Inflated Logic

Inflated Logic
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As I note in Monday’s Huffington Post column, there’s increasingly little difference in the flavour of progressivism offered by Democrats in the States and the two left-wing parties in Canada. Case in point: post-secondary education — all of the above think it should be cheaper, more popular, and easier to get into. These are some of the most consistent commandments of North American liberalism.

“Most young people will need some higher education,” said President Obama his recent State of the Union. “It’s a simple fact: the more education you have, the more likely you are to have a job and work your way into the middle class.” But alas, he continued, these days “skyrocketing costs price way too many young people out of a higher education,” so get cracking on that, Congress.

Justin Trudeau echoed Obama’s words a few days later, in a HuffPo editorial of his own.

“It’s time we took education more seriously as a driver of economic success and security right across the country,” he wrote. “A Liberal Party led by me would make it the highest national economic priority to raise our post-secondary education rate to 70 per cent of Canadians.”

Despite the fact that North America’s left-of-centre parties are overwhelmingly favoured by young voters, few partisan dogmas are more directly at odds with youth interests than this one. Much of this continent’s high youth unemployment rate — currently hovering around 13-14% in both the United States and and Canada — is, in fact, directly attributable to the consequences born from a higher education regime that’s already far too easy to enter and too simple to pay for.

Take cost. Is tuition too expensive? Undoubtedly; over the last two decades, the price of a BA has increased over 100% in Canada and the US, with the average cost of a four-year, public university degree totalling around $25,000 in Canada and $35,000 in the States. (Attend one of America’s swankier private colleges and the numbers can easily climb over 100 grand.) In both countries, yearly tuition hikes (around 5-6% annually) have become an entrenched market tradition that defies ordinary inflation rates. Since the 1990s, each subsequent generation of students has been screwed exponentially worse than the one before it.

But no worry! Student loans have never been easier to get. Canada’s various levels of government spend somewhere around $7 billion annually lending out cash to help students pay for their education, while in America the number is closer to $200 billion. And that’s not counting the billions more generously loaned by private firms.

All these giant loans to pay for giant education bills mean students have never been in more debt (today’s grads carry an average load of around $25,000 in both countries, to be precise), but hey, at least everyone’s going to college! Universities can barely keep up with the inflow, in fact — cranes, tarps, and construction crews are now as ubiquitous as backpacks and bongs on campuses across this continent as endless new classrooms, halls, dorms, offices, and annexes sprout from the soil just to make room for the ever-increasing parade of freshmen. Despite the recession, both Canadians and Americans are enrolling and graduating from college at rates unprecedented since the end of the Second World War.

A continent where “everyone” has a chance to get a high-quality university education isn’t some far-off fantasy, in other words — it’s as close to reality as we’ve ever known.

And the consequences have been profound. As we’re endlessly informed by sob-story magazine features and heart-wrenching newspaper exposés in publications on both sides of the border, today’s precocious alumni routinely enter the job market only to find that their expensive degrees have been rendered near-useless by virtue of over-production. Thanks to inflation, the four-year BA, it’s sometimes snidely said, is the “new high school diploma.” It affirms a minimal standard of competence in filling out student loan forms, but little else. Everyone’s got one, so they’re no longer cool.

University degrees are the last social good which the left believes can be overproduced and mass distributed without provoking the sort of severe economic dysfunctions that usually follow aggressive government meddling with the natural forces of supply and demand. Some critics have drawn analogies to the sub-prime mortgage bubble, and that sounds about right.

Politicians want more students to go to college, so they subsidize loans. Private sector loan sharks see profit to be made, and start pushing as well. Degree-granting institutions lick their chops at this mad rush for their product, and raise prices while lowering entrance standards. Cash-strapped legislatures then cut post-secondary funding because they think booming colleges should be able to pay their own way. But the colleges are now too big and luxurious and decadent and over-staffed, so they hike tuition even more. And they also need more students by the way, which is good, because the politicians still think so too. And so do mom and dad and the rest of the broader culture, who have been fed a steady diet of platitudes that college is where good kids go to get good jobs.

