Tuesday, August 27, 2013

faculty moral responsibility for education fraud

Between 1999 and 2011, student loan debt increased 511%. College graduate unemployment is a little under 9%. The largest single employment sector in the US economy is retail sales. The largest sector of employment growth in the last two years is in temporary, low-skilled work.

The knowledge-based and expertise-based legitimations of college education are long dead. College degrees as credentials for entry into information-processing jobs are nearly dead. There is some reason to think college education provides relevant training that can be useful in various careers -- largely indirectly, through the development of "hidden curriculum" skills and attributes like perseverance, rule-following, mastering encrypted forms of communication like academic prose, etc. But these careers have lost a lot of their prestige and power, and are losing stability and security rapidly.

Under these conditions, getting a college education has to appear much less like a shrewd investment, and more like an expensive gamble. The basic economic function of colleges and universities -- non-profit and "public" as well as private and for-profit -- is to transfer wealth from poor laboring classes to rich capitalists who leech from the system at every pore. (Contemporary capitalism is called by several colorful names: disaster capitalism, predatory capitalism, casino capitalism. I think I like parasite capitalism.)

At some point, I imagine, the economic behavior of people will change to reflect this, and people will stop going to college. I fantasize how people might hold higher education to account for this economic arrangement, and for what could be called fraud.

What is my moral responsibility for this, as a college faculty member, given that I benefit (though modestly, especially compared to parasite capitalists)? Should I discourage people from going to college, despite the potential ramifications to my gainful employment? Should I try to show this perspective to current students, despite the potential ramifications to the teacher-student relationship? Can I "teach" a class, without excessive irony, after I have exposed this arrangement?

Let's see.


Rose Thorn said...

It's a sad trend, and I think that more people should be getting a trade skill education rather than a degree for the reasons you mentioned above.
At this point and time I'm not using the BS I earned, just paying the loans. Although there are the hidden benefits like being able to communicate within the system, there has also been a lot of unlearning the rule following behavior.

Although this affects your employment, you are serving a much needed function in teaching people how to think. I wouldn't worry about the job, there's a lot more you could explore in the world. I for one would enjoy reading one of your books.

Doc Nagel said...

Ironically, the more morally and politically bankrupt the institution of education becomes, the more it fits the model of capital accumulation, perhaps the more likely it is to survive. People buy into all sorts of morally and politically bankrupt institutions.