Posted by: crudbasher | October 28, 2011

Occupy Wall Street Is An Indictment Of Higher Education

I have been following with great interest the Occupy Wall Street protests. It’s a complex issue because there are actually a great many different groups involved, each with their own agenda. There is one issue which as emerged this past week that I would like to comment on and maybe raise a point that I feel is being missed.

I don’t want to get into the politics of this. This blog is about the forces that are shaping the future of education such as economic, societal, political, and technological. For today let’s focus on the societal.

(cc) Sasha Y. KImel

It seems that many of the protesters in the movement are recent college graduates who can’t find a job. They are suggesting (or demanding) that their student loans be forgiven. This week President Obama directed the government to adjust a new policy, that while not completely forgiving the loans, caps how much the students have to pay. If you get a government job, you only have to pay 10% of your salary for 20 years. If you get a private job, you pay 10% for 30 years. There are several implications to this.

First, I feel this is going to cause tuition to skyrocket. It has already been going up much faster than inflation but if the students only have to pay a certain amount of their salary then why would they even care what the tuition is? They already don’t care much now as loans cover everything. Colleges can double the tuition charges and students will still pay the same amount. Tax payers will eat the rest. This has huge implications for the future. You can’t keep loading the national debt like this. Just look at Greece. I mean while we are at it, let’s just give everyone in the US $1 million dollars. Student load debt is already a Trillion dollars. Watch for it to drastically increase.

(cc) shianux

Second, I have a real problem with changing the terms of contracts after they have been agreed to. One of the reasons that the US has been such a successful country in the last 200 years is that we have had the rule of law. That means that the law is applied to everyone equally, regardless of consequences. These cries of “social justice” mean that the law is selectively applied according to politically correctness. This is how corrupt governments come into being. Make no mistake, the rule of law exists to protect the little guy, not the big players. Once you do away with that we will be serfs, not citizens.

Third is the the message this sends to universities. Going to college has only been really popular in the last 50 years. Think about it, how many of your grandparents went to college? Or even parents? And yet, for the last 30 years especially we have been telling our kids that they MUST go to college to in order to be a success. Our kids listened to us and did so. At the end of that, they had massive debt and no job. I’m not surprised they are ticked off and yet there is more to the story.

(cc) timlam18

About 20 years ago a movement arose that claimed that a child’s self-esteem was so important it should be placed above everything else. We started to see sports games being played where nobody kept score and everyone got a trophy. There is considerable debate as to the validity of this theory (see Alfie Kohn’s work) but it seems that there has been no measurable improvement in student achievement in the last 20 years that can be traced to self-esteem.

A Washington Post story had this to say about it:

According to the Washington think tank’s annual Brown Center report on education, 6 percent of Korean eighth-graders surveyed expressed confidence in their math skills, compared with 39 percent of U.S. eighth-graders. But a respected international math assessment showed Koreans scoring far ahead of their peers in the United States, raising questions about the importance of self-esteem.

Apparently we are #1 in self-esteem. So why am I bringing this up?

Let’s consider a typical college graduate Occupy protester. From the time they could understand, they were told how special they were. As they grew up, they collected trophies and awards in their room. They progressed through the grades by doing what they were told and failed very little. Success came easily for most because the system was setup that way. They got into college because there was a flood of federal money to send them there. In college they had amazing facilities and dorms that were more like a luxury hotel than college dorms of their parents. They took whatever classes appealed to them under the assurance that they would move right into a career with rapid advancement into management. Then, for the first time in their life, they were confronted with reality. It is true that right now is a wretched time to be trying to start a career. Many people who were planning to retire can’t yet, and technology is obsoleting many jobs. Even so, these young people are tasting failure for the first time so what is their reaction? They want loan forgiveness.

This is the part I think a lot of universities are missing.

A few days ago I wrote a piece about Netflix where I said Netflix misunderstood what people were buying from them. They weren’t buying movies, they were buying convenience. I also asked if universities understood what their students thought they were actually buying. Let me lay it out.

What the graduates are essentially asking for is a refund. If students thought they were buying an education, then they wouldn’t be asking for loan forgiveness because they got that. They thought they were buying a career path and let’s face it, that is how college is sold. While I don’t think living in a park and demanding somebody fix it is effective, they do have a point. Not only that, but the students in high school are watching this and considering their colleges .Will they actually go? We will see what happens next.

