It’s Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaack!!!

See?  Even CNN’s deluge of coverage of the Petraeus scandal can’t cover up the looming problem of “The College Scam” and higher education being a bubble that one day is going to really really burst.  😛


Want A New Job? Pay Up Sucka! :-P

So who else out there is completely fed up with our government being completely clueless when it comes to creating a strong middle class, including the Democrats who supposedly champion it?  Oh come on now.  I’m sure I’m not the only one.  😛

“Job been outsourced?  Laid off?  Get retrained!” seems to be the tagline for displaced workers lately.  President Obama has been going around rambling on about investing in community colleges so that workers can be retrained for new careers if their current careers have been outsourced or destroyed.  Heck, even one of the community colleges in my neck of the woods is building a whole new building just for the purposes of retraining people for careers in certain fields, but while all this is going on, what’s missing here?

Oh yeah, that’s right.  Who’s paying for it?  Of course!  You are!  In the name of rich companies’ stocks going up a fraction of a point or something like that all you poor working peons out there will have to fork out more money just to continue to have a job that isn’t part-time minimum wage no benefits etc.  Had enough of this nonsense yet?  Especially when numerous bloggers, authors, documentary filmmakers, etc., are getting attention by talking about going to college like it was the scam of the century?

Personally, I’m fed up with these constant attempts to corral people with at least half a brain into the education money sink as much as humanly possible.  Take me for instance.  I have a trade school background in electronics and a four year business degree, but check it out – most consumer electronics and small appliances are completely throwaway these days and nobody wants any managers or supervisors, and what few job postings I see for someone with a Bachelor’s in Business the job requirements are so strict these companies practically will only hire people who’ve already worked for them before.  Oh but if I go back to school and spend even more money on top of my student loans maybe I’ll be able to be *considered* for jobs that require such-and-such skills.

Sounds like a typical textbook ROI scenario, except for one critical problem – this is the Great Recession we’re talking about here.  Everybody and their mother’s uncle among the unemployed are applying for everything in sight, so why should anyone hire me even if I dropped all that money on training when there might be someone with actual prior experience they could hire instead?  Now apply this situation to all those people out there who are being suckered by all these for-profit college commercials promising “a new career” and little wonder analysts out there are thinking Student Debt will be the next big bubble to burst that’ll make the sub-prime mortgage crisis look like a few pennies falling out of someone’s piggy bank.  😛

Everybody practically wants people who’ve worked for them before when posting “job openings” (which by the way, they don’t even need to be hiring anyone for if they’re just queuing applications and resumes in case someone quits or gets fired).  Times are hard, right?  America’s economy has barely been kept from crashing and burning all these years?  Not exactly.  Check out this graph, and go grab your torch and pitchfork when you finally stop weeping.  It practically makes the “bad economy” look like a fabrication of some really rich people who want to make still more money off of the suffering of millions.  I’ve mentioned St. Louis Federal Reserve Economic Charts before, but here’s a new one I’ll keep an eye on.

St. Louis FRED – Corporate Profits After Tax

Yeah, a dip around the time of the crash, but a quick snap back and the number going up, up, and away ever since, while the victims of the crash have to fork over more money they no longer have into the education money sink to *maybe* *someday* have a good job again – at least until the next time their job gets eliminated, then they can start the vicious cycle all over again.

But let’s not forget, folks.  We the American people have to “get past our cynicism.”  😛

“The College Scam” Resurfaces In The News – ACT Results Show Many Folks Shouldn’t Go Straight To College

It has been a really long time since the last time I saw the whole college scam thing in the news, but this little Time article suddenly popped up so I took a look at it, and despite its brevity, it does throw in a few good points.

Sentence number one says it all.  “There’s a reason why colleges have to remediate so many students.”  Heh.  Remediate.  There’s a word I’m disgustingly familiar with.  Remedial courses are probably one of the biggest problems in higher education these days, because they shouldn’t exist.

