collect. ” OK move the aluminum across the alley from ware house 14 to 15… take your time.

  16. says

    About Reagan and Hell:

    Though it’s proving a difficult sell,
    Reagan’s trying to privatize Hell.
    Each bankrupt corporation
    Once found in our nation
    Is lobbying Satan as well.

  17. geral says

    My fiance and I are in the hole $75k for 4-year degrees each. We’re not even married or own a house and we’re already in debt a small house where we live. She’s looking for a job a few months post-graduation.

    It’s very depressing. I try not to think about it. :(

  18. kemist, Dark Lord of the Sith says

    And where the US goes, the UK sooner or later follows.

    And sadly my own canuckistan too.

    Politicians have been talking about “paying user” and “education as investment” for university students, for some time, idealizing the american system.

    Two years ago there was a massive student strike here to oppose a whopping 80% rise in tuition, which the government promoted as “investing in higher education”. It was masterfully executed to pit the older, less educated generations against those ingrate, know-it-all youths (often grossly disrespected by both government officials and the lamestream media). Perfectly timed in an attempt to get those same older voters to forget that government’s awful record when it comes to corruption.

    It was a new experience for me.

    I had never felt quite that level of hatred and revulsion against politicians before.

  19. erichoug says

    I spent, and am still spending, quite a bit of money for my college degree. But, I am still of mixed mind about this.

    On the one hand, I support PZ in that the only barriers to higher education should be intellectual. But, on the other hand, I think that the high cost might at least dissuade someone from spending $200,000 to get a degree in fine arts.

    I think there’s a lot to be said for education reform. I for one would like to get rid of many if not all of the “for profit” colleges and universities, invest more money into education kids for fields that are relevant today like science and technology as opposed to literature and history. Don’t get me wrong I firmly believe in a well rounded traditional liberal education but I don’t think that we are adequately preparing our kids for the working world when they get out of 12 years of school and then have to pay $20,000 and spend 6 months to take a course in HVAC repair to get a job.

    But, as with so many things, the lunatics on the right are holding all of our futures hostage to their idiotic, paranoid fantasy.

  20. David Han says

    “I wish there were a hell so you’d be burning in it.”
    I don’t think that even someone as evil as Ronald Reagan deserves hell. The supreme evil of such a god that would create a place like that is staggering.

  21. kemist, Dark Lord of the Sith says

    I for one would like to get rid of many if not all of the “for profit” colleges and universities, invest more money into education kids for fields that are relevant today like science and technology as opposed to literature and history.

    I’m deeply uneasy about getting rid of fields of study because they are “irrelevant today” – except for a case like theology, which has no place in a university as its only unique area of study is bullshit (and its worthwhile areas are well covered by other disciplines like sociology or anthropology).

    Universities are not supposed to exist solely to produce worker drones to the specifications of the industry. Also, looking back in recent history, what’s “relevant” today has little relationship with what might become highly important in the future – and part of this future depends on what goes on in universities and on the creativity and diversity of their graduates, not only on what the industry thinks its clients might spend the most cash on in the next few months.

    I don’t think people who want to study art history, french literature or anthropology should be discouraged to do so just because the present industry cannot make money from them.

    In fact, if only highly employable skills are desirable as fields of study, most sciences don’t even qualify !

    There’s about as many jobs which demand a degree in physics as there are that will make use of an art history degree.

  22. says

    I for one would like to get rid of many if not all of the “for profit” colleges and universities, invest more money into education kids for fields that are relevant today like science and technology as opposed to literature and history.

    >History
    >Not Relevant Today

    That’s why the majority of my history professors correctly predicted the recession, as well as Elizabeth Warren. History’s just so damn irrelevant that being familiar with the boom/bust cycle US history followed was not at all important to this. FFS. If you think history’s irrelevant you’re a fan of watching stupid shit happen repeatedly, as well as people not understand part of how their society got to where it is now from the past. History is insanely relevant – that’s why we exist in a society that distorts the 50s so that people think Leave it to Beaver was a damn documentary!

