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The College-Industrial Complex conspiracy

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#1 Hum

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Posted 25 May 2013 - 14:40

Class of 2013,

No one else is going to tell you this, so I might as well.

You sit here today, $30,000 or $40,000 in debt, as the latest victims of what may well be the biggest conspiracy in U.S. history. It is a conspiracy so big and powerful that Dan Brown won’t even touch it. It’s a conspiracy so insidious that you will rarely hear its name.

Move over, Illuminati. Stand down, Wall Street. Area 51? Pah. It’s nothing.

The biggest conspiracy of all? The College-Industrial Complex.

Consider this: You have just paid about three times as much for your degree as did someone graduating 30 years ago. That’s in constant dollars - in other words, after accounting for inflation. There is no evidence that you have received a degree three times as good. Some would wonder if you have received a degree even one times as good.

According to the College Board, in 1983 a typical private American university managed to provide a bachelor’s degree education to young people just like you for $11,000 a year in tuition and fees. That’s in 2012 dollars.

Instead, those of you at private colleges paid this year an average of $29,000.

And back then a public college charged just $2,200 a year in tuition and fees - in today’s dollars. You could get a full four-year degree for $8,800. Today that will get you one year’s tuition, or $8,700.

Notice, please, we are not even counting the cost of all the “extras,” like room and board. This is just the cost of the teaching.

It is, as a result, no surprise that total student loans are now approaching $1 trillion. They have easily overtaken credit card debts and car loans. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, total student loans have basically tripled since 2004. Fed researcher Lee Donghoon says in the last eight years the number of borrowers has gone up by about 70%, and the average amount owed has also gone up about 70%.

Donghoon calculates that about 17% of those with student loans are more than 90 days’ delinquent on their interest payments. Yet he also calculates that 44% haven’t even entered the repayment period at all.

If you turn to the pages of any newspaper you will read a lot of handwringing about this. You will hear attacks on “predatory” student loan companies, and “predatory... for-profit colleges.” You will hear about cutbacks on Pell Grants and federal aid and proposals to lower the interest rate on subsidized federal loans. But all of these comments ignore one basic problem.

It’s the cost, stupid.

U.S. colleges are a rip-off. Two decades ago I spent six years at Cambridge and Oxford universities and it didn’t cost me a nickel. Admittedly one reason was social policy: The taxpayers paid the bill (and a very good return they earned too, given the British taxes I paid once I graduated and started work). But the second reason was that these universities did not charge an arm, leg and other appendage for the act of teaching.

My undergraduate course at Cambridge largely consisted of one hour a week with a tutor, a weekly essay question and research list, and a library card. This teaching model hadn’t changed much, really, since the days of Aristotle. Student, teacher, discussion. See you same time next week.

How on earth do colleges today ramp up costs to $40,000 a year?

Yes, I know that in the sciences the costs of teaching may have risen to some extent legitimately. But that’s probably wildly exaggerated, especially at the undergraduate level. And in the humanities and liberal arts any claim that the real cost should be rising faster than inflation is complete nonsense.

Part of the answer lies in the arms race of fancy facilities being built by colleges. Part of the answer lies in escalating salaries, especially for academic “divas” - the marquee names recruited at great expense to bring in the customers... er, students. Part of the answer lies in institutional metastasis - the expansion of bureaucracy, like any bureaucracy.

The student drama facilities at Cambridge consisted of a few rooms here and there and a damp basement below an old church. Out of this the university produced the comedy trouple Monty Python, and a legion of successors. Hollywood director and actor Chris Weisz, who was at university when I was there, began his dramatic career in a bizarre play called Mango Tea in a room above a pub. But apparently today colleges need the dramatic facilities suitable for staging Les Mis.

Some members of the College-Industrial Complex are now talking about a new solution to bring down costs. They want to reduce, or eliminate, the amount spent on the actual teaching. Instead, students will watch online videos. Perhaps these will be on YouTube, or TED. It sounds like a column by the late, great Art Buchwald: “For $30,000 a year we can provide you with a top-of-the-range BA degree, just without any actual teaching.” You couldn’t make this up. But we’re already half way there anyway. Even today most undergraduates don’t get within a million miles of the big-name professors that they are paying for.

Today’s graduates, so badly served by comparison with their parents and grandparents, may look actually look lucky to those who come later. Costs are probably going to keep rising. The super-rich can bid up prices, just as they do for real estate in New York or London. (The difference is that you don’t have to live in New York or London, but you do have to get a degree. Unemployment rates for those without a bachelor’s degree are twice as high as for those who have one). The conspiracy will keep pushing for more federal support.