It’s a bubble of naiveté and greed and ignorance and it will obviously have to burst at some point, just as the real estate one did. And when it does, guess who’s gonna bear the brunt?

It would be nice if the parties of the left — the parties young voters consistently help put in power — could at least acknowledge this looming crisis of their own making. Instead, they plunge ever-deeper into denial.


  1. George Quail

    I made a more on-topic reply above, but:

    JJ. As a Brit, comparing healthcare to this issue seems more than a bit unfair to me. The NHS undeniably did improve the health of the nation with lots of positive side effects. The horror stories of the early days of the NHS, with people turning up with terrible problems they'd stalled on getting fixed because it was too expensive, seem positively medieval to me now.

    If your point is that it isn't a single one-off payment but a continuing cash sink then, yes, that's not questionable – you make people healthy, they just live to get brand new exciting illnesses. But getting everyone into free/highly subsidised hospitals works far better at it's goal than mass-induction into further education. Getting everyone into degrees creates the opposite of the requested goal, as you pointed out: the problems with mass health care are more complicated.

  2. J.J. McCullough

    The point I was trying to make is that when any resource is too available it inevitably becomes devalued. I can't speak about Britain, but in Canada the problem-of-the-day is that too many people rush straight to the hospital for every little thing, which creates massive backlogs and wait lists, some of which wind up killing people. An over-supply of patients also causes the system to be perennially cash-strapped, which leads to shortages of critical equipment. The end result is that Canadians aren't nearly as healthy, at least by the standards of other western nations, as we could be.

  3. drs

    I think Canada's problem is that it doesn't have enough doctors. It has fewer per capita than the US, while trying to cover everyone. The UK has a similar number but I think a much higher proportion are GPs instead of specialists. Most other rich countries have over 50% more doctors.

    Going by T. R. Reid's _Healing America_ Canada does have a waiting list problem, but it's unique to Canada, and thus a feature and failure of Canada, not of free-at-use universal health care.

  4. Sam

    Honestly, I think there would be less of a demand for young people to go to college if we hadn't gone out of our way to completely kill our working class sector jobs.

  5. Colin Minich

    Hear, hear to that. The amount of outsourcing and exploitative deregulation since the 1980s has been absolutely sickening. I understand in business you want to maximize profit at the lowest cost, but look at what such blind principle leads us…Detroit.

    Now it's an even narrower field for college grads who have to settle for pigeonholed jobs themselves that they see no real way out of for the next 5-10 years.

  6. Jake_Ackers

    Why do you think jobs keep going overseas? Because of the regulations, taxes and the sort that hasn't allowed the US to remain competitive. It's a lot cheaper to produce the product in the country you are going to sell it in. Problem is we don't allow for a market that does that.

    The situation in Detroit is not due to deregulation. It due to regulation, union dues and the sort. Most of the car companies have been moving to the South. Look at Texas. Yes natural resources are a huge part of one cannot forget the business market in those states are better than the ones like Detroit.

    The problem I think there a skills gap. Companies aren't willing to help individuals get those skills. Which is where I think the unions do help out. However, they charge way too much which is the key problem. More so blue collar jobs I am referring to. While, white collars jobs I think is only through internships but that problem is that an internship is a few months and not the years of experience needed. Furthermore, only few internships offer transferable experience. 3-4 months at the company you get hired is great. 3-4 months at another, is not viewed as highly.

  7. Sarah

    There are a couple major flaws with your logical argument here:

    1. In the United States, the percent of young people receiving bachelor's degrees leveled off nearly two decades ago. The increase in the overall education level since then has been due to the dying off of older, less educated cohorts.