    Don’t get me wrong I firmly believe in a well rounded traditional liberal education but I don’t think that we are adequately preparing our kids for the working world when they get out of 12 years of school and then have to pay $20,000 and spend 6 months to take a course in HVAC repair to get a job.

    Prior to the recession, at the least (Not sure about post), international businesses preferred to hire arts and other cultural majors – they were more likely to have the grounding needed to avoid pissing off clients from other cultures. The company’s logic was “We can train you in the business, but we can’t teach you the rest of that shit”. I find it hilarious that on the one hand, the stereotype of the middle manager is that they have an art history or other ‘useless’ degree, but we still call these ‘useless’ degrees useless because you can’t get a job with them. Cheezus.

  23. madscientist says

    Yup, it’s libertardianism in action. Cut taxes to the wealthy and make the poor pay for services the state used to provide. Australia is excelling at libertardianism, taking a mere 15 years to achieve what took the USA almost half a century. Public health care? What’s that? An edookashin? That’s only for the rich folks; in Australia you only need to know how to dig a hole in the ground and you can be a millionaire! Well, that’s the crap peddled by the political parties anyway – but oh, those refugees are coming to steal those precious hole digging jobs so we’ve got to imprison them on remote tropical islands where hopefully tropical diseases will kill ‘em before anyone can even ask questions about their refugee claims.

    The NY state system was pretty damned good too – I wonder what it’s like now.

  24. echidna says

    I think that the high cost might at least dissuade someone from spending $200,000 to get a degree in fine arts.

    I will assume that you weren’t really thinking. We have a diverse population, with talent in all sorts of directions. Society needs people who specialise in all sorts of different things; you seem to think universities should only train workers. Or you think that only the wealthy should have the luxury of being artists. Really? And I’m speaking as a techie.

  25. JohnnieCanuck says

    David Han @21,

    It’s important to acknowledge that this evil god of theirs is the creation of men (well humans, but mostly men). Back when Christianity was being synthesised, the Greek idea of hell got welded onto this Jewish messianic cult’s craziness.

    We shouldn’t let them get away with saying that it isn’t them that, for example, hates gays; it’s their god’s idea and so there’s nothing to be done about it.

  26. harbo says

    Education and Health Care, are not commodities, treating them as same, produces the great inequities of the modern U.S.
    I wish my country (Australia) would cease trying to emulate these american failures with weasel-words like “user-pays”and “market forces”.
    and I also wish that every time we bring up the failure of commodification, we aren’t accused of being communists.

  27. michaelpowers says

    I have agree with you on Reagan. He did this nation real damage. Economically, militarily, culturally, and socially. I wouldn’t be surprised if, a century from now, we still haven’t recovered. Like Ayn Rand, he will never be dead enough, IMO.

  28. Azuma Hazuki says

    If I’d known in 2003 that the economy was going to crater I’d have told the President to take his National Merit Scholarship and stick it up his lying ass. 25K in debt, with a hard-sciences bachelor degree, and I work retail. Pfaugh!

  29. pointinline says

    It’s true that exactly the same thing has happened in the UK. But Dick the Damned is wrong about Thatcher. It wasn’t her government that introduced tuition fees. She left power in 1990. Tuition fees were introduced in 1998 by the Blair government.

  30. randay says

    In 1966, tuition fees at the University of California, San Diego were $1,748 in constant dollars and about the same for housing(cheaper off-campus if you shared a house, rent was low then). I looked them up for this year and they are $12,692. Including dorm housing($14,454) and other expenses, UCSD estimates a budget of $32,415, or nearly 10 times what I had to pay. The state has constantly been lowering its contribution which now is down to about 1/3 of the budget.

    When Reagan became governor, he insisted on a retirement age for professors which was aimed at one professor, Herbert Marcuse. Individual profs could be given exceptions. A video history of the time:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gbzhmMDFcFQ “Herbert’s Hippopotomus”. For those who say that literature and history are unimportant, one thing I learned from Marcuse and other humanities classes was how to think critically. A friend who worked at UCSD until retirement told me that those are getting fewer students because parents who are paying want their offspring to study something they think will provide a good paying job and not “waste” money on such subjects.

