Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Iron Law of Teh Burning Stoopid: if you subsidize it, you get MORE of it. . . .

Those of you who've been following this blog since the early days (All of 2 or so months ago. . .) have seen a slow escalation from commentary on particular acts of utter burning stoopid, to more general commentary on teh stoopid in society. . . .)

Well, here we go into the Big Issues.  So, riddle me this: what claims to reduce the Stoopid amongst us, while actually producing it in such massive lots that it makes the Chinese slave-labor factories look like pikers ??? Yes, it's the Educational-Industrial Complex. . . . .

Once upon a time, going to college was the gateway to the American Dream.   It wasn't easy to get in, and STAYING in and passing required quite a bit of effort.  But somewhere along the line, somebody decided that it wasn't "fair" that only the best and brightest would go to college, but EVERYONE should have the opportunity to go to college.  Call it an application of the Lake Woebegone Fallacy, that all kids are "above average".

Sorry, but that's just not the case.  And we're paying for it, literally.  Back in Ye Dayes of Olde, when your host was but an apprentice mage, we tracked kids in school.  You had the General Track, the Academic Track, the Business Track, the Trades Track, and for the ones who REALLY were above average, the Academic Accelerated track.

The idea was, to provide appropriate skills and background for the real world after graduation. General track was the biggest, prepping people for generic jobs out there that required a range of basic skills.  Trades track people spent half their time at the Vo-Tech (Vocational-Technical) campus, shared amongst all the schools in the county, where they'd learn specific technical skills: electrician, plumber, HVAC, construction, etc.  There were even programs for medical technicians and computer operators.  Mind you, this was long before the rise of the PC, when a 10MB hard drive was the size of a washing machine, and a single computer might take up a thousand or so square feet. . .

But the point was, they graduate from a Vo-Tech program, they were ready and trained for work, and moved immediately into productive jobs.  And that's where the problem began.  Somehow, for some reason, parents don't WANT their precious little Johnny or Janie to be a mere technician.  Which is **beyond** stoopid: skilled tradesmen and technicians are what **make** Civilization work.  Sure, we need SOME managers and SOME Engineers and Some Professionals.  We already have metric butt-loads of all of them, and far more than we need

But we need a hell of a lot more people who just make things work.  It's TOUGH finding a job out there these days.  And yet, more than 3+ million jobs jobs out there for people with skills.  Currently unfilled, because the people simply don't exist.

And WHY don't they exist ??  Because, instead of doing vo-tech/trade school/etc. . . .  they are pointed to college instead.

I'll let Mike Rowe explain. . .

Now, let's look at the flip side: what has nearly universal access to college bought us ??

Over a million retail sales clerks. . . with bachelor's degrees or better. 

"Lawyers". . . with less than a 50% chance of actually practicing law.  On the other hand, they make GREAT coffee at Starbucks. . . 

On the other hand, you keep hearing about all the great jobs up in the Dakotas, on the new Oil and Gas fields.  . . . take a look.  NO COLLEGE REQUIRED.  Experience IS required.  Hands-on Technical expertise is required.

Take this position:  Manager - Drill Site - OXY   (That's Occidental Petroleum, for those who don't know the oil industry)  Even as a manager, they require only a high school education. . . . . and ten year's actual experience.

Because they don't particularly care about the academic background of their managers, whether they've mastered the intricacies of Elizabethan Poetry, or the role of women in agriculture.  They're worried about actually PRODUCING something, Oil and/or natural gas, producing a lot of it, at the lowest cost consistent with safety.

So, what got us here ??  In short, the 1960s .  So many went to college, that it became the norm, not the exception.  And that set the pattern.  MORE colleges.  MORE professors.  MORE buildings.  Which, of course, costs money.  And so Uncle Sam started making it easier: Grants, and more importantly, LOANS.

Easy credit, generous terms.  With one LITTLE exception: unlike any other form of debt, a Student Loan could NOT be discharged in a bankruptcy.   The easy credit, that kept getting easier as time went by.  Back in the day when your Wizard was getting Student Loans, he had to apply to his BANK.  Who wanted details on my credit, my grades, and what I was majoring in.   After all, it was THEIR money they were risking, so they would evaluate the risk.

But not anymore: more and more over the years, and finally OFFICIALLY in 2010, Uncle Sugar does the loans directly.  And pretty much, you can have all you want, as long as it's close to tuition, fees, books, and living expenses.

The funny thing is, that as student aid got easier and easier to get, prices got higher and higher.   This is the Bennett Hypothesis, and it's not exactly new.

Let's look at an example: ME.

I entered Wizarding School in 1979 (Well, Engineering School, but it's pretty much the same thing. . . . ).   Tuition at the private Wizard Academy I attended was a hefty $2550. /year.   According to the US Inflation Calculator, if everything ELSE hadn't changed,  I **should** be paying  approximately $8182.00/year today, or just under 221% of what I paid in 1979.   INSTEAD, it seems the tuition at Ye Olde Alma Mater is an astounding 43,200 plus fees.  That's a 1695% increase.    Trust me, the instruction is NOT that much better, and certainly not nearly 7 1/2 times the inflation of everything ELSE in the meantime. . .   let's see,  massively increasing prices supported by easy credit. . . where have we seen THAT before ??  Yep. . . . just like real estate, Education is in a Bubble Economy. . .

