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Nov 24 2013

If teachers are welfare queens, then social theorists at Ivy League colleges must be world-class parasites

I saw this title on an article by Randall Collins and my hackles rose, my eyes turned red, I started to sprout hair everywhere as I growled and slavered. I will have blood.

Millennials, rise up! College is a scam — you have nothing to lose but student debt

Students chase degree after degree, adding crushing debt, as jobs vanish. It is time to radically rethink college

Now wait, I said to myself as I tried to suppress the change, titles are written by editors, and sometimes reflect the content poorly — they are trying to get a rise out of you, so you’ll read what follows. Maybe it’s not so bad. Give the guy a chance. So I read on.

Credential inflation is the rise in educational requirements for jobs as a rising proportion of the population attains more advanced degrees. The value of a given educational certificate or diploma declines as more people have one, thereby motivating them to stay in school longer. In the United States, high-school (i.e., twelve-year secondary school) diplomas were comparatively rare before World War II; now high-school degrees are so commonplace that their job value is worthless.

Job…value? JOB VALUE? We have a more educated citizenry (not educated enough, I would say, looking sideways at the Tea Party), and this bozo is complaining that their value is less because so many have reached a minimal educational standard? The US has a literacy rate of approximately 99% — what a disgrace. What is the point of teaching people to read if it doesn’t give them an edge over a vast illiterate mob? Think what a great advantage it would give you if you were one of the only 1% who could add and subtract — you’d have great job security, and your market value would be phenomenal! Afghanistan, with it’s overall literacy rate of 28%, should be regarded as an ideal.

In light of this wonderfully blinkered perspective on education, I am radically rethinking college myself. Maybe we need institutions of ignorance to slap down millions of minds just to keep the economic value of my degrees high…because, after all, the only reason I do what I do is for my personal gain, with never a thought about making society better or helping other individuals.

Oh, wait. I forgot. We do have such institutions of ignorance: they’re called churches. I am beginning to see their place in the ecosystem of culture.

This attitude is taken for granted throughout the article, which sees all of education solely in a vocational light.

Educational degrees are a currency of social respectability, traded for access to jobs; like any currency, it inflates prices (or reduces purchasing power) when autonomously driven increases in monetary supply chase a limited stock of goods, in this case chasing an ever more contested pool of upper-middle-class jobs.

I know the universities promote this view already, advertising their role as one of granting access to the big bucks of a job after graduation. I hate it. Most faculty don’t think that way either — if we did, we sure as hell wouldn’t have used our ever-so-precious degrees to get jobs at relatively low paying places like colleges.

We are not handing out tickets to jobs. If you want that, go to a vocational college and learn a trade; this is an entirely respectable option and is often a very wise move. Go to college if you want to learn something about how the world works more deeply, or if you want to experience the unconventional and different and see a wider picture. Go to college because there’s something you love that you can’t pursue elsewhere precisely because it has no market value…but it means something to you as a human being. Poetry is not a path to riches, but in college you can find people who love it; there’s practically no economic value to thinking hard about ethics, but at a college you’ll not only find people who live for ethical issues, but will teach you what they know and ask you hard questions to make you think more about it too. Why learn about history, or dead languages, or exotically impractical bits of abstract mathematics, or putter about making art? Because it will make you wealthy? Hell, no. Because you’ve only got one life to live and you ought to use it to make yourself wiser and happier, and if learning about those weird and strangely human subjects is what you want to do, do it.

There are things we need to fix in our educational system, I would agree. But the very last people you should consult on how to fix it are those who so poorly understand the meaning of the word “education” that they confuse it with a certification in a task. Randall Collins is clearly such a benighted ignoramus that I could feel my urge to howl at the moon declining…until…

Until…

Although educational credential inflation expands on false premises— the ideology that more education will produce more equality of opportunity, more high-tech economic performance, and more good jobs—it does provide some degree of solution to technological displacement of the middle class. Educational credential inflation helps absorb surplus labor by keeping more people out of the labor force; and if students receive a financial subsidy, either directly or in the form of low-cost (and ultimately unrepaid) loans, it acts as hidden transfer payments. In places where the welfare state is ideologically unpopular, the mythology of education supports a hidden welfare state. Add the millions of teachers in elementary, secondary, and higher education, and their administrative staffs, and the hidden Keynesianism of educational inflation may be said to virtually keep the capitalist economy afloat.

Aaaargh. The “mythology of education”? K-12 teachers are in sinecures, sucking up money to keep the economy afloat? Schools are a hidden welfare system for teachers who really aren’t otherwise contributing to the economy or society as a whole?

Fuck that. I’m wolfing out. GRRRRRRR.

91 comments

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  1. 1
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    Yes, a highschool-diploma doesn’t get you very far these days.
    Because the world has moved on. When my grandpa became a miner you basically needed to be able to swing a pickax, later you needed to be able to hold an sledgehammer. It wasn’t even necessary that you could read, that’s why he was able to work as a miner in a foreign country without learning much of the language.
    Nowadays the few miners that still exist here are skilled experts with an ample knowledge about technology and such, operating high-tech machinery. Being 15 years old and healthy with strong arms just doesn’t cut it anymore…

  2. 2
    ghostdancersway

    New here to commenting, but have followed Pharyngula for a few years, just wanted to say thank you pointing out the Fallacy of the Libertarian view of Education. My children have been blessed with the most wonderful, energetic and caring teachers I could have ever hoped for in their short educational lives. I would suggest that Randall Collins move to Afghanistan or Somalia if he believes Education is a welfare scam, I am sure he will be welcomed with open arms. Another thank you to PZ for being so articulate and stating so much of what I believe concerning the real Scam called Religion. You do great work in both the blogsphere and teaching future leaders in science.

  3. 3
    lilandra

    I know. There are a lot of people talking out of the side of their pants about education. Bottom line: They resent paying property taxes to pay for other people’s children to be educated. They write these impassioned treatises demonizing teachers, The very people that taught them to write in the first place, but someone failed them in the area of critical thinking.

    Any and all evidence that most teachers do a job that requires patience and devotion to do well is handwaved. It is often a thankless job where all the responsibility for things going wrong lands squarely on the teacher. Education reform is mainly focused on the teacher not the student, the parent, the administrator, etc. Most teachers go to work and ignore the noise, the bashing, even sometimes danger directed at teachers. No amount of teachers putting their own lives ahead of their students like in Newtown is enough to stop the bashing and stereotyping.

  4. 4
    Koshka

    20 years ago I went to university with the primary aim of getting a degree to get a ‘good’ job. I very much regret not spending more time when I was there learning stuff for the sake of learning stuff.

  5. 5
    Great American Satan

    I’ll have to read this more thoroughly when I get a chance, but at face value, I disagree with PZ. I have a debt I can never repay and am turned away at retail jobs. I ran out of unemployment money from the last time a libertarian CEO had me and hundreds more laid off with the wave of a hand. College works out better for some than others, and if you grew up poor, you’re so likely to end up staying that way forever that you’re better off not owing the kind of money people spend on luxury automobiles over it.

    The things I learned at college I literally could have learned at a library, plus from internet tutorials on pirated software. It felt good being in a place to learn, having that be the thing I was doing, if that makes sense. I liked college, but I’d gladly trade it in for the benefits my bro got from going in the army at 18 as a high school dropout.

    Because the effects of poverty are real like a motherfucker, I wish I’d done just about anything else.

  6. 6
    Zeno

    Back when I was still in college, an uncle told me teachers went into their profession for the easy money. Naturally I then became a teacher. Thanks for the advice, uncle! (Why didn’t you warn me about evenings and weekends grading papers and drafting tests?)

  7. 7
    brett

    @PZ Myers

    I know the universities promote this view already, advertising their role as one of granting access to the big bucks of a job after graduation. I hate it.

    It’s the same type of thing that leads colleges to promote their “selectivity” as an asset to potential students, as if it’s a good thing that what’s great about attending that college is being deliberately constrained in supply so that fewer people can get it. I really hate it – if your college is so amazing that it’s drawing in tons more people than you can teach at the existing set-up, then you should expand your college to teach more people if you can afford it. Some colleges can’t – pre-tuition-charging Cooper Union – but most of the top-level schools have massive endowments, or are part of a system that already has embraced the idea of multiple branches (University of California).

    We are not handing out tickets to jobs. If you want that, go to a vocational college and learn a trade; this is an entirely respectable option and is often a very wise move. Go to college if you want to learn something about how the world works more deeply, or if you want to experience the unconventional and different and see a wider picture.

