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Sanders Challenges Neoliberal Stranglehold with Call for Free Higher Education


Sanders Challenges Neoliberal Stranglehold with Call for Free Higher Education

Adolph Reed Jr.

The recent New York Times op-ed by N. Gregory Mankiw, "Three Reasons for Those Hefty College Tuition Bills," is pure ideological huffing and puffing of the sort we'd expect from a former chair of George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisors. It's just a bushel of the same old free-market shibboleths typically invoked to dismiss out of hand any position that doesn't comport with the market fundamentalist perspective on the world.


Having spent a quarter of a century teaching both undergraduate and graduate students at public research universities, I will remark that the increases in tuition and fees were mostly the direct result of the bullshit US News & World Report rankings games. Imparting knowledge is inherently efficient. Building palatial student unions and dorms with glowboxes aplenty, hiring research stars to not teach but rather bring in ca$h, etc. are not efficient. The rankings do drive economic activity (go figure, given the publication and its editorial hoard [not a typo]), which seems to be the sole intent. A higher purpose for this rag would be the wiping of one's backside.


Very few societies value or financially reward women for domestic jobs, tasks, and duties. That's why careers based on domestic aid or things typically done by females are paid less.

"To reinforce the point, the BLS report estimates that the two fastest growing job categories by percentage are "personal care aides" and "home health aides," jobs that that are classified as low-skill, requiring "less than high school" educational attainment, and are paid low wages. (It is a travesty that the labor of those workers who provide direct care for people who are chronically ill, disabled and elderly is so grievously devalued, but the key issue here is that those most rapidly growing job categories do not require college attendance, much less graduation, which indeed would probably deem an applicant "overqualified.")

Leaving out the gender component must be the new Political Correctness. But it misses an essential aspect of the economic calculus.

Amen to the paragraph below:

"At this juncture in American politics we need to assert a political vision unequivocally animated by the spirit in FDR’s Second Bill of Rights. It is time for us to demand an agenda that proceeds from a concrete sense of what the country would look like, what the thrust of public policy would be, if the interests and real, felt concerns of the vast majority of working and middle-class people were the central priority of our national government. Senator Sanders’s campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination has put that possibility in the public spotlight."


There are a number of factors that are making it difficult for lower income people to get a college education, at least at the better schools. Probably the most important is that the upper middle class is spending large sums of money to make sure their children have an edge. This includes top preschools, living in the best school districts, tutoring children from k-12, paying for SAT and ACT prep courses, and more, The colleges are competing for these children who are likely to be high earners and therefore able to give big donations back to the school when they are alumni. So beautiful dorms are built, loyalty is established through winning sports teams which requires expensive facilities and stadiums. So place to blame is the upper middle class parents who are trying to turn out perfect kids and the schools that are driven to compete for these perfect children.


There are a number of fundamental questions regarding higher education that do not seem to be addressed here. One is the basic conflict at major research universities between teaching and research. These schools are the Ivies and similar private schools and the flagship state universities. What matters to these schools is research. That is the basis of their prestige and the basis of the reputations of the faculty. There are no incentives for good teaching and for professors teaching is largely a distraction from their research. So, should our institutions be divided into research institutions and teaching institutions or should these two functions remain on one campus with teaching getting short shrift. Another issue is advances in artificial intelligence. Even now robots and computers are replacing white collar workers and as computing power accelerates, doubling about every 18 months, this trend is likely to accelerate. It is likely that just about anyone who works in front of a computer screen is vulnerable to being replaced by artificial intelligence. Only the most highly creative white collar jobs are likely to be done by humans as decades go by. So is college preparing people for jobs that soon will no longer exist? And if robots and computers replace most people who is going to be able buy the products that are made? Will the explosion in artificial intelligence lead to economic collapse?


I would much rather he made education relevant rather than free.

Today collage is more of a rite of passage than a preparation for life. People with high IQs will naturally do vastly better than those with lower, and yet schools charge equally. They do very little to "teach" a guy who gets it right away and they flunk a guy who really needs the help.

Is the curriculum really selected to achieve the goals society expects collages to provide? Does an engineer really need to know the information "electives" provide, or is the school filling up classes under-attended as a tax on would be engineers? The last time I hired an engineer I never asked him how well he did in pottery. If diversity is important in education, then students need not be required to get it as students are smart enough already to make decisions, like the decision to attend in the first place. I never got on the job training that contained half electives. I don't mind electives, I mind that they are mandatory in every case.

"schools" should panel students as to the why of their attendance, then re-survey after a year and bill according to what they provided, not, I have a program somebody got something out of in 1999, you will pass it or else you can't be a nurse, it costs $10,000.


I'm all for higher education. It's my profession. But I don't think we should be spending more for a system that fails to do its job. Most nations can educate better than we can. So why invest in a broken system? Complaining without offering a solution is not my intention, however!