    2. The rates of unemployment among college educated youth are dramatically lower than among non-college educated. In January 2013 in the US, 8.7% unemployment of those ages 16 to 24 with a bachelors compared to 22.1% among those with just a high school diploma. It doesn't make sense to argue that the increase in bachelors degrees drives the youth unemployment problem. It may simply drive unemployment specifically among the college educated youth, but even that is not a given because.

    3. The theory that an increase in degrees directly drives down the value of a degree relies on the idea that a college education doesn't DO anything. If people who attend college actually learn skills such as writing, critical thinking, etc. that have value then an increase in college attending can increase overall welfare. This is a testable hypothesis, but so far no one has come up with a conclusive study.

    4. The assertion that college subsidies distort the market ignores the externalities surrounding education. A more educated population improves public health, reduces welfare reliance, and improves economic growth. Since the value of these effects of education only partly accrue to the educated person themselves, people will tend to UNDER-INVEST in college educations without government subsidies. One can certainly argue about the appropriate size of subsidies, but you can't just ignore the basic economic principal of market failure.

    I think that there is a discussion to be had about whether the current government approach to higher education, but the conversation is more nuanced than you make it here.

  8. J.J. McCullough

    I think you make some fair points, but I think point 3 is a big "if." All I know is that university entrance standards have been objectively dropping at many colleges across the continent and many high schools are inflating grades to give their students an undeserved hand-up. As in this story:

    There's also been a lot of anecdotal reporting about how aghast employers are at how bad ostensibly university educated kids are at performing basic workplace tasks such as writing, thinking, etc. I read a good book a while ago called "The Dumbest Generation" that had a lot of very damning things to say.

  9. Dan.W

    This is especially true in the hospitality industry. Culinary schools have gotten (and most certainly earned) such a bad reputation for turning out graduates completely unprepared, lacking even the most basic cooking skills, that having gone to culinary school is more likely to hurt your chances of getting a job than helping. I don't even list having gone to school on me resume anymore, and I graduated with high honors.

  10. lasciel

    I can knock argument #2 and #3 out real quick. I go in to apply for a retail job with my BA. So does someone with just a GED. I get the job because I'm more qualified. This situation happens quite frequently. When college grads are competing with high school diploma'd people for the same entry-level positions, of course the less degreed people get hired less, have higher unemployment. Why? Because the increase in degrees does lower the value of them, because when your chances of getting a salaried position in your field is unbelievably low, your degree is worth what it can get you, a minimum wage job.

    Like you said, there are no facts one way or the other for the idea that college has has any value other than the degree. I will say you already have to have skills in writing and critical thinking simply to get into college, so the idea that they are bestowed by college is laughable. You can learn a lot in college, sure, but you can learn a lot by reading books or by actually doing things.

  11. @Cristiona

    You are? Nothing against you personally, but what did you learn in college that makes you more qualified to run a cash register?

  12. Jack B Nimble

    I have been turned away from some jobs for being "over-qualified." Although I also worked for a guy who said that managers who don't hire over-qualified people are fools. They get the benefit of an exceptional employee, even if it is only for the short term.

  13. Jake_Ackers

    More educated is different that more degrees. We have more degrees but less educated society Proportionally speaking and note I mean PROPORTIONALLY. I know someone is going to twist that sentence. I mean proportionally because we have so many college degrees and yet the knowledge and skills people have are not up to the standards expectant of a university graduate. All the degrees are watered down. Especially high school ones.

    Which is large in part due to a lack of quality control if you will with respect to degrees. It's all done for money. Every time gov't gets involved in a sector the prices go through the roof. An increase in demand causes an increase in prices. The gov't has created an artificial demand (by lowering standards) and spent money on junk university projects at the expensive of a solid education.

  14. drs

    "University degrees are the last social good which the left believes can be overproduced and mass distributed"

    Wait, what happened to health care?

    As for loans and student debt, that's easily solved with free colleges, as in civilized countries.

    "It would be nice if the parties of the left — the parties young voters consistently help put in power — could at least acknowledge this looming crisis of their own making. Instead, they plunge ever-deeper into denial."

