- Let them eat debt
Perhaps nothing has affected the lives of more young people than the rising cost of education, especially higher education. It is expected that in 2017 the tuition fees in the UK will go above 9000 pounds, at the same time over on the other side of the Atlantic, total US student debt is projected to grow to over 1.3 trillion dollars. To put that into perspective, that amount of debt is almost the size of the GDP of South Korea, the 11 biggest economy on the planet. Thats a lot of money. With fees and tuition cost continually rising, students are forced to finance themselves through loans and as such they go into ever deeper amounts of debt, shackling them for years if not decades to loan payments.
Some are even talking about a lost generation, with over 36% of 18 to 34 year olds living with their parents. The economic ramifications of these stunted youngsters could be profound. We might not even realise the complete diverging implications of millions of young people staying at home for decades to come. Yet the cascading impact permeating throughout the economy is plain to see. People have only so much money. With student loans eating away at their income, young people are less likely to buy a car, or a house, go on a vacation, start a family or a business.
With millennials feeling the brunt of the debt burden, certain social-political changes are already starting to take shape. With the rise of an openly socialist candidate like Bernie Sanders, something quite inconceivable perhaps only 10 years earlier, we are witnessing the political expression of, one could argue, an unsustainable educational model, that is fueling a debt explosion and is in the process of creating a permanent economic underclass. All Sanders had to do was utter these magical words:
“Student debt is crushing the lives of millions of Americans. How does it happen that we can get a home mortgage or purchase a car with interest rates half of that being paid for student loans? We must make higher education affordable for all. We must substantially lower interest rates on student loans. This must be a national priority.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Whether you agree or not with his message is not really the issue, that is a can of worms the size of the Andromeda Galaxy. The success of the Bernie Sanders campaign among millennials is just another manifestation of the underlying condition of our Western educational system. A condition that is broken, old and in some cases irrelevant. You know you have a problem at hand, when young women start to go into the legal limits of prostitution as sugar babies, to pay for their college costs. Nothing screams higher education more than whoring yourself out to an older man.
- To Study or Not to Study…that is the question
From an ultra basic point of view education is about the acquisition of skills and knowledge necessary for functioning in human society. As humanity progressed, we went from an agrarian society to an industrial one and then a post-industrial one. With each subsequent advancement in our technology, we needed higher skilled individuals to perform ever more complex tasks. In only a couple of centuries most societies transitioned from less than 10% to over a 90% literacy rate. Yet it would appear the way we imparted knowledge has not kept up with the times. In a world where everything is changing at an ever greater pace, it seems that somewhere along the way we forgot about our educational system. In less than 100 years, every facet of our lives has been transformed: how we travel, communicate, work and live. But our institutions have remained relatively unchanged.
To this day we all go down the same road: go to school, high school and college. Our skills and aptitudes are rated by standardized test and at the end of all this we are promised a place in society. But if everybody has different skill sets and interests, how could you possibly judge them appropriately.
To quote Albert Einstein “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
The problem is compounded by the rising costs, which is slowly generating a two tier system of have and have nots. Creating the exact opposite of the originally intended goal, one of leveling the playing field and giving everybody a fair shot. Whether you want to blame government mismanagement, corporate greed, lazy students, an irrelevant curriculum, these are but symptoms of an aging 19th century system trying to exist in 2016. We live in a time where technological change is moving at such speeds, that most fields people are studying, could be obsolete by the time they finish.
So the first question that pops up pertaining to this wonderful system we have in place. Is it worth the money? According to Bloomberg tuition costs have gone up by 500% since 1985. Add to that the number of people with bachelor’s degrees working at jobs, that do not require that level of education and you have a rather bleak picture. With students having to throw out 20.000$, 30.000$ or even 40.000$ for a degree and more often than not a worthless degree, at a certain point a cost-benefit analysis has to come into play. Do I want to give out that much money? Do I want to go into a huge pile of debt? With the probability of having nothing to show for it.
It’s not like there are no alternatives. Take apprenticeships for example, they have been declining for years, but are now making a comeback. Businesses have been complaining for ever, that colleges produce graduates with no real skills or hands on experience, therefore they become “unemployable”. Of course because they don’t have experience, they can’t get a job and so can’t get the needed experience, to get a job. Trapping them in that circle of jobless damnation. Apprenticeships could provide an opportunity, especially for those that want to become electricians, plumbers, carpenters: all are good paying jobs and you could do it debt free.
One other major complaint coming from businesses is the inability of people to “sell” themselves and I do not mean like the aforementioned sugar babies. I mean presentation: sloppy CV’s, the inability to articulate their strengths and skills, having bloated feelings of entitlement. One has to wonder sometimes, just what are they learning in these venerated halls of wisdom and knowledge….Images of drunken debauchery come to mind…but that’s a side issue.
Yet day after day the same old slogan rings in the ears. ”You have to go to college or else….” fill in the blank. I am sorry but having 30.000$ in debt with a degree in “Art History”, “Feminist Studies” or “Liberal Arts” will not get you far in the modern world. To add insult to injury, Penguin Random House announced that it will no longer consider college degrees necessary for applicants, joining the ranks of Ernst and Young and PricewaterhouseCoopers, two other companies that have deemed degrees “irrelevant”. I believe I can hear somebody yelling WHAT’S THE POINT!
- Welcome to the Digital Age
Ah the digital world. So strange, so complex, so… useful. Perhaps the underlying premise of what I am trying to say is this: We had revolutions basically in everything: political, economic, technologic, we even had a sexual revolution. Time for an educational revolution. A complete reevaluation of what we got and how it’s applicable to modernity.
Should college last 4 years? Do we really need to be in auditoriums for every class or lecture? With the advent of VR (virtual reality) and the explosion of MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses) things could take a more interesting turn. Most college costs are associated with: books and supplies, transportation, dormitories and of course tuition fees. All could be dramatically lowered if there would be sufficient incentive.
Today you can find and learn about almost anything on the global web. From interesting tutorials on youtube, to self help vlogs talking about everything under the sun. Heck there are tons of webpages dedicated to education and job seeking. Pages like Reek, the biggest employment website in the UK, or lesser know job portals like Jozoo offer tens of thousands of jobs, CV templates and career advice. Are they the best way of finding employment? That has been up for debate for some time, but they still offer an alternative. Besides job portals are accessible anywhere you are, providing you with updates, newsletters and all sorts of services. Understandably I am saying nothing new or groundbreaking, but in the age of globalization we will have to work more and probably earn less.
The contemporary problem with learning things online is accreditation and evaluation. Of course there are tons of online courses both free and payed, with millions of people having access to them. My argument is that we are only reshuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic. Online courses are fine as a way of acquiring some needed skills to augment one’s resume, but it is not yet a valid alternative to a proper college.
As for people struggling with finding work, sadly because of outsourcing and the drive to automate everything, having just the basic college education won’t cut it. Of course it all depends on what kind of a career path you want to follow. But with even lawyers having now to compete with artificial intelligences, well the times they are a changin.