Free Markets, Free People

Daily Archives: November 7, 2011

Is “Higher Education” more of a rip-off than a benefit today?

Well you have to ask yourself what you get for the money when you purchase anything don’t you?  I mean isn’t that how you make buying decisions for the most part?  You weigh the advantage the purchase makes in your life and you figure out whether or not parting with your money justifies the supposed benefits.

In the case of higher education in this country, it’s my guess we passed the point of diminishing returns eons ago.  A college degree just isn’t what used to be a few decades ago, but it costs a hell of a lot more.  Jack Kelly fills us in:

Tuition and fees at colleges and universities rose 439 percent between 1982 and 2007. Median family income rose just 147 percent during that period.

Median household income has fallen 6.7 percent since June 2009. The cost of attending the average public university rose 5.4 percent this year.

Student loan debt recently passed $1 trillion. It’s now more than credit card debt. The average graduate of a four-year college owes $27,000.

So you have a cost that has risen far and away faster than inflation and median family income for, well, no good reason that I know of.

Oh wait, I said “good reason”.  There is a reason.   Can you say “subsidy”?  That coupled with the myth that a college degree … any college degree … is worth its weight in future gold.  But it appears that gold may be fool’s gold. 

I love this description of what many institutions of “higher learning” have become:

College students don’t get much for their money. Nearly half learn next to nothing in their first two years; a third learn almost nothing in four, according to a report authored principally by Prof. Richard Arum of New York University.

"Students who say that college has not prepared them for the real world are largely right," said Ann Neal, president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni. "The fundamental problem here is not debt, but a broken educational system that no longer insists on excellence."

Or even adequacy. "A college degree nowadays doesn’t necessarily signal that its holder has any useful work skills," said Charlotte Allen of the Manhattan Institute.

"For decades our schools have abandoned the teaching of basic facts and foundational thinking skills, and replaced both with leftish received wisdom and stale mythologies, all the while they have anxiously monitored and puffed up students’ self esteem," said classics Prof. Bruce Thornton of California State University Fresno.

I agree totally with Ms. Neal.  There is no insistence on excellence.  That’s not true of every institution out there, obviously.

However a look at the various new degree programs provides a peek into the priorities of the schools.  To broaden and accept as many students as they can to also broaden the revenue stream they’re provided.  The unique offerings are most likely not made to produce anything meaningful in academia and certainly not in the real world, but they do attract a certain type of student to such a degree program that is fully willing to buy into the myth that somehow a degree in gender studies is going to be useful and are willing to pay the big bucks demanded (even if that means borrowing them). 

And, of course, government subsidizes the purchase, so there’s certainly no reason for the school to back off such a useless program or lower it’s price to something roughly equivalent to its utility in the real world.

What happens?  Precisely what you’d think would happen.  Its much like the housing crisis.  Loans are given to people who aren’t really capable of college work.  They leave with nothing or some marginal degree and huge debt. 


Others graduate to find there are no jobs for them. Roughly 60 percent of the increase in the number of college graduates since 1992 work in low-skill jobs, Prof. Richard Vedder of Ohio University discovered. In 2008, 318,000 waiters and waitresses had college degrees, as did 365,000 cashiers and 18,000 parking lot attendants.

Because degrees have been so diluted and their worth so compromised over the years, they’re less and less of a guarantee of a good job and better wages.

But because government subsidizes education and distorts the market, guess what?

And, according to a study by the American Enterprise Institution and the Heritage Foundation, teachers are paid $120 billion over market value.

There is fraud at every level of the education system, thanks mostly to politics, said Herbert London, professor emeritus at New York University. Teachers and professors go along to save their jobs.

"They simply cannot say that college isn’t for everyone … or that rigorous exit requirements at any level do not exist," he said. "Hence, there is the clarion call for more money."

Of course they can’t.  The gravy train is just too rich to quit.

And, you also need to understand what is actually happening in colleges and universities across the nation to appreciate the full impact of this market intrusion by government.  Colleges, as mentioned, no longer demand excellence.  Instead, they spend an enormous amount of time and effort teaching what a college student should have mastered before ever showing up at a university:

We spend about $10,600 per pupil in public schools, 377 percent more, in inflation-adjusted dollars, than we spent in 1961. Yet among students who go to college, 75 percent require some remedial work.

If you managed to catch some of the protests in WI that included teachers and caught the spelling on some of their signs, the stats above wouldn’t particularly surprise you.  We spend more on education today and and get even less than in the past.  What you have to remember is that at every level it is either run by or subsidized by government.

Now at every level, we’re seeing the results of that sort of intrusion, aren’t we?  A dismal record of extraordinarily expensive non-achievement.  And nothing is going to change or improve in that regard as long as government stays in charge and subsidizes the growing bubble with your money.

But you’ll never hear that said, will you?


Twitter: @McQandO

Admin Note

There are no economic stats being released today, hence the lack of a post about same. In fact, it’s a bit of a lame week for economic stats. Not much happening other than the standard weekly reports.

Meanwhile, here at QandO, I’ve implemented a new commenting system called Livefyre. I learned about it Saturday at BlogWorld Expo, and it has a lot of neat features, foremost of which is that it directly ties the blog comments to Facebook, Twitter, and, soon, Google Plus. It also allows you to sort the comments by date, post directly to your social media account, has a much more effective conversation threading model, and a host of other little improvements to the WordPress basic commenting functionality. Enjoy.

