Posts Tagged ‘Higher Education’

The false hope of “college for all”

March 9, 2022

Hat tip to Bill Harvey.

Freddie deBoer, author of The Cult of Smart, is a Marxist.  Oren Cass, executive director of American Compass and author of The Once and Future Worker: A Vision for the Renewal of Work in Americais a conservative.  Neither one of them believes in “college for all.”

People with college educations on average make more money that people whose education stopped in high school..But that doesn’t mean everybody will be better off if more people go to college.

The more college graduates there are, the less a college degree will be worth.  That is the law of supply and demand.

Some jobs, such as engineer or physician, require college training.  But once there are enough college graduates to fill the available positions, you just create a zero-sum game, you just raise the bar for getting a job.  You wind up with a lot of people in low-wage jobs with huge student debt.

There are just so many jobs you need college training to be able to do.  Any number of college graduates beyond that are surplus, in terms of the job market.  Employers can begin to ask for college degrees for jobs that high school graduates could fill just as well.

When I started out as a newspaper reporter, you didn’t have to have a college degree to get a job and, in fact, there was some skepticism about journalism schools.  I had a bachelor’s degree with a major in American history.

When I retired back in 1998, there were young men and women with law degrees and MBA degrees applying for jobs that were equivalent to the one I had.

DeBoer and Cass pointed out that college instruction isn’t for everyone.  Many people are better suited for skilled trades, such as electrician or auto mechanic, and often can earn as much money.  

High school guidance counselors are wrong when they try to push all their students into college, or treat those who don’t attend or complete college as failures.  They’d be better off in apprenticeship programs to be plumbers or carpenters.

A lawyer friend of mine told me his son is working for a local grocery chain and hopes to be a butcher.

Skilled trades aren’t a complete answer, either.  There is a need for only so many of the different skilled trade specialties.

DeBoer and Cass say vocational and professional education should be tied in to the needs of employers, so that when you complete job training, you have a good chance of getting a job with a specific employer.

But whatever happens, the supposedly unskilled jobs will outnumber the jobs that require college or apprenticeship training.  DeBoer and Cass say waiters, janitors, day care workers, package deliverers and others in the service economy deserve just as much respect as everybody else.


The mess in American higher education

December 20, 2021

To get a job teaching in American public schools, you have to take college courses in education, then do practice teaching under the supervision of an experienced teacher.  

You may or may not be pleased with the result, but the point is that school authorities don’t expect just anyone to be able to step into a classroom and teach.

Jonathan Zimmerman, a professor of the history of education at the University of Pennsylvania, pointed out that college teaching is the exact opposite.

There is no meaningful professional preparation to be a college teacher.  There is no meaningful professional evaluation of college teaching.  Student evaluations don’t help.  All they’ve led to is grade inflation and easier assignments.

The majority of college teachers are adjunct faculty or temporary contractors, the lowest-paid, least secure and least prestigious in the college pecking order.

If universities were truly concerned about social justice, he wrote, there wouldn’t be so many college teachers who lack a living wage, health insurance or even a desk of their own to work at.

He said that undergraduates, because they have no standard of comparison, don’t understand how bad their teaching is.  Some of them rightly revolt against having to pay top dollar  for on-line instruction.  Others are more concerned with alleged thought-crimes of the right and left.

Zimmerman’s solution is a tuition strike.  He is disappointed that so few students are interested in this.  

I find it hard to blame the students.  So long as a college diploma is considered the only ticket to a middle class income, the college administrations will have the upper hand.


The Quiet Scandal of College Teaching by Jonathan Zimmerman for Liberties.

Why the Fuck Do You Trust Harvard? by Freddie deBoer.  College admissions are another mess.

Pandemic recession and higher education

May 3, 2021

The twilight of the American university

December 11, 2020

When I think of the wonderful experience I had attending a university in the 1950s and the great teachers I had, I grieve for that this experience is rarely if ever available today, except for a few pockets where scholars stubbornly value learning for its own sake.

The faculty and administrators of the University of Wisconsin stood up for the right to tell the truth as they saw it, and not just for the rights of tenured faculty, in the era of Joe McCarthy.

