Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Corporatization of Higher Education Has Made It Less Valuable to the Millenial Generation

We have received many comments, including a post at Corrente by ChicagoDyke, in response to Angel's post arguing against a college education.

Regular readers know that my opinion differs from Angel. I have stated in the past that I was very fortunate to have received financial aid and scholarships to attend a top ranked college. I enjoyed my experience and I think I am a better person because of it. I only wish the greedy people who run our country and our universities believed that all Americans were entitled to an education without having to go into life destroying debt. This is why I blog about the higher education and tuition scam and its destruction of both the education system and the people who once believed in it only to be left unemployed with hundreds of thousands of dollars in student debt.

Millions of people my age are rightfully bitter about their return on a $200,000 investment that has destroyed them emotionally and fiscally. I come from a working class family where I was denied a lot of the material objects that the majority of my well-to-do college and law school classmates were fortunate to have growing up. Part of the reason I went to college and later to law school was to not only become more wordly and enlightened but to also improve my life and help my parents and the rest of my family who continue to struggle to this day. I'm sure that most working and middle class students go to college for similar reasons.

So I absolutely hate it when these same well-to-do people, or older people who went to college when it didn't cost $50k a year to attend, tell me that money isn't important compared to intangible things like having an education. Well, you never really had to experience a single day being dirt poor living on food stamps or have Sallie Mae call you everyday demanding their student loan payment, have you? I'm not talking about not being satisfied with just having enough to survive and have a roof over your head and food on the table. I mean bottom of the barrel poor, scared to death that any day now you could be on the street and eating at a homeless shelter. Well, that is the situation millions of Americans are in right now including millions of college educated graduates who thought they did everything right only to have half of their wages garnished to pay for that oh so joyful college experience. And, of course, there is the law school scam that uses fraudulent employment statistics to convince their students that taking out $150k in loans in a field that continues to outsource jobs to India is a good investment.

I do not have rose colored glasses on when I listen to people my age with $200k or $300k in student loans regret never being able to go on a vacation, or treat themselves to a nice outfit, or have children because of this "mistake". When the cost of an education hinders your ability to build a life for yourself: get married, start a family, buy a house, or even qualify for an entry level job - that is when the pro-education crowd must take these complaints against a college education seriously rather than blame the victims for being bitter or resentful. This is not their fault. You wouldn't have people like Angel warning against an education if the expenses weren't so high.

I respect Angel's opinion because her criticisms are valid and many people from the X and the Millenial Generation, which I am a part of, feel the same way because of the corporatization of higher education. Here is part my response to Angel's post earlier this week:
HardKnocks said...
The majority of Americans would be able to go to college IF colleges weren't so damn expensive, and that is largely the fault of greedy tenured professors and money hungry deans. I also believe that college shouldn't be 4,5,6 years. Most students would be able to graduate in 2 to 3 years if it weren't for ridiculous money making requirements set by their college. It's the same money making scheme that forces law students to spend three unnecessary years in law school.

There is no such thing as a "cheap college" if you are looking to go to most of the schools listed in the top tier of USNWR unless you get a ton of scholarships and financial aid. And the goal for most ambitious and academically gifted is still to get into the highest ranked school they can get into.

Most 18 year olds have no concept of savings and debt. They are just brainwashed by parents, teachers, the media, and USNWR to believe that a higher ranked school equals more prestige and better job opportunities to pay off the high tuition.

Anyway, what is the point of getting good grades so you can attend Podunk University with someone who got a 2.0 in high school? The US does not reward good students who aren't rich. Poor and middle class students are punished either with life crushing debt to go to a prestigious school, or they are told that despite all of their hard work they will never reach the coveted top tier school or Harvard because they weren't born into a rich family. That is NOT how the higher education system should work. The Ivy and top public universities should be accessible to anyone with the grades to get in, not just the rich.
This is what I said last month in response to critics of blogs such as BIDER that criticize the current education system:
As a starting point for any new readers joining us, I recommend reading Jobless Juris Doctor’s post about a day in the life of an unemployed graduate working a $10/hour part-time job with loans to pay back. Many of the comments are just a small window into the large numbers of young people who are depressed and on the verge of suicide because of student debt, especially in this new jobless era that could last for decades.

Please also read Cryn at Education Matters and put her under your blogroll even if your blog has nothing to do with education issues. Cryn is one of the few education advocates trying to change the system and fight for student loan victims. She regularly posts absolutely heart wrenching stories of educated American families being destroyed by student debt compounded by unemployment and our country not having a national health care system. Cryn herself attended an Ivy League and is now working in South Korea to pay off her student loan debt. Yes, many of us are being forced to flee the country to find anything resembling a respectable and decent paying job to pay off our student loans.
...We are not against education. We are against a system that devalues the importance of education by turning it into a money making scheme. To swindle millions of dollars from hard-working Americans using fraudulent data and myths in order to convince parents and their children that taking out hundreds of thousands in private loans is worth it to become more self-enlightened is despicable and should be stopped.

Low-income, minority, and single parent (usually women) students bear the brunt of the higher education scam. Too many of them end up in for-profit schools or low ranked, third tier schools that offer a crappy education and few job opportunities at the same tuition rates as the Ivy League. Many must gamble with the possibility of absolute financial ruin for life by taking out huge loans to attend college. So when someone asks whether or not college (or graduate school) is worth it, they are asking a very serious question that no one in higher education is willing to answer directly. Is taking out $50k, $100k, $150k, $200k – even $300k (I know an Ivy League and T14 graduate who owes more than $300k) in loans worth the risk? Is anything that doesn’t offer a money back guarantee or an absolute guarantee of a good paying job worth taking such a huge financial risk?

Anyone who can justify not questioning these exorbitant costs is either rich, clueless, or profits in some way shape or form from the system currently in place.
I have also recently blogged about university presidents who receive money from BP, Goldman Sachs, and Nike. These presidents are paid millions of dollars each year while their students drown in student debt. Why should the "little people" even take universities and the crooks who run them seriously anymore? These crooks obviously do not believe in access to education for all if it means their salaries are cut in half so that colleges can once again become affordable places of learning for the masses.

More of our critics need to open their eyes, stop blaming the indentured educated class of my generation, and start demanding accountability and change from the higher education industrial complex. Until this ends, the education gap between the rich and the poor will only become wider and there will be more critics besides Angel arguing against college and graduate school.


  1. If I could offer another opinion in this debate it would be this: I firmly believe that education is THE silver bullet to most of lives problems. However, I do not believe nor can I prove that "higher education" is equivalent to that silver bullet. As someone who has gone through 7 years of "higher ed" I can attest to the fact that a single day of real world experience trumps everything that I have ever read in a book. Books are a miraculous invention, in fact I would put them in the top 3 of humankind's ultimate discoveries/inventions. However, life is ultimately something that must be lived to understand. Even amongst my friends who are teachers, they constantly bemoan having to teach towards tests or as I posited in one of my posts the "cognitive sorting" that we have transmuted formalized education into these days. Go seek, go do, and question everything. This will serve you more than any formal, systemic educational system could ever hope to achieve. If you do so, you will not regret it when you look upon your life as a whole.

  2. Yes, everyone wants big box. And higher ed is no exception.

  3. @Demosthenes of America: "book" learning (specifically, learning by reading, including reading blogs) is not synonymous with formal education and I disagree that experience trumps reading, at least for those with the wit to learn from reading: "The wise learn from the mistakes of others, the ordinary learn from their own mistakes, the fools never learn."