    To be fair, a bunch of the state-level colleges werefounded with the idea of promoting professional and vocational training, like the “X State University” and “X A&M” colleges. You’d go there if you wanted to be trained to be an engineer, or to learn how to be a better farmer.

    But I agree that it’s not really the case anymore.

  8. 8
    maudell

    Ladies and gents: exhibit Z of our broken education system: Randall Collins.

    Had he taken ECON100, Mr. Collins would know that his free market analogy makes no sense because of little free market party pooper called ‘externalities’. When you think a bit further than your own ass, you can see how expensive it is to maintain low education rates.
    [see also exhibit P, on the incredibly high costs of a 'free market' health system]

  9. 9
    HappiestSadist, Repellent Little Martyr

    While the idea that the entire point of education is to get good jobs and to exclude the poor, therefore needing to be more exclusive for that second part, is clearly bullshit, I have to agree with Great American Satan @ #5 on the joy of learning part.

    I learned so much in university, and I am glad to have learned it all. Unfortunately, I also learned what it feels like to have considered suicide because of debt. Learning because it makes you happy is the most glorious thing, but it won’t pay the bills, and learning at a postsecondary institute is bloody expensive.

  10. 10
    Tenebras

    The only good point in that whole spiel was the bit about crushing debt. An education really should be a basic human right and not just for the people with the gobs of money to afford it, whether or not it’s “for a job” or simply for the sake of being a better human being. Until that gets fixed, for a lot of people, it really isn’t worth it. Especially if you can educate yourself quite well for free.

  11. 11
    Al Dente

    One common name for uneducated people is “peasantry.” That’s a group Collins and his fellow free market libertarians wants to have in this country.

  12. 12
    Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought

    I somewhat disagree with this, PZ.

    You have made a dividing line between education that gets you jobs (vocational college) and education for the sake of learning (pretty much everything else). But then you muddle that line by using it interchangeably with getting well payed jobs.

    I went to the uni because I never could imagine not going. I chose something I loved, but I also chose it for the job prospects. (which didn’t turn out so well, thanks to various reasons)
    A person’s got to earn to live, as I’m sure you know.

    The difference you seem to make between vocational college and that wonderful other place when people go to make themselves better people (unlike those just interested in making money) just rubs me the wrong way.

  13. 13
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    Zeno

    Back when I was still in college, an uncle told me teachers went into their profession for the easy money. Naturally I then became a teacher. Thanks for the advice, uncle!

    Isn’t it funny? When you ask people here about teachers, well, they’re all a bunch of over-paid public servants with way too much holidays. 6 weeks in summer? Can you imagine???? (Can you, normal German employee with around 30 days of holiday imagine not to be able to take a single day off when you would like to? Not for your child’s birthday, not for your wedding anniversary, not for your uncle’s funeral?)
    And when you then ask people whether they’d like to be a teacher they’ll tell you hell no! who’d want to deal with those brats all day?

  14. 14
    Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought

    giliell,

    Not to mention that teachers actually don’t have that many vacation days, since they have to stay for some time after students leave in the summer and then come early for the summer repeated tests.

  15. 15
    lilandra

    Teachers aren’t paid for the summer either. I work at a school where overtime is mandatory to provide tutoring and services for the parents like after-school care. I normally work a 10 hour day with unpaid overtime.

  16. 16
    thinkfree83

    The real problem is that there are simply not enough jobs for the number of people who need them. Our economy has reached a point where it’s possible for corporations to make record profits without employing very many people. The days when a GM or a Ford could employ 500,000 Americans is over. When libertarian pundits bemoan the fact that too many students are majoring in the liberal arts and not STEM, they’re not saying that more people should become theoretical physics or evolutionary biology (which I’m sure they would also write off as “useless”). What they want is for a Thomas Edison or a Henry Ford to show up, an autodidactic tinkerer who can invent marketable products that will employ large swaths of the populace. Unfortunately, the day of the Edison-type inventor and the Ford-type assembly line is over. The bottom line is that no one in 2013 America knows how to create jobs that aren’t of the McJob variety.

  17. 17
    Gvlgeologist, FCD

    The problem with this is that there is, unfortunately, an element of truth in this. College is, in fact, viewed as a job certificate by many students. Because of this, in Gen Ed classes, the students often think that you should get an A more or less as the default grade rather than viewing the classes as an opportunity to learn about the world around them. The other, related issue is that there are many fields that do now require at least a Bachelor’s degree to get a job, when, as PZ mentions, they could just as well have gone to a VoTech or CC to get the basics of what they’ll need to know to do their jobs.

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “I’m a Business/Journalism/PoliSci/Psych/etc… major. Why do I need to learn Geology/Oceanography/Meteorology/Earth Science” (the subjects I teach). Aside from the youthful ignorance that this question shows (businesses, for instance, the oil, minerals, environmental, forestry, fisheries, and shipping industries, can benefit from a knowledge of my fields), questions like this also illustrate the death of simple curiosity in many people now. It seems like people prefer to be cogs in a machine, and fill only their specific role. There are times that I really would like to see FEWER people in Universities, and of them, people who actually are interested in a universal education. Let the people who want to be cogs go to a vocational school or get on-the-job training.

    It’s a very elitist attitude, I know, but there are a lot of people in college right now, only there to get a job, and building up a lot of debt. If they really don’t want to be there, then why force them?

  18. 18
    otrame

    For a liberal (no, damn it, not politically liberal) education, college students, whether they are taking physics or business or art, are required to get an education in many subjects, not just those subjects required by their major. It was an idea based on the fact that most college students before WWII were well off, if not wealthy, and did not have to worry much about getting a job afterwards. A broad education was part of being a “gentleman” and of course all those lower classes didn’t need to know anything but what their job was. Things are very different today.

    What is in question here is, should we do away with the idea of turning out business majors who have passed an anthropology course and art majors who have been forced to learn some basic physics? Especially since that broad education is so expensive. If all you are looking for is a way into a well-paid job, then a very focused education may seem the best idea. However, PZ is lamenting that. He, and I, believe that a broader education is good for EVERYONE, no matter what you need to do to make a living.

    Yet the expense is not minor. Of course, we could start funding our state colleges again, like we used to do, back when people thought a better educated populace was the key to the future, that rich or poor, the whole country benefitted from a more knowledgeable population. Back when the US was the world leader in sciences. You know, the good old days.

    My son is finishing up his Culinary Arts degree in the UK at the moment. He says most university programs there are designed specifically to educate for a particular job. The “liberal education” idea is pretty much dead there. I think that is a shame.

  19. 19
    Paul K

    I graduated from UMM in 1984. I went for the reasons PZ articulated: love of learning, and a desire for expansion. But I was naively under the impression, when I arrived there, that all the other students were there for the same reason. Some were, but many were very blunt about the reason they were there: to get a piece of paper that would lead to a high-paying job.

    In my years there, I worked in the admissions office, putting together packages requested by potential students. When I started, social work was big, and teaching. By the time I graduated, computer science — perceived as a high-paying profession — had become far and away the most commonly asked-for material. This was in the early 80s, during the time of the ‘double-dip’ recession; the last time unemployment rose above 10% in the US. Tuition went up substantially during my college years, nearly 50% in four years.

    Things are far worse now, of course, and while I agree with PZ that it’s wrong to think of a college education as merely a commodity, we’ve pushed the idea of it as such a necessity, in so many ways, that that’s what it’s become. And this trend is not new.

    I also think it’s wrong, of course. My son is twelve, and very bright. We expect he will go to college, not simply because he’s bright (his uncle, a house painter, is also very bright; as his his uncle, the truck driver; and his grandmother, the mostly stay-at-home mom), but because it’s where his interests lie. But we’re poor, and I don’t want him to have to make decisions that will affect the rest of his life based on worries about the obscene debt college attendance might bring.

  20. 20
    Pen

    Education is a good in its own right, but if you can’t afford it what then? Currently, people get massively in debt on the assumption they’ll be able to pay it back with the job it enables them to get. For what other good with no resale value would you get thousands of dollars in debt, up front, in your early twenties? The bitter reality check – my local paper boasting about how a work placement scheme finally managed to get one law graduate into work as a shop assistant! His prospects of making it in law are currently low because the UK has an excess of law graduates (err, graduates… err people actually) to jobs. If he eventually gets a ‘graduate job’ his starting salary will be the equivalent of an A Level (high school diploma) salary in my day and he’ll be a good ten years older than he would have been, to get paid that much back then. From it he’ll have to pay off debts which wouldn’t have existed in my day because we still had grants. Let’s assume his partner is about his age and they want kids, they still have to achieve financial stability. My generation of graduates seemed to mange it by about 30. We ‘only’ had to contend with a loss of job stability. His is likely to break even at around 40. It’s too late for women.