Now college professors are under pressure from two directions—pressure to refrain from scholarship that is threatening to business interests, and pressure to maintain an ideological orthodoxy regarding race, gender, etc. These two pressures are not incompatible.

When I was a newspaper reporter, from roughly 60 years ago to roughly 20 years ago, there were only three categories of people I could interview who would speak their minds without fear—owners of successful businesses, members of strong labor unions and tenured college professors. Add to that civil servants talking about their areas of expertise.

The fear factor was much greater when I retired than when I started out. I am pretty sure it is not less today.

Universities are part of the institutional memory of civilizations. Their decline is one reason for the historical amnesia that exists today.


What’s behind the spread of useless work?

May 13, 2018

The old labor hymn, Solidarity Forever, written slightly over a century ago, celebrates the achievements and potential power of the working class.

The world depends on the labor of workers, the song goes.  “Without our brain and muscle, not a single wheel would turn.”  That is a “power greater than their hoarded gold.”  If workers unite and fight, they can free themselves from the parasitic owning class.

David Graeber

These stirring words quaint today, because all the driving forces in the economy are liberating the wealthy elite from dependence on workers.  The driving force in technology is to eliminate jobs.  The driving force in management is to make workers replaceable.

And there is another strange thing going on, which is the creation of what anthropologist David Graeber calls bullshit jobs.  The definition of a BS job is that it is regarded as unnecessary even by those who do it.

For a number of years now, I have been conducting research on forms of employment seen as utterly pointless by those who perform them. The proportion of these jobs is startlingly high. Surveys in Britain and Holland reveal that 37 to 40 percent of all workers there are convinced that their jobs make no meaningful contribution to the world.

And there seems every reason to believe that numbers in other wealthy countries are much the same. There would appear to be whole industries — telemarketing, corporate law, financial or management consulting, lobbying — in which almost everyone involved finds the enterprise a waste of time, and believes that if their jobs disappeared it would either make no difference or make the world a better place.

Generally speaking, we should trust people’s instincts in such matters. … If one includes the work of those who unwittingly perform real labor in support of all this — for instance, the cleaners, guards, and mechanics who maintain the office buildings where people perform bullshit jobs — it’s clear that 50 percent of all work could be eliminated with no downside. …

Even this estimate probably understates the extent of the problem, because it doesn’t address the creeping bullshitization of real jobs. According to a 2016 survey, American office workers reported that they spent four out of eight hours doing their actual jobs; the rest of the time was spent in email, useless meetings, and pointless administrative tasks.

The trend has much less effect on obviously useful occupations, like those of tailors, steamfitters, and chefs, or obviously beneficial ones, like designers and musicians, so one might argue that most of the jobs affected are largely pointless anyway; but the phenomenon has clearly damaged a number of indisputably useful fields of endeavor.

Nurses nowadays often have to spend at least half of their time on paperwork, and primary- and secondary-school teachers complain of galloping bureaucratization.

Source: The Chronicle of Higher Education


Can college education be free for everyone?

March 25, 2016

I think it is feasible to provide college education with free or affordable tuition, as Bernie Sanders advocates.  Foreign countries do so, and the United States once did, too.

I have long been in favor of free or affordable college education for everybody who has the desire and ability to do college work, but this is different from providing free tuition for everybody.

collegekids97944673-copyRon Unz, the maverick political editor and writer, has proposed that Harvard University offer free tuition.  As he says, it can easily afford it because of the tax-free revenues of its huge endowment fund.  He also advocates for a fairer admissions process, especially for Asian-American students.

Those are excellent proposals.  But they wouldn’t get everybody who wishes into Harvard.

Sanders’ plan is for the federal government to pay for two-thirds of the cost of college education at state universities that offer free tuition and meet other conditions.  I expect that many state governors would turn down this generous offer.  Most states are cutting the budgets of their state university systems.  And after all, many states refused to expand Medicaid even though the Affordable Care Act offered to cover nine-tenths of the cost.

Germany is frequently cited as an example of a country that provides free college tuition for everyone, including foreigners, who can pass an entrance examination.

But only about 28 percent of young German adults are college graduates, compared to 43 percent of Americans.

During the golden age of American public higher education, college education was much less common.  As recently as 1990, only 23 percent of young American adults were college graduates.

