Sobering thoughts on higher ed

n+1 has some pretty disquieting thoughts about higher education, student loan debt, and the changing profile of university campuses, both for- and greenback dollarnon-profit.  Author Malcolm Harris compares the spiraling costs of federally-backed student loans to the housing bubble that just blew up in our faces.  He writes:

The result [of increasing student loans] is over $800 billion in outstanding student debt, over 30 percent of it securitized, and the federal government directly or indirectly on the hook for almost all of it.

Yowch.  Of particular interest, if you happen to be or know someone with student debts or probable future student debts, is Harris’s overview of how higher ed has shifted to a corporate-ized model over the last forty years or so.  Tuition costs have exploded, which means students take on more debt–but there’s less and less assurance that when they graduate they’ll have a job at all, much less a job allowing them to pay off $50,000 while also establishing a household and a life.  At the same time, high-cost university courses are more likely than ever to be taught by adjuncts or graduate students, who are paid little and have no job security.

And while the proportion of tenure-track teaching faculty has dwindled, the number of managers has skyrocketed in both relative and absolute terms. If current trends continue, the Department of Education estimates that by 2014 there will be more administrators than instructors at American four-year nonprofit colleges. A bigger administration also consumes a larger portion of available funds, so it’s unsurprising that budget shares for instruction and student services have dipped over the past fifteen years.

Double yowch.  And:

If tuition has increased astronomically and the portion of money spent on instruction and student services has fallen, if the (at very least comparative) market value of a degree has dipped and most students can no longer afford to enjoy college as a period of intellectual adventure, then at least one more thing is clear: higher education, for-profit or not, has increasingly become a scam.

Triple yowch.

In today’s Oregonian (our newspaper around these parts) was a piece about a bipartisan state bill (HB 2732) that was just passed, requiring high school students to apply to university, the military, or an apprenticeship program before they can receive their high school diploma.  There’s no requirement that people actually follow through (although an application to enlist in the military seems potentially binding to me) but the bill is on its way to the Senate.  No word on whether the state will put any more money into actually funding degrees for those students who are accepted.

Image: Burlington County National Greenback Labor Ticket, courtesy Cornell University Collection of Political Americana

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