    So what's your *solution*, Mr. "I'm not in denial"?

  15. J.J. McCullough

    My solution is that less people should go to university and university should be harder to get into.

    The big difference between degrees and healthcare, is that left-wing politicians are at least willing to openly state that the healthcare status quo is not sustainable.

  16. Colin Minich

    You'll still have to contend with legacy and the sheer sake of buying oneself into a university, Harvard e.g. It sounds silly but it's kinda sad in reality.

  17. Jake_Ackers

    The problem though is that Harvard for every one that buys in there are dozens more than got in for real. Or w/e is the ratio. And Harvard forces them to come out with a solid education.

    Now go to a liberal arts college or some public universities or some less known private university. All are watered down standards from the moment you enter to the moment you get out. If universities refused to admit unqualified people, and high schools just actually thought students then we wouldn't have these problems.

  18. Monapublican

    "My solution is that less people should go to university and university should be harder to get into. "

    Wouldn't that just create more problems than solve?

  19. Jake_Ackers

    Really? It's too expensive so lets just give it out for free. That is just going to cause the cost to balloon.

    The knowledge you get with a GED or a college degree is all watered down now a days. That is the real problem.

  20. JonasB

    I'm definitely going to agree here. I think the value of college or university is grossly overemphasized. Yea, there are some things you should definitely go to C&U for, but it's not the end-all goal that people make of it. My stepsister went to film school instead and is now working in Vancouver's film industry.

    My thoughts are that this will eventually create some sort of weird feedback loop. With so many degrees flying around, employers will aim for those with experience, leading to more people discarding C&U in favour of experience-building. This will eventually lead to degrees being seen as more special, since there will be less of them floating about.

  21. Colin Minich

    College and universities still have an integral place, but what I think happened was multi-pronged.

    1. Many young twentysomethings riding the high of the 1990s as kids had parents who felt that it was comfortable to tell them that no matter what they got even if it was a fine arts degree that there'd be a job waiting for them. Older generations did not prepare us well IMO.

    2. Following #1, many twentysomethings did do that. Despite what many freelance articles and independent newspapers/activists say, the real world DOES NOT care about your English major or your Political Science major because it doesn't translate into necessary skill. Accounting, Finance, Engineering, Pre-Law, Pre-Med, Management, etc., these were the fields that ended up sitting on top in the end laughing from down below. Why? Because they were always there as pure necessities, not passions. I took International Relations as a major and now regret it since it amounted to nothing good for a resume unless you work down in DC. Kids are learning now, but in this day and age it might be better to sacrifice "on a whim" passion for practicality even if you're not 100% happy. You'll at least be stable.

    3. The rising cost of higher education. Really, aside from teacher wages I have been flabbergasted as to why universities need so much damn money for education worth about half of it.

  22. J.J. McCullough

    Heh, well, have you BEEN to a university lately? I visited my alma mater the other day and could not believe what a lavish country club it's become. When I started university back in 2002 the building was crap; none of the furniture matched, the roofs leaked, the carpets were stained, the computer labs were full of those crappy turquoise iMacs, the cafeterias had hideous 70s decor. Now everything is state-of-the-art; it's like something from a movie, all sleek and white and perfect.

    Plus, I mean, most stats I've seen suggest that university administrator pay has gone up up up. And there's so damn many of them these days as well.

  23. Colin Minich

    HA! Oh yes I'm literally a twenty minute walk from my alma mater and what they've done is put up this lavish fitness and recreation center, a new arena, cafeterias that make me seethe with anger that I never got to enjoy such things, a complete demolding project, and so on.

    I know it's a mix of things in response to rising costs everywhere, but $50K a year to me is absolutely absurd and I've yet to see ONE good rationalization of it aside from someone wanting a swanky new dorm that I didn't get to enjoy.

