College In America: What Went Wrong?

take-ivy-princeton-3jpg-cc411ddfea8f7e7d_largeVia New Left Project, author Chris Lehman bitingly surveys the contemporary United States’ bloated, perilously off-track higher education system — from the the Ivies, which now act as “luxury goods” for the rich, to the rise of pyramid-scheme fringe colleges such as the University of Phoenix:

Most high-end and Ivy League schools spent the 1990s and early aughts pursuing a senseless binge in luxury spending so as to draw a wider pool of high-testing applicants – not because they had so many vacant spots to fill, mind you, but because wooing bigger applicant pools permitted them to reject more applicants and to continue burnishing their reputation for exclusivity in the applicant market. In 2008, lawmakers finally got wise to the scam and threatened to revoke the ridiculous tax exemptions enjoyed by massively endowed institutions like Harvard, Yale, and Princeton.

By then, however, the tuition market had become so absurdly distorted and top heavy that this miniature and belated land rush in Ivy League aid wound up creating yet more pressure on major state universities. These schools had already begun evolving into “public Ivies” in the 1990s as more high-earning families got priced out of the skyrocketing Skull-and-Bones end of the market.

The aid squeeze, in turn, tends to ensure that the average lower-to middle-class college student, should she be fortunate enough to graduate, enters the workforce under a crushing burden of debt. In 2008, graduating students left school with an average of $20,000 in student loan debt – a gruesome prospect for the liberal arts grad, in particular, who earns an average yearly income of $33,000. And while Congress recently revamped the federal student loan program, most major loan providers have been swamped by recent scandals alleging artificial schemes to balloon student debt by sweetheart kickback deals with school loan officials, extending terms of “forbearance” to prolong the life of loans and the liabilities of borrowers.

A cynic might well argue that, given the cartelized and crony-ized state of the rest of our economic life, being saddled with a mound of unscrupulously contracted debt might well be the best initiation into adult American life a young worker could expect—and that therefore our university leaders are indeed splendidly hitting their mark as the mentors of a new generation of workers. But that mordant thought overlooks a larger point—as, indeed, does the whole obsessive focus on education as a manufactory of economic opportunity. American public education was not intended to serve as a means of investment, or as a guarantor of enhanced life opportunities, in the first place.

Most of the recent enrollment growth in higher education has been in so-called proprietary institutions – multi-campus for-profit schools such as DeVry University and the University of Phoenix. These institutions deliberately exist in the shadowy frontier beyond the purview of the regulatory and accreditation authorities that oversee most conventional four-year schools so as to keep providing the most cheaply assembled product at the highest sustainable margin of profit.

This unsentimental view has permitted Sperling’s institution to become the largest university in the country, claiming an enrollment of more than 420,000 students with a faculty of more than 20,000 instructors. Yet by so aggressively mimicking the ethos of the corporation, the school has also adapted the cost-cutting model of mass-production to the marketing of academic credentials. More than 95 percent of the school’s teachers are part-time, and none are tenured. It’s perhaps needless to add that they aren’t unionized either.

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  • ArgosyJones

    This is a tremendous failure on the part of our government in several ways.

    1. Federal Student loans have been allowed to increase out of control- They should have been indexed to inflation, or to a set schedule. The continual increase has allowed administrative bloat and senseless spending on frills at many of our finest universities.

    2. Federal Student aid shoud ,never have been extended to non-accredited, pseudo educational institutions such as DeVry and U Phoenix.

    3. Federal Student loans should have been structured to strongly incentivize timely graduation. It’s too easy to rack up years of debt without getting a degree, and the schools are all too happy to go along with it. Not to mention that schools have no incentive to make sure that students are getting jobs that allow students to pay off loans after graduation.

  • ArgosyJones

    This is a tremendous failure on the part of our government in several ways.

    1. Federal Student loans have been allowed to increase out of control- They should have been indexed to inflation, or to a set schedule. The continual increase has allowed administrative bloat and senseless spending on frills at many of our finest universities.

    2. Federal Student aid shoud ,never have been extended to non-accredited, pseudo educational institutions such as DeVry and U Phoenix.