As I said in the beginning, I’m not interested in discussing the political dimension of this but I am very interested in other viewpoints to my argument. Perhaps I missed something? Please let me know in the comments, I’d love to get a different take!



  1. Not so sure about your implications list (I’d argue some of that an offer others) but WOW by the end, you this nailed it like I’ve never read:

    “What the graduates are essentially asking for is a refund. If students thought they were buying an education, then they wouldn’t be asking for loan forgiveness because they got that. They thought they were buying a career path and let’s face it, that is how college is sold.”

    Another side to this is that there are many of other career paths, maybe even better suited for many would-be students that have been marginalized by various cultural forces over then last generation. If you’ve never seen this it’s worth the 8 minutes,
    “Mike Rowe Speaks To Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee”

    • Shawn,

      Thanks for sharing this video – it was great!

    • Thanks for your kind words Shawn and sharing that great video! He really nailed it!

  2. Andrew,

    Another thought-provoking post. I think it comes down to personal responsibility. Let me share a personal story.

    When I had to decide which college to attend in 1992, I went to the University of Florida (typical state university, but I had the Bright Futures scholarship for tuition, inexpensive housing, no need for loans) instead of Emory University (beautiful campus and prestigious name but high tuition and housing expenses, definitely would have had to take out loans).

    I knew I did not want to be saddled with debt when I graduated (particularly with a degree in history), so I chose the public university (and got a very good education). And, I was right. When I graduated, I got a job as a front desk manager at a hotel, making not much more than minimum wage. If I had had loan payments to make, I’m not sure how I would have covered my bills.

    I knew I wanted to go to graduate school, so I started applying and enrolled in 1998 at Emory University. Because Emory has a rather substantial endowment, it provided tuition scholarships for me and the 11 other students who started the PhD program in history. If we wanted to take out loans for living expenses, that was our choice, but our tuition was covered. Notice that they only accepted 12 students per year and by restricting enrollment they could provide these scholarships. I’m sure they also realized that newly-minted PhDs have a very hard time landing tenure-track positions, thus they didn’t want their liberal arts graduates to have to be faced with paying $100,000 or more in student loans.

    As much as I think higher education is a great equalizer and I strongly encourage it, students (and parents) have to be smart about the choices they make. Pursue your passion and interests, but find ways to minimize debt – go to community college for the first two years; work a part-time job while you attend school (thus earning money and gaining experience); intern or apprentice in your field (to make sure it’s what you really want to do).

    Above all, sit down and do the math of your expected starting salary, living expenses, and projected loan payments. If the numbers don’t add up, don’t put the blinders on and pretend it will all work out somehow by magic.

    I think the recession we’re in has shown that, to be successful, you must take responsibility for your career path, be innovative, and never stop learning (see “300 Million Start-Ups” at

    • Thank you so much for sharing your story Carol. Really good stuff! I’m wondering if this next generation will be shaped by the events of the last few years? The generation that grew up during the Great Depression was always more frugal than the ones that followed so it did have an effect. For example, my grandfather never left food on his plate. This sort of stress on society is going to change things but I wonder in what way?

      • I think a new sense of frugality would be a positive development. The baby boomers and their children (Gen X and Y) have had too much abundance and affluence and thus have been led to believe that they/we could have anything we wanted (fine universities, social services, big military) without having to pay/sacrifice for it (except, of course, with debt).

  3. Great post!

    “First, I feel this is going to cause tuition to skyrocket.”

    Great point… and it may also delay the StormFront that could actually bring about at change in Higher Education by allowing the current conditions to last longer.

    Keep up the great work,

  4. Hey Kent welcome back! I was thinking earlier about this and think it may actually work like the health care cost problem. People only pay their deductible so they have no real incentive to keep costs down. In fact, I bet most people have no idea how much it actually costs to go to the doctor. I wonder if students will start doing a calculation of how much they expect to earn and ignore the tuition price? It almost becomes a kind of tax. Go to college at whatever cost, and then pay a 10% tax for the next 20 years. This could be very bad… We are already at 1 trillion dollars in student loan borrowing. Now we are going to add this to the national debt?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: