Third Paradigm is an out-of-the-box thinktank on community sovereignty and regenerative economics.
We look at how to take back our cities, farmland and water; our money, production and trade; our media, education and culture, our religion and even our God.
We present a people's history of the Bible and a parent's view on how to raise giving kids in a taking world.
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Here in Santa Cruz, we have an excellent two-year college where such a balanced life would be possible. But their funding has been cut so severely that the retiring VP of Business Services has been known to cry in public. Students have to strategize carefully squeezing into packed classes. Increasingly, only the basics are being taught, making it a university prep school with few extra choices. The wide world of learning for its own sake is being choked off. A popular teacher of sewing, for instance, whose classes always filled on the first day of enrollment, has been laid off, her classes cancelled.
Dismal, to say the least. California has been hit hard by the current recession. In a little less than two years, the State Budget has shrunk from over $100,000 billion to a little less than $89,000 billion (a figure that is based on optimistic revenue projections that may ultimately be adjusted downward).
Since roughly 45% of the State Budget typically supports its educational system, school budgets have been hit particularly hard. This past July, legislative leaders emerged from the Governor's Office to announce that they had finally reached an agreement on how to solve the state's $26.3 billion Budget deficit. That plan imposed major cuts on almost all state programs, borrowed billions from local governments, and relied on accounting tricks and one-time solutions to bridge the shortfall. Despite these actions, many expect that further reductions will be necessary later in this fiscal year as job losses continue and tax revenues fail to match the May Revision forecast. Given the information above, it should surprise no one that a Cabrillo Unified School District Budget that was approaching $30 million two years ago is now projected to dip below $25 million in the 2011-2012 school year. We have some important work to do!
"The Results on California State Revenues" bar graph on the following page provides a clear picture of just how hard our state has been hit by the downturn in the economy. Source
So I've been designing an alternative called the UniverseCity, which includes a gap year curriculum. The gap year is a European tradition of taking a year-long break between high school and university, often to travel and gain life experience. But I'm using it in a different sense, as a rigorous course of study to fill in the gaping hole between reality and the worldview promoted by the industrial-military-educational complex. Our daughter has done a great job of learning what the test and textbook industry thinks she should know – now she's ready for a true education.
I'm not the only one looking for alternatives to the degree factories. The New York Times just ran an article called "Placing the Blame as Students Are Mired in Debt." It tells the story of Cortney Munna, whose father died when she was 13, and whose mother runs a bed and breakfast. She worked hard to get good grades, and was accepted to NYU where she majored in Religion and Women's Studies. First, she got federal loans and her mother cosigned a loan for $20,000. But when Sallie Mae rejected a third loan, NYU sent them to Citibank, from whom she borrowed another $40,000 over the next two years. Finally, NYU said they could get her another $2000, at which point, the mother claims they should have said, "You are in deep doo-doo, little girl." Five years after graduation, she's $97,000 in debt with no prospect of repayment.
With tuition, room, and board, NYU comes to $52,000 or $208,000 for four years. Somehow, with grants and work study, Cortney must have managed another $111,000 to get that BA. As an investment, this would be like buying a house with over 50% down. But for Cortney, that remaining 50% has been disastrous. Since her graduation, the most she's made is $22 an hour, which barely pays the rent. Her potential to have a decent life are slim, with the interest mounting and no way out.
The article, as the title states, looks for someone to blame. It blames her for majoring in something as non-market-driven as religion or women. It blames her mother for being proud of her daughter and co-signing on the American dream. But it gives Sallie Mae a pass on the blame, because, after all, they got the mother to sign, who could sell her bed and breakfast to repay. Shrewd business move. The author wonders what Citibank could have been thinking, but concludes that they kept loaning because, if she had to drop out, she'd be less able to repay. Most of the blame, however, the author places on NYU for not counseling students who can't afford it that "they just don't belong there." But then he makes excuses for NYU and the loan counselors, because how would they keep their jobs and stay open if they discouraged middle class students? However, he says, they should require a financial solvency course where the students use their own families as case studies.
So who really does belong at NYU? According to the author, "Children of the wealthy and a much smaller number of low-income students to whom it can afford to give enormous scholarships." The middle class, it implies, should stick with their kind in the state schools. Let's look this dripping elitism in the eye. Even if you're in with the in-crowd, and can afford $208K without the humiliation of a drawers-around-the-knees, show-me-what-you've-got finance course, is NYU worth it? If it's not a good investment at half the cost, then it's not worth the money that full boat parents are paying for it.
