Monday, October 17, 2011
Who stole your future?
Charles Krauthammer explains the President's re-election campaign. I make much the same point in my next Culture Con column in WI Interest while challenging conservatives to arrive at thoughtful responses.
Krauthammer points out that one of the consequences of this is the "Occupy Somewhere" movement - an effort that has provided, if nothing else, comic relief. As I've written before, much of it is so silly and stereotypical as to be something of an unfair target.
But in today's paper, we see a group from One Wisconsin Now (one is Scot Ross, no?) holding a banner decrying high levels of student loans. They may have a point but not the one they think they have.
Having spent a bit of time around higher education the past few years, I am concerned about student loans. Every year Marquette University Law School has a public interest law auction in which students seem to throw around silly amounts of money to bowl with or have a dinner made for them by a faculty member. I don't know that these students were throwing around borrowed money but you do worry about it.
There's more than that. University tuition has increased by amounts far greater than the rate of inflation and universities have become increasingly opulent and populated by functionaries with obscure titles and uncertain responsibilities which - whatever they are - don't seem to have much to do with teaching.
It is hard not to believe that government subsidized and guaranteed student loans have something to do with it. Throwing more money at higher education might make it more accessible but it may also increase its costs.
The absence of any form of underwriting and little controls on what a student does with the money seems almost guaranteed to lead to just the situation that our Occupiers complain of. Unless you are stone brilliant and attending a prestigious university, borrowing $150000 for graduate work in cultural anthropology or comparative literature is an exercise in consumption. It will not result in a job that permits you to comfortably repay the money. Borrowing $ 200,000 to attend the Thomas Jefferson Law School (or, for that matter, if you are not a good student, Marquette) is probably not going to work out for you from a financial perspective. It may still be worth doing but you have to see it as a life style choice that is probably going to have you living like a student for much of your post-graduate life.
In other words, this is a classic example of a well intentioned program leading to unintended results. But it's not corporations who "stole your future," it's a government that bid up the price of higher education and enabled what now seems like a very poor choice. It's the universities who are notoriously deceitful about these matters.