    In this climate, I really wonder about how to advise my daughter, knowing that as a woman she’s also likely to face lower salaries and reduced chances of promotion compared to men, plus maybe want to take a few more years out of her career to have children. My inclination is to say, get on the job/money making ladder first, study part time and pull yourself up by your bootstraps that way. Full time study is looking increasingly like a financially crippling luxury – especially if it’s in anything but a potential money maker. It’s the ‘dreadful algebra of necessity’ at work (Pratchett).

    That doesn’t represent my ideal society by any means. The welfare state is very popular with me and I think all higher education should be state subsidised even if it means greater selectivity. An educated population is a social good just as much as it is an individual one. Unfortunately we move further and further away from that goal. Lots of people don’t even seem able to think in terms of social goods and social economies any more.

  21. 21
    smrnda

    The argument that the value of education comes from its scarcity is idiotic because as people become more educated, civilization advances creating more jobs that require more skills (sometimes.) An illiterate person could have probably made a living at some point in time, but not in the present. I’m also not sure that there aren’t particular fields where we could absorb quite a few more qualified candidates, though the problem is that the cost of education makes career switching so hard for so many people.

    I also don’t like that education is seen as either job training or expanding your mind. It should be both.

    The main objection I find people make to education is that it tends to change the politics of the people who get educated.

  22. 22
    Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought

    I also don’t like that education is seen as either job training or expanding your mind. It should be both.

    Agreed.

  23. 23
    timdiaz

    Learning is all well and good, but as others have said, if learning comes with an obscene price tag, then getting a job should be the goal of that particular sort of learning.

    In the age of Wikipedia, MIT Courseware, and so many other excellent online resources for learning, it’s not necessary to go to college to learn. All that’s required is motivation and an internet connection, and while the latter certainly isn’t available to everyone on the planet, it is accessible by nearly every westerner.

    I love to learn, I’m teaching myself C++ right now, just because I enjoy it, and there are plenty of resources online to help me.

    But I’m getting a degree in business administration because it is a piece of paper that will actually pay back the cost of getting it.

  24. 24
    brett

    @18 Otrame

    What is in question here is, should we do away with the idea of turning out business majors who have passed an anthropology course and art majors who have been forced to learn some basic physics? Especially since that broad education is so expensive. If all you are looking for is a way into a well-paid job, then a very focused education may seem the best idea. However, PZ is lamenting that. He, and I, believe that a broader education is good for EVERYONE, no matter what you need to do to make a living.

    I think so, too, but also because I do think it’s good for business and job reasons. Cross-Fertilization is important in business, culture, and the sciences, and one of the best ways to get that is to expose people to ideas outside of their normal experience.

  25. 25
    imthegenieicandoanything

    I’ve never been so disappointed in any discussion at this site before. I’m fully on PZed’s side on this and, to the seeming majority here, I can only hope you are under 30 and have an excuse for a cluelessness that, however fine for you would produce a far worse system.

    Free, or very inexpensive, college educations for any willing to do the work would be a boon to society in EVERY way, even though it of course wouldn’t solve every single thing. That’s why the push from the Xians and conservatives today is in devaluing education as an idea while pricing it out of the range of even the middle classes.

    You likely know who your enemy is, but you still consume the shit they say?

    Outta here. Rage by yourselves.

  26. 26
    alt3

    “We are not handing out tickets to jobs. If you want that, go to a vocational college and learn a trade”

    This is something that kids should be informed of before they start applying to colleges and universities. If I’d known this I wouldn’t have gone to university. All I wanted was to make enough to eat working at a job that wasn’t hard labour. Instead I got pushed into studying failing multiple subjects I had no interest in before unsuccessfully attempting to kill myself.

    Now I’m semi-homeless, saddled with more debt than I can ever repay, working a job that’s killing me and growing increasingly unconvinced by my arguments against killing myself.

  27. 27
    MattP (must mock his crappy brain)

    @otrame, #18
    One of the many discussions to take place in ENED8010 this semester concerned the education encountered by the professor in germany. Basically, the university was not really intended to be a wide ranging liberal arts education because everything encountered before college was far more comprehensive than almost anything offered in the US. You already had exposure to a wide range of topics about local, national, and global history, politics, art, music, science, math, etc. in K~12 to explore what you enjoyed, so college was left for focusing intently on what you wanted to know about a particular subject either for a job or further research in a topic. Given that supposedly comprehensive pre-college education, does is really seem that weird that the liberal college education is ‘dead’ in some parts of europe?

  28. 28
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    You likely know who your enemy is, but you still consume the shit they say?

    Funny how commenters with such an attitude seem not to read for comprehension. From what I read, most agreed with the idea that a liberal arts education is a good thing. But there are few turds floating around that want the paper without the education required to get it. And since the eighties, many folks getting a college education are caught between a rock and hard place due to inflated costs and lack of jobs when they graduated.

    Compare this to earlier when I could work for the summer and pay all my costs for one semester. Those who got summer jobs in the auto plants could pay for the whole year. The concept of summer jobs has disappeared where I work.

  29. 29
    M can help you with that.

    The things I learned at college I literally could have learned at a library

    So you went to a shit college and/or you were a shit student. Seriously. Your experience doesn’t even resemble what I, a generally half-assed student who would rather learn things on my own, was able to get from a community college. If you evaluate your college experience based on acquisition of facts, which is what you seem to do, then both you and the college(s) you attended are utter failures.

  30. 30
    thewhollynone

    Now, Genie, it’s not a good educational plan to antagonize those you consider ignorant, and then leave the room in a huff! Even I know that, though I had only two semesters of ed psych. It’s likely that I am older than you are– hell, it’s likely that I am older than almost everyone here– and when I graduated from high school in 1955 (when the idiom was still “graduated from”) and went on to a major public university in a very southern state, the tuition there was zero to $25 a semester for state residents and a couple of hundred dollars for out of state students (unless they could play football, that is), plus living expenses and books. I don’t think anybody had loans; our parents paid, or we worked on our off hours, or we alternated semesters working and taking classes, or the GI Bill paid (almost entirely for males). At that time admission was open to anyone with a high school diploma, and at least half of the students had no business being there; they were warming the chairs, enjoying the partying, and not even thinking about what to do next year after they flunked out. In short, they were wasting their time and the taxpapers’ money. That’s what happens when you give people something absolutely for free.

  31. 31
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    What was interesting to me, during the introduction of the PC into the offices of the world, was the number of STEM students who were saying they would have a secretary to take care of their spelling/grammar errors, so having them take English courses were a waste of their time. They couldn’t/wouldn’t see that the concept of the departmental secretary was on its way out, and they would be writing their own reports without an editor, and needed to know to write properly on their own…

  32. 32
    carlie

    Why biology students have to learn calculus, on the value of a broad education.

    They couldn’t/wouldn’t see that the concept of the departmental secretary was on its way out, and they would be writing their own reports without an editor, and needed to know to write properly on their own…

    I have an academic science-person job, and I was told flat-out after I was hired that one of the main reasons my application ended up in the top set was that I was one of the only ones who seemed to know how to write, and when I did the job talk, I knew how to communicate.

    The price seriously sucks, but if (and that’s a big if) you’re at a state school, the tuition for 4 years works out to about the same price as a nice car. (it’s about 24k in my state for 4 yrs after tuition and fees) That’s awful for people for whom that’s out of reach, but I get awfully tired of the students I see who are driving cars that clearly cost more than that who are complaining about the cost of tuition. The car gets them 5-10 years of transportation; the college degree gets them an education and a chance at a lifetime of higher wages.*

    *but talk to me in a few years when I’m trying to swing two kids’ tuition/room/board on my salary…

  33. 33
    carlie

    And yes, I know that doesn’t include the opportunity cost of not working full-time then, just trying to make the comparison that there isn’t nearly as much scrutiny on some other big-ticket items in life as there is on college.

  34. 34
    thewhollynone

    cont. from above…. That university is now considerably larger, considerably more expensive, and as the “flagship” university in that state has restricted admissions. I have no hard data on how many students take out loans to pay their expenses, how many get grants and scholarships, and how many get degrees which will enable them to get jobs which will pay back the costs (including the opportunity costs) of their educations; I suspect, however, that there are not nearly so many students there to party, mate, and generally waste time until they figure out what to do with their lives as there were when I attended.