If the major Cortney chose was the problem, then our universities are really upscale trade schools, foregoing learning in order to develop marketable skils. If a young person actually wants to learn, they'd be better off taking unpaid apprenticeships or volunteering, while making a meager living on the side. Whatever they learn will be their responsibility, but they can keep it up for the rest of their life without the debt hanging over their head.
The reporter, however, could use an education. How can he write an article in the money section of the New York Times without knowing that Citibank and Sallie Mae are better off when student loans default? His own paper has run two articles in the last few years entitled The Student Loan Scam. Doesn't he read his own paper? He could have read Alan Michael Collinge's book by that title, which they reviewed and we reviewed in our episode, The Student Loan Mafia. Blaming the victims while apologizing for the banks, however, is probably better for his career.
We'll examine this more when we come back, but first, let's hear some poems. This is "When the Shoe Fits" by Chuang Tsu and "Straight Talk from Fox" by Mary Oliver. The music is "A Day Without Rain" and "Tempus Vernum," both by Enya from the CD A Day Without Rain.
That was "When the Shoe Fits" by Chuang Tsu and "Straight Talk from Fox" by Mary Oliver. The music was Enya with "A Day Without Rain" and "Tempus Vernum."
Before we return to higher education and its discontents, I wanted to correct some conclusions I reached last episode. As I was talking about the lack of critical thinking, I, myself, fell prey to it. I uncritically reported conclusions the Pew Center had reached from their data on the differences between Democrats and Republicans on a survey of happiness. They found that Republicans are more content with what they have, less interested in wealth, free time, and career growth, and more interested in marriage, family, and religion. But when I looked at the chart from another angle – at the degree to which Republicans and Democrats agreed - 55% of both felt a successful career was important, and 63% valued free time, but 83% said wealth didn't matter to them. These majority positions of both parties are much more significant than the few percentage points they differ by. It's true that marriage and religion are significantly more important to Republicans, but 56% agree that having children is important and 55% of both value charity work. So even though Democrats don't have as high a regard for the institutions of marriage and religion, they prioritize raising a family and helping others, just like the Republicans.
When I look at the data this way, it seems obvious that we agree on far, far more than where we disagree. How could the Pew Center have focused only on the fractional margins of difference, rather than the whole? It makes me wonder which right-wing thinktank is paying their bills. Maybe the same one that's been grooming a light-skinned, articulate, and compliant black man for President.
Speaking of which, we also talked about Obama in the last episode, and why he talks like a Democrat but marches in lockstep with the Republicans. My optomistic neighbors have hoped that he's laying the bipartisan groundwork to introduce the changes we were all salivating for. My own view is more cynical, recalling John Perkins' talks on his book Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. In them, Perkins reveals how he was carefully selected, not for his strengths, but for his weaknesses – in his case, women and a sense of inferiority to the wealthy kids he went to school with. The mentor he was assigned was a dominant and sexy woman who alternated flattery and rejection, enticement and withdrawal. He was hooked and reeled in, establishing a pattern by which they could manipulate him. If this is done with economic hit men, could it be possible that any politician gets the nod without having been selected at a malleable age and groomed for obedience?
What would Obama's weaknesses be? He was also a poor kid going to school with rich kids. And being black among whites must have left a chink in the playground armor. But the most significant factor, I think, is his absent dad. If the right father figure came along, taking young Barack under his wing and introducing him to the right people, it's easy to see how he could identify with that authority figure. Obama's compliance seems too smooth to be forced; he seems to believe what he's saying even though it's the opposite of what he said before. I'd bet money that somewhere there's a well-oiled patrician coaching and praising him, and being quietly but firmly disappointed in him when he doesn't measure up. We might as well save our breath. No well-reasoned argument is going to change his mind if he's spent the last decade in obedience school.
We're going to take a break. When we come back, we'll look at an article about the higher education bubble and we'll examine Anya Kamanetz' book, DIY U, about Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education. But first, let's hear a song. This is Same Old, Same Old by Chumbawumba.
Welcome back to Third Paradigm, thirdparadigm.org. That was Same Old, Same Old by Chumbawumba from their CD, The Boy Bands Win Again. We're now going to look at a Washington Examiner article by Glenn Reynolds called Higher Education's Bubble is about to Burst. It compares college to the housing market for the return on investment. Like California real estate, the cost of a new 4-year degree has gone up over 400% in one generation. Unlike California real estate, that doesn't mean you can sell the one you already bought for four times as much. In both, as the product becomes more expensive, cheap credit encourages higher debt. It becomes normalized, as what everyone does. Parents and students see it as their only ticket to prosperity, no matter what the cost. And so they sign on.
