Matt Frei mused during the violent student riots on Wednesday about what he saw as a relevant problem with higher education costs in the US.
Frei realizes there’s a disparity between the amount of money over which at least one student attempted manslaughter, and the amount required to attend a top US school. However, he doesn’t seem to understand the situation in the US, even though he actually states the problem himself.
Until now, Americans have tolerated this tuition-for-debt pact because they could expect to earn healthy salaries once they entered the job market. But graduates are standing in ever-longer lines for jobs that no longer exist.
The first sentence is more or less accurate. It’s not entirely true that absolutely everyone ends up in debt, as there are a variety of forms of means-tested grants for state schools, and all universities have various scholarship opportunities, not to mention the myriad other private and non-profit organizations which give out annual awards. All of that obviously exists to make up for the lack of a universal free ride in the US, which is one point any US student angry about tuition fees would not have in their favor. At least the UK students have that claim of unfairness. But that gets right to the heart of the problem, and why Frei misses it completely.
Frei is right that there’s a problem with jobs available for new graduates. In fact, as I’ve said before, there’s a looming higher education bubble in the US. But he seems to think that now students ought to be paying less for degrees for jobs that don’t exist, as opposed to the idea that maybe there’s no reason to get certain degrees in the first place.
Liberal Arts colleges will find that they have to shift their programs to more practical, career-path degrees, rather than the current, more abstract degrees. In addition, many schools are poorly run, and seem to exist primarily to enroll as many students as possible and milk them for all they’re worth, and don’t seem to care if they ever graduate. Does that sound familiar? Then there are the for-profit institutions which entice people to go into debt for their useless degrees. The US Government is already going after them, and the free market will take care of the rest.
The BBC covered the riots from a position of sympathy with the cause. That was evident from the way everyone who condemned the riots was asked if they at least understood the anger behind them, as if the BBC took the position that the cause itself was just, and the person condemning violence still needed to acknowledge this. Violence over free education for the next generation of (insert joke about useless bureaucrat coordinator here)? Is the public sector supposed to provide more jobs for these people? Will violence be justified if not?
So what about the next generation of doctors and lawyers those students were warning would disappear without free education? I don’t know about doctors, but there are a whole lot of law students in the US who were led down the garden path. There’s definitely a shortage of jobs for law graduates, and many law schools are in trouble. In fact, there’s some talk of the current law school system – in which students take on astronomical debt in the hopes of landing that high-paying associate position – as being unsustainable.
And there’s that BBC shibboleth again. If the cause of free education – or, in the US, lower priced – is worthy of violence, who is going to pay for all of it? If all those graduates can’t get jobs, what’s the point? How will they then pay taxes to cover the next generation? Matt Frei and the BBC aren’t interested. They’re stuck in juvenile divine right mode. As ever, the realities of sustainability escape them. This is a huge US story which has direct relevance to current events in the UK, yet the BBC doesn’t see it.
So Matt Frei, too, muses about violence for the wrong reason. He thinks that higher education prices should be lower so that students can continue to get useless degrees for which there is no work.