    Some things haven’t changed though. That university still has a first rate football program which supports the other athletic programs and keeps the alums happy, a first rate pre-med curriculum, a world class engineering school, a well-known school of music, and extremely competent schools of business and law. It’s my understanding that all undergraduate students in every discipline are still required to take a little math, some science, a history course or two, a course in English rhetoric and one in English or American literature, and a smattering of music or art, but I doubt that’s enough to qualify as a “liberal education.”

    A public university which is trying to be all things to all people has a very tough job ahead of it.

  35. 35
    lanir

    I dabbled in college but didn’t get a degree. I later moved into a professional field and am well enough off in it that I don’t go hunting for jobs, other people find me and ask me if I’d like to work for them.

    But in the time it took me to do that, I could have acquired a Master’s degree. There were whole years in there where I was very poor and wasn’t even certain how food would get on the table. I got started on the self-study that got me where I am while I was working at a gas station full time and realizing I could still barely pay the bills. I needed to do something else.

    It took a long time to get in. Without the paperwork to show I knew what I’d learned, it was incredibly easy to get passed over. A friend also did the same career change and ladder climbing around the same time so I could see that it wasn’t just me. When people say there’s no value in that sheet of paper, they’re not correct. I also regularly get turned down for any work at science labs, colleges or universities funded by the government. I’m not sure if it’s a strict requirement but a college degree appears to be the only way to unlock those doors.

    I’d still love to go back to college and someday I will. Not so much for the degree but just to keep learning things. You can’t ever sit still. There’s always something else interesting just out of reach.

  36. 36
    Kimpatsu

    Afghanistan, with it’s overall literacy rate of 28%, should be regarded as an ideal.
    “…IT IS overall literacy rate…”, PZ? Oh, the irony!

  37. 37
    Dalillama, Schmott Guy

    thewhollynone

    That’s what happens when you give people something absolutely for free.

    I’m assuming that you consider yourself to be one of the people who wasn’t wasting their time there. In 1955, would you have attended college (or been able to) if you were required to pony up $1,000 a year, plus another $3-400 for textbooks, and living expenses on top of that? A whole lot of people couldn’t. In fact, a whole lot of people couldn’t even then; the GI bill mostly paid out for white men to go get degrees. If we actually gave it to everyone absolutely free, then even if half the people get no benefit from it whatsoever (which I strongly doubt), half the population does get a good education, and that’s way more of the population than has one now.

    ; I suspect, however, that there are not nearly so many students there to party, mate, and generally waste time until they figure out what to do with their lives as there were when I attended.

    There’s still plenty of people there on Mummy and/or Daddy’s dime, just marking time until they get their inheritance or their sinecure in the family firm or at worst a position of responsibility through the old-boys network, and they’re not going anywhere anytime soon, I’m afraid.

  38. 38
    jimatkins

    Speaking as a 20 year teacher (this year, mostly math, some business and accounting) if we are getting sinecures, we sure aren’t slurping too hard at the public teat. I do know I’m a lot different and a lot more aware now than the callow youth I was when I got out of high school. An awful lot of professors did that for me. I can’t remember all their names, but I would like to thank all of them except for the sadistic bastard I had for Cost Accounting at CSU Fullerton.

  39. 39
    mcetiquette

    When I started getting my BA my plan was to study something I love (music and English), go on to graduate school, and use that as my ticket to a good job. The economy crashed in the middle of that plan, and I ended up with a BA in a subject I love, crushing debt, and very few job options. To an extend I agree with PZ, learning for learnings sake is wonderful, but as much as I love my BA, I will always debate with myself if it was worth the debt.

    I’ve since returned to school, not for graduate school, but for an AA in automotive mechanics (grease monkeying). I absolutely love it, but one thing many people don’t realize is that a lot of technical/vocational degrees and programs do require an amount of liberal arts education. In the automotive program I’m in, students have to pass college level English, math, communication, and human development courses. Many of the students who are already very knowledgable about cars are failing the program. But for the few of us going back after getting our BAs, we’re passing with flying colors, despite knowing much less about cars going into the program. This is because employers want employees who can read, write, do maths, and have a much more rounded education, and the technical programs are guided by employer input. To me, this seems like the best of both worlds: an introduction to the broad education you can get at college, coupled with still employable job skills.

  40. 40
    left0ver1under

    In Pakistan, islamic extremists are kidnapping medical people and lying about the benefit of polio vaccinations in order to prevent them.

    In Nigeria and Afghanistan, extremists are blowing up and burning down schools, killing teachers and students, to avoid “western influence” and calling education “unnecessary”.

    In the US, Randall Collins is trying to intimidate the young, attack educators and prevent people from getting an education.

    The only reason the level of violence isn’t the same is because Collins can’t get away with it. It’s not for a lack of desire.

  41. 41
    AMM

    I don’t agree with everything the guy says, but he does make some good points.

    1. College debt is a serious problem. There is a whole generation of people with college loans that they will never be able to pay off. I have yet to see any sign that any college is facing up to that reality.

    A big part of that is that colleges, especially private colleges, are simply too expensive. The cost of college has been rising much, much faster than inflation ever since I started college 40+ years ago. My son is getting scholarships, and yet I’m still paying enough for a rather nice car — every semester.

    My impression from my own alma mater and from my son’s college (and from college visits when he was a senior) is that colleges have the “if you build it, they will come” — and pay whatever you charge. I don’t know if it’s edifice complex or wishful thinking.

    2. The assertion that a college education “pays for itself” has been around for as long as I’ve been alive, and guidance counselors and colleges are still pushing this line. This guy is not making it up.

    3. Credential inflation is real. Most employers don’t actually have any use for what you learn in college (or grad school), of course. They use the degree requirement as a filter. The assumption is that people who’ve submitted to 16-20 years of schooling will more easily submit to being a docile wage slave than someone who gave up after 10 or 12.

    4. You can talk all you want about how your students shouldn’t be coming to your school so they can get a better-paying job, but just how many students would you have if the only people who went there were people who were already rich enough to pay the tuition (and take 4 years off from work) to get your fine education?

    For most young people nowadays, the real cost of college is a lifetime of financial peonage. I think it’s irresponsible (and betrays a boatload of privilege) to claim that your college’s education is worth that.

  42. 42
    carlie

    For most young people nowadays, the real cost of college is a lifetime of financial peonage. I think it’s irresponsible (and betrays a boatload of privilege) to claim that your college’s education is worth that.

    There’s a difference between saying that the education is worth the cost, and saying that the student should bear the full burden of the cost. If it’s the cost that you don’t think is worth it, where would you like to cut? Professor’s salaries, so that even fewer are attracted to the field and the only people left are those who can’t find a job elsewhere or are supported by otherwise wealthy families? Health services for students? Mental health services for students? Tutoring services for students? Campus safety? Support staff in all of the offices like bursar and financial aid and admissions and career services? At a lot of colleges, all of those have already been cut to the bone.

    Saying that students shouldn’t have to bear the burden, that’s another topic. That’s what public universities were supposed to do in the first place, but people keep electing state legislators who like cutting funding to state schools every time there’s a budget problem instead of raising taxes. So there’s nowhere for the cost to go besides back to the student. The complaints should be to the state government, not to the college that keeps seeing its appropriation get cut every budget cycle.

  43. 43
    Ing

    @Kimpatsu

    did you have trouble reading the intended meaning?

    No?

    Then fuck off, asshole

  44. 44
    skaduskitai

    It’s the same thing going on here in scandinavia. This ludicrus idea that the ultimate goal of education, health care and everything else should be to make money is seeping in everywhere. It is such nonsense and a reversal of reality. Education, health, security, comfort, infrastructure e.t.c. are intrinsically valuable things while money is only of value insofar as it can be traded for something that has value in itself. But nope it is making money that matters for those in charge, not wether they produce anything of real value, like say education.

  45. 45
    chigau (違う)

    Ing #43
    c’mon
    Kimpatsu gotta gotcha.
    Shirley, that’s worth a cookie (or an old-fashioned porcupine).

  46. 46
    WhiteHatLurker

    @Kimpatsu

    I believe that was intended to be “it HAS overall literacy rate of 28%”

    Nonetheless, the prospect of a university education not being for everyone does affect some people weirdly – however, there are people who are pressured into it when a trade school would fit their personalities and skills much better and much more lucratively.