Here’s how it works.  College is expensive, and getting more expensive by the…. however often the educrats want to jack up the cost these days.  I would say by the day, but you never know these days.  Maybe some administrator will see this and suddenly feel like making their bursar’s workload shoot through the roof with more numbers to crunch…again.  😛  Anyhoo, people pay all of that money for a degree, which consists of X amount of credit hours of coursework.  If remedial courses are included, that means part of that super-expensive degree that’s creating the biggest debt bubble in this country’s history consisted entirely of courses that only serve to catch someone up in some area to a level where they can finally begin working on that super-expensive degree.  😛

Yeah.  Remedial courses should not even be part of *any* college experience.  This type of stuff should be relegated to independent tutoring services or an adult version of Sylvan Learning Center or something.  If people need to patch up holes in their knowledge base, they should do so *before* starting on the path to a super-expensive degree.  Of course making people “pay for high school the second time around” earns colleges yet more money, so of course the schools have them and probably won’t get rid of them anytime soon.

Then you have institutions who take the remedial course problem a step further by making them mandatory for all students.  My own alma mater had a mandatory Intro To Liberal Arts class that all freshmen had to take.  Apparently more than a few new students couldn’t handle the kind of college-level amounts of reading that earned me my first pair of glasses at age 22 (Yeah.  Laugh it up.  :-P) so in their infinite wisdom the educrats in the ivory towers made it so even a bookworm like me who graduated first in my middle and high school classes had to take a remedial reading course.  Not like it was very effective either.  Students would often brainstorm ways to circumvent having to read 15 200-page books in 10 weeks and most of us didn’t even bother reading through the books all the way and still managed to do well (I got an A.  :-P) plus some of the “easier professors” would practically give you easy A’s if you at least attempted to at least read a little of each book, so I’d say that course was one of the bigger wastes of money that made up my bachelor’s degree.  😛  Plus despite that course supposedly being “an introduction to college-level reading” I never read that much in a single course ever again after that.  Maybe it was because I was a Business major instead of an English major.  Oh wait.  I’m sorry.  Did I say English?  Oh how utterly insensitive of me.  I meant “Cultural And Literary Studies.”  😛

I could go on and on, but let’s get straight to the point.  I know something’s wrong in the world of higher education when I talk with folks that are going back to school (sometimes with families, kids, and jobs on the side – hats off to them  🙂 ) and the discussion goes like this:

Me:  “Hey cool whatcha reading?”

Them: “Oh, stuff for my classes.  I’m going to college.”

Me:  “Cool.  Whatcha studying?”

Them: “Algebra.”


I think I covered it quite nicely earlier in this article when I described remedial courses as “paying for high school the second time around.”  Sure colleges won’t be spinning off remedial coursework anytime soon.  There’s just too much money in it for them, but that doesn’t mean consumers can’t smarten up, and isn’t getting all smart and stuff what education’s supposed to be about in the first place?  🙂  Sure there may be some smart schools out there that make remedial courses cheaper than regular ones, but I’d still check the numbers to see where the best deal is.  Bottom line, if you’re going to school and find you need remedial stuff – stop – immediately.  Find some independent tutoring service or something to save a few bucks instead of paying whatever the tuition is at the place for a remedial course.  People go into enough debt because of higher education as it is.  No need to make things worse by having some of that debt coming from simply catching up so one can get started.  :-\

Where Some Folks Miss By A Mile On STEM Careers

Been listening to Progressive folks lately?  Seems like America has a shortage of folks who want to pursue STEM careers (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics for those who don’t know the lingo) while other countries have massive amounts of folks who want careers in those fields:

I don’t know, perhaps we Americans do have a cultural problem where we’re too obsessed with mindless fluff and have a glut of Liberal Arts majors coming out of our colleges that I’ve been hearing about lately, but even if we had a glut of STEM people, would things really be any better?

It’s true, popular majors create bubbles of talent that eventually burst, but no matter how many speeches President Obama or other left-wing types give about how more Americans need to go into STEM fields, STEM degrees will not be any better than Liberal Arts degrees in the same situation if there are just too many people with those skills out there.

