“Yay, College!” Part 1: The Smiley-Face Super-Villainy of American Higher Education

A little more than 6% of the American economy, about $1.6 trillion per year based on current GDP lev

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  1. Hidden in plain sight for anyone who has wanted to see it for the last 40 years. I tried for the first 20 of those years to engage my “elite national but not Ivy” alma mater’s administrations on this subject, to no avail, so I gave up. I have experienced it as adjunct professor for a good part of the second 20 years at an “elite regional” university. The game that Ben describes is, from the point of view of entrenched and well-paid players, the only game in town.

  2. Avatar for jrs jrs says:

    My main conclusion from this essay is that functionally, our higher education system has turned into a public jobs program for the middle class. All those Yay, College! narratives are just fluff, as the DnDers say. (But fluff that is necessary to keep the money rolling in “from” students.)

    This system is a public jobs program not just for the ecclesiastical class of administrators, but also for those employed by the construction industry, local landlords, all those funky little shops in your favorite student ghetto, my local ER, etc etc. Anything that all this higher education money touches.

    This whole system is propping up millions of people with good, secure, middle-class jobs who might otherwise be much worse-off financially, and/or rebellious.

    Fair conclusion, or oversimplification?

  3. Avatar for bhunt bhunt says:

    Fair conclusion, and this is at the heart of part 2 of the series (The Big Short of American Higher Education). I think there’s a clear catalyst to blow up the easy financing, which reverberates through the entire sub-economy built up around higher ed.

  4. As an employee, part time professor and full time at the endowment, I feel seen. One thing that is missed in here, and I’m sure will be talked about in the future, are the professional masters programs. I teach in one, and my class this semester has 1 non-Chinese national (0 last semester). We market these programs to students outside of the country and they come paying amounts that boggle the mind. One student’s tuition for 1 semester pays my teaching salary for the full year – I teach 50+ students a year, in an elective class.

    Not to say I’m not proud of the program we put together. It’s highly technical and our students generally have 2-3 job offers with salaries well north of 100k when they graduate. They’re smart and hard working, and we push them harder than they expect. We do this while running a net “profit” center for the university that helps fund everything talked about here.

  5. Avatar for bhunt bhunt says:

    100%. The vast majority of MA programs are pure grift, certainly those outside of STEM and finance, are just a pure grift. Makes me so angry!

  6. Avatar for drrms drrms says:

    Another devastating piece. The data and images from Rusty’s earlier Starry Eyes and Starry Skies piece are a dagger through the heart:

    I think that is the most epic heinous criminal deception I’ve ever seen. I can’t believe we’re talking about the likes of FTX, Elon and Hunter when things like this are happening just behind the curtain.

    It’s striking too that the quality of the education has deteriorated even as the funding has exploded.

    It’s hard not to conclude that we have badly lost our way. I am shaken.

  7. I would go one better…it is a public jobs program for individuals nurtured by the nudging academic state to major in topics that have little to no economic value in ‘the real world’ (think most any ‘major’ that ends in the word ‘studies’) Individuals with such majors need a place to implement their often activist goals…and what better place for such an individual than an institution of education (followed closely by a government agency or HR department).

  8. Avatar for lhouts lhouts says:

    As a recent college grad, I think the whole industry contributes to the luxury experience spending mindset of many of my peers. Our parents saved our whole lives, just to spend it on four years of partying and “enrichment” classes that are more about self-actualization than direct job skills (with some STEM exceptions).

    Now, we’re doing the same thing in miniature-- saving up for a few months or a year so we can afford a vacation to Europe or Asia where we can party and “enrich” ourselves through tourist cultural activities (museums, guided tours of historic areas).

    Our parents modeled our spending behavior, but they mostly did it because they bought into the college → better life. Now that we’ve experienced that college is just “low-effort enrichment and party” we buy into “low-effort enrichment and party” → better life."

  9. Avatar for bhunt bhunt says:

    100%. And it’s entirely intentional.

  10. Avatar for 010101 010101 says:

    How close a relationship does the ideology present in these vaunted institutions resemble the Church of Man? Is it ‘there is no god except me’?
    Have flickering emotions been raised to be the highest morals so that a brisk scorn or mere irritation can become gleefully resolved by summary public execution?
    This must leave front dead centre, for a generation whose natural, youthful scorn for mundane institution one worthy target, humanity itself. During the best years of their lives they wrestle with a hobgoblin, the corroded remains of the soul, that social relations in their capitalist society are total revolution.

    Productivity to this cause cannot be in addition but by subtraction.
    The freedom to opt out becomes unwanted, obsolete, forgotten.
    You want to be human, right? Then obey, or be cancelled.

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