  24. Rachel

    Yeah, I'm a geology major and our current building has the standard white cinderblock wall architecture and feel of the Indiana Jones classroom. They're moving us to a new science building where it's going to be sleek and curvy with supersized windows. I'm going to have to use two buses to get there instead of one, unless I want to walk 2 miles to class. Everyone pretty much hates the change.

    They made the geology department switch from handling their own IT to not allowing them to do it on their own, and having to call in the IT people each time. They buy all their laptops brand new for some $800-$1000 when they don't work and professors go out and just buy their own. Over in the physics department, they keep doing things like resetting the screensaver to university advertisements, which interrupt the lectures.

    Yes, they also built a lavish fitness and recreation center just before I arrived at my university. I had come from a 2-year community college with none of that, where tuition was 80% lower, and class sizes were 20-30, and the teachers were of the same or higher caliber.

    And then the university saves money by taking every single clock out of every building all over campus.

  25. Jake_Ackers

    My former university keeps trying to invest in its sports and has taken money out of the school budget for it. Also takes money out of classes for film festivals and the sort.

    Community colleges are the best to be honest. You get an education and that's it. Sports are only funded (some at least) with their own revenue. Not outside revenue. Although it is dumb to give scholarships to athletes unless it too is using sporting revenue to do it.

  26. Colin Minich

    Unfortunately American (and by some extent probably international) educations have created a stigma where community colleges are seen as cheap and not worth the paper the degrees are printed on. I find it wholly unfair IMO since education is what YOU make of it.

  27. @AshburnerX

    This isn't exactly true anymore. No one cares if you get your basic education (I.E. your Associates) from a Community College and many CCs have programs of study in co-operation with larger universities, where they guarantee you admission and full credit transfer as a pathway to a bachelors. In fact, it's basically a rule of thumb now that your NEED to spend your first 2-3 years at a CC because of how ridiculously expensive 4 year schools have become.

    The stigma is basically gone, as the realities of the marketplace have caught up with Big Business.

  28. Rachel

    I have to second the points that Colin Minich and Sarah made. I actually think that as more and more jobs become automated, this is going to shift unskilled labor into an increasingly crowded job pool. Earlier today, I read that many employers are assessing that the problem with unemployment is a "skills gap."

    If anything, we need more students going to college, and the only degrees undergoing degree inflation are liberal arts degrees. Anthropology and history majors by far have the most unemployment, as high as 13%.

    I agree that standards need to be raised, and in fact recently my university lowered the ACT requirement. Already they hiked tuition by $2000 for a new parking garage and a useless Student Union Building, which houses student government and restaurants like Dunkin' Donuts.

    But really, the solution to this "skills gap" and degree inflation is to change over to different amounts of funding for different majors based on average salaries and employment rates. At my university, some of the departments whose graduates have the highest salaries (geologists and physicists) almost had their departments cut altogether.

    I mean, "a degree" is a really general term, and it's not helpful at all for analysis to lump every single degree in with each other.

  29. Jake_Ackers

    Yah skills gap is the hardest now. Problem is most of these skills comes from years of experience. So you can only get from having a job or an internship which normally is impossible to get 3-5 years experience from just an internship. Especially if you have to work to pay for tuition.

  30. Jake_Ackers

    True that Colin. When I went to school they told us to just go to college and study w/e and you would get a job. Academic doesn't understand supply and demand. Now I have a PoliSci degree that is worthless.

    Schools are suppose to be just education. Music films and sports is not part of it. Unless you going to a fitness or music/theater one.

    Frankly, I think everyone that gets a liberal arts degree should also be required by the university to get a STEM degree.

  31. Colin Minich

    Yeah my IR is worth jack. D:

    I think there is some merit to the fine arts, but the whine I get that cutting funding to it is going to destroy our education is hogwash. The world, frankly, NEVER treated fine arts like it was of vital importance to the economy and to employment. It has luxuries, yes, but look at the past and how the term "starving artist" came about. Few artists are truly rich and successful.

