May 8, 2014

Who Needs College Anyway?

Who Needs College Anyway?

Guest List

Liz McMillen, editor of the Chronicle of Higher Education

Joseph Moore, president of Lesley University

Siva Vaidhyanathan, professor at the University of Virginia and cultural historian

Thomas Frank, founding editor of The Baffler.

On the way to commencement season, what’s college really good for, if the cost is out of sight, and your degree doesn’t point you to a job; if there’s too much drinking, cheating and grade inflation; if it’s not safe enough for women. What if the whole bloated model is outdated in a digital age? Who’s got a better idea? Schools are almost out; will they still be there in September?

Reading List

• Liz McMillen’s talk, “What is College For, Anyway?” tells you the signal changes in the college experience over a generation;

• In a New York Times blog, Suzanne Mettler argues that college is not leveling the playing field, it’s doing the opposite;

• Thomas Frank’s essay from The Baffler, “Academy Fight Song;”

• Siva’s blog post, “Going Public the UVa Way;”

…We must stop using business language to describe universities. It’s not only misguided and inaccurate, but it also sets up bad incentives and standards. The University of Virginia is a wealthy and stable institution, a collection of public services, a space for thought and research, a living museum, a public forum, a stage for athletics competition, and an incubator of dreams and careers. But it’s not a firm, so it’s certainly not a “brand.”

…and the case he makes in Bookforum for “academic calling in a neoliberal age”;

• Clay Shirky on the coming money crunch in higher ed;

The number of high-school graduates underserved or unserved by higher education today dwarfs the number of people for whom that system works well. The reason to bet on the spread of large-scale low-cost education isn’t the increased supply of new technologies. It’s the massive demand for education, which our existing institutions are increasingly unable to handle. That demand will go somewhere.

• We’re also reading two public worries about the university from two different sides of the conversation. The first is Noam Chomsky’s recent talk, “The Death of American Universities,” published at Jacobin. Chomsky sees universities caught in a corporate drift; he wants us to double back in search of the old Enlightenment idea of  learning. Education’s not filling a vessel, but

…laying out a string along which the student progresses in his or her own way under his or her own initiative, maybe moving the string, maybe deciding to go somewhere else, maybe raising questions. Laying out the string means imposing some degree of structure… But the goal of it is for the student to acquire the capacity to inquire, to create, to innovate, to challenge—that’s education.

• David Brooks wrote about Isaiah Berlin and Anna Akhmatova meeting in Berlin in his column “Love Story.” Two thinkers meet, turn over the canons in their heads and recognize each other. The story ends with Berlin collapsing, lovestruck, on his bed back at home.

I’m old enough to remember when many people committed themselves to this sort of life and dreamed of this sort of communion — the whole Great Books/Big Ideas thing. I am not sure how many people believe in or aspire to this sort of a life today. I’m not sure how many schools prepare students for this kind of love.

Does this sound nostalgic, or are minds meeting in this way on American campuses? What do you think? Leave a comment or send us a message.

Guest List
Liz McMillen
editor of the Chronicle of Higher Education. Her talk,  "What is College For, Anyway?" tells you the signal changes in the college experience over a generation.  
Joseph Moore
president of Lesley University  
Siva Vaidhyanathan
professor at the University of Virginia and cultural historian.Read from his blog post, "Going Public the UVa Way;"
...We must stop using business language to describe universities. It’s not only misguided and inaccurate, but it also sets up bad incentives and standards. The University of Virginia is a wealthy and stable institution, a collection of public services, a space for thought and research, a living museum, a public forum, a stage for athletics competition, and an incubator of dreams and careers. But it’s not a firm, so it’s certainly not a “brand.”
...and the case he makes in Bookforum for "academic calling in a neoliberal age"
Thomas Frank
founding editor of The Baffler.  Read his essay from The Baffler, "Academy Fight Song"  
Reading List
College, the Great Unleveler
Suzanne Mettler
In a New York Times blog, Suzanne Mettler argues that college is not leveling the playing field, it's doing the opposite  
The End of Higher Education's Golden Age
Clay Shirky
Clay Shirky comments on the coming money crunch in higher ed
The number of high-school graduates underserved or unserved by higher education today dwarfs the number of people for whom that system works well. The reason to bet on the spread of large-scale low-cost education isn’t the increased supply of new technologies. It’s the massive demand for education, which our existing institutions are increasingly unable to handle. That demand will go somewhere.
The Death of American Universities
Noam Chomsky
Chomsky sees universities caught in a corporate drift; he wants us to double back in search of the old Enlightenment idea of  learning. Education's not filling a vessel, but
...laying out a string along which the student progresses in his or her own way under his or her own initiative, maybe moving the string, maybe deciding to go somewhere else, maybe raising questions. Laying out the string means imposing some degree of structure... But the goal of it is for the student to acquire the capacity to inquire, to create, to innovate, to challenge—that’s education.
Love Story
David Brooks
David Brooks wrote about Isaiah Berlin and Anna Akhmatova meeting in Berlin in his column "Love Story." Two thinkers meet, turn over the canons in their heads and recognize each other. The story ends with Berlin collapsing, lovestruck, on his bed back at home.