Higher education in Germany also is much more bare bones than it is in the USA.  German colleged generally offer a rigorous academic program without the extra-curricular amenities that Americans typically regard as a part of the college experience.


Higher education’s cult of leadership

August 24, 2015

American higher education has been taken over by “neo-liberalism,” which is the idea that all institutions in society should pattern themselves on profit-seeking corporations and serve the interests of business.

So argues Willliam Deresiewicz, in a good article in the current issue of Harper’s magazine.  The old idea of higher education was to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, he wrote; these have been pushed aside by corporate buzzwords.   As an example, he cited a liberal arts college’s mission statement – leadership, service, integrity, creativity.

He said integrity nowadays means nothing more than “not cheating”.   As for the rest—

HarpersWeb-2015-09-cover-302x410So what’s so bad about leadership, service, and creativity?  What’s bad about them is that, as they’re understood on campus and beyond, they are all encased in neo-liberal assumptions.  Neo-liberalism, which dovetails perfectly with meritocracy, has generated a caste system: “winners and losers,” “makers and takers,” “the best and the brightest,” the whole gospel of Ayn Rand and her Übermenschen.   That’s what “leadership” is finally about.  There are leaders, and then there is everyone else: the led, presumably — the followers, the little people.  Leaders get things done; leaders take command.  When colleges promise to make their students leaders, they’re telling them they’re going to be in charge.


The fate of the arts and sciences

August 15, 2015

Everybody knows that the percentage of [college] students majoring in English has plummeted since the 1960s. 

But the percentage majoring in the physical sciences—physics, chemistry, geology, astronomy and so forth—has fallen even more, by some 60 percent.

As of 2013, only 1.5 percent of students graduated with a degree in one of these subjects, and only 1.1 percent in math.

At most colleges, the lion’s share of undergraduates major in vocational fields: business, communications, education, health.

But even at elite institutions, the most popular majors are the practical, or as [David] Brooks might say, the commercial ones: economics, biology, engineering and computer science.

It is not the humanities per se that are under attack.  It is learning: learning for its own sake, curiosity for its own sake, ideas for their own sake.

==The Neoliberal Arts by William Deresiewicz in Harper’s magazine.  Available to subscribers only.

College is unaffordable because it is necessary

August 5, 2015


When I was a college student, it was possible for a middle class family to save up enough money to pay college tuition, and it was possible to work your way through college without accumulating a burden of debt.

In that era, it also was possible for a hard-working high-school graduate to earn enough to support a family.

Now college is both unaffordable and necessary, or at least it is believed to be necessary in order to get a good job.  Education might be affordable if it wasn’t necessary, and college administrators were not in a position to charge what the traffic would bear.

As Kevin Drum of Mother Jones shows in the chart above, it does little good for the federal government to give aid to students if colleges merely raise tuition and fees accordingly.

This increased tuition and fees is not going to pay for better instruction.  More and more college teaching is being done by low-paid adjunct faculty.  Rather the revenues are going to pay administrator’s salaries and to pay for amenities intended to attract the children of the rich.

Education should be regarded as a public good, not as a article of commerce.  It should be regarded as a way to deepen knowledge and understanding, and not as a way to give certain Americans a credential that will give them a competitive advantage over other Americans.

State universities and community colleges should lower tuition so that higher education is as affordable as it once was.

And if there was a full-employment, high-wage economy, employers would hire people based on their ability to do the work rather than their credentials.  If college education was not a perceived necessity, it would be affordable.


As Federal Aid Goes Up, College Costs Rise Enough to Gobble It All Up by Kevin Drum for Mother Jones.

Best Sixteen Years of My Life on Gin and Tacos.

Rape on campus, and due process of law

June 8, 2015

There’s a new documentary film out about how college administrators frequently ignore rape of students on campus.

I think there is an inherent problem with pursuing charges of rape through complaints about violations of Title IX of the Education Amendments rather than the criminal courts.

Title IX bans discrimination based on sex, on penalty of losing federal aid.  The argument is that failure to punish rapists is a form of sex discrimination.  The standard of proof violation of Title IX in an administrative proceeding is less than that required for conviction of a felony in the criminal courts.

I can understand why rape victims hesitate to complain to the police.  Rape is the only crime which, sadly, is regarded as shaming to the victim, and also is difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.