    Liberal arts just needs a severe awakening to the realities of job demand.

  32. Zulu

    Globalization also plays a huge role. Jobs requiring little education beyond technical training have been outsourced, leaving higher skill demanding jobs to be filled. Let's face it, not everyone is cut out to be a mechanical engineer, a CPA, or a computer programmer. Part of the problem is educating and re-educating the unemployed to serve in higher-skilled jobs, and that's way easier said than done. So many people get much easier degrees requiring any real skill other than memorization or at most critical thinking. You end up with generation of graduates with no applicable skill with BAs and student debt, and the ever present class of high school grads and dropouts that are even less likely to get a job. Who would you higher, a high school grad or drop out with no identifiable skill, or a college grad with no identifiable skill?

  33. Kwyjor

    Surely "higher" and "post-secondary" education can encompass perfectly reasonable professions such as trade schools rather than a BA?

  34. Jake_Ackers

    Those are usually label as "vocations". Which normally used to be offer in high schools but now have been cut in favor of liberal arts.

  35. @AshburnerX

    This isn't true in my local district. We have a tech school you can attend during high school, which replaces some of your normal classes in favor of teaching trade skills like auto repair, wielding, and such. You STILL have most of your normal classes, but you get bussed or driven to the tech school for some days of your week.

  36. Guest

    This is unfortunately down to a contradition in the ideology of social democracy. By trying to compromise, they get a dysfunctional mess.

    Rather than come up with solutions to the fact that many non-university-educated workers are undervalued socially and have precarious work situations, they extol social mobility, which helps some initially but offers no solutions for most.

    Rather than guarantee a standard of education and provide it directly and accountably, they allow universities happen at arms length or entirely privately, but still with some government funnelling, backing or sponsorship. So long as they don't tarnish their reputation too much, the various senior stakeholders are then basically free to cut the quality and extract the profits through the back door through financial instruments such as student and institutional loans, management positions.

    Thus, social democrats approach market failure by socialising the cost but privatising the responsibility.

    JJ, I disagree that goods should be rareified on principle. For instance: universal primary and secondary education is pretty much universally accepted as functional. Firefighters and police do not charge for their services.

    The problem is political, though. If there's a way of monetising it, then it's seen as potentially profitable and something the government should keep its hands off, it is taken as an article of faith that the private sector would do it better. Social democrats reckon it's simpler to just not argue with vested interests and offer subsidies (or in some cases are genuinely convinced by the case for subsidies) than try to win the argument that the state can deliver better and often cheaper.

    Same with healthcare, (there's a big difference between the post-war NHS and Obamacare), and taxes.

    On debt, I'm reasonably convinced that a Keynesian approach is about a good a way to run capitalism as you can get, but left and right have both abandoned it in principle and at the same time started doing bits of it in practice, so long as they can hide behind devices like QE.

    Social democrats pander to the financial markets, who right now are looking for nice safe investments with good returns, and government backed loans look ok right now. To be honest, most of these things are common to all the 'mainstream' political parties, with a few exceptions. It's just a matter of which particular services they put the most money in, and that depends on their backers.

  37. drs

    Uh, neither the US nor Canada have good examples of social democrats. Canada's mostly been ruled by the centrist-pragmatist-power seeking Liberals and the conservative Tories; the social democrats are the NDP, who aren't in power much and whose biggest accomplishment was Medicare. The US's big approach to social democracy was Pat Brown's California, with nearly free college for residents.

    I mean, I agree with your actual criticisms, but I think you're slandering a label for no good reason, given that hardly anyone on this continent uses it in the first place. Obama's not a "social democrat", he's… I don't know what he's calling himself, actually, probably progressive, maybe liberal. I've long said US liberals are like weaksauce social democrats.

    And I hear a lot of European SD parties have sold out to liberalism (in the European laissez-faire sense) but the ideology they're selling out is fine and has no better name than social democracy.