I’m old enough to remember when many people committed themselves to this sort of life and dreamed of this sort of communion — the whole Great Books/Big Ideas thing. I am not sure how many people believe in or aspire to this sort of a life today. I’m not sure how many schools prepare students for this kind of love.

Related Content


  • Pete Crangle

    I cannot answer the above questions in a meaningful way. So I will provide a personal anecdote. My apologies to those who are made squeamish by such reminiscence.

    I went through the community college system (during the late Reagan-early Bush 41 years, just a few years past my escape from the K-12 system), and then transferred to university for undergraduate, and later for graduate work. The first thing to point out: the price was accessible, and the public financial assistance system workable. The next thing to point out: the community college system salvaged and saved my life. This is no understatement. It not only taught me how to find heretofore mute resources within myself. It taught me I have some degree of worth and value. Life can have meaning and purpose.

    I had slipped through the cracks, both by my own doing and by the family and educational institutions which were charged with my care. I was to put it mildly, in a downward, violent, apathetic spiral. By luck and chance, and strong external forces, I endeavored to restart an educational process. The community colleges I attended were an important part of a complete personal rebuilding process. I went from nearly zero self-esteem and illiteracy, having almost no capability of having a world view, to a feeling of competence, worth, and a sense of personal and community responsibility which comes with such improvements. The social contract ignited within me to some degree. It helped me find my humanity and sense of purpose and common cause. It opened doors of knowledge and human understanding that had been closed to me. No other institution in my life has provided this, nor cared for its reciprocation, before or since.

    Wreckage was turned into purpose. Because some people cared to create such a public institutional system, and then acted upon the intention. My life was improved beyond the cage of my family, social, and economic constraints. Others I have known have shared similar accounts.

    The teachers at these institutions were by-and-large not only competent within their domains of expertise, but actually cared about improving the quality of life for their students. Learning was taught to accommodate testing sure, but the larger picture being imparted was that learning, and it’s care, is a life long resource to be cultivated and honored. We were taught, implicitly and by design, that each of us carries the potential to be our own best teacher, and to share and learn from each other without the worry of place, occasion, or formal venue. Sharing and not coveting, especially these days, is a radical and dissident concept.

    I have recently taken some courses at a community college (exploring areas I skipped on my first pass). It’s still a place where teaching is not merely testing and rote, but a means of improving people’s lives, expanding our universe of ideas, of knowledge, and of shared community. It’s a place where professionals show commitment to quality, day-in-day-out, and money and cultural power are not the driving force. It’s a place where teaching professionals endeavor to make the most out of limited resources. Common cause is still a core value and principle. I should also add, it’s a place where I have found racial, ethnic, creed, age, and class boundaries to be fairly porous. I consider this to be an important part of the experience. Perhaps, it’s because the people who show up at these at these low-brow institutions carry this ability within themselves wherever they travel? Regardless, I believe it to be immensely invaluable in a pluralistic world.

