The New York Times today has an article on the “5 Takeaways from the Year in Education.” While I agree with the other four "trends," I want to respond and offer a rebuttal to #3: “Declining Faith in Higher Education.”
I believe this so-called decline is a hoax. Over 92% of rich people send their children to college (and are willing to cheat to get their kids in). Think about that. Is there "declining faith in higher ed" or do the rich and powerful want the rest of us to lose our faith in higher ed? If so, why?"
Those questions make me think the "declining faith in higher ed trend" isn't just a hoax but a conspiracy: if you diminish the importance of higher education, if you defund all public education (including higher ed), one result is that youth formerly destined for the middle class are equipped only for working class jobs.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with being working class—except that our economy is designed for the rich so expenses have risen over the last three decades while wages for the lowest quartile have been stagnant. More to the point, if you no longer have a large middle class trained for middle class occupations, with expectations of truly middle class wages, then it is far easier to cheat them, to deprive them of benefits, and to contribute to growing income inequality.
As many studies have shown, the world’s major corporations now pay far higher wages to the top 1% of their employees and have far fewer employees at middle-class wages. Is there really a "declining faith in higher ed" or do we want to educate the next generation to expect less of their future jobs, to demand less from future employers?
The rhetoric that “college isn’t worth it” (i.e. for your child, not for mine) might actually translate: “I’m rich and selfish—and therefore I don’t want to pay taxes to make public education, including higher ed, free or even affordable. I'm rich and selfish and want to make sure my child goes to college and that your child does not. I want them content with lower wages, no benefits, no job security. I want them to aspire, at most, to be Uber drivers, contingent and replacement, and carrying the burden and expenses of their employment.
Here’s my Twitter thread from a dialogue about these issues (excuse the "Twitter-ese")
- First of all, if you are rich, you still send your children to college.
- Over 92% of rich people send their children to college (and willing to cheat to get their kids in). Dropout rate correlates w need to have jobs, food and housing insecurity, cutbacks to higher ed. #fight4edu
- Second, and I say this as one whose life is dedicated to higher ed transformation, relevance, student-centered learning, etc: We need to make college better, cheaper, more accessible to more. That's a very different project than demeaning its social value.
- College funding increased and college attendance increased as did worker wages in the years after World War II. The decline in wages parallels cutbacks to higher education, rise in tuition, and--now--a rhetoric that college isn't worth it.
- The issue is not that college does not make students "workforce ready." The issue is that, no matter how relevant an education, most graduates face a labor market that grossly underpays its workers, at every level, with disparities for people of color, first generation college students, first generation Americans, and women of all races, especially those going into the four so-called "feminized professions" (teachers, librarians, social workers, nurses). [NB: recent study showed teachers make 21.4% less than comparable college graduates; that's not a higher education problem but a social problem!: https://twitter.com/saragoldrickrab/status/1210988641167785985/photo/1 )
- Another reason that NYT cites for "lost faith" in college is the high drop out rate. One of my pet peeves is the cliche: "50% of college students never graduate." At elite schools where students live in dorms, have advisors, no jobs or part time on-campus jobs, graduation rate is 90-95%. Change those material conditions and graduation rate drops.
- Pres Mark Becker, George State U, where 70% of students are PELL eligible, noted on a recent academic panel that students at Georgia State are seven times more likely to drop out of college for financial than for academic reasons--and $100-200 can make the definitive difference.
- For other statistics and insights into the “real conditions” faced by students today, see my blog post: https://hastac.org/blogs/cathy-davidson/2019/11/24/people-our-classrooms-who-are-students-learning-hardest-lessons
- This is why I love programs like @cunyasap: "We have your back, your books, your MetroCard." Classes offered at times when students are off work, easy short term emergency loans, advisors for life as well as school crises. #fight4edu