  47. 47
    Dalillama, Schmott Guy

    AMM #41
    No one here is saying that everyone should go into debt to get a college education. What’s being said is that a college education should be available to anyone who wants one, and they shouldn’t have to saddle themselves with a lifetime of debt to get it.

  48. 48
    The Vicar (via Freethoughtblogs)

    Tell you what, PZ: when your generation agrees to either publicly fund college educations so they don’t leave most people with crushing lifelong debt, or else start hiring people who don’t have college degrees for entry-level jobs which don’t actually require a degree, or maybe even just cut the price of college tuition somehow without funding it publicly (perhaps by firing all those six-figure-salary administrators and no longer trying to push the endowment funds into the billions on the backs of undergraduates — even quite minor schools now often have funds in the hundreds of millions, and are still saving up), then you’ll have a point. I suspect that sanity on that front is going to have to wait until your generation is dead, though, if it ever returns at all. As on so many other fronts, the Baby Boomers (alongside the so-called “Greatest” Generation) looked at a deteriorating situation back in the 1970s, stuck their fingers in their ears and went “la la la I can’t hear you” to anyone who suggested they take the problem seriously, and cemented American policy into the worst channels possible for decades.

    Until you guys die out or fix the mess you yourselves made, you’re asking a lot of young people to do something you probably wouldn’t do yourself. You’ve said in the past that you had an opportunity to take a well-paid union manufacturing job and instead went off to college and made far less money. Well, I doubt you would have made that choice if going to college would have actually plunged you into debt so far that you would still be paying it off in 2000 — but that’s what you’re telling other people they should do. (Actually, you’re asking them to make an even worse choice; they’re not going to get a good job either way, so you’re telling them to go into debt with no prospects at all.)

    (Okay, that was rude. I admit it. But I’ve been reading so many smug pieces of text about the Kennedy Assassination this last week that my patience with pre-Generation-X has worn just a bit thin. My apologies if I have fatally offended anyone.)

  49. 49
    Jafafa Hots

    As far as the situation facing young college grads, etc., Henry Giroux makes an interesting point in this long interview, WELL worth watching.
    Henry Giroux on ‘Zombie’ Politics from BillMoyers.com on Vimeo.

    I definitely recommend people sit through this whole thing.

  50. 50
    David Marjanović

    and if you grew up poor, you’re so likely to end up staying that way forever that you’re better off not owing the kind of money people spend on luxury automobiles over it.

    *turns green*
    *grows purple shorts somehow*

    Americans, including Canadians, stop taking for granted that studying at a university costs money. Stop. Be outraged by the fact that it does in your countries. Raise a stink. Fucking do something about it.

    The real problem is that there are simply not enough jobs for the number of people who need them. Our economy has reached a point where it’s possible for corporations to make record profits without employing very many people.

    Exactly. Full employment has long been impossible. The communist countries tried to deny that, and look what pathetic, expensive tricks they had to use!

    One of the many discussions to take place in ENED8010 this semester concerned the education encountered by the professor in germany. Basically, the university was not really intended to be a wide ranging liberal arts education because everything encountered before college was far more comprehensive than almost anything offered in the US. You already had exposure to a wide range of topics about local, national, and global history, politics, art, music, science, math, etc. in K~12 to explore what you enjoyed, so college was left for focusing intently on what you wanted to know about a particular subject either for a job or further research in a topic.

    You can use the present tense here.

    Given that supposedly comprehensive pre-college education, does is really seem that weird that the liberal college education is ‘dead’ in some parts of europe?

    I don’t know about the UK; it’s neither Germany nor much influenced by it.

    At that time admission was open to anyone with a high school diploma, and at least half of the students had no business being there; they were warming the chairs, enjoying the partying, and not even thinking about what to do next year after they flunked out. In short, they were wasting their time and the taxpapers’ money. That’s what happens when you give people something absolutely for free.

    Wow. It hasn’t happened where I come from. Universities are crowded, some studies are crowded to the point of comedy; places for lab work and comparable exercises are limited; everything became increasingly underfunded… “enjoying the partying” my ass.

    When I started, university was absolutely for free and open to anyone with a highschool diploma, though see above in the Germany section for what “highschool” means there. Later, a fee of 363.36 €/semester was introduced, but abolished a few years later, and the most crowded studies have recently introduced aptitude tests that must be passed in addition to the highschool diploma, but that’s all. Oh, and, most students study in the city where they already live – not rarely with their parents.

    “…IT IS overall literacy rate…”, PZ? Oh, the irony!

    *eyeroll* Knowing such details of orthography isn’t part of literacy.

    just how many students would you have if the only people who went there were people who were already rich enough to pay the tuition (and take 4 years off from work) to get your fine education?

    Off from what work?

    For most young people nowadays, the real cost of college is a lifetime of financial peonage.

    For most young people in – the – United – States – of – America.

    And Australia, and Canada as far as I know, but not many other places.

    Campus safety?

    Until recently, the University of Vienna simply didn’t have a campus, just a couple of buildings scattered all over the city. Then it acquired a former hospital, a square building around a central park, that is now called the campus; but it only houses most of the humanities and is not the main building by any definition. Security personnel is limited to some kind of receptionists/doorlockers, about one or two per building, from a private security company. And yet, the probably medieval statute that the police is not allowed to enter university premises without permission from the rector is still in force. :-) (The idea behind keeping that is probably to keep the university out of the reach of the state.)

  51. 51
    David Marjanović

    I believe that was intended to be “it HAS overall literacy rate of 28%”

    In that case PZ would have written “an overall literacy rate”. He may not know English spelling in every detail, but he does know English. (…being a native speaker and all.)

  52. 52
    chigau (違う)

    Tell you what, The Vicar (via Freethoughtblogs)
    [you could change your nym if you gave a shit]
    You might want to be more specific on what you are defining as a “generation”.
    And stop being a whiny, sucky baby.

  53. 53
    brett

    @David Marjanovic

    Exactly. Full employment has long been impossible. The communist countries tried to deny that, and look what pathetic, expensive tricks they had to use!

    Sure it is, although you’re going to have some frictional unemployment from people changing jobs even in a full employment economy. The late 1990s US had unemployment rates down in the 4% range. We just need the Federal Reserve and US government to get over being unduly afraid of non-runaway inflation.

  54. 54
    anchor

    @ The Vicar: Nice of you to throw everyone who lives during a given time into a fictitious common ‘generation’, as if they don’t overlap, or as if there’s one in charge at a time, and they all somehow have identical minds. I’m sure you will find it interesting to hear how some lamebrain donning the robes of official posterity will assess yours. In the meantime, why don’t you pop your pimples somewhere else?

  55. 55
    laurentweppe

    What is the point of teaching people to read if it doesn’t give them an edge over a vast illiterate mob? Think what a great advantage it would give you if you were one of the only 1% who could add and subtract — you’d have great job security, and your market value would be phenomenal!

    In my cynical days, I’m temmpted to say that this is what civilization was invented for: forcing 90%+ of the population to stay illiterate so they can be reduced to a life of squalor and back-breaking while the remaining happy few can pretend that they are inherently smarter than the plebs and spend their lives eating and dricking and partying and fucking their heart content without having to do any effort appart from providing a very basic, aloof oversight over the peons.

  56. 56
    MattP (must mock his crappy brain)

    @ David Marjanović
    Sorry, I used past because the professor graduated a while ago and I am still fairly ignorant of the world outside the rather dumb-fuck state* I am currently stuck in. Also, while the UK is obviously not Germany, they have had educational systems for significantly longer than the US and I assumed they were both well outside the USA’s weird-ass history of higher-ed.

    *I still would prefer a literal ‘burning bag of dog shit’ sitting anywhere in Congress rather than Paul Broun.

  57. 57
    unclefrogy

    the state of “higher education” is but one part of “civilization”

    as we transition out of one civilization whose basic motivation were religion and power to some other basis we find our selves in one where wealth and the quest for money is becoming more dominant.
    There was a time in the 1700′s when it sounded like there might be a more human basis that a civilization could be based on like liberty, fraternity and equality. It looks like the reactionary minds are gaining ground and will succeed in reducing civilization to a squalid waste dump of an overly exploited and near ruined environment and the impoverishment of the peoples vision to one debt and greed.

    Is the point and purpose of all of civilization to include education then just the pursuit of wealth and power?
    uncle frogy

  58. 58
    MJP

    Education is desirable, of course, but the “scam” is the high price of tuition and the resulting student debt.