    I cannot answer the questions pertaining to the future or relevancy of education for others. It’s probably not a panacea for self-improvement. And, it’s probably unwise to reduce it to a factory system that turns out über-specialists. Or saddle it with the burden of being a post-childhood, pre-adulthood sitting service. In my case, the fact that it carried the human touch, where people cared and demonstrated their care, made a significant difference. I have endeavored to pay-it-forward whenever I can. My dreams, my very, very important dreams, have never had an economic component. They have been to find a sense of place, purpose, and understanding. To connect with others in such ways whenever possible. This educational experience helped to awaken and give form to this dream.

    This dream would be an irrational desire these days. Higher education has definitely become excessively expensive. Even public low-brow institutions. California, my place of birth, had a very generous university system until Governor Reagan decided to re-engineer it. The financial barriers, though rising in the wake of his governorship, were still not beyond accessibility for the working poor (me and others) in my younger days. Nowadays, I would probably not be able to make the stretch. The wreckage would be left to its own devices and desperate measures. Watching the shadows of an incomprehensible culture flickering about from within the mind-cave.

    We find wisdom and excellent teachers wherever they may turn up. I want to acknowledge the value Chris and Mary have added to my life. Though I don’t know you folks personally, I consider you both to be excellent teachers in the most expansive sense. You are part of the eternal flame, which can exist still, even in an inhospitable, economic-driven media environment. You bring dignity, integrity, and commitment to ideas, topics, points-of-view, and people that are often carelessly ignored or given short shrift. This too is part of the promise of common cause and the care which we give to each other. The open forum still remains … open. Best regards…

  • Potter

    Two squawks and a bravo Pete!

    Chris, thanks for bringing up the idea of a free college education on the Piketty show. I think Ms Williamson’s response, that her respondants felt it should be paid for, was confusing and perhaps just about how Tea Partiers feel.

    I went to Hunter College of the City University of New York in the 60′s and the tuition was free. I paid for my bursar’s receipt $24 (the equivalent of $190 in today’s money). It was an excellent education for which I have been over the years increasingly grateful and I never hesitate to bring it up when I get a chance. I wish everyone could go to college if they choose to do so and not be deterred by the cost.

    I took out a small loan for books. The city university accepted any who had a B average and did well (enough I suppose) on the SAT’s. So there was some requirement but I don’t consider that high. Later on, after I graduated, maybe awhile after, Hunter started offering remedial classes to those who did not completely qualify for entrance. I think the goal was to give all those who desired it a college education. After that, the community college system arrived.

    I was the first in my nuclear family, including grandparents on both sides who were immigrants, to have a college education. I was determined even though family finances would not support it. In my case neither of my parents, but especially my father, thought it was even necessary as HE never had one. Not that he thought he was doing so well.

    But it’s so obvious, and more and moreso, how necessary a college education has become. The problem is the cost of this education and therefore access to it. The problem is also how college loans (mine was at 3% payable after graduation at my own speed), even with partial grants, burden too many students just as they set off in life. They have to think of earning enough before all else.

    • Pete Crangle

      Bravo’s right back at you Potter.

  • Kunal

    I’m going into my third year at a private university next fall, and wanted to share my school’s “Estimated Expenses for the Academic Year” as published on its website: http://www.college.columbia.edu/bulletin/feesandexpenses.php

    Tuition $46,846

    Mandatory Fees $2,292

    Average Room and Board Cost $11,978

    Books and Personal Expenses $3,028

    Total $64,144

    To be fair, it’s one of the most expensive schools in the country, but it’s still a 52% rise in tuition since 2004

  • Potter

    Anent the question whether we need college and what is it good for:

    It is where the talented go to meet each other and the young go to be inspired. You cannot train doctors, lawyers or historians online.

    In college, students begin to understand the array before them intellectually. They decide what direction they want to pursue. They need this exploration in order to choose a path.

    As well they need, we all need, basic subjects: science courses (biology, geology etc.) with lab work, mathematics, political science, world history, geography, psychology, human development (for prospective parents), appreciation for the arts ( music, visual arts, literature/poetry).

    And young people need inspiration, inspired teachers. All this is and more is in preparation for lifelong learning.

    Can you get this by strolling around the internet and following your nose or following your bliss? Of course you could be one of those special autodidacts. But to be well-rounded is hard work. It can be done though because it is so wonderful how much information we have at our fingertips. But I would bet that if left entirely to this method a lot is missed. As it is, a college education cannot cover it all either, but at least you get a better sense of the breadth before you.