The problem is that college administrations are not set up to administer criminal justice and they have a conflict of interest between doing justice and protecting the good name of the college.

A trained prosecutor is the best qualified person to deal with an actual crime, and college students should be subject to the same laws as everybody else.  Keeping college rape cases out of the criminal courts is the equivalent of the “benefit of clergy” during the Middle Ages.


The corporate model in higher education

March 25, 2015


Source: Pacific Standard.

The chart above illustrates the dominance of the for-profit corporation as a model for American higher education.  As with corporations, the people who do the actual teaching are increasingly ill-paid and insecure, while the people whose job it is to cultivate relationships with politicians and corporate executives, solicit contributions and grants and polish the institution’s image do better and better.


The Capitalist Takeover of Higher Education by Robert Abele for Counterpunch.

How Colleges Misspend Your Tuition Money by Ted Scheinman for Pacific Standard.

Adjuncts Struggle to Unionize at a Liberal College by Michelle M. Tokarczyk for Working-Class Perspectives.  [Hat tip to Bill Harvey]

‘Don’t send your kid to the Ivy League’

July 25, 2014

A century ago, the Ivy League universities—Harvard, Yale and Princeton—provided an education suitable for those who were born rich.  Now they provide an education suitable for those who hope to get rich.  This is not an improvement.

The old thinking was that those born into the upper ranks of society should receive an education suitable for future leaders.   The universities taught them history and the classics to give a broad understanding of the world.  They also sought to teach mental and physical discipline to build character.  College athletics were part of the character-building process, not a producer of revenue.

ivyleague.jpg_largeThe great 20th century democratic dream was that this type of education should be made available not just to the children of the elite, but to everyone who wanted it and was capable of it.   I was fortunate enough to attend college in the 1950s, when this dream was at its zenith, and I received a broad liberal education (with some gaps, due to bad choices on my part).  I can’t prove it was of economic benefit, but it enriched my life.

Now higher education has become part of the process of sorting people into winners and losers.

President Obama says everybody should have a chance to go to college in order to advance themselves economically.  But of course if everybody goes to college, then a college degree will be worth no more in economic terms than a high school diploma today.  An Ivy League degree is what economists called “positional good”—something that is valuable only because not everybody has it.

My e-mail pen pal Bill Harvey sent me a link to an article in the New Republic by William Deresiewicz about how elite education has been corrupted by the quest for success.  Here are some highlights.

Our system of elite education manufactures young people who are smart and talented and driven, yes, but also anxious, timid, and lost, with little intellectual curiosity and a stunted sense of purpose: trapped in a bubble of privilege, heading meekly in the same direction, great at what they’re doing but with no idea why they’re doing it. [snip]

I taught many wonderful young people during my years in the Ivy League—bright, thoughtful, creative kids whom it was a pleasure to talk with and learn from.  But most of them seemed content to color within the lines that their education had marked out for them.

Very few were passionate about ideas.  Very few saw college as part of a larger project of intellectual discovery and development.  Everyone dressed as if they were ready to be interviewed at a moment’s notice.  [snip]

Once, a student at Pomona told me that she’d love to have a chance to think about the things she’s studying, only she doesn’t have the time.  I asked her if she had ever considered not trying to get an A in every class.  She looked at me as if I had made an indecent suggestion. [snip]


Is your state’s highest-paid employee a coach?

April 16, 2014



Click to enlarge.



How to make public higher education free to all

February 15, 2014

Only about 10 percent of the money that’s spent on institutions of higher education actually goes to educating students, according to Robert Samuels, president of the American Federation of Teachers at the University of California.

The rest goes to athletic programs, hospitals, medical schools, industrial and government research and other programs not related to instruction.

He said that if priorities are redirected, it would be possible to provide free public higher education to all qualified students without raising taxes or increasing spending

He said there should be federal standards for universities receiving government aid, including a maximum number of large classes, a minimum percentage of full-time faculty and a requirement that at least 50 percent of state and federal aid be directed to instruction of undergraduates.  He also would take away tax breaks for college expenses and redirect that money into making college education free to all.

Without knowing the details of what he proposes. I think this is the direction in which to go.