But according to Reynolds, the bubble is ready to burst. Student loan demand is going soft. Jobs for new grads are looking wobbly. Websites are springing up with titles like The Great College Hoax. The once shimmering horizon is starting to look more like an oil slick in which sea turtles are burning. As a law professor, Reynolds wonders if academic institutions will survive the implosion, or whether new ways of teaching and learning will come out of left field. He cites Anya Kamenetz and the edupunks, and places his bet on the latter. After reading DIY U myself, I tend to agree. Let's see why.
The first part of the book researches the history, sociology, and economics of how we got here, starting with statistics. Nine out of ten high school seniors say they want to go to college. 34% expect to get a bachelor's and 35% want to go to graduate school. Higher education is the closest thing we have, Kamenetz claims, to a world religion. In 1900, a half million people worldwide went to college. A century later, it was 100 million people. A mere decade later, it's risen to 150 million.
But here in the US, where there's a will, there's no apparent way. Three out of ten students drop out of high school. Of those who start a four-year college, only 53% will graduate within five years, resulting in only 36% of all high school students ending up with a four-year degree. On Democracy Now's Fourth of July special, Michael Moore talked about being in the other 64% with just a high school diploma. It doesn't seem to have hurt him.
High school counselors often quote the million-dollar premium that a college degree adds to your lifetime salary. But as the cost of an education has gone up, the wage premium for a college degree has stayed flat since the turn of the millenium. While degreed incomes have plateaued, however, noncollege incomes have declined sharply – so the payoff's the same at the higher ante, but the fear of losing everything keeps us in the high stakes game. Appropos of Michael Moore, Kamanetz reports on teenagers forced into college by the closing of GM. Before, high school students had the option of a union job and a good life, like their parents. But now they have to compete for increasingly scarce white-collar jobs. Stanford sociologist Mitchell Stevens writes, "College was about improving your circumstances. It wasn't a baseline for survival. What does it mean if college is the only avenue to a decent living in this century? That's the conversation we're not having nationally."
In 1987, Mark Blaug took a "jaundiced look" at college in The Economics of Education and the Education of an Economist. He found it impossible to single out the effects of an education.
I tried to explain this to my mother the other day, while she tried to convince me I was dooming my daughter Veronica to a Wal-Mart job by not sending her straight off to college. She quoted the statistics that college graduates earn more. I asked her how many students had been compared who had the grades, motivation, and money to go to college, but chose to do something else out of principle – maybe because it's not available to everyone or because it's destroying other young people through debt and the military. Like the prior example from the Pew Research Center, you can start with the same set of data and get a completely different answer depending on how you phrase the question. What if parents who had the money to send their kids to college chose to have them earn it instead by teaching themselves? They could learn in peer group settings, from the information abundantly available in books, on the web, in videos, and audio files. Even better, what if they first learned what their parents had to teach, or their neighbors, or community groups in their town? Everywhere you turn, there are people with passions on any given subject. Give the Scarecrow or the Tin Woodsman a diploma tied with a ribbon, and you'll find he's as clever as any professor.
To do a true comparison of the investment value of a degree, you'd first have to find motivated students who would put the same amount of time and effort into learning, for four to five years, without an institution hanging over their heads. And then you need to equalize the money. To compare apples to apples, academically speaking, we have to see how the self-educated student would do if, at the end, they could use the money they didn't spend on college for a downpayment on a house. Maybe their income wouldn't be the measure we use for success, but the freedom to pursue a good life that neither serves other people's interests nor requires that other people serve theirs. While Wall Street and the government might not hire them, they'd have the self-discipline to work for themselves. And even better for our democracy, they'd be able to think for themselves.
For Third Paradigm, this has been Tereza Coraggio. Thank you to Robin Macomber of Digital Media, who's helped me learn how to do this – the first of my own sound production and editing. Thanks to Skidmark Bob, who'll still be contributing music and moral support, I hope. Thank you, as always, to Mike Scirocco, who enables me to NOT learn how to do web editing and still have a stunning and multifunctional website. We end the show with Brett Dennen's Someday. Brett is a product of our own excellent but too expensive university, UCSC. His hope for the great escape is shared by his whole generation.
Thank you for listening.