Just look at PC repair if you want to see how a once formerly high-paying STEM-ish job can be completely commoditized and destroyed.  When I was growing up computers were all the rage.  “Oh get into computers and you’ll never make less than $50,000 a year” was the mantra, and mind you, that was in 1990s dollars, but is that still true today?  Absolutely not.  Look who fixes computers nowadays.  Blippity little brown box techs running the businesses out of their basements and folks making $9/hour in big box stores like Best Buy and Staples, except wait a minute – I hear Best Buy pulled all the techy stuff out of their stores so the “Geek Squad” associates now will ship computers out if they need any hardware work done on them, leaving most of the in-store work for software stuff like virus removals and whatnot.  After all, why have a technician in every store when you can just centralize all the repairs in a repair depot, have techs there, then pay everyone in the stores less because you’ve successfully diluted the STEM component of their job duties?  Not to mention, with ATX and other industry standards you don’t even need an electronics background to build and/or fix a computer, so how valuable are PC repair skills anymore?

Then there’s computers themselves.  It’s not that prices have been going down, but quality has been going down.  15 years ago you could easily spend four digits to build a good computer.  Nowadays, you can still spend four digits to get a good computer, but most people don’t need anything with any real power to it if they’re just doing e-mail, internet, and MS Office, so a throwaway $300 blip machine does the trick for them, and that’s without counting the $200 non-PC devices like nettops that do the same thing these days, and we wonder why there’s no money in fixing computers anymore.

But let’s say I did manage to become an engineer in a field that could still pay a decent amount.  What happens if I start making too much especially when we have all these folks from other countries becoming engineers who might be more willing to lowball a job offer?  My job gets outsourced of course, and why not if China/India/even Canada for crying out loud has far more people interested in STEM stuff?  This of course can lead to lots of competition for jobs and undercutting to drive down the salaries in that field and make the outsourcing gap even larger.

When you add everything together, at the end of the day, no matter how much the pundits and politicians sound off about America’s STEM situation, everyone’s still going to wind up being a slave to market forces anyways, so what’s the point?

“College Students Turn To Food Stamps” – Something’s Not Right There

Now I’ve done it.  I should’ve kept my big mouth shut about having stumbled upon a big issue I couldn’t get away from with all this college stuff.  😛

The Consumerist – Hard-Up College Students Turning To Food Stamps

This is a really-telling Consumerist article.  Basically what’s going on is college students who work a little on the side while in school are finding themselves able to qualify for food stamps so instead of getting a meal plan they just apply for food stamps instead.  It really is a rather crafty move, even if it is pretty much gaming the system and sponging off of the government.  Looks like it’s time for some more welfare reform in this country.

First and foremost, college students aren’t “hard-up.”  There’s a difference between being poor because most of your money or most of you and your family’s money is tied up in semester bills, and being poor because you just plain don’t have that much money to begin with.

The one legitimate issue brought up by the people gaming the system is how expensive college meal plans are.  That’s a legitimate complaint.  College meal plans with a college’s foodservice monopoly can be quite cost-ineffective.  I ran the numbers once when I was in college.  My outrageously overpriced meal plan basically sent me to the main cafeteria for most of my meals where the foodservice company continuously rigged the menu and the layout of the cafeteria to push the starches like pasta and potatoes to keep food costs down.  The result was that it was really easy to get pasta and potatoes most meals but if you wanted real meat or real fruits and vegetables you’d have to wait in lines or prepare it yourself so the easier path was to always just take the filler food instead.  The situation was very similar to an article about Aramark at Yale University that I frequently referenced when talking about how the foodservice ran things at my alma mater.  Early in sophomore year, the situation got so ugly that hot dogs became a delicacy.  Yes you heard me right.  Hot dogs.  Fortunately someone did something about that and they eventually added a little self-serve hot dog oven to remedy the situation.  😛

Halfway through college we changed foodservice companies and the menu improved drastically, plus the new company helped remodel the cafeteria to look more like a food court in a snazzy mall.  Still though, the meal plans were so cost-ineffective because of the high overhead of running the dining halls that if they weren’t mandatory for students living on campus it actually would’ve been cheaper and more nutritious for me to just order Subway every single night from the on-campus Subway restaurant – the only on-campus eatery besides a then-alumnus-run pizza shop that was independent of the foodservice monopoly.  😛  Basically the meal plans were the equivalent of eating out every single night at a decent restaurant except the food was nowhere near the quality you’d get from a restaurant in the same price range plus eating out all the time’s a no-no financially for most adults with budgets and regular lives.  Senior year when I was in senior townhouses with full kitchens I had the option of cancelling my meal plan and wasted no time in doing so and haven’t looked back.  🙂

My alma mater made meal plans mandatory for people living on campus in the dorms because it was a massive fire and electrical hazard for people to hook up microwaves, hot plates, George Foreman grills, or basically anything that heated up, in the dorms, so this food stamp thing if it happened at my alma mater would’ve been someone living off-campus in an apartment or something where they had a kitchen and basically went on food stamps to get that expense subsidized because the conditions of their life while in school just happened to mirror those of a needy low-income family.