  59. 59
    vaiyt

    Now that America can offshore innovation and progress, the corporate masters (via their stooges) must convince the American public that it’s in their best interest to remain uneducated.

  60. 60
    opposablethumbs

    We had a tertiary education system here in the UK with plenty of faults and shortcomings but with a lot going for it too; now successive governments seem to want to copy the USA model more and more …

    There’s still a difference, if I understand correctly, in repayment terms as well as in prices; our prices are still (mostly) lower, I think, and you only start to repay IF you earn over a certain threshold; at this point repayments are taken automatically as a percentage of your earnings over the threshold so it “feels” more like extra income tax. And whatever’s not paid off after 25 (now 30) years – even if that’s all of it – gets written off without penalty. The only lender is the government, not banks (via a specially created administrative body) and the interest rate is fixed at a non-commercial level.

    In theory, you only pay if your degree actually does help you earn more. That’s the theory afaik; I’d be very happy to be corrected by the better-informed.

    So it may be somewhat less painful here than in the USA for the moment, but we’re still on the way down the slope to stupid-prices-and-insane-debt-levels hell thanks to those who look at the USA mode and like it.

    Even setting aside the innate value of education, this is incredibly short-sighted. Whatever happened to the idea that an educated population is an asset per se, like having decent infrastructure ffs?

  61. 61
    opposablethumbs

    Oh, and this of course was put in place by MPs who never, not a one of them, had to pay a penny for their own university educations because then it was all free – and not only that, all except the wealthiest students got some grant money towards their living expenses as well. My kids’ generation get/will get a relatively cheap loan – certainly a lot cheaper than any other kind of debt – but my generation didn’t need a loan at all.

    I despise the MPs who did this. It really is the beginning of the road to increasing the chasm between social classes even more, and reducing social mobility to even less.

  62. 62
    thecynicalromantic

    The point of a liberal arts education is not job training per se, nor even the nebulous “expanding your mind.” The point of a liberal arts education is to obtain awareness of the world around you, including the existence of other persons who are not you, so that you can open your mouth in public without (a) inadvertently insulting people or (b) unduly embarrassing yourself. In other words, so you don’t sound as dumb as this guy.

    Since most job sites will contain other humans, this *ought* to be considered a self-evidently invaluable corporate skill as well as a general life one, and the fact that it apparently isn’t says a lot about American business.

  63. 63
    loreo

    Great American Satan: “I have a debt I can never repay and am turned away at retail jobs. I ran out of unemployment money from the last time a libertarian CEO had me and hundreds more laid off with the wave of a hand.”

    HappiestSadist, Repellent Little Martyr: “I learned so much in university, and I am glad to have learned it all. Unfortunately, I also learned what it feels like to have considered suicide because of debt.”

    alt3: “Now I’m semi-homeless, saddled with more debt than I can ever repay, working a job that’s killing me and growing increasingly unconvinced by my arguments against killing myself.”

    Wish I could fix all your problems on a reasonable time scale, but all I can do for now is say I hear you. Debt is some severe bullshit.

  64. 64
    thewhollynone

    Of course, I agree with Carlie @42 and Dalillama @47; a first rate university education ought to be virtually free at a public school for those who are qualified to benefit from it and who are willing to do the work required to obtain it, to delay gratification, and to pay the opportunity cost. Many 18-year-olds are not so qualified, but some of them do qualify later on in their lives, say at 30, and deserve the opportunity to then pursue university learning without incurring overburdening debt. I’m a firm believer that free public education from preK to PhD is of great benefit to any democratic society and ought to be accessible to maybe the top 50% who apply for it; many applicants, however, (and the society, also) would be better served if they were counseled to apply elsewhere or to reapply at a later date.

    Please notice that I said “public education,” as I do not believe that the government should lend money or guarantee loans to students to attend private, religious, or commercial schools of any kind. Those loans are the carbuncle that is primarily causing the present “student loan crisis” as those “degrees” are mostly worthless and/or vastly overpriced, and 90% of them do not lead to better jobs or better critical thinking either.

  65. 65
    carlie

    The point of a liberal arts education is to obtain awareness of the world around you, including the existence of other persons who are not you, so that you can open your mouth in public without (a) inadvertently insulting people or (b) unduly embarrassing yourself.

    Also so that you don’t get hoodwinked by someone trying to sell you on something that will be bad for you in the long run. Also so you don’t vote for someone who is themselves disastrously uninformed or actively malicious in a way that’s difficult to tell unless you can suss out the logical/probable ramifications of their platform. Etc.

  66. 66
    Azuma Hazuki

    PZ, with all due respect, college is not realistic or helpful for most people under 30 any longer. I’m class of 2008 with a geology degree, and have over 20K in debt still to pay off (which is tiny compared to many of my colleagues)…and I work retail. A quarter of my income yearly, which is somewhat under $20,000 gross, disappears to service this debt. It is one of the only kinds of debt one cannot Chapter-11 out of. If someone wants a prime example of a Ponzi scheme, this is it.

    And however much you dislike it, “credential inflation” is real. The problem is that the BA/BS today is what the HS diploma was 40 years ago…but it’s not free. I don’t need a godsdamn bachelor’s degree to sell office supplies and computers. But I wouldn’t have gotten the job without it.

  67. 67
    The Vicar (via Freethoughtblogs)

    @#52, chigau (違う)

    Tell you what, The Vicar (via Freethoughtblogs)
    [you could change your nym if you gave a shit]

    Amazing! You’ve detected that I don’t give a shit about what my pseudonym is here, on a site whose login scheme is so broken that it can’t connect to WordPress and use my real login, forcing me to take a second one I didn’t really want, which I deliberately named that way to make it easier to tell them apart. You win a suppository; you can put it next to your implied insult, with my compliments.

    You might want to be more specific on what you are defining as a “generation”. And stop being a whiny, sucky baby.

    I detect a Baby Boomer who was horribly offended by the mere thought that perhaps his generation has done a less-than-stellar job of managing things. Listen, if complaints are all you older folks have to put up with in exchange for your generation destroying the economy, the ecology, foreign relations, education, the housing market, entertainment, and any number of other categories, then you’re getting off lightly. If I were you, I’d sit quietly and hope that later generations are either vastly more intelligent than yours, and can solve the problems your generation caused, or that they are more empathetic than your generation was, and therefore won’t decide the easiest way out of the economic hole is to euthanize everyone your age or older and take your stuff. (It would certainly be fair play, considering that a great deal of the policies which made the Baby Boomers and the “Greatest” Generation so rich and secure were done by mortgaging the future in one way or another.) Better hope your generation’s child-rearing skills were better than your skills at… well, just about everything else.

    @#54, anchor

    @ The Vicar: Nice of you to throw everyone who lives during a given time into a fictitious common ‘generation’, as if they don’t overlap, or as if there’s one in charge at a time, and they all somehow have identical minds. I’m sure you will find it interesting to hear how some lamebrain donning the robes of official posterity will assess yours. In the meantime, why don’t you pop your pimples somewhere else?

    The Greediest — excuse me, “Greatest” Generation and the Boomers were the voting public while all the dumb decisions were made, and demographically they have been those conservative “old people” who have prevented any changes ever since. Rise of Reagan, the guy who turned societal rot from a side-effect into official policy? Well, let’s see, by the various definitions in use, a tiny, tiny minority of Generation X might have been able to vote when Reagan was elected. (The most generous specific definition mentioned in Wikipedia puts the starting birthdate at 1961, making some of them 19. The U.S. Census Bureau says 1965, instead, meaning that by the Census Bureau’s definition, no member of Generation X had anything to do with either of Reagan’s two terms.)

    Are all of you evil, stupid, shortsighted nitwits? No, of course not. But you don’t look at a rope which snapped in two and dropped its load and say “large portions of this rope were perfectly strong and capable of holding this load, it was merely a small section which caused all the trouble”. You say “this rope was too weak, get a stronger one next time”.

  68. 68
    chigau (違う)

    teehee

  69. 69
    Daz: Experiencing A Slight Gravitas Shortfall

    The Vicar #67

    You’ve detected that I don’t give a shit about what my pseudonym is here, on a site whose login scheme is so broken that it can’t connect to WordPress and use my real login

    There is a vast amount of the internet which does not connect to WordPress. There are plenty of freeware browser plugins out there, to aid those who cannot remember more than one log-in.

    You say “this rope was too weak, get a stronger one next time”.

    Yet instead of talking about how to make better ropes, you chose to spend a rather large number of words complaining about the old one. This is helpful how?

