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.
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.
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.
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!