Saturday, December 29, 2012

When Education Becomes 
a Business. . .

One of the important side effects of the Occupy Wall Street movement was the extensive publicity given to the large debts our students carry to pay for their education. One of the causes of the steep increase in student debt is the steady rise in college tuition – a faster rise than the rate of inflation. Getting an education has become more expensive every year.
Where does all this money go?
Here are some interesting facts: in the 1970's about 20% of all college teachers were part timers, adjuncts. Adjuncts earn less than full-time professors, they have no job security, no health care or pension benefits. Many of them teach courses at different schools. Many of them are on food stamps.
Today about 50% of all college courses are taught by adjuncts. As is true for many employees, more and more college teachers have precarious, temporary jobs and have a hard time making a decent living.
The rise in the cost of college education does not seem to be due to the cost of actual teaching. The college wage bill has tended to go down because more and more teachers are, frankly, underpaid.
Where then does the money go? "Between 1975 and 2005, decades of rising college enrollments, the number of full-time faculty grew 50% while the percentage of those employed as university administrators swelled by 85% and administrative staffers by 240%" (Thought and Action: the NEA Higher Education Journal volume 25 (2012), 9).
Add to that, that top level administrators' salaries have increased substantially. It is no longer unusual for a college president to make a six-figure—as in $ 600,000.00-- salary.
These changes in higher education reflect a trend of considering colleges and universities as just one more business. Hence the successful effort to shrink the wage bill and increase the number and salaries of top managers. Universities are treated as if their main task was to make a profit. The focus is on the athletic department, on the winning football team where huge sums are invested. What counts is the bottom line. Learning, education, scholarship, scientific research count for little unless they can be commercialized and bring in profits.
Many of the new highly paid administrators are not scholars or even particularly well educated. They are business men; they are pretending to run a business where that is completely inappropriate. Education is about increasing knowledge and skills, expanding personalities, equipping all of us to lead the best lives we can live, making us better and more knowledgeable citizens, and the parents of happy and promising children. These values cannot be measured in dollars and cents. Leading the best lives we can, being good citizens, being excellent parents is different from having or producing a lot of money. You may leave your children a lot of money but be a bad parent; good parenting enriches your children in non-monetary ways. Being a good citizens does not necessarily bring in money. The rich often are very poor citizens. You may be a person with many resources but money is not one of them. You can be rich and be a clown like Donald Trump.
Money and wealth are not the primary goals of education or of educational institutions. The new administrators and presidents of colleges and universities, being mainly into money, enrich themselves while destroying their institutions.
Ever since Calvin Coolidge said that "America is business is business" we have thought that whatever we do in our lives should be thought of as a profit and loss undertaking. Applying that completely inappropriate motto to education leaves us with a faltering education system that costs more and more and is less and less effective.
This is just one instance of the mischief done by considering everything we do as a business. Health care used to be about helping sick people become well and about well people remaining well. Today it is mainly a for-profit undertaking. As a consequence America spends more on health care than any other country in the world but the health care we get is inferior to that in many other countries.
We are still suffering from the effect of having allowed banks to be moneymaking enterprises. Not for-profit banks, like your local credit unions, provide perfectly good services and do not go bankrupt because they engage in risky speculations and lose their shirt.
Education is one of many parts of our society which suffers seriously from America's love affair with making money.
It is time that we remembered that money is not everything.