30.4.07

SO CUT COSTS BY TOUGHENING STANDARDS. A weblogger posting as Adjuncts in Hell contemplates rising college sticker prices as a ruling-class plot to preserve social stratification.
So much social phenomena is coming to a head here. First, consider the revenge of the ruling class once threatened by a surging middle-class in the wake of GI Bill. By launching tuition rates at top-tier schools in the ionosphere, they can keep ambitious proles out and hold those pesky student-aid wannabes in check when they graduate in debt. Forget that current enrollment rates at colleges and universities hover around 45%, higher tuition (even at State U) guarantees that any middle class kid who dares to advance up the social ranks will be hamstrung by student loans. That's a twofer in places like Newton, Mass; it keeps them out of your neighborhood and their brats out of your child's private school.
That presupposes a conspiracy to restrict output and raise prices. Given the wide availability of information about the return on investment in human capital, the simpler explanation is a rightward shift in the derived demand for degrees.

It's relatively simple for socially-conscious curriculum committees and admissions offices to undo such a conspiracy, if in fact there were such a conspiracy. Hence the title of my post. The conspiracy theory has it part right and part wrong.
Second, by filling the ranks of lower tier colleges with overworked adjuncts, more and more students are deprived of the full and proper attention of dedicated professors who can focus on two or three classes. Instead, for $50,000 - $75,000 (before 7.5% interest over 20 years), they get harassed and overstressed freeway fliers who bolt in and out of eight classrooms on four campuses and consider "office hours" to be a dashed-off response to e-mail at four in the morning because they're up correcting a self-perpetuating mound of student papers. It may seem that "everyone" goes to college, but not everyone is receiving the same education. Can a students gain a first-class education at In-State Tuition U? Without question. But do they have the requisite curiosity and academic skills going in? That leads to the next issue . .
It has occurred to the poster that information about safety schools practicing the access-assessment-remediation-retention model is also widely available, and those high sticker prices (although, as at Gimbel's, nobody pays list price) at the seventy-five or so "top forty" universities simply reflect a flight to quality that could easily be accommodated by more of the seventy-five or so "next forty" universities emulating their "most selective" counterparts.
Our entertainment-addled culture is the modern equivalent of the drain-circling Roman Empire's "Bread and Circus." Business students see a bankruptcy-court-hopscotching charlatan like Donald Trump as a role model. Students spoon fed a watery pablum of pilfered Shakespeare plots turbo-charged with sex and celebrity on the WB and Fox openly disdain genuine literature and are openly hostile to books. Once they graduate, they at last discover they will not be able to afford that Hummer H-2, the trip to Cancun, a wardrobe of wage-slave-rendered Abercrombie and Fitch rags, or even a one-way ticket out of mom-and-dad's basement. When that reckoning comes, they're on the wrong side of the college walls with only a handful of dimes from selling back their Norton Shakespeare, a fuzzy idea of how punctuation works, and a nasty drinking problem. Ever really wonder why those 25-year-old second-chancers at the community college are as serious as a heart attack in the classroom? Consider them the lucky ones.
So cut costs by toughening standards.

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