    • Holly B. Anderson

      And you can’t train lawyers much in school either, unless you have a good solid clinical program with enough spots for everyone who wants one and excellent legal writing teachers. It’s amazing how much of the practical “practice” of law is not taught in law school.

      • Potter

        Right, but you can’t be a lawyer without getting into law school and passing the bar.

    • Kunal

      I do wonder, Potter, how much people would pay to go to college if there was no degree at the end? The difference between what they would pay for just the “experience” (meeting people, learning etc) vs. what they actually pay, seems to me the value they put on the degree alone.

      People say, “You can’t put a price on the lifelong benefits of a college education. It’ll change the way you think and live, and that’s priceless.” On the contrary, I think we all have a responsibility to think about that price.

      Would you pay $134,864, the average price for four years at a private university, or $67,156 the average price for four years at a public university, if you didn’t receive a degree at the end? How about $240,000, the price of an Ivy League education? I certainly wouldn’t, when the books are free at the library and enlightened conversation, at least in Boston, is not at all difficult to find.

      Let’s face it, college is an investment and a means to a better life for most people. As, in my opinion, it should be.

      • Potter

        The value people put on the degree has to do also with what they have to repay and what kind of lifestyle they are aiming for since this the way our society is set up; one needs a degree to get certain jobs and pursue certain careers. That said, the latter is not always the case if one is exceptionally talented and motivated and can push or be pushed (Aaron Swartz). A lot has to do also with what people arrive at, at the point of a college decision; what’s under their belt and in their heart? I think this includes their parenting and economic circumstances (our version of class?).Having a degree, regardless of the substance of it, can be a way out. It shows application and accomplishment.

        I read the excellent links above and want to comment: Chomsky depressed me. All this happened after I left this part of my life. It’s terrible that colleges and universities are using this business model. It’s terrible that business uses it!! College may be a business but it’s a lot more that is vital to our society. At some point we were looking at the Europeans and the Japanese (even the Soviets!) about how to do business better. What happened? But Chomsky gets as idealistic as I am at the end of this talk. But still, the picture is not good.

        The Brooks article was very touching especially since I know of and have read a little poetry of Akmatova and that wonderful man, Isaiah Berlin. But what was more interesting to me was to read the most recommended comments on that article (not the NYTimes picks) to get the feelings of readers. I recommend it.

        Sorry to make this so long but I just want to add this: We have grandchildren. At the moment, they are very young and they are getting an exceptional education in an exceptional public school system that their parents sought out. Also their parents are adding at home, as they have been, to this great start. But when they get to college age there will be this issue; what are we paying for? Even with our son, in the 1990′s, we were very aware that we were buyers, consumers, regarding college. We knew about the debt issue vs the value of the education. The choice we (actually our son) made was go to a public college for his degree. He received an excellent education and is doing extremely well where colleagues by and large went to the ivy leagues. As well he avidly reads great books, a lifelong pursuit. I hope I have i influenced that in turn from what inspired me in my own education and also from my mother’s native love of literature (she was not so educated).

        In the end it’s what we pass on whether formally or non-formally, in the university or out, or on a program such as this.

        DH Lawrence has a wonderful poem: “We Are Transmitters”:

        http://www.kalliope.org/en/digt.pl?longdid=lawrence2001061110

  • bluefairy2

    I started life, so to speak, at a four year private college that would have given me a hefty load of student debt the moment I graduated. Liberal Arts college, well respected but not a powerhouse in the land of colleges. At that time, I was projected to make 18K a year once I graduated with my degree, which put me in the unenviable position of being completely unable to make a 600+ monthly loan payment and still have a meaningful existence. So I left college after my sophomore year and never looked back. I learned more at the school of life than I did in college and was ultimately far more financially successful. I never missed not having a degree because in those days, I could easily compete with peers who had the paper, and I could far more easily prove my worth given the jump I had on them regarding how to be successful in the work place. It is hard to say what it would be like now if I were competing with those same jobs-kids with degrees are a dime a dozen and far less expensive in many ways than seasoned employees with families and real lives. But when I was in the work place, there was employer loyalty which made up for a lot. It is easy to give your best when you are given the best. Fascinating topic of conversation!!

