an education bubble

The buzz in the blogosphere is an education bubble and it is all about peer  pressure as mostly elite winners of education contests discuss education:  Rortybomb has two posts on education recently, one on the college bubble,  and one post that links to a much discussed article by Thiel in TechCrunch.  There is also a link this article Bad Education, an article up at n+1.  From that article, the bubble case in a few lines:
Since 1978, the price of tuition at US colleges has increased over 900 percent, 650 points above inflation. To put that number in perspective, housing prices, the bubble that nearly burst the US economy,  then the global one, increased only fifty points above the Consumer Price Index during those years. But while college applicants’ faith in the value of higher education has only increased, employers’ has declined. According to Richard Rothstein at The Economic Policy Institute, wages for college-educated workers outside of the inflated finance industry have stagnated or diminished. Unemployment has hit recent graduates especially hard, nearly doubling in the post-2007 recession.
None of this is new to homeschoolers.  But Theil's article upset people; there is even a warning at the beginning. Thiel, who himself graduated Stanford, is at least honest about schools, grading and elitism: rewards from high test scores are paid for by those who do poorly. Class status is usually preserved within the public school system. There is no such thing as a meritocracy in the US.


Like any good bubble, this belief– while rooted in truth– gets pushed to unhealthy levels. Thiel talks about consumption masquerading as investment during the housing bubble, as people would take out speculative interest-only loans to get a bigger house with a pool and tell themselves they were being frugal and saving for retirement. Similarly, the idea that attending Harvard is all about learning? Yeah. No one pays a quarter of a million dollars just to read Chaucer. The implicit promise is that you work hard to get there, and then you are set for life.  It can lead to an unhealthy sense of entitlement. “It’s what you’ve been told all your life, and it’s how schools rationalize a quarter of a million dollars in debt,” Thiel says. Thiel isn’t totally alone in the first part of his education bubble assertion. It used to be a given that a college education was always worth the investment– even if you had to take out student loans to get one. But over the last year, as unemployment hovers around double digits, the cost of universities soars and kids graduate and move back home with their parents, the once-heretical question of whether education is worth the exorbitant price has started to be re-examined even by the most hard-core members of American intelligensia.
Making matters worse was a 2005 President George W. Bush decree that student loan debt is the one thing you can’t wriggle away from by declaring personal bankruptcy, says Thiel. “It’s actually worse than a bad mortgage,” he says. “You have to get rid of the future you wanted to pay off all the debt from the fancy school that was supposed to give you that future.
But Thiel’s issues with education run even deeper. He thinks it’s fundamentally wrong for a society to pin people’s best hope for a better life on  something that is by definition exclusionary. “If Harvard were really the best education, if it makes that much of a difference, why not franchise it so more people can attend? Why not create 100 Harvard affiliates?” he says. “It’s something about the scarcity and the status. In education your value depends on other people failing. Whenever Darwinism is invoked it’s usually a justification for doing something mean. It’s a way to ignore that people are falling through the cracks, because you pretend that if they could just go to Harvard, they’d be fine. Maybe that’s not true.”
And that ripples down to other private colleges and universities. At an event two weeks ago, I met Geoffrey Canada, one of the stars of the documentary “Waiting for Superman.” He talked about a college he advises that argued they couldn’t possible cut their fees for the simple reason that people would deem them to be less-prestigious.
And one reaction from Vivek Wadhwa, who is honest about his view of the good of education as far as providing a job. He is quite right when he talks about hiring practices at high-tech firms:
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