Dale Franks
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Cain, politics, personal behavior and “the truth” (update)

A couple of polls have emerged since the charges of sexual harassment by Herman Cain, a GOP presidential candidate, were first surfaced by POLITICO. The reason the two polls are meaningful is they essentially address the same issue and come to much the same conclusion.

That is, the personal behavior of candidates matters to voters.  But, as I’ve observed it over the years, it means less to some voters than others.  Oh, by the way, when asked a question about morality, how do you suppose most people will respond?  Just sayin’.

But with those caveats let’s take a look.  First the Reuters/Ipsos poll:

The poll showed the percentage of Republicans who view Cain favorably dropped 9 percentage points, to 57 percent from 66 percent a week ago.

Among all registered voters, Cain’s favorability declined 5 percentage points, to 32 percent from 37 percent.

The survey represents the first evidence that sexual harassment claims dating from Cain’s time as head of the National Restaurant Association have taken a toll on his presidential campaign.

A majority of respondents, 53 percent, believe sexual harassment allegations against Cain are true despite his denials. Republicans were less likely to believe they are true, with 39 percent thinking they are accurate.

Now I’m not sure yet how anyone can flatly say or believe the allegations are “true” based on what has so far been revealed about the alleged harassment.  So far the most we know is that 3 women claim to have been victims of “sexual harassment” and two were paid a sum to settle some sort of harassment claims.   And we’ve had one, through her lawyer, anonymously announce she stands by her allegations.  But what exactly are those allegations.   Are they of the Bob Packwood variety?  Or the Bill Clinton variety.  Right now we just don’t know.

While one might conclude that something went on then, it still isn’t clear that the allegations are “true”.   For instance, one could ask, was it cheaper for the Restaurant Association to pay off these women (most likely without admitting any guilt) than to pay armies of lawyers to fight the charges?  We don’t know.   And that sort of doubt and uncertainty casts any thoughts of “the allegations are true” out the window.  We need a lot more information to put “true” or “false” to this.  

But look at the effect it has had.  The unfortunate result of politics today.  This is hardly uncommon.

The second poll was taken by The Hill.

The results of this week’s The Hill Poll indicate that 85 percent of voters regard the way a politician conducts his or her private life as important to how he or she might discharge public duties. Forty-seven percent regard the candidate’s private life as “very important” and 38 percent say it is “somewhat important” in this regard.

The Hill Poll also suggests that 67 percent of voters feel presidential politics have become dirtier over the past generation, while a mere 4 percent say they have become cleaner. Roughly 1 in 4, or 27 percent, believe the ethical nature of presidential battles has stayed about the same as it was in the past.

Those two points sort of explain the politics of personal destruction.  Now I’m again not saying Herman Cain isn’t guilty of sexual harassment.   I simply don’t know at this point.   But I think the results in the poll point out why such allegations surfaced.   I’m of the opinion politics have gotten “dirtier” in the past generation and I think the reason is found in the first paragraph.  It is an easy way to knock out a contender or a threat.  Its that simple.

Politicians will drop to the lowest level of politicking in heart-beat if they perceive a benefit to them in doing so.  And in the last generation we’ve seen leaps of light years in mass communications.  It is much easier to get things like these allegations (with little factual support to this point) out there and going viral.

It’s a bit like the utility of saying something in court you know the judge is going to strike down if you’re a lawyer.  The judge may order it stricken from the record and tell the jury to disregard what was said, but we all know you can’t do that no matter how the judge insists.  The statement just lays there.  Once out of the jar, it can’t be put back in.

Secondly, this sort of an allegation has a tendency to have a weird bandwagon effect.  Remember Tiger Woods and his infidelity?  As soon as the name of one woman surfaced, women from all over raised their hands and said “me too”!  I’m not alleging Cain is like Woods, I’m just pointing out a phenomenon that’s fairly common.    In the case of Cain, these allegations may bring others out who may or may not have a valid claim, but whose mere surfacing will lend credibility to the former allegations.

Again, a technique that’s been used successfully in the past in all sorts of ways. 

Which brings me to the question, where did these allegations come from.  I know they were published in a story by POLITICO, but few if any reporters sniff out stuff like this.  They’re usually handed a tip by someone.  Cain’s campaign immediately claimed it was Rick Perry’s campaign.  The usual denials took place and the Cain campaign backed off.

Cain’s campaign knew this was coming 10 days before it was published.   They did absolutely nothing to address it or try to diminish its impact.  That either speaks of political naivety or the belief that there was no substance to the reported allegations (which brings us back to point one about political naivety).   Consequently when it hit, it hit hard and the polls show the result.  For someone, I’d guess, that was the desired result.

Oh, and one more little fact from the Hill poll that is a huge factor in all of this:

News organizations are viewed poorly in terms of political neutrality and their broader ethical conduct.

Gee, there’s a surprise, no?

It will be interesting to see whether Cain can weather these allegations and regain his momentum.  But the fact that he’s battling nebulous allegations of decades old sexual harassment claims certainly gives me an idea of the type of campaign we’ll witness in the coming 12 months.

If you thought it was dirty out there in politics land before, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

UPDATE: The bandwagon effect.


Twitter: @McQandO