Tuesday, May 31, 2011

More Bad Education News

My sister alerted me to this piece not too long ago, and I've been meaning to talk a little about it for awhile. This article, which would repay your careful reading, reminds us that, due to the way the laws were written, the federal government is on the hook for hundreds of billions of dollars that have been lent to students to go to school. (The average debt for graduating seniors is $24,000.) In short, an education bubble that continues to inflate threatens more financial disasters for the country. And for what, because a college degree is not what it used to be. To wit . . .
Since 1978, the price of tuition at US colleges has increased over 900 percent, 650 points above inflation. To put that number in perspective, housing prices, the bubble that nearly burst the US economy, then the global one, increased only fifty points above the Consumer Price Index during those years. But while college applicants’ faith in the value of higher education has only increased, employers’ has declined. According to Richard Rothstein at The Economic Policy Institute, wages for college-educated workers outside of the inflated finance industry have stagnated or diminished. Unemployment has hit recent graduates especially hard, nearly doubling in the post-2007 recession. The result is that the most indebted generation in history is without the dependable jobs it needs to escape debt.
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The most predatory and cynical subprime lending has its analogue in for-profit colleges. Inequalities in US primary and secondary education previously meant that a large slice of the working class never got a chance to take on the large debts associated with four-year degree programs. For-profits like The University of Phoenix or Kaplan are the market’s answer to this opportunity. 
While the debt numbers for four-year programs look risky, for-profit two-year schools have apocalyptic figures: 96 percent of their students take on debt and within fifteen years 40 percent are in default. A Government Accountability Office sting operation in which agents posed as applicants found all fifteen approached institutions engaged in deceptive practices and four in straight-up fraud. For-profits were found to have paid their admissions officers on commission, falsely claimed accreditation, underrepresented costs, and encouraged applicants to lie on federal financial aid forms. Far from the bargain they portray themselves to be on daytime television, for-profit degree programs were found to be more expensive than the nonprofit alternatives nearly every time. These degrees are a tough sell, but for-profits sell tough. They spend an unseemly amount of money on advertising.
Other points:

  • fewer and fewer students benefit from fully qualified faculty members; most of their classes are taught by graduate students or poverty-level-paid adjuncts
  • administrators are soon going outnumber teaching faculty, and they command mind-boggling salaries
  • students can be hounded for their loan debt for a lifetime, even though the holders of loans have already been compensated
  • colleges and universities benefit from a myth that surrounds college degrees with almost mythical power; in reality, a degree doesn't mean much anymore
  • higher education has basically become yet one more scam in the dying empire.
Upon reflection, this article is far too meaty to be handled by one in a hurry to get things done before the next trip. This weekend, remember? Suffice it to say that none of the news about higher education is good. You won't like what you read in this article, but you should read it anyway.
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