‘Economic elites’ control education

According to statistics from The College Board, the average (inflation-adjusted) cost of tuition and fees at private, non-profit, four-year colleges has essentially tripled over the last four decades. This trend is replicated in the cost of tuition and fees at public four-year colleges. Increase in average cost of tuition far outpaces inflation trends reflected by the change in the Consumer Price Index for all Urban Consumers. The result? College is becoming prohibitively expensive. This fact isn’t news, but it deserves investigation. Instead of being discussed in terms of the artificially manipulated supply and demand economics of the student loan game, perhaps it should be viewed as a symptom of American elitism.

It’s no secret that post-secondary education is a universal barrier to entry for Americans looking for employment. What is a mystery is the lack of connection between the ever-lowering cost of exchanging information and the ever-increasing cost of higher education. If post-secondary education truly espoused its oft-affirmed ideals of knowledge being the most important exchanged commodity and learning engendering more learning, it would be more concerned with quickly and cheaply getting students to the point of what is considered basic market competency.

With the advent of massive open online courses (e.g. Coursera, Khan Academy, Udacity) and other free university-level courses available through outlets like iTunes U, the actual cost of providing a student with a liberal arts education to the associate’s or bachelor’s level is completely disconnected with what is actually charged by post-secondary schools for these degrees. It’s worth noting that “going to college” provides a student with much more than most online courses can, but it should be acknowledged that this is then the actual service being provided and paid for. Should students really be put into financial bondage to “make friends” and “network”? Is the cost of administering testing for personal accreditation really worth the financial freedom of an entire generation?

Of course it isn’t. Earlier this year, Princeton and Northwestern University released the results of a study which determined that the United States is an oligarchy, based on research which indicated that federal policies are influenced more by special interest groups, noting that, “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.” Elitist culture is heavily entrenched in all levels of American society, especially in private and public education circles. Higher education should be considered as perpetuating this culture of elitism, since more and more it only allows the children of the already-wealthy to succeed within the system.

Non-privileged students play the loan game hoping to come out on top. They know they are probably capable of performing and creating at the level of CEOs and CFOs. Unfortunately, the truth about their actual chances of success is often de-emphasized by the existing power structure to keep them playing a game that will ultimately benefit the economic gatekeeping business of post-secondary education. In a world where basic education should and can be a universally accessible commodity, general personal accreditation has no place being abused as a tool of class warfare.

Participants in higher education have a moral obligation to fight for more affordable education. Students should be realistic in their financial planning and not gamble against their likely wage-earning ability in the future. University administrators should stop abusing the availability of student loan money in the name of expansionist, brand-marketing university policies, fight against the value-sapping “good ol’ boys” club of regional accreditors and encourage forgiving transfer-of-credit policies. Families should educate their children with free resources and look to enroll their students in primarily competency-based personal accreditation, and in doing so look to devalue entrenched “name brands.” Policymakers and voters should consider how to quickly fix a broken student loans system and save a generation from unnecessary debt. Overall, Americans should recognize that higher education is unnecessarily becoming less about educating and more about protecting elitist ideas of success.

letters@chronicle.utah.edu

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