Students, Universities And The Student Debt Crisis
by Handsome Matt
The American Ideal involves a house, a dog, a wife and 2.5 children. Those children then spend 18 wonderful years growing up, and after high school attend a fine college or prestigious university to begin the first steps in their chosen career. After four years, the graduate with honors holding a piece of paper that unlocks opportunities that would not be available otherwise. Young men and women enter into the workforce, highly skilled, highly intelligent and go about making the world a better place.
Having now started my second journey through college to develop and refine the left side of the brain; I have been forced to see the truth of higher education in America. On the record of course collegiate institutions are upholding the ideals listed above. Off the record, behind closed doors, where no one but the initiated are allowed the driving principle seems to be this:
The Student Is a Revenue Stream.
This realization came, not through stumbling across an unshredded memo or a chance remark in passing; rather by piecing various experiences I have had thus far with certain university policies and several other conversations. Like Archimedes in the bathtub, my Eureka moment came hard and fast.
The ballooning cost of tuition combined with the increased length of time until graduation is the first marker. It’s one thing if a for-profit institution seeks to place students into the longest possible course schedules, they have to make a buck! But when state schools and private, non-profit universities behave in such a manner; something is wrong. If rising tuition costs are unavoidable, then a prudent university would work to ensure that students are able to graduate in as short an amount of time as is reasonable. The opposite is occurring and I know this from first hand experience. I am currently looking at five plus years of work at a minimum to graduate, and have met strong resistance when attempting to pursue paths that would shorten said time frame. Beyond that, the additional fees assessed by universities onto students in addition to tuition and room and board and the rising cost of text books (especially those special versions printed by a University that cannot be sold on the market, and are still priced at a premium) reveals the idea that students are to be squeezed for as much money as possible.
If one steps back and looks at the Board of Directors, their policies, budgets, and the day to day procedures; it most closely resembles that of banks and financial institutions. To begin with, Students have quietly lost their rights on campus. Of course legal counsel is still available, but there are no Ombudsmen or Arbitrators to decide issues between students and professors or students and the university. Student Advocacy Groups have become information/help desks, their teeth removed and only allowed to answer questions. Student government organizations have been distracted with frivolous things like homecoming court and determining the nutritional value of the food served on “Mexican Mondays.” Meanwhile, the students are so overloaded with coursework and debt that they have no time to think about how wrong this is, and if they could, they wouldn’t have the energy to do anything about it! So the students themselves are left with no course of action to take if they disagree strongly with an issue that directly affects them whatever it may be, from tuition and parking costs to course scheduling and requirements. It is an oppression and slavery of the worst kind.
Consider how universities have handled cutting costs. If they were truly public servants, who desired to serve the best interest of the public and their nation at large, the board would have begun with their own salaries. In fact, the board of directors would be an entirely volunteer position with the appropriate honor and respect given to it because these fine men and women have sacrificed financial gain in order to dedicate their lives to bettering the pursuit of knowledge.
Instead of that, they began with privatizing essential services. Outsourcing! Contracting out essential services to the private sector. It would be one thing if the least profitable portions of the college were outsourced, under-performing departments and bloated research projects for example. But it tends to be those services that break even or make money (provided of course that they are not wildly successful athletic programs). At Ohio State for example, the entirety of the parking services is being sub-contracted out for fifty years with the students having no say in the matter whatsoever. A short-term boon, and the ability to fire State Employees without fully paying retirements, has cost Ohio State long term financial stability and the respect of the students. It won’t come at first, but after a few years of being mistreated at the hands of over-worked, under-paid employees, students will realize how little they mean to the University. While the financial gluttons on the board of directors enjoy a cut of the take.
The most brazen example of this is the recent spate of collegiate advertising. When a state school believes it needs to advertise in order to attract students, something is very wrong. Advertising is, rightly or wrongly, believed to be lies; They might tell the truth in some way, but they are still lies. If a University uses advertisements to trumpet its accomplishments, then those accomplishments are false. They are presented as lies, in a medium specialized for lying. Companies advertise out of desperation, either a competitor is gaining market share, a product has performed poorly, or they are losing money and are trying to reverse the trend. The best companies don’t need to advertise. Starbucks, prior to its fall from grace, had almost no advertising budget. They didn’t need one, they were too busy delivering great coffee to people, and those people were telling everyone about it.
State Universities at one point, were too busy turning out some of the best students ever seen in the world. Students who went on to found ground breaking companies, spearhead research, develop new technology, write the next American Classic, push the boundaries of art, foster thought and philosophy, and generally better the world around us. That was their advertising. Or when a university won a prestigious award, or had an alumni win a prestigious award. That was their advertising. Sometime in the not so distant past, that stopped happening. The students weren’t graduating as bright eyed and (most importantly) well equipped to tackle the new round of challenges. Universities had begun to get caught up in themselves, had become a ground for personal gain, advancement and vendettas. The focus, was no longer on the student. Look at how many “professors” never teach a class at Ohio State, and President Gee has DEFENDED them for it.
This. Is. Wrong.
Any and all colleges and universities should be focused on graduating the best students possible in the shortest amount of time. The “profit” comes in the form of a highly skilled, highly intelligent, highly motivated workforce that goes out and creates the “next big thing.” Pushes society forward, strengthens the economy, and solves the problems facing us today. That means much more money over a much longer period of time, and an alumni association that encourages students to attend their alma maters.
Of course, this means that students must once again be the focus and end product of higher education. They must be taught the skills necessary, and equipped to handle the challenges of the contemporary world. They cannot be burdened with too much debt, and they must be taught how to use their degrees. Gone should be the art major who doesn’t know what to do with their degree, in its place should be the Art Major. An individual who has developed their creative drive in such a way that they can produce amazing works of art and solve solutions in elegant ways. As comfortable with a paintbrush as they are with a hammer or laptop, or Excel spreadsheet.
This requires that Students become investors in the university. They are shareholders with a vested interest in the university. Students attend a university, and enter into a contract that states:
I believe this university is the best choice I can make to succeed. I will work hard, I will learn, I will grow, I will mature. I believe that this is the best course of action. In exchange for investing myself, my money and my time, the University will agree to prepare me to be an economic force. To solve ideas, to serve others, to achieve. They will not overload me with debt, and will not keep me a day longer than is needed to achieve the goals set out.
Instead of being released from the need to learn, the student must work harder at it. Instead of languishing in immaturity, the student will be forced to grow and become better in all aspects of their lives. If they don’t succeed in the larger world, then they have failed themselves, and the university has failed them and itself.