A Punishing Educational Curriculum

 

 

                                     by WALTER BRASCH 

 

With the nation’s unemployment rate hovering about 10 percent, recent high school graduates are escaping reality by going to college, and college grads are avoiding reality by entering grad school. The result is that it now takes an M.A. to become a shift manager at a fast food restaurant.

Colleges have stayed ahead of the Recession by becoming business models, where students are “inventory units,” and success is based upon escalating profit. Increasing the number of incoming units, class size, and tuition, while not increasing teaching and support staff, leads some colleges to believe they are solvent in a leaking economy. Budgets for academics are decreasing; budgets for dorms are increasing. Enrollment in degree-granting institutions is expected to be about 19.1 million in 2012, an increase of about 25 percent from 2000, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics.

Desperate to destroy their image as places of scholarship, colleges are using the 98.6 admissions criteria—admit almost anyone with a body temperature. Colleges may claim they admit only students with at least a 3.0 grade point average, which at some high schools is about half the student body, but it’s likely that students with lower averages aren’t recruited because they’re already working as lab specimens.

Across the nation, Developmental Education classes are increasing, with some departments now within the Top 5 in the college. For those who don’t speak “academicese,” that means more students are in college who have basic readin’, ’riting, and ’rithmetic problems.

Nevertheless, there are still a few hold-outs among colleges where students actually go to study, develop their minds, and hope to make great contributions to society. This, of course, in a declining economy, is not acceptable.

At Neargreat Tech, when the Admissions department failed to increase enrollment because most high school grads didn’t want to be associated with geeks, the President convened a Judiciary Review Board to reduce the college’s academic reputation. First in was the class valedictorian.

“Bennish, this is the fifth time this semester you’ve been caught sneaking into the library. This administration just doesn’t know what to do with you.”

“Sir, maybe I could increase my community service and read books to the ill and illiterate.”

“Why can’t you just go to our football games Saturday afternoons, then party and get drunk like a normal college student?”

“Because, sir, we don’t have a football team.”

“Then start one! If it’s as bad as it could be, you’ll have an excuse to drink. Next!”

Next in was a student accused of disturbing the peace.

“Rachmaninoff, your advisor says you’re a pretty good musician, but you only want to play the classical stuff. We’re assigning you to the marching band.”

“But, Dean, I play the piano.”

“Great! The band needs a pianist.”

“Sir, it might be difficult to carry a piano along Broadway. Besides, there are only 20 members in the band anyhow.”

“Even better! Pick an instrument. Banjo. Double bass. Electric guitar. They need everything! Dismissed!”

Next to be called to face a disciplinary hearing was Schopenhauer. “You were seen lying on the grass beneath a tree in the quad,” said the president. “The campus police claim you were thinking. We should give you an opportunity to defend yourself against this egregious accusation. What exactly were you doing?”

“Thinking.”

“That’s outrageous! You know we don’t like our students to think. What’s your major?”

“Philosophy, sir.”

 “That’s the problem,” the president declared. “Since you’re only a freshman, and probably don’t know better, I’ll be lenient. You are sentenced to a day of writing graffiti on the university’s bathroom walls.” He paused a moment, then snapped, “And don’t let me catch you writing anything intelligent on those walls!”

Later that afternoon, the president met with his staff.

“This isn’t going to work,” said the dejected president. “We can’t catch every practicing scholar on campus. They’re just snickering at our rules. If we can’t stop education, then we won’t be able to raise our enrollment and get performance bonuses.”

That’s when Winslow, a newly-appointed deputy assistant dean spoke up. “Perhaps we need to look elsewhere for our inspiration. What is it that almost every college but ours has?” He didn’t wait for a response when he declared the college needed fraternities and sororities.

“How do we know the students will even want to participate?” asked the president. “Most of our students have no desire to participate in a system that humiliates them, strips them of their individuality, and causes them to walk six abreast down a narrow street while singing off-key.”

Perhaps,” suggested the deputy assistant dean, “we can tap our reserve fund and build a couple of fraternity houses, maybe a sorority house or two.”

“Will that guarantee we’ll get more common students to raise the enrollment?”

“If you build it, they will party,” said the deputy assistant dean.

“Winslow may have a bright idea here,” said the president, who immediately promoted him to vice-president of academics and parties.

 

 [Walter Brasch bracketed several years as a college professor with work as a journalist and multimedia writer/producer. His current book is Before the First Snow, a light-hearted, yet tragic, look at what happens when an energy company moves into a region, lures citizens with high-paying jobs in a depressed economy, but which may have significant health and environmental issues as byproducts.]

 

Weekly Audit: Wolf in Sheep's Clothing--The Myth of Fiscal Conservatism

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Fashionable pundits like to say that the Republican Party has shifted its focus from “social conservatism” (e.g., banning abortion, shoving gays back in the closet, teaching school children that humans and dinosaurs once walked the earth hand-in-claw) to fiscal conservatism (e.g., tax cuts for the rich, slashing social programs). But is that really true? Tim Murphy ofMother Jones argues that the old culture war issues never really went away. Rather, the Republicans have simply rephrased their social agenda in fiscal terms.

For example, Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) is quite upfront about the fact that he hates Planned Parenthood because the group is the nation’s leading abortion provider. Yet, he seeks to de-fund the Planned Parenthood and the entire Title X Family Planning Program in the name of balancing the budget. Never mind that the federal money only goes toward birth control, not abortion, and research shows that every dollar spent on birth control saves $4 in Medicaid costs alone.

Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly surveys the current crop of GOP presidential hopefuls in Iowa and agrees that reports of the death of the culture war have been greatly exaggerated.

But the key takeaway here is that fiscal issues have largely been relegated to afterthought status. That’s just not what these right-wing activists — the ones who’ll largely dictate the outcome of the caucuses — are focused on. Indeed, even Ron Paul, after pandering to a home-school crowd last week, conceded, “I haven’t been asked too much about fiscal issues.”

Budget cuts

Sarah Babbage writes in TAPPED that Obama and the Democratic leadership in Congress seem poised to grant an additional $20 billion in spending cuts for FY 2011, in addition to the $10 billion in cuts they’ve already pledged for this fiscal year. Babbage notes that, after weeks of negotiations, we’re right back to the $30 billion in cuts the GOP initially demanded. She warns that these cuts will have a trivial impact on the $1.6 trillion deficit, but they could have a devastating effect on the fragile economy.

Taxes for thee, but not GE

General Electric raked in $14.2 billion in profits last year, $5.1 billion of which came from the United States, yet the company paid $0 in U.S. income tax, Tara Lohan notes in AlterNet. Despite its healthy bottom line, and its sweet tax situation, GE is asking 15,000 unionized U.S. workers to make major concessions at the bargaining table. GE wants union members to give up defined benefit pension programs in exchange for defined contribution programs.

As we discussed last week in The Audit, defined benefit plans guarantee that a retiree will get a set percentage of her working salary for the rest of her life; defined contribution plans pay the worker a share of the revenue from a pool of investments. As the fine print always says, investments can decrease in value. So, if the stock market crashes the day before you retire, you’re out of luck.

Generation Debt

Higher education is supposed to be a stepping stone to a better standard of living, but with unemployment hovering around 10%, many college graduates are struggling to find jobs to pay their student loans. Aliya Karim argues in Campus Progress that the government should compel colleges and universities to be more transparent about the realities of student loan debt:

The government should require colleges to provide information about graduation rates, college costs, and financial aid packages on college websites, enrollment forms, and guidebooks. This information should be easy to find and understand. Without such information available to them, students may not be aware that their future college has a graduation rate lower than 20 percent or that its graduates face close to $30,000 in debt.

The government has a lot of leverage over public and private schools because so much student debt is guaranteed by taxpayers. Greater transparency will enable students to make more informed choices, and give colleges with low graduation rates a greater incentive to clean up their act.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy bymembers of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Audit for a complete list of articles on economic issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The MulchThe Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Georgia Public Higher Education Conference

Georgia students stand in solidarity with other college students across the nation fighting for public higher education. This August 7-8, Georgia Students for Public Higher Education (GSPHE), will be hosting our Summer Conference in Atlanta. All who want one should be able to get a college education.

There's more...

Georgia Public Higher Education Conference

Georgia students stand in solidarity with other college students across the nation fighting for public higher education. This August 7-8, Georgia Students for Public Higher Education (GSPHE), will be hosting our Summer Conference in Atlanta. All who want one should be able to get a college education.

There's more...

Undoing Reagan - Restoring the California Dream

Ronald Reagan launched his political career in 1966 in his run for the governorship in California by targeting UC Berkeley's student peace activists, its professors, and, to a great extent, the University of California itself. His oft-repeated mantra was "to clean up the mess at Berkeley." In the end, he destroyed what was one of the great equalizers in California's meritocracy. Under Reagan began our shift from education as a right to education as a privilege for the wealthy or as an investment for the rest of us.

Reagan, who attended a bible college without distinguishing himself, viewed the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley with deep suspicion. In his campaign he vowed to "investigate charges of communism and blatant sexual misbehavior on the Berkeley campus." He proposed deep across budget cuts for the system and cavalierly suggested that Berkeley sell its collections of rare books in the Bancroft Library and hold bake sales in Sproul Plaza. He repeated Milton Friedman's views whenever and wherever he could: "Individuals should bear the costs of investments in themselves and receive the rewards."

"The state should not subsidized intellectual curiosity" declared Reagan when he finally ended a century-long state policy of free tuition in what has long been the nation's crown jewel of public universities. Founded in 1868 as a city of learning, the University of California was free for all. Today tuition runs $9,748 for in-state residents. Total cost runs over $28,000. And it is about to go up significantly effectively ending the American dream for tens of thousands who will be priced out of the nation's largest higher education system. For the 2010-2011 academic year, tuition will rise by 32 percent.

That the state of California is in crisis is by now a well-known fact. Our cupboard is threadbare and the state faces a $20.7 billion dollar deficit over the next 18 months. The implications are stark given the political impasse in the state legislature where a rump Republican minority has decided that it is to their political advantage to hold the state hostage. Nothing will get solved and lives will be ruined.

It's not just the ten flagship campuses of the University of California system that are hurting. It is the entire system.  The state's 110 community colleges are designed to be affordable launchpads to further education, with the assurance that after a two-year foundation, students can land at one of the California State University or University of California campuses. Once they arrive at universities, data shows that transfers are successful, graduating at a slightly higher rate than students who enter as freshmen. But six in ten community college students are unable to graduate largely because cuts have so devastated the system that they can't get the classes they need to complete their associate's degree. California now ranks  39th among states in the percentage of bachelor's degrees awarded to high school graduates.

And as California's educational prowess sinks so does the state overall. Restoring the California Dream does, in fact, mean undoing Reagan.

There's more...

Diaries

Advertise Blogads