Thursday, November 10, 2011

Young and Jobless

Perhaps it was what they intended all along. While drawing attention to income inequality in America the Occupy movement has also cast a harsh light on American education.

Whoever we entrust with the education and moral development of our children have failed them and us. Surely, parents bear some of the burden, but so do developmental psychologists, therapists, and schoolteachers.

We are not just talking about a “failure to launch;” the system that has failed to prepare children for the future.

The Wall Street Journal has published a series of compelling articles on “generation jobless.” Even the Village Voice has weighed in with a long piece about whether or not an NYU education is worth the debt.

Young people are probably not as familiar as they should be with the problems surrounding the burgeoning national debt, but they have come to recognize that the debt many of them accrued to get a college degree is going to handicap them for decades.

For those who are in college today, the message has gotten through. For many, however it’s too late.

Every college student knows that studying STEM subjects is good for his or her career prospects. Yet, they have not been flocking to courses in science, technology, engineering, and math.

They have, as the Times reported, and as I posted a few days ago, been fleeing them.

The Times explained it by noting that students find first year STEM courses too hard. They have simply not been prepared to deal with first year STEM courses, and are morally incapable of dealing with poor grades.

The Journal offers data that shows where the fault lies. It reports: “Overall, only 45% of 2011 U.S. high-school graduates who took the ACT test were prepared for college-level math and only 30% of ACT-tested high-school graduates were ready for college-level science, according to a 2011 report by ACT Inc.”

The point needs to be underscored, but no one is blaming children for the fact that they received a poor education.

Students might not have learned quantitative skills in high school or college but many of them are getting a crash course in the world of student loan debt.

Given its location, the Village Voice is well placed to question whether or not NYU is worth the debt. And NYU leads the nation in creating student debt.

Many students from the 1% attend schools like NYU on their parents’ dime. In other expensive schools the endowment provides grants or scholarships to students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

NYU, however, does not, so students who want to attend the school and to bask in the glow of the New York experience, can find themselves in circumstances resembling those of a young woman the Voice names Lyndsey.

Lyndsey does not belong to “generation jobless.” She has two jobs. Even so, she will not pay off her student loans until she is 54.

The Voice explains: “Upon graduation, it became obvious to Lyndsey that what she wanted to do with her life—why she'd gone to NYU and into debt—wasn't going to pay the bills as her loans started coming due.

"’My dream career was to be a cinematographer on films about nature, to be involved with shaping how the public perceives nature and our relation to it,’ Lyndsey says. ‘It became clear that that wasn't going to pay nearly enough. I had a six-month grace period after graduation to get a job and start paying back those loans, so I got work that paid better in a field completely different from why I wanted to go to school in the first place.’

“And so began a blurred, twilight existence that has lasted years for Lyndsey. She works nine-to-five in a surgical-simulation lab at a medical school, then rushes home to immediately start her other job, working until 10:30 as tech support for a company in California.

"’It's pretty murderous,’ Lyndsey says. ‘There's no time in my day to think, to breathe, to eat, to shop for groceries. Weekends I try to catch up on laundry, get groceries, cook as much as possible, and see my friends if I can.’

“Still, the punishing work schedule was better than the alternatives Lyndsey sometimes considered. ‘I'm basically trying to avoid the more extreme ways of doing it: stripping and prostitution,’ she says. ‘Stuff you can't tell your parents and your friends about.’"

You do not have to wonder why young people like Lyndsey are angry.

She did as she was instructed. The culture told her that she needed to discover her heart’s desire.

She discovered it. She really, really wanted to take pictures of nature, the better to dedicate her life to a politically correct cause. The culture told her to live her dream. He went to college to prepare herself to do so. Unfortunately, reality had another idea.

In a culture founded on guilt your life is meaningless unless you sacrifice it to a higher moral cause.

Unfortunately, the world is not short of bright-eyed young people who want to save the world.

Funnily enough, Lyndsey is not angry about her education. She thinks that she got a great education. One might say that a great education is one that prepares you for a productive and successful future. An education that was eminently enjoyable and that did not prepare you for adult life should never be judged to be great. An education that does not give you the critical skills to judge it is not great, either.

Lyndsey does, however, understand that the University scammed her. It lured her to take out loans during her first year by promising future financial aid. It directed her to Citibank, which  happily gave her credit. Then when the promised financial aid never materialized, Citibank was more than happy to loan her more and more money. Her story offers a picture of collusion between the university and the banking system, directed by misguided government policies.