Universities as businesses: students as cash cows

September 19, 2013

Thomas Frank wrote a great article in The Baffler of where American higher education is going.  He said a lot of things I’ve long said, but he said them better and more eloquently.

bors-youth-student-loan-debt-trophyYoung people today are told they have no possibility of ever getting a good job unless they have a college education.   But they know nothing about college, or what it has to offer.   Consequently they are helpless to prevent themselves from being cash cows for greedy college administrators, greedy textbook publishers and greedy lenders.  This isn’t true of everyone everywhere, but it is common and becoming more common.

The solution is obvious.   At least it is obvious to Thomas Frank, and to me.

College should become free or very cheap. It should be heavily subsidized by the states, and robust competition from excellent state U’s should in turn bring down the price of college across the board.  Pointless money-drains like a vast administration, a preening president, and a quasi-professional football team should all be plugged up.  Accrediting agencies should come down like a hammer on universities that use too many adjuncts and part-time teachers.  Student loan debt should be universally refinanced to carry little or no interest and should be discharge-able in bankruptcy, like any other form of debt.

But the obvious solution is highly unlikely to be adopted.

What actually will happen to higher ed, when the breaking point comes, will be an extension of what has already happened, what money wants to see happen. Another market-driven disaster will be understood as a disaster of socialism, requiring an ever deeper penetration of the university by market rationality.

Trustees and presidents will redouble their efforts to achieve some ineffable “excellence” they associate with tech and architecture and corporate sponsorships. There will be more standardized tests, and more desperate test-prep. The curriculum will be brought into a tighter orbit around the needs of business, just like Thomas Friedman wants it to be.

Professors will continue to plummet in status and power, replaced by adjuncts in more and more situations. An all-celebrity system, made possible by online courses or some other scheme, will finally bring about a mass faculty extinction—a cataclysm that will miraculously spare university administrations. And a quality education in the humanities will once again become a rich kid’s prerogative.

via The Baffler.

Student-Debt-CartoonPeople wonder why the U.S. economy is so slow to recover.  Young people have no money to spare because they are burdened with college debt.  Their parents have no money to spare because they are paying off underwater mortgages.  Their grandparents have no money to spare because they have no private pensions and they haven’t been able to save.   Again, this isn’t true of everyone, everywhere, but it is common and becoming more common.

People my age (I’m 76) who belittle today’s young people don’t remember how good we had it.  College tuition was affordable, working your way through college was feasible and nobody began life with a debt burden they might never pay off.

Click on Academy Fight Song for Thomas Frank’s full magnificent survey of the American higher education money machine.

Click on How the American University Was Killed, in Five Easy Steps, by the ‘Junct Rebellion for another splendid overview.

Why can’t higher education be affordable?

August 24, 2013


When I was of college age, back in the 1950s, it was possible for middle-class American families to save  enough money to send their children through college, and for poor but ambitious students to work their way through college.   It also was possible for a hard-working person without a college education to earn a decent living.

Now a college diploma is a prerequisite for a decent job, much as a high school diploma was 60 years ago, and for many students, a college education is out of reach without taking on a burdensome level of debt.   It is a high stakes gamble.   If the college diploma is a ticket to a good job, the gamble pays off.  If it isn’t, then the borrower faces the possibility of a lifetime of debt servitude.

President Obama has proposed a plan for student debt relief, which is to give financial incentives to colleges with affordable tuition and good graduation rates.  Like his heath care form plan, it is complicated, offers opportunities to game the system and may or may not do some good in the long run.

I think the solution is for state universities to provide a good education with free or low tuition to everyone who is capable of doing college work, and for community colleges to provide free or remedial education and job training.  The federal government could provide support to enable them to afford to be able to do this.

I also think the federal government should buy up existing student debt and provide refinancing at a nominal interest rate.  This is part of the larger world debt situation:  People and nations owe more than they ever can repay and there needs to be some means of writing down this debt.


When higher education becomes a racket

July 19, 2013

The following is from the Albany Times-Union.

The State University of New York at Cobleskill is a dropout factory that lures sub-par students to help it meet the bottom line.

At least that’s how it was portrayed in a federal courtroom this week.

newcoby_logoAs recently as 2007, 70 percent of the school’s entering freshmen never made it to their sophomore year, according to recent testimony in a federal whistle-blower trial. That means of roughly 1,200 freshmen, 840 dropped out.