The whole money-tied-up versus no-money-period thing is the kicker here.  If someone “hard-up on money” because much of their money is tied up in college bills can get food stamps then what’s stopping someone who has their wages garnished or is fiscally irresponsible and doesn’t have much money left over for food after blowing lots of their income from getting food stamps as well?  This loophole definitely needs to be fixed, because that’s what it is.  Low-income does not mean low-income because of high expenditures.  That’s almost like money laundering to look poor so one can apply for benefits.  😛

College Activism – Another Part Of The “Scam?”

I’m starting to wonder now if my inability to get away from the “college scam” debate might have something to do with being subscribed to The Young Turks’ College channel.  Hmmm……  🙂

This is an interesting story, for the most part because it raises several issues that the commentators do not go into detail with.  Let’s begin with something they somewhat mention though.  They did have a point about something being wrong with the survey of whether college kids were political or not because the survey went specifically after freshmen.

Indeed, if they had focused on sophomores and juniors I’ll bet the results would’ve been much different, because college politics is really not a freshman thing.  Freshman year in college is more about just getting used to college in the first place, such as getting used to the workload, living in a dorm, living with a roommate, time management, introductory courses, etc.  Once everyone is settled in though, sophomore year is where it all begins.

Another Trip Down Memory Lane

This was accented all the more for me because right at the beginning of my sophomore year in college we had the September 11th attacks, so as you can imagine on-campus politics shot through the roof, but even if 9-11 hadn’t happened there’s certainly enough politics on college campuses that I would’ve run into plenty of it.  Halfway through Sophomore Year I changed my minor from Economics to Political Science as a revolt against the politically-charged students and professors who were trying to mess with my head and went hard-core Conservative in response to the blatantly Liberal bias that was all over the Liberal Arts (hmmmm…..  that name has more than one meaning these days…  😉 ).  Nowadays, besides being a much more mellow Independent in terms of the issues, I’m glad I didn’t get caught up in that stuff, not because of any Left Vs. Right stuff, but because the academic liberalism I ran into ironically was the weakest intellectually and in terms of Progressive thought there are various stripes of Progressivism that would hold their own far better in a debate than what was showboated in front of me in college.

Interestingly enough though, it was a more Libertarian-leaning book that turned out to be the biggest influence on how I weathered the barrage of folks wanting to recruit me to their causes.  The Shadow University – The Betrayal Of Liberty On America’s Campuses by Alan Charles Kors and Harvey A. Silverglate really was an eye-opener, and some of the stuff I saw on campus that I knew I wouldn’t see elsewhere inspired me to adopt a line from the book from time to time, “I need to get off of this campus and go back to the United States Of America for awhile.”  I’d say for any collegebound senior going to a traditional residential college, this book should be required reading, preferably the summer before starting the whole mess.

This wasn’t to say all of college was a drudgery once I was aware of this sort of stuff going on.  As a matter of fact, one time I had a little fun with it.  One of the liberal arts electives I wound up having to take was an International Studies class called “Cultural Diversity In The Modern World.”  I suspected the usual talking points were in play here so when we had to do our essays and “critical thinking and response” type assignments I bet that the assignments weren’t so much about thinking on your own as how much you knew and could articulate the talking points of the academic Left, so I articulated as much of it as I could every single time.  Easiest A I ever earned in that school.  😛

There’s more to the story than classes though.  Today, college activism has further reaching consequences than before with the rise of social media and the Occupy movements, so let’s talk about that too in case anyone has any use for this information.