    The other thing that has helped ruin California education was Proposition 13 created by the hard right. This limited property taxes to 1% and resulted in much less money for local education and other public services such as libraries. In the 60’s, California primary and secondary education was among the best in the country. Now it is rated 48th. Even my very conservative father voted against it. He said sure I will save some money, but it is the big and rich who will really benefit.

  31. harrync says

    One of the big factors in tipping the California voter against higher education [and to voting for Reagan] was the anti-draft/free speech demonstrations at UC. Free tuition was fine for the middle class, law abiding white guys of the 1950’s, but not for those dangerous, ungrateful hippies of the late 60’s. So in a way, free college tuition was another victim of the Vietnam war. [Irony: today it is mostly middle class law abiding white people who are still paying for the actions of a few 1960’s hippies.]

  32. erichoug says

    OOH, I really feel bad that I didn’t have time to stay and discuss this. Let me just make a few clarifications

    1) I am absolutely NOT proposing the elimination of history, english and the other liberal arts. I would like to see us rid History of the dumbing down, eurocentirsm and jingoism that so pervades it today but other than that, I think these curriculum are the bedrock of a good education

    2) I am not saying that there is not place in our society for someone who spends $200,000 on a fine arts degree. But, what I am saying is that it is a disservice to a young person to sink them into a level of debt that they will never be able to dig out from under to provide a degree that cannot guarantee them a good living. I know one young lady who was half a million dollars in debt for an engineering degree. She has basically resigned herself to never paying off this loan. Despite the fact that she has a good job with a professional engineering firm.

    3) One thing that I run into whenever I am discussing education is that the liberal arts feel like my opinions are an attack on their disciplines, I don’t feel that they are. I do feel that the current educational system with it’s intense focus on preparing nearly all students to go to college for degrees in liberal arts is a disservice to both the students and our society as a whole. There are students that already know what they want to do and it doesn’t involve getting an English degree and working for the local paper. We would be better off as a society gearing towards providing more options and paths for students to follow so that even if they don’t go to college, they can come out of High School at 18 with a marketable trade or skill.

  33. says

    1) I am absolutely NOT proposing the elimination of history, english and the other liberal arts. I would like to see us rid History of the dumbing down, eurocentirsm and jingoism that so pervades it today but other than that, I think these curriculum are the bedrock of a good education

    Then you absolutely should not list history as a problematic field to study – those are society’s defaults, especially in the USA. Granted, the field is not some utopia that has none of these things, by any means of the imagination.

    2) I am not saying that there is not place in our society for someone who spends $200,000 on a fine arts degree. But, what I am saying is that it is a disservice to a young person to sink them into a level of debt that they will never be able to dig out from under to provide a degree that cannot guarantee them a good living. I know one young lady who was half a million dollars in debt for an engineering degree. She has basically resigned herself to never paying off this loan. Despite the fact that she has a good job with a professional engineering firm.

    So the moral of the story, using someone who has a degree in one of the more profitable fields you can immediately *and* realistically enter, is that the problem is… Liberal Arts degrees? Not the debt itself? Seriously now…

    3) One thing that I run into whenever I am discussing education is that the liberal arts feel like my opinions are an attack on their disciplines, I don’t feel that they are. I do feel that the current educational system with it’s intense focus on preparing nearly all students to go to college for degrees in liberal arts is a disservice to both the students and our society as a whole.

    What planet do you live on? The degrees that people actually seek to grab are generally business or finance related. People are more and more being pushed out of the various humanities, and that’s not a good thing at the scale it’s occurring at, particularly when the humanities were by no means overrepresented.

    Regarding the italicized, when you highlight the field that is ALREADY the punching bag of academia, well, it’s going to be seen as an attack, even if you really really really feel it’s not (and you still repeated a lot of the regular nonsense about them).

    There are students that already know what they want to do and it doesn’t involve getting an English degree and working for the local paper. We would be better off as a society gearing towards providing more options and paths for students to follow so that even if they don’t go to college, they can come out of High School at 18 with a marketable trade or skill.

    That’s entirely unconnected to the idea that there are too many liberal arts degrees, but it should indeed be part of public schooling.