And what are those massively increased fees buying us ?  More buildings, more professors, and more programs. . . .when we ALREADY have far more than the actual need would support.  Then there are the secondary effects: requiring the students to take courses they neither need nor want, to support the costs of the colleges.   It's the economics of education: make the students pay for the expensive stuff by forcing survey courses, distribution, etc, that can be provided at low-per-student cost, to pay for big-ticket items.  Shiny new buildingsDorms that would have been considered resort hotels when I was a student.   Massive growth in "Administration", far beyond student growth. . .

. . .and yet not enough jobs for the graduates we DO produce.   Don't take my word: ask your barista what THEIR Master's is in. . .

Even what's left of Vocational Education is bloated: I see it in what my daughters put up with.  THEY are enrolled in the local community college, doing trades certification programs.  And yet THEY get told they MUST take irrelevant "distribution" courses to "round them out".  Which of course, take time and cost money, when they are ONLY attending to get a technical certification needed to get work. 

Lastly, let's talk about the OTHER effects of "universal college".  Face it, college is SUPPOSED to be hard.   But with the hordes of not-really-college-material students entering our colleges and universities, that would be a problem.   Kids flunking out means no more tuition from them.  Less tuition in means less funds to spend.  And that means that there ACTUALLY WOULD HAVE TO BE CUTS in faculty and staff, and we just can't have THAT, now can we ??  So, the collective mind of the Educational-Industrial Complex have done the obvious thing: dumbed College down.  To the point where the skills of GRAD students a few years ago, compared unfavorably to those of 10th graders, back in the mid-1970s.   And I've SEEN that: I went back to grad school, finally, in 2006, primarily because my manager told me it was get a Masters, or don't get promoted.  So off I went, and was underwhelmed.  With a few exceptions, I sleepwalked through Grad School, and STILL got a 4.0 GPA.  When your competition would not have survived your 10th grade English class  (And a shoutout to Mr. Moyer, wherever he may be today. . . )

So. . . .what should we do about it ??   THAT will be the subject for another day. . .   but by all means, sound off with YOUR suggestions. . .


  1. The video reminds me of a segment on CNN I saw in the aftermath of the 2008 crash. The topic was unemployment. They had Mike Rowe on and he was talking about a lot of places that were hiring. The jobs weren't office jobs. They were jobs in trades and many others doing that Rowe often had on his show. It wouldn't be as bad if we didn't have so many people majoring in business, or art history, or lesbian studies (not that I mind studying lesbians =) ). To top it all off a lot of these kids have a worthless degree, with a worthless job, and a massive pile of student debt that they will never pay off.

  2. Suggestions? Sure.

    Toss the Department of Education at the Federal level. The amount of Highly Incendiary Stoopid that emanates from that particular mongolian cluster grope defies description. I am not convinced that reform is possible.

    Subsequent loss of this voracious black hole of money gobbling lunacy (translation: "We can't force our lib'rull doctrine of brain rot on innocent kiddies anymore! Waaaah!") would leave a gap in the number of places the kleptocracy could shovel their ill gotten gains. In a more perfect world, this would mean dialing back the level of brain-drain to local control, which is always easier to get a handle on in our fine republic. This would also torpedo national standardized testing, which contributes greatly to the numbing of young minds. The wide ranging and long term effects of this would be many, and not all good, but I think it would be a step in the right direction.

    Of course, organizing the support necessary to topple the Department of Education would involve... well, rather a lot. And most people here in my little Appalachians are sleepy, conservative, just want to live unbothered, types. I suspect most of rural America is the same. And perhaps that is the majority opinion of the U.S.- judging from poll turnouts vs. total voting population. Since becoming politically active means stirring up trouble, and the no. 1 motivator seems to be "just leave me the !#@% alone," we can safely assume that one's an unlikely to happen.

    On an individual level, it requires a greater degree of personal responsibility. Have a child? Become *involved* in their learning process. Know whereof you speak when you disagree with their courses. Learn about home-schooling, if necessary (and it can be *very* necessary). Got money? There are good private schools out there, that actually teach kids how to learn.

    Of all the dangers facing this country, the raising and teaching of a child is the most critical, I believe, in the long term. And the ones who shape our educational policy know this. That's why you'll likely see them pushing their agenda wherever they can get away with it in the classrooms. " 'Cuz its for the *childrens!* "

    Another really, really good idea? Dump Affirmative Action. Recent case Fisher Vs. University of Texas at Austin et. al., Judge Thomas wrote a bit about it that I agree with: the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment makes Affirmative Action seem rather disingenuous. Wasn't the civil rights movement about... not discriminating on the basis of race, but instead working towards the dream of judging everyone on the content of their character? Getting rid of this state sponsored tinkering would likely lead to better confidence all around- if everyone has the same chance, then whoever is best qualified will get the nod. Can't see a thing wrong with that.

    That said, enjoying the blog.