  70. 70
    Antiochus Epiphanes

    PZ, with all due respect, college is not realistic or helpful for most people under 30 any longer.

    I’m a university professor and I’m listening. I’m often afraid for my students.

  71. 71
    David Wilford

    When my stepson graduated from high school in 2001 the tuition at the U of Minnesota was expensive but not so high as to make it a questionable proposition in terms of return on investment. He ended up going to St. Paul College to get a 2 year degree instead and now has a decent if not high-paying job, but no debt. I’m convinced that if you’re wanting a four year degree that the safest route financially is to go to a community college first and then transfer to a four year school.

    For the past three decades as states have cut funding for higher ed schools have raised tuition to make up for the shortfall and have made it easier for students to get loans to pay the higher tuition and fees. We’ve now reached the point where that no longer works and with the stagnating economy of the 2000s and the great recession cratering the job market, today’s college grads are in a world of hurt. We shouldn’t let them suffer for something they had no say in, and we should forgive their loans or at least write them down by half.

  72. 72
    erik333

    Roughly how much does college education put you back per year in the US? Here in Sweden current rates are about 12000$ per year (paying for housing, food and course materials for the most part) in student loans, afaict. These days you have to pay that back, but rates depend on how much you earn.

    University studies are available for everyone really, as long as you have good enough grades (though some programs at some univs. have ridiculously low entry levels – leading to huge dropout rates in the first semester, or worse, lowered standards for the program as a whole) in the required subjects. However, it’s hard to argue against there being socioeconomical diminishing returns at some point, so that those resources spend subsidizing college/univ studies could be better used elsewhere. As for degree inflation with regard to job application, it undoubtedly exists – and that is a valid concern, both for the state and the individual.

  73. 73
    Anri

    Speaking as someone who was kicked out of college (I like to say I graduated in 2-1/2 years Magna Thrown Outie), and slogged through a decade and a half of baseline jobs before taking on the debt to get an Associates in a trade I happen to both like and be good at…

    Yeah, college is a good thing. I failed because I failed – not through anyone else’s fault – but I was lucky enough to go to school when my barely-above-minimum-wage job could support tuition and books, so long as I lived at home. I can’t even imagine taking on the kind of debt I did for school and not being able to use the degree. I’d throw myself off of a fucking bridge.

    I like my job (I’m a design drafter who works up custom lab equipment and then actually get to assemble and play with the prototypes), most days. My spouse has an advanced degree (History and LIS)… and works in the mortgage industry. She likes her job fewer days than I do, but out-earns me by a bit.

    *ahem* rambling…

    In any case, the idea that college should result in life-obliterating debt is asinine.
    The idea that college should be free (or all-but-free) fills me with glee.
    I wonder how long we might have been able to finance universal tuition for all US kids is we’d stayed out of Iraq?

  74. 74
    Jadehawk

    Roughly how much does college education put you back per year in the US?

    I just graduated from a flyover country state university, where tuition was “only” ~$6600 a year. That’s ONLY tuition, not including any living costs and not including books. Other public universities charge twice that; private universities are even worse (e.g. Stanford charges $13750 per quarter, so a year would be 3x that if you don’t do Summer)

  75. 75
    carlie

    This is a US Department of Education site that lets you look at the highest and lowest tuitions in the country.

    Current highest public is Univ. of Pittsburgh at $16k, current highest private is Columbia at $45k.

    Current lowest public is Haskell Indian Nations Univ. at $182, lowest public state univ. is West Virginia at $2268. Current lowest private is Berea College with $912.

    Changing it to net fees changes everything, though – especially at state public schools, as they are often legally bound not to raise tuition when costs go up so they raise fees instead. Current average public univ. tuition is close to $9k, but that’s for in-state – if you’re not a resident of the state already, you generally pay about twice the normal tuition.

  76. 76
    Esteleth, [an error occurred while processing this directive]

    There is a government program that I’m looking at very eagerly. It works like this:

    (1) You are a newly-minted nurse.
    (2) You get a job (via standard methods) in an “underserved” community health center.
    (3) You work there for 24 months.
    (4) The federal government makes 60% of your student loan debt go away.
    [optional continuation]
    (5) You work an additional 12 months.
    (6) The federal government makes an additional 15% of your student loan debt (calculated from your original debt, not 15% of what remains after the 60% reduction above), for a total of 75% gone.

    There is, apparently, an algorithm that takes into account the amount of debt you carry and just how underserved your employer is, to give you a score. The pot of money (last year it was some $30 million) is allocated in order of score.

    Now, this is a neat program, insofar that it is a win-win for everyone: the underserved health centers, the patients, and the staffers.

    Why am I interested?

    Maybe because (if my math is right) in 2015 I’ll be a newly minted nurse $85,000 in the hole. Which is a lot of money. If I can get 60% of that erased, I’ll be only $35,000 in the hole. Which is still a lot of money, but somewhat more manageable. If I get 75% erased, then I’m down to $21,500.

    The thing is, though, is that at $85,000 in student loan debt, I’ll already be in a more beneficial state than many others. I know people who are over $100,000 in debt.

    Did I mention that student loan debt is not dischargeable by bankruptcy?

    And if you die before repaying, your next-of-kin is expected to pay it?

  77. 77
    opposablethumbs

    Did I mention that student loan debt is not dischargeable by bankruptcy?
    And if you die before repaying, your next-of-kin is expected to pay it?

    Holy shit. This makes me very grateful the UK hasn’t gone nearly that far yet (repayments here are a percentage of earnings over a set threshold, and any remaining debt is eventually wiped – admittedly, only after 30 years – and cannot ever, afaik, get passed on to next of kin).

    This shit is punitive.
    Q to USAnians: how do the interest rates on student debt compare with those on other kinds of loans? (mortgage, ordinary bank loan etc.)?

  78. 78
    carlie

    Why you can’t discharge student loan debt.

    Hint: there’s not really a reason.

    They used to be. Before 1976, all education loans were dischargeable in bankruptcy. That year, the bankruptcy code was altered so loans made by the government or a non-profit college or university could not be discharged during the first five years of repayment. They could, however, be discharged if they had been in repayment for five years or if the borrower experienced “undue hardship.” Then, the Bankruptcy Amendments and Federal Judgeship Act of 1984 made it so all private student loans were excepted from discharge too.

    Two decades of further tweaks to the bankruptcy code ensued until 2005, when Congress passed the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005, which made it so that no student loan — federal or private — could be discharged in bankruptcy unless the borrower can prove repaying the loan would cause “undue hardship,” a condition that is incredibly difficult to demonstrate unless the person has a severe disability. That essentially lumps student loan debt in with child support and criminal fines — other types of debt that can’t be discharged.

  79. 79
    carlie

    another take on it

  80. 80
    Esteleth, [an error occurred while processing this directive]

    Opposablethumbs:
    Interest rates vary based on the class of loans you get.

    There are so-called federal direct loans, where the lender is the government. Sometimes, these loans are referred to as “subsidized,” which means that so long as you are a full-time student, and 6 months after you stop being a student, you neither have to pay down the loan nor does interest accrue – it is effectively frozen. The interest rate for these loans is, at present, 6.8%, though due to Congress finally pulling their collective heads out of their collective asses, the rate is poised to go down to 3.86%. Unsubsidized loans have the same interest rate as subsidized loans, but are not frozen during the time you’re a student.

    Then there are private loans, where your lender is [pick a source]. Interest rates vary based on your credit and can be in double digits. These are always unsubsidized, though most lenders structure them such that you pay some nominal fee during the time you’re a student, with payment demands only really appearing after you’re done with your studies.

    One of the aspects of the “for-profit university” racket is the gaming of financial aid: students are signed up for all manner of loans at ghastly rates (even if they’d quality for a better rate). Then (as these schools frequently suck) they fail to graduate. Now, they’re no better off, education/skills wise, but they’re saddled with debt, their credit is trashed, and they have no options.

  81. 81
    opposablethumbs

    Private loans must be an absolute nightmare. I assume that (except where being essentially scammed, as you explained in your last paragraph) students always go for the “subsidised” loan if they possibly can. So that must mean that not all students are able to get the “subsidised” kind, because clearly some are turning to other lenders. Who lends them the “unsibsidised” version? And how come not all students can get a federal direct loan – I’m guessing the answer could be a) those who have already had one, and b) those who choose to go to a private uni of some kind? Am I close?

