We Are the 99 Percent – Common themes: student debt and healthcare debt


Student debt and healthcare debt seem to be the trend for these sad stories. Regardless of your politics, you must admit that there is a need for significant change. There are no simple solutions. These folks are already in trouble and are unlikely to get out of it any time soon. However, we can try to avoid future problems.

I’ll let other, wiser souls comment on healthcare. I don’t really feel like getting into that one. However, I think I can comment on education.

Simply blaming students is misplaced (though they do share the blame). Our educational institutions are one big pyramid scheme. Professors and administrators can only justify their existence by filling their programs. Whether students can get gainful employment as a result of this education is secondary. The more students in your programs, the more faculty and facilities you can afford, which allows you to recruit more students. It’s a terrible cycle that results in departments filled to the brim with under-employable students who have yet to feel the fire at their feet.

Faculty likely don’t think of it this way, but I can’t see how they don’t. Faculty are often blinded by the relative importance of their field. For them, this field is full of work. Their friends, colleagues, and some past students do work in the field. What they lose site of are the scores of students who don’t make it in the field. They justify this by talking about the alternative paths they take and their poor decisions (never about the original poor decision of joining their department).

I struggle with this daily. I teach in a department that is seeing negative job growth (pubic school teachers) in Korea. I tell students at every chance that they must have a plan B. The benefit of an English Education degree in Korea is that they have communication and translation skills that are in relatively high demand. With this in mind, we are having to reconsider what an English Education program should prepare students for. Are we still preparing public school teachers? Or are we preparing “communicators”? If the latter, it’s just not good enough. They need marketable skills that prepare them for specialized fields including sales, trade, publishing, and so forth. If the former, we are looking at less than 1 in 10 who will get that coveted public school job. What about the other 9?

So back to student debt. There are 3 ways to address student debt. (1) enter programs in which graduates earn good money. (2) Don’t go to school at all and have the same low paying jobs at 18 that you’d have after graduating from a low-employment major. (3) Programs have to adjust to make their students more employable. Now, these are all ways that have to do with schools as they currently stand.

Another way to deal with student debt is to reduce the costs associated with education. Very few majors (if any) require long-term, residential programs to adequately learn the content. Does a degree in English literature really require one to be in a classroom for 4 years? I’d argue that it works against a good education in that field. What about math? Same problem. Education? A little more justification of face-to-face modeling. The list goes on and on. We need to give up on tradition and move to what is not only effective, but efficient.

The bubble is going to burst in education. There will be winners and losers. I just hope that when the dust clears, the winners are the students and the losers are the organizations.

2 thoughts on “We Are the 99 Percent – Common themes: student debt and healthcare debt”

  1. Dan,The blog is looking good! Thoughtful post and I really hope there aren’t winners or losers but that public education thrives and so too organizations that are “public” in the sense that they don’t espouse profit and “bottom line” thinking but something very long term and promoting equity. Equity – Access are two things fundamental to education. I found your comment about higher education being a pyramid scheme, a good metaphor. It is ponzi in action, in the sense that when you get out – you can’t collect on your investment. So why don’t these investors (students) scream and get on the streets? Seems it is starting but the deck of cards won’t fall until there is much more social protest and pressure. Terrible that it must get worse to get better…. But eventually, higher education will have to accept that learning does happen outside the classroom and informally. It will have to reform and begin to create openess and respect for what a student knows – not just how they respond to a course/a test. Respect that it isn’t about “time on task” but student ability. I loved the we are 99% stories and made them into a handy presentation teachers could use for a reading or writing lesson. http://eflclassroom.com/flash/99.swfLet's hope the coming disruption isn’t too disruptive!

  2. Thanks for the comment, David.Change can be gradual or violent. I think the change in education will certainly be gradual. Unfortunately, I also think that it is going to be business-driven. The focus will be on certification and not on education. I’d like to complain about this more, but I don’t think that most traditional schools are much different at this point.

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