    3. Federal Student loans should have been structured to strongly incentivize timely graduation. It’s too easy to rack up years of debt without getting a degree, and the schools are all too happy to go along with it. Not to mention that schools have no incentive to make sure that students are getting jobs that allow students to pay off loans after graduation.

    • Hadrian999

      it is only a failure of the government if you assume this wasn’t the actual goal. it’s a course correction to reclaim higher education as the domain of the wealthy.

  • Simiantongue

    Excerpt from “Digital diploma Mills: The Automation Of Higher Education.” David F Noble

    Was a very interesting read about the Coporatization and commercialization of higher education and the mechanisms by which that is being accomplished.

    http://www.monthlyreview.org/books/excerpts/digitaldiplomamills2.php

  • Simiantongue

    Excerpt from “Digital diploma Mills: The Automation Of Higher Education.” David F Noble

    Was a very interesting read about the Coporatization and commercialization of higher education and the mechanisms by which that is being accomplished.

    http://www.monthlyreview.org/books/excerpts/digitaldiplomamills2.php

    • charles darwin

       Industrial age to Information age.. .college Now moving to information age.

      government can finally  come to the rescue… in internet-age. one college textbook. one college lecture can be made from one to 100-million or 500-million copies.

      college can be taped like football, baseball or Olympic.. from one viewer to 100-million.

      1. live lectures:  100- can see the lecture.

      2. Internet lectures: 100-million to 500- million lectures for Free free free on web…

      Real lectures/ internet lectures:  500-million people can now see the lectures for free free free… government can subsisdize the taping of the lectures and post online for world to see for free free free…..

  • http://www.barcodelabelsoftware.net barcode software

    I think proper utilization of resources and funds that education committee have, will provide improvement in higher education. This will be the first step that higher authority can take for raising student’s interest in advanced education.

  • guest

    Great way to ensure we will always be able to have an all-volunteer military. If you can’t possibly afford college, you can get training and education there. And people of means will never have to worry about their kids risking their lives for optional wars.

  • guest

    Great way to ensure we will always be able to have an all-volunteer military. If you can’t possibly afford college, you can get training and education there. And people of means will never have to worry about their kids risking their lives for optional wars.

  • Hadrian999

    it is only a failure of the government if you assume this wasn’t the actual goal. it’s a course correction to reclaim higher education as the domain of the wealthy.

  • Sandiegobikeguy

    The most pernicious thing about the for profits is they bean count the number of students who will drop half way through their first year and will still owe thousands of dollars in student loans with no degree whatsoever. They hire only part time instructors, and even those with only Bachelor degrees to teach at the college level. There is no requirement for SAT scores or any other objective analysis of the student’s ability to complete college courses; the joke is iif the student can fog a mirror, they’re in. There is very little money spent on tutoring and no money spent on remedial classes, especially in math. They are shoved into a college level Algebra II class and most sink and flush out. till owing thousands of dollars in student loans…oh yeah I already said that. Because they are predominantly managed by conservative profiteers, the Re-tard-icans love them and will never do anything to stop them.

  • Sandiegobikeguy

    The most pernicious thing about the for profits is they bean count the number of students who will drop half way through their first year and will still owe thousands of dollars in student loans with no degree whatsoever. They hire only part time instructors, and even those with only Bachelor degrees to teach at the college level. There is no requirement for SAT scores or any other objective analysis of the student’s ability to complete college courses; the joke is iif the student can fog a mirror, they’re in. There is very little money spent on tutoring and no money spent on remedial classes, especially in math. They are shoved into a college level Algebra II class and most sink and flush out. till owing thousands of dollars in student loans…oh yeah I already said that. Because they are predominantly managed by conservative profiteers, the Re-tard-icans love them and will never do anything to stop them.

  • charles darwin

     Industrial age to Information age.. .college Now moving to information age.

    government can finally  come to the rescue… in internet-age. one college textbook. one college lecture can be made from one to 100-million or 500-million copies.

    college can be taped like football, baseball or Olympic.. from one viewer to 100-million.

    1. live lectures:  100- can see the lecture.

    2. Internet lectures: 100-million to 500- million lectures for Free free free on web…

    Real lectures/ internet lectures:  500-million people can now see the lectures for free free free… government can subsisdize the taping of the lectures and post online for world to see for free free free…..

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