    Here there are practically no private universities (somewhere between 2 and 4 in the whole of the UK, depending on where I look for the info) and all first-time students on a normal 3 or 4 year course are automatically entitled to the government loan. They can also get one further government loan for one more year, to get a master’s degree (I’m not sure what you can do if your master’s is a 2-year one … we haven’t got to that stage yet!). And – for the moment, at least – the interest rates are lower.

    Higher education (whether academic or vocational) should be free of charge, as it still is in Scotland. An educated population is a good in itself, and if Scandinavian countries, Argentina and Brazil can do it I don’t see why the rest of us aren’t.

    Well, except for the almighty god of short-term profit, of course.

  82. 82
    anchor

    OT :: just to inform…

    An obnoxious pro-religious infomercial advertisement with auto sound up…hideous in the extreme

    Man, there MUST be a way to control what ads FTB gets and posts, no???

    again, pardon the OT

  83. 83
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Man, there MUST be a way to control what ads FTB gets and posts, no???

    again, pardon the OT

    Try this:
    http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2013/10/31/do-you-hate-ads-do-you-have-money-do-you-have-a-paypal-account/

  84. 84
    Esteleth, [an error occurred while processing this directive]

    Opposablethumbs:

    Private loans must be an absolute nightmare. I assume that (except where being essentially scammed, as you explained in your last paragraph) students always go for the “subsidised” loan if they possibly can. So that must mean that not all students are able to get the “subsidised” kind, because clearly some are turning to other lenders. Who lends them the “unsibsidised” version? And how come not all students can get a federal direct loan – I’m guessing the answer could be a) those who have already had one, and b) those who choose to go to a private uni of some kind? Am I close?

    It works like this:

    One of the steps for applying to college (any degree-granting institution, from Harvard to the local college that issues a certificate for being an auto mechanic) is a federal-government form called a FAFSA. This is an acronym for something-or-other. A new FAFSA is generated each year that you’re a student, following the academic year (i.e. September to following August) rather than the calendar year.

    The FAFSA determines how much the student (and/or their parents/guardians, if applicable) can afford to pay. The form is long, asking about taxes paid in previous years, assets, other obligations, etc.

    FAFSA spits out a number. This number is called the “expected student contribution.” That is, the government calculates that a student can afford to pay $X towards educational expenses. Note that “educational expenses” is tuition and fees and textbooks and living expenses.

    Completed FAFSA in hand, the prospective student can then approach colleges and universities. These places are required to inform the government how much educational expenses are: how much tuition is, how much the average bookstore bill is, average rents, average grocery bills, etc. So math happens and the gap between the calculated expenses and the expected student contribution is determined, and the college issues what is known as an “award letter.” An award letter looks something like this:

    Tuition and mandatory fees: $40,000 a year.
    You are eligible for scholarship, for a value of $12,000 a year.
    You are eligible for a Pell Grant, for a value of $5,000 a year.
    You are eligible for a Federal Direct Loan, Subsidized, for a value of $7,500 a year.
    You are eligible for a Federal Direct Loan, Unsubsidized, for a value of $3,500 a year.

    Balance Owed: $12,000 per year.

    Note the order in which funding is obtained: in-house scholarships take a chop off the top. Some colleges have in-house loan funds as well. Then Pell Grants (which, I should note, are not loans, they’re grants for low-income students provided by the government) hit, up to the cap for the student’s income level. Then federal loans, first subsidized, then unsubsidized. An actual award letter would specify which of the multiple subtypes of direct loans it is (Perkins, PLUS, etc), but they all work the same way.

    Every school issues such a letter. The student compares the award letters for each school and makes a decision, which may or may not (depending) involve obtaining private funding. They are then sent a massive packet of loan documents to be signed in the blood of their firtborn.

    Note that the award process is 100% independent of the type of school it is – students going a private school that charges $60,000 a year in tuition and mandatory fees and students going to a public school that charges $700 in tuition and mandatory fees go through the exact same process. The latter students are, obviously, less likely to hit the lending caps.

    I should note that the student accepting the hypothetical award letter above would not get a bill for $40,000, or even $28,000 (tuition minus the in-house scholarship), but for $12,000. That is, the process is deliberately streamlined such that the student’s bill, when it arrives, will display the credits the college got after billing to lender, which it does directly with no effort on the student’s part required. This will include any private lender – if that student gets a private loan to the tune of $14,000, the student will get a bill for -$2,000, which is to say that they’ll get a check for that sum (the term for this is a “disbursement”) – students living off-campus will take out enough loans to cover rent/groceries/etc and use the disbursement for those purposes, as student loans (direct or private) are generally nicer in terms of interest rates and the like than non-student private loans. Disbursement checks arrive either monthly or by semester, depending on how it is structured.

    If this sounds needlessly complicated, congratulations! It sure as hell is.

  85. 85
    Esteleth, [an error occurred while processing this directive]

    Oh, and in terms of who provides the private loans:

    Private-sourced student loans that are routed through the college (rather than directly to the borrower) are frequently (but not always) through the Stafford Loan program. To get these, you go to the program’s website and tell it what school you’re going to. You then get a list of private lenders that work with your school. You then pick one and start applying.

    The biggies are Sallie Mae and NelNet, but there are others, including places that are better known as standard banks or credit companies (i.e. Discover).

  86. 86
    anchor

    @The Vicar #67:

    The continuation of the schpritzing of your pimple-popping sebum is most illuminating…

    …in an indescribably ugly and icky if irrelevant manner..

    Truly, I anticipate with serious dread the prospect of a world managed by a ‘generation’ as well equipped to handle all challenges as yours.

    Signed, for better or worse, what’s left of your forbearers, whom you have demonstrated no respect for, and indicated having acquired not the slightest aptitude for recognizing the lessons of FUCKING HISTORY, YOU IGNORANTJERK

    Thank you Nerd. Much appreciated. Already knew that. Won’t help folks who stumble this way without the shield, who in their ignorance will not be so protected…

    The usual solution provided?

    It COSTS.

    On the other hand, it SHOULDN’T

    Some regulars might gladly put it under the rug for the sake of workably accessible expediency.

    Some others won’t.

    Look. Its easy enough for regulars to groove into a field they wish to plow regularly. Its quite another thing to expect that fresh visitors ought to be subjected to it unawares.

    Why is that circumstance is so hard to understand?

  87. 87
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    On the other hand, it SHOULDN’T

    Why? FtB isn’t a non-profit venture. But they don’t expect to get rich. Why don’t you, who thinks they have the answers, tell them how to generate the revenue to run the blogs without advertising or subscriptions. Get real…

  88. 88
    anchor

    Pardon, why is that circumstance is so hard to understand?

    [without the extra 'is']

  89. 89
    anchor

    @Nerd #87:

    Why? FtB isn’t a non-profit venture. But they don’t expect to get rich. Why don’t you, who thinks they have the answers, tell them how to generate the revenue to run the blogs without advertising or subscriptions. Get real…

    I’m glad you responded. I apologize for this being off topic, It was a reaction, to point it out, of a rare instance that blammed on and on and made me further aware of all the other such clutter that infests FtB.

    But its certainly been drummed in over and over again: we should accept it as a matter of course, as if it should be a condition solely aimed at the furtherance of what we want at the expense of what we pretend to stand for.

    Never mind that I (and I know well a hefty number of others) have wondered about it.

    I was referring to a PARTICULAR instance of a very loud and thoroughly obnoxious incident.

    All of us who navigate FtB already KNOW that response. We UNDERSTAND that FtB is non-profit, okay? You needn’t remind me – except as such reminder may help new readers, for which I would humbly deck out. The point is HOW we might be able to improve the situation, to help decouple the content of FtB from the insidious penetration of crap which we all can agree is in fact CRAP, and can exercise our ability to MOVE toward a proper decorum which accepts a decent advertising revenue.

    And I will tell you and everybody here a great big fat secret: it can be done…IF people decide to want it.

  90. 90
    opposablethumbs

    Thank you, Esteleth. It certainly does sound pretty daunting (especially for those who might not have much experience with calculating finances, which tbh would definitely include me). So far, I think the system here is simpler – and frankly I find it quite complicated enough! – but on current form I would not take any bets against the current and subsequent governments making our system worse in future :-(

    They’re already selling off some of the older debt …

  91. 91
    JAL: Snark, Sarcasm & Bitterness

    84
    Esteleth, statistically significant to p ≤ 0.001

    federal-government form called a FAFSA. This is an acronym for something-or-other.

    Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

    And as someone who has working in Financial Aid for several years, she’s correct. There’s more, a whole lot more, when you get specifics but that’s the basic run down of how the system works as a student applying.

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