It seems most are looking at this from the perspective of folks who are in the university rather than those who “need” the university. The piece is not an economic piece. It is a sociological piece.
This is the crux of his argument:
What I mean to say is that the tuition price spiral is part of the larger history of inequality, just as is the ever-rising price of Andy Warhol paintings, or the ever-growing size of the McMansion, or the ever-weightier catalogs issued by Restoration Hardware—and, of course, the never-increasing wages of American workers. As the rewards that can potentially be won by members of the white-collar class have gone from meh (in the egalitarian 1970s) to Neronian (today), it feels natural that the entrance fee for membership in that class should have escalated in a corresponding manner. The iron logic of inequality works the other way as well: Although a college degree doesn’t necessarily guarantee a life of splendor, not having one pretty much makes a life of poorly compensated toil a sure thing. Finding ourselves on the receiving end of inequality is a fate we will pay virtually any price to avoid, and our system of higher ed exists to set and extract that price.
…Everyone in the age of inequality knows that the purpose of a college education isn’t to benefit the nation; it’s to give the private individual a shot at achieving a High Net Worth.
Agreeing upon that, everyone from state legislators to the Secretary of Education naturally began to ask, Why should I pay for someone else to get rich? Those people need to foot the bill themselves.
Agreeing upon that, the colleges and universities reconceived their mission and began to put a more accurate price tag on what the consensus now acknowledged that they were selling…”
At some point every semester, when I am asked to give a guest lecture as someone who lives IN the sacred groves but is not OF the Academy, I say this to students: “If you finish your education and get your degree, make no mistake about this… YOU ARE BETTER THAN PEOPLE WHO DO NOT HAVE A BA. You are now paying a premium price to not be automatically rejected by a corportatioin or a government job search. Yes, you will basically do jobs that can be done by anybody who can alphabetize (filing), punch in numbers (data entry), or use a telephone (diverse occupations). You are BETTER.”
Since we live under the delusion of meritocracy, this usually gets their attention and they stop asking about how much college costs and what college has become. I call this talk, College: Class Warfare 101.
Everybody buys the notion that college education is good for the soul. I think this is true for about 15% of those who come. These are the folks–from diverse socio-economic backgrounds–that can see there is a greater opportunity to find themsleves during 4-5 years at college than they will get in most areas of our plutocracy. And to my professor friends and administrator friends, I say thank you for giving this 10-15% the opportunity. But let all in that 10-15% and the professoriate realize: this life and this opportunity are totally subsidized on the backs of people who just want to make sure they have a chance at the $1 Million lifetime earning. And thank god, their are still so many people desperate enough to pay almost anything to not be left behind, to be better than Americans who never got a BA or even went to college.