The revelations came in the middle of the two-week trial in which former arts and sciences dean Thomas Hickey accuses the school of actively recruiting and stringing along students it knew would fail or had no hope of completing degrees in order to get their tuition dollars. Hickey said that included many black students; he also claims he was stripped of his dean position after he raised a red flag.

He called retaining failing students, many with mounting loan debt, to fund school operations a massive “fraud,” and his lawyer, Phil Steck, said it is “low-level corruption.”


Evidence shows that Anne Myers, former vice president for academic affairs, wrote a number of emails in which she said she would lower academic standards to keep students enrolled because the school had bills to pay.

In one email about sub-par students, she said: “We are admitting them to make budget.”

There’s nothing wrong with giving young people a second chance at education if they failed to get a good education in high school.   The problem is that:

  • A college degree is seen as a requirement for getting a decent job, so colleges are filled with students who need the credential of a college degree, but aren’t necessarily interested in getting a college education.
  • College tuition is so high that most young people have no choice but to go deeply into debt to pay college tuition.  Enrolling in college becomes a high-stakes gamble on whether your improved career prospects offset your debt burden, and, inevitably, some people lose.
  • Unethical college administrators admit students that they know aren’t capable of doing college work in order to collect their tuition.  When the mission of the college is to maximize revenue, education suffers.

I think American state governments should create a system of community college and state universities that would provide free or affordable college education to anyone who is capable of doing college work.  This is not a utopian dream.  It was reality when I went to college in the 1950s.  Students who need remedial education should be able to get it in community colleges, and they should bed able to get it without mortgaging their futures.

Click on One and done at Cobleskill to read the full Times-Union article.   Hat tip to Rochester Business Journal for the link.

Click on Bad Education for a broader picture of exploitative higher education in n + 1 magazine.

Links for weekend browsing 5/31/13

May 31, 2013

Here are links to articles I found interesting, and you might find interesting, too.

Our American Pravda by Ron Unz.

The publisher of the American Conservative writes that many important news stories are ignored by the major U.S. newspapers and broadcasters, including the mystery of the 2001 anthrax attacks, evidence that American POWs were left behind in Vietnam and charges by an FBI whistleblower of a high-level espionage ring.  Ron Unz says you need to use the Internet to find the real news.

Postal service is on its last legs, with little help in sight in the Los Angeles Times.

OC&LpostofficeAs a government corporation, the U.S. Postal Service has the worst of both worlds—a requirement to make a profit, but no freedom of action to do the things necessary to make a profit.  Even so, the USPS might be able to survive if not for the requirement that it fund retirement benefits 50 years in advance—far longer than the USPS is likely to be in existence, unless things change.

At Universities, Too, the Rich Grow Richer by Lawrence Wittner.

Graham Spanier, the president of Pennsylvania State University, received $2.9 million in salary for the 2011-2012 academic year, the year he was forced to resign in disgrace over the Penn State pedophile scandal.   He is an example of how state universities reflect the U.S. trend to huge compensation packages for top executives, wage stagnation for middle-level workers and a growing number of low-paid temporary workers (adjuncts) at the bottom.

Why is the FBI helping a monstrous dictator? by Ted Rall.

A cartoonist and syndicated columnist asks why the FBI has arrested an opponent of Uzbekistan’s corrupt and hated dictator, Islam Karimov, who has massacred his own people and literally boiled opponents alive.  Karimov was so odious that the Bush administration severed relations, but the Obama administration restored the connection, because of Uzbekistan’s strategic location and Karimov’s help in prosecuting the war in Afghanistan.

The profit motive in higher education

August 15, 2012

This infographic summarizes a report on for-profit higher education issued late in July by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which is headed by Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin.  It shows that, on average, for-profit higher education is a really bad deal.

The profit motive works well when it is aligned with the interest of customers.  Manufacturers that make good computers, refrigerators  or automobiles make higher profits in the long run than manufacturers that make bad products.  People have the information—from friends and neighbors or maybe from Consumer Reports—that enables us to make an intelligent choice.  With for-profit health insurance providers, on the other hand, there is no good way to tell a good one from a bad one except by experience, in my case painful experience.  In health insurance, there are conflicting incentives—to build a reputation in the long run, or to maximize short-run profits by minimizing payouts.