  • Kunal

    We’re looking for lots of calls tonight! Are you a parent, current student, alum from a time when colleges were affordable? Are you being crushed by college debt? What’s a reasonable price for college? Is college worth more than just the degree?

    Please call in at 1-800-423-8255

  • Kunal

    Charles Blow wrote a wonderful piece in the New York Times today about a personal experience with one of his professors who inspired him to go into journalism. Then, he presents these telling statistics from current college students:

    • I had at least one professor at [College] who made me excited about learning. (63 percent)

    • My professors at [College] cared about me as a person. (27 percent)

    • I had a mentor who encouraged me to pursue my goals and dreams. (22 percent)

    Here’s the link: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/08/opinion/blow-in-college-nurturing-matters.html?_r=0

    • https://www.flickr.com/photos/22549175@N02/ Robert W Peabody III

      Autodidactic book learning is recent phenomenon in human evolution. Most triangulation occurred between two humans and a process.
      Those stats point to a flaw in Frank’s thinking that anyone can learn from reading a book sans triangulation with another human. Although he did correct that as he
      went along, agreeing to pay someone to read Rousseau to him….lol

      What underlies most of Frank’s assertions is the elimination of the one thing common
      to all human society – social status. Nonetheless, an NYU full professor makes @ 200K$ versus a University of Wisconsin full professor @ 100K$. Gee, could it be more expensive to live in NYC than Madison?
      So I’m not sure that differential is completely based on social status.

      There is a lot to like about higher education being free. When he mentions foreign
      countries he misses the fact that a lot of learning occurs at the lower grades.
      Yes, higher education is free but the lower grades are vastly more rigorous.
      What that means is that a Dionysian youthful exuberance is lost to the young of
      Germany. (cf Michael Haneke’s The White
      Ribbon.)

      My bookie says that only collegiate basketball and football make money for the
      colleges (“…Alabama’s athletic revenues last year, which totaled $143 million,
      exceeded those of all 30 NHL teams and 25 of the 30 NBA teams.”), which suggests it is the other sports that are the money pit.
      How does Frank feel about Title IX?
      You’ve come a long way – to have the rug
      pulled from underneath you.

      Oh, and another thing….. rather than being worried about what college presidents
      make, we should be focusing on the fact that female professors make between 80%
      & 90% of what their male counterparts make.

      Frank’s platitude “make college free and excellent” has a hollow ring to it….

  • Dave Bernard

    Too much of the radio discussion was a red herring. The fact is that more than ever, elite education is for the rarified scholar. Not too many can match the double-Doctorate world of MIT and Stanford. The qualifications for todays’ jobs are so complicated, the candidates for them ae hypothetical. The student population is increasingly non-native, from staggeringly intelligent backgrounds with a work ethic middle-class youth abandoned during the Sixties assault on reason. Entering freshmen even in the elite schools are famously illiterate and lack basic academic skills. I see a parallel evil between cheating in the classroom and ‘cheating’ in Administrative evaluations toward egalitarian objectives that inflate real and potential achievement.

    • https://www.flickr.com/photos/22549175@N02/ Robert W Peabody III

      “….the Sixties assault on reason”.

      Huh?
      Whats So unreasonable About Peace Love and Understanding?

  • http://radioopensource.org Mary McGrath

    Dave, this program was meant to be an overview of a rich topic, and we mean to come back at it from different angles. I hope you and others will suggest more narrow conversations with guests you’d like to hear from.

    • Potter

      I would like an overview of the history of how we got here. I notice that various administrations, from Truman on, had committees and reports on the subject of our failing education system.

      from wikipedia’s entry on Ronald Reagan’s “A Nation at Risk”:

      Presidential commissions on education have been relatively common since The Truman Report in 1947. Other notable groups include President Eisenhower’s “Committee on Education Beyond the High School” (1956), President Kennedy’s Task Force on Education (1960), and President George W. Bush’s Commission on the Future of Higher Education, also known as the Spellings Commission, which produced “A Test of Leadership” (2006).

      What have they accomplished? Or what have they brought us?