We run most educational institutes based on student satisfaction surveys, which determines who gets to keep their jobs as teachers. Crazy, isn't it? Institutes like to claim there's other factors, but I'm in the system and talk to people in other institutes. Comes down to how do you up enrollments? Make students happy. And that means no accountability for learning tough content. Too many students get to pass with low end education because instructors are forced by their administration to deal with student evaluations in terms of job security.

If we don't abolish this system, we'll never gain on the American label of ignorance.
Respect for teaching institutes, teachers and the opportunity to learn is foremost. Those who don't want to work (cracking the books late into the night) should not be given the seat in the classroom.


Just adding more on the curriculum raised earlier.
It's crazy in the sciences, where one topic is rinse and repeated over and over, to boredom come.
And other topics there is never time for anyone to cover well enough with higher order thinking to enforce the concepts and skill sets.
Standardized, clear content expectations and outcomes, from at least HS, can adjust some of these common errors in our system.
But getting them followed is tough. There's administrative efforts to do so, but by the time it funnels down, the lower level administrators have diluted the process and overburdened the educators without sharing the load of making the needed changes.
I really think administrators should be paid far less than classroom educators (who need to be respected more). Administrators should also always have duties in the classroom so they never forget what they are asking... is it realistic, or just paperwork without meaning?


Oh, me again. But last time!

I moan every time a new catchy term is touted by administrators to pump up their portfolios.
"We are invested in diversity training." "We devote attention to globalism." "Our students learn sustainability." Instructors that join in with the new issues get kudos for broadening students.

For crying out loud, let's focus on Math, English and Science and leave the bells and whistles to other professions. We are not doing the basics well, and until we fix that, the focus should not be distracted to easy buzz words to embellish reports of upper management. Because that's what is most benefited. Students need more spent learning what they didn't learn well, more instructors, more tutors, more work in understanding learning outcomes and teaching effectiveness.

Ok, last beef. I'm done. Sorry if I've stepped on toes.


Sorry, an educated populace is too troublesome. We'll let you have your pot though.


Your bosses


Yawn, yawn - that has been on the Stein/GP agenda for some time, but apparently it only counts if Dems talk about it, but seeing as how Dems, including Sanders, have been in office for some time and never acted it, don't expect ANY Dem to do more than "raise the issue" ....


This essay is brilliant. FDR's bill of rights is not radical, and it is not untenable. If you have a look at the postwar era, the income gap was as compressed as ever, Americans could rely on a baseline of safety nets, and people (not all, of course) were doing pretty well - they had jobs, disposable income--and unions. Fast-foward to what we have now - and it's a lot of "do more with less," amidst absurd accumulations of wealth at the top. Is it really much to ask the American government to provide its people with a baseline of services? - Education is among the most important.


Let's have it European style. After highschool you have to pass a baccalaureate exam that will show you have enough knowledge to tackle higher ed. Make it "free" for the ones that pass.


The problem with "free higher education" is that it is usually worth its cost to the student.


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I have to disagree on the desirability of "a speculation tax" - it doesn't have to be linked to avoidance of income tax - those are 2 separate issues. Folks have to pay a tax on socks, why not stocks? In NY state we have had a STT - Stock Transfer Tax - for over 100 years, that has, over the last decade at least, pulled in over $10 billion per year - which is currently, and has been since about '83, eligible for rebate, yup, rebate to those who paid it upon simple application, which form, the last time i checked was on the same page as the one that accompanies the tax to be paid for that quarter! By simply transferring the proceeds from the "rebate fund" to a "healthcare fund" we could fund a good chunk of SP in NY ... The Robin Hood tax is roundly supported by many groups and would have 2 good effects - provide lots of dough for good causes and, hopefully, help tamp down all that HFT that results in, among other things, front running ...

I agree that the money should go to funding public, not private, institutions, as you are correct, public funding for private institutions is just another form of "corporate welfare" that simply perpetuates and enhances private greed to the detriment of public purpose ...


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To be perfectly honest with you i think of the stock market as a rich man's lottery - and more corrupt, as it is manipulated on a regular basis. I think we would be better off if it pretty much disappeared - left to folks who have more money than they know what to do with .... I don't think the Robin Hood tax was primarily conceived of as a way to dampen speculation, to the extent that it would, that would just be a salutary side effect - I think it is a way to return some of that WS money to the public .... But that is just my take ..


Well, well, well. I happen to live in Denmark but have lived 40+ years in the US, and I've had the opportunity to compare higher education in both countries. I took courses at Harvard Business School and my daughter went to Yale; I myself has a "free" MBA from Copenhagen Business School. So what is the difference between spending $40,000 - $50,000 a year in the US or getting paid to study at a top class university in Denmark? Not much I can assure you and I will at any time prefer a system where young people are able to pursue their studies without economic problems.This is not socialism but a wise investment in the future that benefit the society as much as it benefits the student.