Strangely enough, at a time when small businesses are having trouble with their lines of credit, students can borrow as much as they want.

The Voice reports: "The relationship with Citi just shows how little incentive NYU had to limit their tuition or offer me better financial aid,' Lyndsey says. 'They were getting my $40,000 in tuition plus a 15 percent kickback for everything I borrowed. Everybody was winning: NYU was getting paid; the bank was getting a guaranteed revenue stream of 8.5 percent interest guaranteed by the government. Everyone was winning but me.'"

The Voice, however, finds no virtue in the system: “If a burgeoning industry of for-profit schools is going to extraordinary lengths to put those most in need of education into massive debt for often worthless degrees, that's criminal.”

Why didn’t NYU counsel students about the dangers of debt? Apparently, it did not want to seem to discourage disadvantaged students from getting an NYU education.

The Voice writes: “In this instance at least, NYU found itself damned either way. If it made it easy for students to finance their educations with massive loans, it was guilty of economic exploitation and collusion with banks to create a generation of highly educated wage slaves. If it took steps to counsel students about the real consequences of those loans, it was shutting the door to a transformative opportunity to the people who could most benefit from it.”

In last night’s Republican presidential debate, New Gingrich explained that the student loan bubble, $1,000,000,000,000 and counting, is being sustained by well-intentioned government policies.

Young people did not learn this lesson in school, Now they are learning it the hard way.


flynful said...

Of course, NYU had a third choice. It could have gotten rid of the bloat (diversity officers and their ilk), reduced tuition and provided a more intensive education experience. Rather than do that voluntarily I suspect colleges will soon find themselves having to compete on the basis of actually providing a quality product.
Steve Goodman

The Ghost said...

The Voice should have written:
“If the huge industry of not-for-profit schools is going to extraordinary lengths to put those most in need of education into massive debt for often worthless degrees, that's criminal.”

David Foster said...

I'd emphasize that the problem here is not just about math & science....sometimes it seems as if many trends in education and parenting are designed to make people unfit for any job whatsoever.

For example, the excesses of the "self-esteem" movement, coupled with grade inflation, have resulted in many kids developing a brittle personality which cannot stand criticism or setbacks. I don't think such an individual is likely to do very well in a sales job...even a nontechnical one. Nor is he likely to be able to do a job where the task itself gives immediate feedback and learning the work may involve considerable frustration--backing a tractor-trailer, for example.

JP said...

STEM isn't the answer:

"Meanwhile, only a third of science and engineering college graduates actually take jobs in science and tech fields, according to a 2007 study by Georgetown University professor B. Lindsay Lowell and Rutgers University professor Hal Salzman.

hat may partly be because the jobs don't pay enough to attract or retain top graduates. Science, technology, engineering and math majors who stay in a related profession had average annual earnings of $78,550 in 2009, but those who decided to go into managerial and professional positions made more than $102,000, according to an analysis of U.S. Census data by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

"If you're a high math student in America, from a purely economic point of view, it's crazy to go into STEM," says Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown center.

Some science and math graduates also say they would rather channel their analytical skills into fields that pay higher and seem less tedious."

There's a massive glut of science Ph.D.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

As I understood the article, they seem to think that STEM courses are a great background for work in business, but that people who go into scientific research, for example, do not do as well as do those who take their quantitative skills into the business world.

Memphis said...

It really angers me that the more government assistance our taxes provide for tuition, the more the universities raise their tuition and grow their non-teaching staff ... simply because they can. The students are saying "teach me" and the universities are saying "kaching."

Stuart Schneiderman said...

It angers everyone, Steve. Or, at least it should.

The nation should be debating how much we spend on educational bureaucrats and administrative officers... and how much of it is incredibly wasteful.

The epicenter of bureaucrats is obviously the Dept. of Education-- which does not educate anyone.

I suspect that we have all these admins and bureaucrats becaue otherwise the liberal arts graduates of these schools would never be able to get jobs in the real world. It looks like the establishment trying to clean up its own mess.

JP said...

The educational complex is still one of the areas in the United States that can generate massive amounts of new credit on a massive ongoing basis. Housing is gone.

It's taken out by "subprime" students who then get saddled with massive debt that cannot be discharged.

The best example of this is law school, which is a wonderful cash cow for the underlying university.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Absolutely. One of the most interesting parts of Lyndsey's story was her recognition of the way that the universities and the banks are colluding in the rip off... under the aegis of our federal government.