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Nation_at_Risk

  • https://www.flickr.com/photos/22549175@N02/ Robert W Peabody III

    Re free tuition:
    COA (cost to attend) fall and spring for a Texas undergraduate resident at Texas A&M University:

    Tuition & Fees $9,180
    Loan Fees 0
    Room & Board 4,400
    Books & Supplies 1,000
    Travel 606
    Personal Expenses 2,100
    Total $17,286

    Tuition is free, so according to Frank, no student loans are necessary – the student loan industry will fold.

    Utopia gained?
    Not quite….

    Texas A&M COA (continued)
    Tuition is @ 53% of the $17,286 COA.
    Who pays for the other 47%? $8,106?
    Here’s the kicker though – those numbers are for a Texas resident living at home with parents
    Tuition for BOARDING at Texas A&M is only 40% of the $22,408 COA. Which means the student has to come up with $13,208 – and remember, no loans are available because the the student loan industry folded – tuition is free.

    What does that mean? Schools will be for commuters only – and only for those who can afford not to work for four years.

    The problem with utopian fantasy’s like Frank’s is they only make sense in “no place.”

    .

  • unhandyandy

    I was disappointed that Christopher didn’t push back against his guests’ defence of the current education establishment.

    There
    is no bloat in college administration? Christopher allowed them to
    change the subject from budgets to duties – of course the functions of
    the college administration are essential but are those astronomical
    salaries justified? Is one college president really worth 20
    professors? After his conversation with Franks how did Christopher let
    this topic get away from him?

    Another example: the Leslie U
    president (what’s his salary, anyway?) said his students are not as
    cynical as people claim. Give them time, they haven’t entered the job
    market yet. How about some statistics on the satisfaction of recent
    graduates?

    Christopher was too easily distracted by his guests’
    appeal to the fantasy, which he evidently enjoys also, of the improving
    power of education. Only a very small number of people ever have, do,
    or will be eager to pay 10s of thousands of dollars per year for that.
    For the vast majority of people, including I dare say the student body
    at Leslie U, college is about earning employment credentials, and I
    heard nothing from the guests that make me optimistic on that score.

  • AliceOtter33

    I am sick to death of public education from universities on down to elementary schools inflating the salaries for top administrators in order to “attract talent” as though schools are public corporations and school leaders are top CEOs.

    Meanwhile, the boots on the ground are getting squeezed to the point of near poverty-level – universities are doing everything in their power to justify paying their professors scant salaries with no benefits and no tenure security by using the “adjunct” position scam.

    If money is the only thing talking here – please, please consider the effects of these policy decisions: deteriorating quality of education provided by overstretched faculty, increased debt on the backs of the poorest students as the universities try to make up for sub-par education by throwing money at bells and whistles to distract.

  • Luke Held

    Great show as always.

    I was mostly disappointed by your guests, aside from Mr. Frank. They mostly felt like administrators doing their best to justify their existence. There was too much talk about new technologies and methods, as opposed to the real problem, the problem that is at the root of every problem we face in this country. Inequality. For decades, funding for EVERY common good in this country has been worn down and whittled away then laughed at for under-performing. We are like frogs in boiling water, distracted by a media that has been converted from a public service to a money making institution. The discussion around press over the last 20 years has been over how to save the dying system, dying because it’s not churning out profits; rather than discussing what the media is for, we discuss, why it’s not making money. The lack of a vibrant information and analysis from the media has allowed our tax rates to be continually cut away while what little tax is collected has been diverted to the military, and other non-productive aspects of our government.

    Every institution in the country is focused on it’s own issues, while the greater problem is seldom discussed. Bureaucracy is also to blame; while there is less and less money coming into the system, there are more and more creeping tentacles locking their positions in to the structure of the system. Mr. Vaidhyanathan stated a long list of necessary administrative position, which sounded like a justification for their existence rather than a true analysis of their existence.

    Mr. Frank is entirely correct, that we need to make school free or close to. This and so much more is possible in the most wealthy country in the history of money.

  • Scapeborgolist

    A useful overview. McMillen’s assertion that there’s been an ideological shift in the role of education (one with historical roots) is an assertion that I’ve made, in a piece written some years ago. Hopefully, this will be a useful addendum, as an ideological and historical backgrounder.

    __

    Education as a Private Good: Redefining U.S. Public Higher Education

    The redefinition of college and university education as a mass,
    rather than an elite, phenomena emerged after World War II. With the
    fear of a return to Depression-like conditions of mass unemployment
    after war demobilization, the Truman administration offered returning
    G.I’s incentives (the G.I. Bill of Rights) for pursuing an academic
    degree. It was partly as a tactic to keep some men off of the labor
    market for a few years, and partly recognition of how important the
    cultivation and support of intellectual labor (the Manhattan Project)
    had been in the successful conduct of the war. By way of Keynesian
    economic policy, the U.S. government subsidized, directly and
    indirectly, the construction of new schools, and the expansion and/or
    transformation of existing schools (predominantly teachers
    colleges/normal schools), as well as the cost of tuition and books for
    G.I’s. Additionally, the federal government financed new,
    Levittown-style residential housing for G.I.’s students, at interest
    rates at or near zero. Essentially, for millions of returning G.I.’s,
    education was free and housing was heavily subsidized.

    The Russian launch of Sputnik, the world’s first satellite in
    October 1957, sent the U.S. into a state of collective paranoia over a
    perceived loss of technological dominance, and the meaning of that
    perceived loss for national security. In 1958, the U.S. Congress
    created NASA and provided universities with funds for basic and applied
    research. As was the case with the space race, the expansion of the
    intellectual labor pool was seen as a tool of national security, a
    fortunate route for social mobility, and a public good produced in
    defense of the American way of life. John Kennedy’s pledge to win an
    ideological victory via a technological triumph by landing astronauts on
    the moon at the end of the decade tightened those associations. When
    widespread political protests against the Vietnam War emerged on, and
    then were anchored by, prominent college and university campuses in the
    late 1960s, the taken-for-granted relationship between militarization,
    the Cold War nation-state, and the allegiance of colleges and
    universities, and their graduates, to the national security agenda came
    under scrutiny.

    In the 1970s, when the economic and political conundrums
    associated with bureaucratic, centralized, mid-20th Century capital and
    government became fully manifest, the definition of the situation that
    prevailed was that government was the problem. A fervent belief in an
    ideology of personal choice and market deregulation became the preferred
    solution. Neo-liberal discourse promoted a marketplace framework where
    risk was redistributed from the collective to the individual.
    Government was no longer to be the guarantor of security. It was
    redefined as a partner in individual risk assessment and management.
    Within this econometric universe, people succeed or fail based solely on
    their own assessments of risk, and level of personal responsibility and
    merit. With its atomistic presuppositions, and its denial of
    large-scale social or structural phenomena, action to influence
    structural changes in national and global economies was limited to the
    dispensing of individualistic prescriptions for life-long learning and
    retraining. Notions of collective action, in support of the public
    commons or a public good became stigmatized, and discredited as a
    dishonest, mystifying set of rhetorical tricks deployed by an
    anti-American intellectual elite. With its individualistic focus, this
    is an atomistic ideology with a deep elective affinity for the mass
    export of jobs, the escalation of CEOs salaries, and the wholesale
    restratification of the American class system.

    In the structural and demographic shifts that accompanied this
    ideological sea change, the orientation around the purpose of higher
    education shifted as well. For a period in the early and mid-1980s, the
    rationale for education was redeployed, in an intermediate move, in
    service of rhetoric about mounting an economic national counteroffensive
    against the height of Japanese economic power. As the Japanese economy
    entered a cycle of contraction and deflation in the early 1990s, that
    rhetoric disappeared.

