Overweening Generalist

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Missing Public Discussions: Higher Education Seems Near-Broken in Unistat

Let me start with a story you guys and gals (and the always-welcome "Other,""Decline to State," and those transitioning between gender poles) may have heard about, the Berkeley Republican Diversity Bake Sale. Here's a story on it. From The Daily Mail here. And here...in case you missed it while you were out at the opera, or engaged in a marathon reading of Finnegans Wake, or bowling for dollars.

Okay, my politics are pretty far from these young College Republicans, but it's a perennial debate, always heated, I see merits for both sides of the argument, and these were some Republicans who were at least trying to use satire to get their point across. And most of the backlash seemed to me to feed into every negative stereotype about liberal PC histrionic humorlessness.

I noted one commenter on some blog saying what I had thought: I live in Berkeley. The Asian baked goods should've been the most expensive. The closer you get to the campus, the more you see beautiful bright young Asians walking around. Because their cultural inheritance is about kicking ass in homework, studying hard. Especially the Hard Stuff, like math. I know it's a classic stereotype: Asians are good at math. (Yea, but ask the working poor Laotians, Thai, Vietnamese. We're really talking Chinese here, folks. And some Japanese and Indian.)

I look at some kid walking down Durant towards Telegraph and think, "Whoa...I bet she aced Advanced Fluid Dynamics With Topological Applications when she was only 15, just for fun, and I don't even know what that means!" 

I know I'm generalizing wildly, but those kids got into UC Berkeley because their grades were over 4.0. A perfect score on the SATs is 1600, and that kid over there somehow managed to score a 1670; I don't know how, but let it rest with this: these kids are not only freaky good at math, they study - very many subjects other than math, too - like there's no tomorrow. (Or more accurately: like there IS a tomorrow.) I wonder what his Tiger Mom looks like, but I digress...

And I say: good luck to any kid who gets in, whether under some version of Affirmative Action or not. Study your ass off and try and enjoy it. And try and go the extra mile, do the really smart thing and be born into a well-off family. Which is where my point(s) come in...

Widely ranked as the best (or near it) public university in Unistat, in the 1960s you got into Berkeley if you were in the very top of your high school class in California. And believe it or not, tuition was free. Kids under that system started the Free Speech Movement. O! Our fallen world!

Skipping ahead...

By the late 1970s/early 1980s, universities started to run along something like the health care system in the US. You know, "managed care." And look where that's gotten Unistatians: depending on which data sets you look at but I'll even it out, Unistat is around 30th in the world in overall health care, factoring in quality, cost, life expectancy, and other items. It seems Costa Rica is always a country or three ahead of us. We pay more per capita than any other country in the world and we're around numero 30. (I could go on, but that's for some other rant.)

In November, 2010, there were protests at Berkeley because the Board of Regents approved an 8% fee hike to raise the annual tuition from $10,302 to $11,214. And earlier this month, the Regents pretty much said this hike would go on, year after year, until the fees are $22,068 by the school year 2015/16.

This doesn't cover all the other costs, like housing, books, beer, marijuana, Sigur Ros, Radiohead, and Opeth on iTunes, food, ecstasy, transportation, cell phone bills, etc.

(According to one source the average cost of a four year private school is nearly $37,000.)

I don't even want to know how much it costs to go to hoity and private Bennington for a year. It seems like only ten years ago I read that it was the most expensive in Unistat, at a then-stratospheric $23 grand a year...which is what public Berkeley will cost in a mere five years. Insanity! I tells ya!

Studying what you love is great. But unless you're in a totally killer computer science or biotech major, watch out when you graduate. Here's where it gets truly ugly and dire.

Student loan debt is approaching $1,000,000,000,000. Sorta feels Housing-Bubble-ish, doesn't it? And I don't know about you, fellow Unistatian, but lately, every time I'm forced to say the word "trillion" it's surrounded on all sides by Really Bad News. The student loan debt is more than national credit card debt. This has never happened. Better pay that down, twentysomethings!

But they can't. There aren't any jobs. (Wait a minute: did we all wake up one day in a Samuel Beckett play? Because that would explain a lot...)

"Only 56% of 2010 college graduates said they were able to find employment by spring. Even more disheartening, only half of these positions required a college degree." (Full article here.)

(Just try to not think of the other 44%. But I have tangentially discussed a possible some of them previously on the OG. See here. )

I'd say they might get a job driving a cab, but Google - of all people! - seems intent on phasing that delightful and time-honored job out. What? You haven't heard? Check this out.

Just one of very, very, very many jobs that are going away. For good. (I mentioned your computer science degree. You'd better be really good, because India, China, and South Korea have kids that score higher in math than Unistatians, and they'll innovate and program for cheaper. You've been warned.)

A recent study by the worldwide Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development says the US is losing ground in higher education. Most kids enter unprepared, they drop out ("attrition"), and besides, it's a rip-off:

The OECD factors this way: Unistat has the highest (by far) tuition rates in the world. They figure $70K for four years. But then they estimate the young person loses $39K while studying and not working, for a total of over $100K. The OECD average for other industrial countries: $50K. That's not good.

There's a welter of maddening books that show how "administrative bloat," university presidents who make $2 million a year - this is why I compared it to managed care - and moronic things like brand new football stadiums are splurged upon by the upper echelon, while you and your kid (who just moved back in with mum and dad a month after graduating) are saddled with a huge loan (a chance to lessen that burden was squashed by the Republicans in late 2010, while they fought to keep oil subsidies for an industry that saw record profits) and no jobs in sight.

Oh yes: it's become, since 1980 or so, ever-increasingly difficult to get tenure. The tenured professors? I suggest we lump them in with the administrative bloat. Because they - supposedly liberal and for equality and fraternity (in the French sense) - fight mercilessly for their privileges, which are extensive. (I think they are ones most happy this is one Public Discussion that stays Missing...I am being unfair: some tenured professors have spoken out against The System, but they are the brave few.)

The OECD report showed Unistat, among 34 countries studied:
-14th in reading
-17th in science
-25th in math

WOOHOO USA! USA! USA! WE KICK ASS! WE'RE NUMBER ONE! (in military expenditures)


Here's a final little tidbit before I shuffle off for beer:

"According to economist Andrew Sum, the number of college graduates under 25 who are 'underutilized' (e.g, working part-time, working at a job that requires no college degree, like bartending or waiting tables, or just plain unemployed), is over 3 million." (Get a load of the whole article here.)

The rot I barely touched on here is the iceberg-tip.  (Yes, it's a rotting iceberg. You too can mix metaphors grandly. Ask me how!) And I think it qualifies as a Missing Public Discussion. Don't you?

In closing, all my best to the Berkeley Young Republicans Club (or whatever they call themselves), and every kid that gets in to that Hallowed Institution, no matter what factored in. You're gonna need it. Hell, around 75% of the entire population is gonna need it. When a bright kid makes it into the best public school in the country, studies her ass off, gets good grades and graduates magna something or other...and then waits tables while living with mom? That's a telling symptom, folks. And I don't think we can just "walk it off."

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