  38. Guest

    Fair point. But then I'd argue that social democrats are bound by their position to sell out to centrist liberalism because social-democratic institutions need time to work, usually longer than the term of the social democratic government and are vunlerable to fiddling, sabotage, or plain abolition by rightwing liberals.

  39. drs

    Seems to me social-democratic institutions were working pretty well for a few decades, far longer than any individual government. I think you'll have to blame the shift to liberalism on something else.

  40. J.J. McCullough

    Not everything deserves to be rarefied on principle, fair enough. But anything that's universalized on principle will inevitably become undervalued. It's worth noting that we regard people who haven't completed elementary and high school as extreme losers; the universality of K-12 schooling has turned it into a very low-standards expectation.

  41. Guest

    I agree that it's easy for that to happen, and universalisation can contribute: I don't think it's necessary, though. Not sure I've come across that level of disparagement about people who didn't stay in school till that age, but anyway.

  42. Monapublican

    That depends on what is "undervalued".

  43. @Cristiona

    " Firefighters and police do not charge for their services."

    Except when they do. Make too many false alarm calls in a month, and most police departments will start charging you. And I'm sure everyone saw this article when it happened:

    As communities grow more and more cash strapped, essential services start getting cut or harder to acquire.

  44. drs

    Heh. I'm reading _The High Cost of Free Parking_, a big book about the long drive to provide free parking everywhere outside of built up business districts. Cities require enough parking to meet the peak demand (as estimated by statistical voodoo and junk science) at free prices. It's North American socialism on a huge scale. Free health care? That's socialism. Free and convenient parking? That's a right! No market forces need apply.

  45. Trenacker

    A few years ago, a study of cost in higher education in the United States pointed out that because it is inherently difficult to calculate the value-per-student-per-dollar of spending by post-secondary institutions in particular, the tendency has been to rely on pseudo-scientific proxies (e.g., number of extra-curricular activities; average age of computer terminals in campus workshops) to give parents and politicians the impression that universities are making every dollar count.

    Since the Second World War, middle class achievement in the United States and Canada has been linked almost inextricably to college education — that is, to specialization in a given field. This link has in fact been strengthened by the reconstruction of the global economy since 1945 and the emergence of new markets where labor is substantially cheaper, reflecting lower standards of living. As skilled manufacturing billets dried up in the United States, college became, and has remained, more important.

    One potential solution would be to revamp the secondary education system to get more bang for the buck during grates K-12, producing higher-skilled graduates at the lower levels — literally, putting in more work "at the front end."

    Another solution would be to accept that bachelor's degrees have become sorting devices and to then further differentiate, perhaps by modifying curricula to be longer, or else to focus more on practical applications.

    Some of the problem should lessen for demographic reasons: as Baby Boomers die out, more opportunities will open up independent of the level of schooling or achievement of the work force.

    Having attended an expensive private school on my parents' dime, I was personally struck by (A) the extreme variance in the quality of teaching and syllabi within institutions, (B) the general failure to teach rhetoric, composition, or logic explicitly, when many students have come from secondary schools where they are taught to simply regurgitate, but not to question, material provided by putative "experts," and (C) the fact that students from wealthy families inevitably left with an enormous, perhaps insurmountable advantage, in that they had been able to partake of internships, while many less-fortunate students worked jobs unrelated to their courses of student. The latter problem persisted long after graduation: wealthier students often signed on for unpaid or low-paid work with the expectation of being able to parley decent performance into a long-term post. This all seems like a no-brainer — money counts, duh — until one considers that schools and policy have not really developed mechanisms to address this type of inequality. The focus is all about enabling students to attend school at all, not considering how financial need affects their ability to benefit once financial aid has had its effect.

