Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

The University as Fetish

with one comment


Yes, we need to fix American education. In particular, the inequalities Americans face at the starting line — bright children from poor families are less likely to finish college than much less able children of the affluent — aren’t just an outrage; they represent a huge waste of the nation’s human potential.

But there are things education can’t do. In particular, the notion that putting more kids through college can restore the middle-class society we used to have is wishful thinking. It’s no longer true that having a college degree guarantees that you’ll get a good job, and it’s becoming less true with each passing decade.

So if we want a society of broadly shared prosperity, education isn’t the answer — we’ll have to go about building that society directly. We need to restore the bargaining power that labor has lost over the last 30 years, so that ordinary workers as well as superstars have the power to bargain for good wages. We need to guarantee the essentials, above all health care, to every citizen.

What we can’t do is get where we need to go just by giving workers college degrees, which may be no more than tickets to jobs that don’t exist or don’t pay middle-class wages.

The other reference here, besides, the fetish, might be something like the public policy equivalent of Goodhart’s Law; the focus on increasing access to college has only served to decouple the attainment of a degree from access to the well-paying middle-class jobs it was supposed to be a proxy for. Meanwhile skyrocketing tuition and educational debt, fueled by a steep decline in support for public universities, have immiserated a generation; since June 2010, Americans now owe more on their student loans than they do on their credit cards.

Written by gerrycanavan

March 7, 2011 at 12:40 am

One Response

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  1. At least if you go to college, you can better understand why you can’t get a job.


    March 7, 2011 at 9:38 am

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