The short-run incentive for for-profit colleges is to find the right balance between maximizing enrollment and maximizing tuition, neither of which is necessarily related to providing a good education.  Probably there are for-profit colleges that do provide a good education, but, if so, it would be hard for students and their parents to figure out which ones they are.  There is a seller’s market for higher education, because young people believe they have no economic future without the credential of a college degree.  The credential, not the education, is the product, and, as the infographic shows, the for-profit colleges do a poor job even at providing the credential.

For-profit is not the same thing as private enterprise.  The report showsed that for-profit colleges get the majority of their revenue from Pell grants, Defense Department education grants, GI Bill aid and other government sources.

Click on The For-Profit, HIgher-Education Industry, By the Numbers for more facts and figures from Suevon Lee of ProPublica.

Click on Harkin: For-profit colleges a terrible deal for more facts and charts from Dylan Matthews, and links to the original report, on the Washington Post’s Wonkblog.

Below are charts with more facts and figures about for-profit colleges.


Why I’m glad I’m not a young person today

April 9, 2012

When I attended high school and college in the late 1940s and early 1950s, everybody I knew took it for granted that anybody who was willing to work could get a job of some kind, anybody with a high school diploma could get a decent job and anybody with a college diploma, even in liberal arts, could get a somewhat better job.  This probably was less true for women and for black people than it was for people like me, but it was a time of advancing prosperity for everyone.

Nowadays young people are told that it is impossible to get a decent job without a degree beyond high school.  Consequently many people are crowding into college not out of a desire for learning, but simply to get the credential that will enable them to have a decent income.   We no longer have state universities that provide an affordable education for anybody who is capable of doing college work.  So unless you’re rich, you have to go deeply into debt to get that education.  But since young people are going to college merely to get a credential, it is not necessary for the college to actually teach them anything.  A college administration that follows the corporate model need only figure out the best balance between maximizing tuition and maximizing enrollment.

From what I hear from my friends in the academic world, more and more colleges are following the corporate model.  State colleges and universities are transforming themselves from public colleges to tax-supported private colleges, with the same goal of maximizing revenue.   I don’t want to paint with too broad a brush.  Not all colleges follow the corporate model.  There are still excellent teachers in colleges whose administrations are trying to force this model.  But this is the way the tide is flowing.

Ex-Senator Rick Santorum has said that college is not for anybody.  He said that many people can do better by getting a job and improving their skills through on-the-job training.   There was a time when this was true, but it is not true today.

He is quite right to say that you don’t have to go to college to be educated.   Years ago I read a great book, The Precious Gift by a man named Cornelius Hirschberg, who never went to college but gave himself a better liberal education than most people have simply by reading classic works on the New York City subway while going to and from work.  The book is out of print, but probably is available at a good public library.

What Senator Santorum said about the advantages of getting a hands-on education by entering the world of work would have been reasonable when I was growing up, and probably was valid when he was growing up.  You could become an apprentice in a skilled trade, such as machinist, and work up to a good wage as a journeyman.  To some extent, this is still possible.  But fewer and fewer companies provide such training.   It is worthwhile only if there is a stable work force, and the employer can count on the employee to hang around long enough to provide a return on the investment in human capital.

I think the answer One thing we need is a rebirth of public higher education – affordable community colleges to provide training in work skills, affordable state colleges to provide college-level education.   But that would mean a change in the whole way we have come to think about things.   We would have to start thinking there is such a thing as the common good, and not merely individuals with no higher aim than to get competitive advantage over each other.

[Update]  Click on Manufacturing Generation Me for a perspective on the “millennial” generation, the Americans born in 1982 or later.  The writer said that many of the characteristics taken for narcissism, such as trying to make yourself a “brand” or being preoccupied with career success and monetary rewards, are merely what young Americans nowadays have to do to survive.   Hat tip to

[Afterthought]  I emphasized the wrong thing by ending the post with a comment on the need to restore affordable public higher education.   The larger problem is the combination of a precarious economy, credentialism and the corporate model of education.   Without the fear generated by an uncertain economic future, credentialism would lose its power, and young people would have the freedom to seek out what they’re best suited for.