    I pretty much gave up several years ago on advising my nieces and nephews to be wary of the education racket. The final straw was when I lost my temper and was asked to leave my cousin's house at Christmas when I ripped into one of these nieces so bad she started crying and threatened to kill herself. I got mad because she was planning to go to NYU to study theater, paying for everything with student loan debt because the family isn't rich, and I attacked her psychological motivations, as in "you're an emotionally vulnerable kid from a screwed-up family from back-of-bumf*ck Louisiana and you think that going to college in the big city is somehow going to wash away all the shame of what you are now and turn you into a beautiful butterfly and NYU is just exploiting this vulnerability to turn you into a debt peon who can be securitized and sold in the capital markets." I was becoming the laughingstock of the whole family what with my suggestions to put their savings into bonds rather than stocks, sell their house and avoid debt like the plague--crazy old Uncle Frank, always talking about the coming deluge. Since the crisis started in 2008, of course, I'm packing a mighty big shut-'em-upper and no one dares laugh at me any more. "The mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceedingly small"--the same cousin who threw me out a couple of years ago had to listen silently as I drowned on last Christmas for hours on the subject of financial management, which she obviously doesn't understand too well, since she is on the verge of losing her house to foreclosure.

    BTW I highly recommend "Influence" by Robert Cialdini, which describe the 6 ways to mind-f*ck a person to make them do what you want, such as sign up for overpriced colleges paid for with non-bankruptcy-dischargeable debt. That was my christmas present to my young relatives last Christmas. I think the URLs for these education scam blogs will be next Christmas's present.

  4. @ Anonymous - 4:57

    Based on what you just described you might be one of the biggest assholes I've seen comment on these blogs (and that's saying a lot). Your family is probably right to shun you for such behavior. I think the better present would be for crazy old Uncle Frank to drink a nice warm glass of shut the fuck up next year.

  5. It's called "tough love" Demosthenes. Being polite is fine when it works. But if if doesn't work, and you can't get through, then you have to take drastic steps.

    The law schools, the ABA, the higher education business aren't the problem. 50% of the businesses in this country are selling garbage. If people want to buy garbage, that is their problem. That the government provides loans and makes defaulting nearly impossible IS a problem. But I can't change that. What I can do is try to help people I care about to avoid a big mess.

    One of these scam-bloggers, I forget who, wrote that he wished a guardian angel had materialized from thin air when he first contemplated going to law schools using loans to pay the costs, and grabbed him by the neck and threatened to beat the living cr*p out of him if he ever did such a thing. I didn't threaten anyone with physical violence, but I suspect they'll wish I had at some point, just like that scam-blogger.

    The education and healthcare industrial complexes, like the real-estate complex before them, have somehow managed to cast a spell over the thinking of the US populace, such that clear thought about what these complexes are doing is impossible. With real-estate, the consequences were fairly benign. People lose their house and life savings, perhaps declare bankruptcy, and after that they start over again. With student loans, you can't wipe the slate clean and once you go into default, your life can easily become a nonstop nightmare of dealing with debt-collectors, with no end in sight. With healthcare, you end up with your health destroyed because some quack doctor convinced you to undergo surgery for back pain or whatever. Trying to break the spell these industrial complexes have over people's minds is very difficult. Reason and logic do NOT work.

    What would you do if someone you cared about was planning to take on $200K of debt for a degree that will almost certainly lead nowhere? Politely and rationally discuss your views and then shrug your shoulders when she responds with nonsense about how it'll all work out in the end?

  6. Oh, another thing. My father was pretty easy on me and pretty much let me pick my path in life, but once he did grab me by the neck, so to speak, and pull me back from danger. I mentioned offhand that I was thinking of getting a motorcycle, to which he replied something like: "If I ever see you riding a motorcycle, I'll throw you out of this house on the spot, disown you and never give you another penny." One of his friends had died in a motorcycle accident, the other ended up a quadriplegic. My father wasn't perfect, and there things he did that I resented and that I still think were wrong, but even at the time, I never resented him for that warning about motorcycles, because I knew he was doing it for my own good.



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