College Activism Vs. Career Reality

One of the biggest non-political deterrents to me getting caught up in the college activism and demonstrations was the blunt warning about becoming a loose cannon on things.  The biggest irony with campus activism at my college was that it was a business school which theoretically should have been preparing us to become various types of managers, exactly the polar opposite of a loud-mouthed hot-headed political activist.

I was tipped off about this when I read an article about Darla Moore, who in 1997 became the first woman ever profiled on the cover of Fortune magazine.  Fortune titled it “The Toughest Babe In Business” and immediately people flipped out because they thought “babe” was inappropriate or sexist.  Her response really caught my eye and has influenced my approach to things ever since:

“I have this to say to the women who find the use of the word ‘babe’ inappropriate or even horrifying: I seriously doubt, as long as you retain this attitude, that you will ever appear on the cover of Fortune – or that you will ever accomplish enough in business to merit this distinction. True sensitivity means not getting all wound up in a bundle every time you think you hear an insult. Anyone who wants to play in the big leagues of business has to learn to focus on what’s important – and not be thrown off by smaller things.”

I’ll bet I wouldn’t have heard anything like that from my professors in a million years.  😛  She was right though.  Once I got away from all the hotheaded activism my first job after college involved working for a bunch of experienced operations managers who were very good at what they did.  They were easily the most calm, collected, level-headed people I’ve ever worked for and nothing got to them.  When everything went wrong and everybody else was flipping their lid and going nuts, they were still focused on what mattered and getting through the challenges instead of making a Broadway drama out of them.  Talk about a great eye-opening influence.  Plus it’s good to know that I was right.  Sadly though, a college activist living in an academic fishbowl might not until it’s too late.  :-\

“Loose Lips Sink Ships”

Loose Lips Sink Ships was a slogan on posters during World War 2 warning people not to casually talk about sensitive military information that they heard from spouses, etc., fighting in the war in case there were enemy spies listening in.  World War 2 is long over, but the relevance of this warning still has numerous applications today.

Moore’s quote on sensitivity wasn’t the only thing that convinced me to stay away from the people grandstanding for various causes on campus.  I was also reading articles about liberal arts loose cannons and the kinds of jobs they landed after college if they could land one at all.  Even years before our current economic mess I was already reading about college grads with BAs who’d gotten involved in lots of activism graduating and not being able to find suitable jobs except MAYBE in a nonprofit organization making not much more than they would’ve straight out of high school.  Why?  Reputation reputation reputation.  No large business would want to take a chance on someone who will flip out about itty-bitty things that they don’t agree with and cause all kinds of drama in the office when everyone’s trying to work.  Don’t forget, folks.  This was YEARS before YouTube, Facebook, even MySpace and the explosion of social media sites that we see today.

Today, companies running background checks or searches on people have a lot more options to see what they’re really like aside from any glitz and glimmer they may bring to the interview.  There’s social media postings, YouTube videos, other video site videos, pictures, etc.  The Internet is far more multimedia these days as broadband has become more mainstream than when I was in college.  If companies want dirt on job candidates, it could be a very deep dig down to the bedrock depending on what kind of life you’ve been living.

My personal favorite is all the “Sign In With Facebook” features for commenting on news stories that attach a full name, current Facebook picture, and link to their profile to everything someone chimes in on.  It’ll be interesting if one day we read about someone who can’t get a job because background check services listed every single comment they posted on news stories and all the Internet fights they got into because they HAD to sound off about absolutely everything.

Let’s face it, with how wired everything is and how folks can snap video of someone on a smartphone cam and send it online on the spot the Information Age advice to “act like you’re on TV everywhere that you go” hasn’t been any more true, and isn’t going in the other direction anytime soon.  For many people who don’t follow this sort of stuff though, they may not learn about this until it’s too late.

I apologize for the magazine-article-length entry.  There’s much I can say on this topic and I didn’t want to cheeseball it by writing three separate entries, but at the end of the day, one has to wonder: is college activism any more worth it these days when recruiters can easily get someone’s mug shot off of Google search results of Occupy Wall Street and see that the person spewing venom about corporations is the same person that applied to be a bank teller for said-corporation or something?  How much of today’s issues with college grads not being able to find decent jobs has anything to do with this sort of stuff that’s popped up in the last few years alongside the economic downturn.  Hmmmm….  :-\