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#2 C-Squarez

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Posted 28 May 2013 - 05:33

Didn't read the whole thing but college is a scam. My mother moved me to 13 different schools and if anyone here knows what credits are, you'll know that schools in Tennessee don't take the same credits from Brooklyn, or Atlanta, or Ft. Lauderdale, or Texas. I took English II 3 times and passed each time BUT because I was in 3 different schools the new school I went to didn't get the credit from my old school because my old school was catching up from my previous school still so it was a cluster you know what.

May 12th I think 2003, I was a Jr in high school and it was supposed to be my senior year graduation night. I made a decision to never step back high school and when I told my guidance counselor her response was; "I don't blame you, while you are under your mothers roof you won't eve have control of your life. Just remember it's not your fault." I made the decision to drop out that night. I took my GED test a few weeks later without ever studying, I made A's & B's in school so it was easy to pass. I attended college for a semester before doing the math and realizing it didn't add up, I dropped out of college as well.

I moved to Florida, sold timeshare for a few years, made money doing it. 22 years old working 5 hours a day making $60k a year was amazing. Then I quit that and started my own financial consultation firm. I stop and fight foreclosures in court for homeowners and also provide credit repair services to first time buyers that don't qualify for a home loan. I average about $11k a month after taxes every month. I just hired 30 employees that I "don't have to pay" and I have 5 offices in Orlando that I don't pay for.

You need school if you can't figure this thing called life out on your own. It teaches you to retain data and be a good employee for someone smarter than you which is fine. I'm happy about my decision because no one can take my gifts away from me. The recession never and will never exist in my mind.

Sorry so long but I'm very passionate about this topic.

#3 OP Hum

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Posted 28 May 2013 - 14:38

It does seem odd that the same basic education keeps climbing higher and higher -- and you can't be sure of a job, later on.

#4 C-Squarez

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Posted 28 May 2013 - 14:52

Businesses are getting more ruthless and much smarter. If you want a fat bottom line, you can't pay out pensions so you fire all employees close to retirement and hire someone younger for cheaper. Get 20-30 years of work outta them and repeat. This world is too focused on the bottom line and not focused enough on people.

#5 abysal

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Posted 28 May 2013 - 15:06

It's a scam indeed. You're paying all this money for classes, but instead of having a professor teach the class, you have some undergrad doing it. This is just one part of the scam.

#6 Innuendo

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Posted 28 May 2013 - 15:40

College isn't for everybody. For some, it's paradise. For others, it's torture. Each person has to decide on their own if college is a good fit for them.

Personally, I think a bigger problem than rising tuition is the 'new' job market. At least in this part of the world, employers are starting to require Bachelor's Degrees for $8-9/hour jobs that just a few years ago only required a high school diploma.

I respect your accomplishments, C-Squarez, but not everyone can move to a place like Florida (or somewhere else) and don't have access to opportunities like that.

#7 OP Hum

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Posted 28 May 2013 - 15:43

It's a scam indeed. You're paying all this money for classes, but instead of having a professor teach the class, you have some undergrad doing it.


So what does the professor do ... ?

#8 matt4pack

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Posted 28 May 2013 - 16:29

Businesses are getting more ruthless and much smarter. If you want a fat bottom line, you can't pay out pensions so you fire all employees close to retirement and hire someone younger for cheaper. Get 20-30 years of work outta them and repeat. This world is too focused on the bottom line and not focused enough on people.


Says the guy bragging about making making 6 figures and hiring 30 employees that he doesn't have to pay.

#9 C-Squarez

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Posted 28 May 2013 - 18:37

Says the guy bragging about making making 6 figures and hiring 30 employees that he doesn't have to pay.


Jeez, I don't get people like you. Do you not see the quotation marks? Meaning it's a long drawn out explanation behind it? They were given to me, I didn't have to do anything for them. They negotiate short sales for me and every $1500 they make me I pay them $500 when all they asked for was $300. Christ you must live an unhappy life to nit pick at what I say.

#10 Innuendo

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Posted 29 May 2013 - 14:42

So what does the professor do ... ?


Well, this behavior usually happens at the larger colleges that have class sizes so large they are held in an auditorium. The professor is too busy juggling all his classes, his faculty meetings, and performing that dangerous balancing act of laying low enough so he doesn't attract the attention of any competitors while sucking up enough to his superiors so one day he'll get tenure.

Not all colleges are like this, though. At some of the smaller colleges you can actually get an education where there are small class sizes and the professor can spend quality time with each student.

#11 Growled

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Posted 29 May 2013 - 15:07

It may be a scam but without that degree your opportunities are increasingly limited in the work force.