    Generally speaking, I felt like a cog in a huge, impersonal machine presided over by the worst kind of miser. Not a bureaucrat — not a faceless, nameless worker bee who couldn't understand that processes may have unintended results — but a conscious decision-maker whose primary goal was simply to feed the endowment for the benefit of their own C.V. rather than to ensure a meaningful experience for students. I left college with most of the technical, but few of the life skills that would be indispensable when I entered the work force after two further years of graduate school, which did, at least, begin to address both sides of the equation. It strikes me that much of what I ended up paying for in college simply wasn't there, or else wasn't really presented in a manner fit for consumption.

  46. Chris

    1) Printing obscene amounts of money to give to banks has indeed made them quite wealthy. Mission accomplished.

    3) As you indicated, eliminating barriers to seeking medical care (the intimidating upfront costs) would encourage folks to seek help sooner (nipping potential Problems in the bud), and also drastically reduce the waste associated with relying on emergency rooms for everything. Since its usually the same people footing the bill either way (that is, 'everyone'), we might as well go with the more cost effective route.

    4) You're conflating 'competitive edge' and 'value.' A car has value, even if your neighbors also drive everywhere. Food has value, even if your neighbors aren't starving. Likewise, education has value, even if your neighbors are also educated. If everyone has a degree, such that they are no longer the exclusive, golden tickets of yesteryear, we are simply a small step closer to everyone having an equal opportunity to succeed, regardless of background.

    I do agree that the brazenly exploitative and substandard nature of for-profit education, and the tuition bubble fueled largely by that sector, are significant problems. At least in recent years though, both have come under increased scrutiny from the public and government, and for-profits have also lost significant market share as state institutions increase their online offerings; so perhaps we can yet avoid the dramatic tuition bubble implosion that many have feared.

  47. Trenacker

    I don't, in theory, have a problem with guaranteed universal care, and I agree with the obvious logic of building a preventive regime that avoids the higher costs of reactive medicine down the road. But the high cost of medicine relates to more than just demand. It is also a reflection of the increasingly broad and sophisticated (read: expensive) range of tests and interventions that now constitute the typical standard-of-care owed by the doctor to the patient.

    With respect to value, I agree that all education has intrinsic value. The problem is that it is also often sold as conferring that "competitive edge." It is, in fact, a sorting device. College has become such a device because of (A) the political complications inherent in denying students graduation from high school (when parent intervention is so much more effective), and (B) the rising demand for skilled labor, which creates a glut, driving down the cost of college graduates for the employer.

    Part of the problem in this economy is not just the lack of good-paying jobs for people who have been laid off, but also the mismatch between worker competency and employer demand.

  48. Jake_Ackers

    The problem isn't college it's high school. High school is so weak that they just force kids to learn what they didn't learn in HS, to do it in college.

    Better the education in high schools and you won't need so many college degrees. Most of these office jobs, talking more about human resources than marketing, really don't need college degrees if high school was better.

  49. J.J. McCullough

    To his credit, this is something President Obama also touched on in the SOTU.

  50. Karamelo D Machiatto

    It seems so absurd that a pluralistic country as ours can't comprehend it takes ends to make meet,however how that's done and where do all these supposive agency come into play?Well that would be on road kill that the cat got by skinning with left winning as option less. I can't configure thoughts to this,but the construct of mind set to the degree of rigidity based on the profession chosen makes what scholars detest scientist and why religion seem so inconsistent with politics and why venturing in the world with a means of survival is by who's virtue of enthusiasm. Although all this sounds arguable,well whats the point if you have a natural sustenance and why is life considered so unfair in our capitalistic country?

  51. Stranger

    Keep the poor uneducated. Great plan, JJ.

  52. Jake_Ackers

    No. A degree is not knowledge. Knowledge is knowledge. Just because you have a GED or a university diploma doesn't mean a person know what the paper says they do. More degrees does not mean a better educated society if the degree is printed out of a diploma mill.

  53. Jake_Ackers

    The sad truth is that people like Einstein would of been put in some special education class today and Lincoln would of been unemployed (because he didn't go to college/very little formal schooling).

  54. Hello

    The first panel of this cartoon is a complete strawman.

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