    What displaced it was the idea of education as a private, rather
    than a public good. Most college recruits today are primarily “sold” on
    the idea of education as a lifetime income enhancement. It’s an
    econometric argument with roots in Gary C. Becker’s notion of human
    capital. Aggressively adopted by both Clinton and Bush, the notion of
    human capital postulates that we are all econometric risk-managers of
    ourselves. We invest in ourselves (skills/value-added component) as a
    development of our genetic abilities (raw materials). The
    taken-for-granted nature of this rationale for higher education finds
    contemporary expression in routine editorial assessment of the value of
    higher education. For example, consider an October 17, 2003 MSNBC/CNBC
    web-posted article titled: “Is a degree worth a million bucks? How to
    determine what piece of paper will really pay off” by Liz Pulliam
    Weston. With some very specific numbers that compare the income of high
    school degree holders with those of college graduates, we’re told that
    Associate’s and Bachelor’s degrees pay off, as “a slam dunk.” In
    discussing “how your mileage may vary,” Ms. Weston also informs the
    econometrically inclined that some M.A. and M.S. degree holders (in the
    liberal arts and the social sciences) are, in a financial sense, “a step
    back,” and that “Professional degrees rule.” The cost/benefit
    comparison is based on 1996 Census Bureau data, and assumes that a
    degree will cost between $50,000-$110,000, and that the payback can be
    measured by recording the lifetime income gap between a high school
    degree and a college degree, or between a bachelor’s degree and an
    advanced degree. [14]

    Because Ms. Weston’s data and assumptions were taken from the
    boom years of the late 1990s, they do not reflect structural changes
    that have taken place since 2000 (such as the dot.com bust, chronic
    fiscal deficits at the state and federal levels, and the accelerating
    trend of outsourcing of intellectual labor), her calculations and
    conclusions are potentially inaccurate. How this is so is discussed
    below:

    ELECTIVE AFFINITIES: A. Reducing the Supply of Intellectual
    Labor, Raising the Cost — Education, Neoliberalism and the Decline of
    Social Mobility in the U.S.

    In the wake of chronic fiscal deficits, a burgeoning population
    of high school graduates (that will peak in 2009), and the growing
    political acceptability of the notion that education is a private good,
    and, as such, is primed for less, rather than more, fiscal . . . .

    ___

    See the rest here: “The Digital Death Rattle of the American Middle Class” at CTHEORY: http://www.ctheory.net/articles.aspx?id=402

    • http://radioopensource.org Mary McGrath

      This is a thoughtful piece. We’ve been thinking of a show to follow up with, specially in the wake of Piketty, about just what the jobs are out there that we’re graduating our young people to get. Ray Kurzweil, the robot guy, director of engineering at Google is on for it!

    • https://www.flickr.com/photos/22549175@N02/ Robert W Peabody III

      Fascinating if depressing article.
      Loved (/s) this quote from the IBM meeting:
      “why do you(sic) have to talk to someone in your own country?”

      Sobering assertions:
      “Taken as a whole, the message is clear. With the availability of cheap, young, talented global intellectual labor, U.S. intellectual labor is seen by transnational capital as a liability, as not economically viable. And if U.S.-based “symbolic analysts” are economically less desirable and less viable as employees in a global system of intellectual labor, certainly their training in mass numbers is also economically less viable.”

      “Weber, an elective affinity consists of a mutually enabling and active resonance between the tenets of a belief system and the economic interests of a social group:
      ….upwardly mobile East Indians may have (temporarily) more of an elective affinity for neo-liberalism than permanently displaced U.S. knowledge workers. Ironically, U.S. knowledge workers have been displaced via one their own instrumentalities,
      the construction of high-speed communication networks. For them, the global unemployment line is replacing the imagined glories of the global village.”

      #####

      Ray Kurzweil has 20 honorary doctorates – I’m sure he will be interesting.
      The robot guy might ask: Why do you need to talk to another human being let alone in your own country?

      All the creative destruction of, and by, U.S. knowledge workers comes from someplace other than themselves, right? I mean, they aren’t sitting around thinking: I’m gonna get busy putting myself out of job.

      In the film Das Netz (2003), Ted Kaczynski says something to the effect:
      ‘technology molds us to its needs.’

  • https://www.flickr.com/photos/22549175@N02/ Robert W Peabody III

    Is the sky falling or not?
    Re:The Digital Death Rattle of the American Middle Class

    http://www.bls.gov/opub/btn/volume-2/careers-in-growing-field-of-information-technology-services.htm

    “Employment and output in computer systems design and related services are projected to grow rapidly over the next decade, outpacing similar professional, scientific, and technical industries and the economy as a whole.”

    Ask one of your guests what percentage of that growth is to be outsourced.