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October 12, 2011 4:22 PM Debt and Jobs

By Daniel Luzer

99 percent

Poor Wall Street. Stop blaming Wall Street. Capitalism doesn’t have anything to do with the current state of the economy, writes Jenna Ashley Robinson over at the Pope Center on Higher Education Policy. The problem is that colleges are just teaching the wrong things. That’s certainly a creative take on the ongoing Occupy Wall Street protests.

As she writes:

The occupiers… have bought into the college hype—the conventional wisdom that told them college was the route to a good job, a decent income, and a stable life.
The 99 Percenters who fell into the college loan trap are not evil or stupid to want someone to blame when the mantra they’ve heard since kindergarten—get A’s, stay involved, get a degree—ends up being useless (or in the case of those deep in debt with no tangible skills, worse than useless). But where the protestors get it wrong is that they’re occupying Wall Street instead of the real culprit—State U.
Much of the blame for so many young people’s disillusionment should fall on the colleges and universities that promised them the moon in the first place. Why does a 27-year-old with little work experience and a Master of Fine Arts degree expect that a job in her field will be easy to find? Or pay a “living wage”? It is likely that, starting in high school and continuing through college, her counselors and teachers told her that a college degree—any college degree—was the fast track to success and fortune. And then college administrators repeated the myth and added that an advanced degree would certainly assure success, fulfillment, and happiness.

I’m pretty sure no one has ever said that “an advanced degree would certainly assure success, fulfillment, and happiness” but duly noted.

In many ways the message of post is strikingly similar to that that of Ezra Klein last week. Klein wrote that the protesters often tell “stories of people who played by the rules, did what they were told, and now have nothing to show for it. Or, worse, they have tens of thousands in debt to show for it.”

The difference is that Robinson misidentifies the source of the anger. The protestors don’t necessarily want better jobs, they want less debt. It’s normal not to make much money when working in a profession like teaching or the arts. The problem is the debt such people have to service.

And go ahead and blame whatever you’d like, but the banks hold the student loans. That makes them a pretty obvious target.

It’s probably far more productive to stop worrying about who to “blame” (and we can blame Wall Street all we want, Wall Street will probably be okay) and just recognize that the debt for college plan isn’t working.

The solution isn’t, as Robinson recommends, that people “ stop blaming employers and Wall Street capitalists and start blaming the conventional wisdom and the institutions that sold them a bill of goods—and themselves for buying it.” The solution is to find a way to finance education without debt. Guess what, that requires the participation of both colleges and banks. See how this works? [Image via]

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer