Mt. Vernon Register-News

Opinion

December 28, 2013

College and the American dream

(Continued)

(The bill is, for the time being, dead on arrival.) In a brilliant piece at the New Inquiry, Aaron Bady posited that we may be witnessing the beginning of the end of education reform even if we are not sure what the end will look like. The MOOC hype seems to be pivoting, if not retreating; Udacity co-founder Sebastian Thrun recently conceded that MOOCs might not be a good fit for diverse-i.e., not wealthy, well-prepared — students.

But all of the above is the what of 2013, but not the why. Why do we all care so much? (With 33 percent of Americans possessing a college degree, higher ed is still a relatively narrow world.)There is the practical debate about the cost, risk, and rewards of colleges and universities. But there is also the higher-ed debate as a symbolic conversation. The symbolic conversation is about what we believe College-with-a-capital-C represents. It has represented economic and social mobility, two things that we increasingly feel are slipping away. We can feel the persistent, growing income inequality in our daily lives. Workers lucky enough to be employed are working longer hours and earning fewer real dollars, adjusted for inflation. Education is supposed to fix that kind of inequality.

Eduardo Porter at the Times echoes a common response to this kind of stagnation: Americans need more education. Porter rightly points out that college graduates earn more than nongrads. But analysts at the Economic Policy Institute detail a decade of stagnate worker wages in the U.S. between 2000 and 2013, even among those with college degrees. Education cannot fix a limping economy or produce jobs out of thin air. The Brookings Institution, like others, continues to assert that we have a skills gap in this country and only more education can prepare workers for the fastest growing jobs and industries. But there’s a lot that education cannot fix. It cannot change the fact that fast-growing industries don’t necessarily produce enough well-paying jobs for everyone who needs one — and that’s before we start worrying about the robots that are coming for our jobs. We can sense that more college cannot fix the skills gap, which is really a gap between what employers are willing to pay for skills and the amount of student loan debt we take on to acquire those skills. Sure, we could all go to college, or as Matt Yglesias points out, capitalists could also just hire a less-skilled worker and “teach him how to do the damn job.” With little evidence that our great capitalists overlords are willing to do this anytime soon, we all get kvetchy about college.

Text Only
Opinion
  • Feed your home piggy bank with a 15-year mortgage This summer, we finally decided to take the plunge we’d been contemplating for a while: converting our 30-year mortgage to one with a 15-year payoff. It’s a big step. Our payments will go up somewhat (the PITI — principal, interest, tax, and insuranc

    July 19, 2014

  • Under the dumb There is a TV series about an entire town trapped under a giant, mysterious crystal-clear dome that appears out of the blue one day. The dome is impenetrable; no one can get in, no one can get out. Who made the dome? Aliens? God? A super-secret branc

    July 19, 2014

  • Widening the loopholes This week, two more U.S. companies moved to reestablish themselves overseas, allowing them to pursue lower corporate tax rates. They will join dozens of others who have chased lower tax bills abroad while maintaining operations in the United States,

    July 19, 2014

  • Patriotism not questioned Editor:I am responding to Mayor Mary Jane Chesley’s Reader’s View article in the Thursday, June 19, 2014, Register-News “Patriotism is strong.”The mayor has missed the point of my Reader’s View/opinion article in the local newspapers regarding Flag D

    July 19, 2014

  • Who's telling a story now? For this administration, failure is always the result of a “communications” problem. Otherwise, failure might be taken as evidence of misguided ideology and incompetent execution, right? It’s a weird excuse for the president who fancies himself to be

    July 18, 2014

  • Why cutting corporate taxes won't help the middle class WASHINGTON — Earlier this week, I testified in front of the Joint Economic Committee on the topic of assessing the recovery after five years.As you can imagine, congressional testimony can be pretty frustrating these days for members of the fact-base

    July 18, 2014

  • Heart of darkness in buffer zone BOSTON — “Be careful. This is a dangerous corner.”It’s not until you visit the Boston Planned Parenthood clinic at the heart of the recent Supreme Court buffer-zone case that you realize the unnecessary danger it created. And I’m not even inside.On t

    July 18, 2014

  • When should U.S. use force? Was the Iraq war the greatest strategic error in recent decades, as some pundits have suggested recently? The simple answer is no. That honor belongs to the failure to take action against al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden before the attacks that killed ne

    July 17, 2014

  • Student debt relief would cut defaults The U.S. system of student loans is nobody’s idea of a successful program. Default rates are near a two-decade high, burdening borrowers, the government and the economy as a whole. Yet programs intended to help prevent these personal fiascos — by tyi

    July 17, 2014

  • Use the power of the purse Dear Members of Congress,Here’s an assignment for you: Watch the 1939 classic “The Wizard of Oz” and pay particular attention to the part in which Dorothy realizes that in her ruby red slippers, she had the magic power she needed all along.You do, to

    July 17, 2014

Twitter Updates
Facebook
Stocks