Sunday, March 30, 2014

Ridiculous! Tackle rising inequality through college education and professional association reform ...

Ridiculous! 498% college inflation is OK?

If we want to start looking at how to change growing inequality, and the effect that has on not your children, but also your grandchildren, then there's probably no two easier places to start than:

1] The cost of a college education; and
2] The tie-in to professional organizations 'self-regulating' ridiculous degree requirements.

According to many sources, the cost of a college education continues soar at a crazy level - typically two to two-and-a-half times the inflation rate since the 1980s. According to data from www.inflationdata.com this means that while overall inflation in the 1986-2011 period rose by 115%, the college education inflation rate increased by 498% over that period of time. This information closely mirrors data from other sources, and similar changes in Canada and the U.K. over that same time.

This puts not only the dream of a good life further and further away from the lower middle class and the working poor, but nearly extinguishes it for those children whose parents suffer from long-term mental or physical disabilities. This further embeds multi-generational inequality, with its many serious personal and societal downside. It also treats those children in less wealthy homes as if they were somehow the authors of their own fate, and thus deserving of an inferior socio-economic status. 

With the rise of the internet and many alternatives to 1800s teaching methods (ugg, me teacher in classroom, you listen in classroom) costs of college education should be legitimately falling at this point, if not in absolute terms, at least in real (constant dollar) terms. However, both students and their parents are a captive audience to colleges' rapacious appetites. This is a failure of both the marketplace, and government regulation.

So how does government regulation come into play as a failure? In my opinion, this is by granting many professional organizations the ability to 'self-regulate'. This is done on the theory that only those in the profession have sufficient knowledge to know what and how to regulate within that profession. It also conveniently washes the government's hands of much oversight. This system has directly led to a marketplace failure.

While self-regulation has much to be said for it, it also accounts for a significant failure to society in general, and marketplace users of that service in particular. The failure of the government in this instance is to be willfully blind to the self-interest of the professional organizations membership. Professional organizations control the flow of new members into the profession (typically through educational requirements) and it's in each member's economic interest to choke that supply chain as much as possible. To the extent that every lawyer and psychologist have an undergrad degree before actually beginning much learning about their intended profession is obvious proof of this. For if it was about having BETTER lawyers or psychologists, then the specific learning around this would be strengthened - and that most likely would be done through an extended and structured apprenticeship, or a series of practicums.

Furthermore, the whole cost of the undergrad degree is inflated to the extent that non-core courses (which will typically add one-half to nearly one whole year to what is really a three-year degree, plus fancy 'accessories') are a required part of the degree curriculum. Through the direct cost of student tuition/books, etc., and lost employment productivity, this likely adds (or costs, including so-called 'opportunity costs, another $25,000-$50,000 to the cost of a college degree).

Want to deal with some inequality of access to the legal system and why it costs a ridiculous $300 an hour for a divorce attorney (or an attorney needed to get a dead-beat dad to pay up on the child support front ["I'll need a $2500 retainer", the lawyer says to the single mom])? Want to provide more reasonably priced access (i.e. less than $150 to $200 an hour) to psychological services so society can better deal with the mental health crisis?

Then the federal governments of all three countries mentioned above should begin some serious oversight of these professional organizations, as well as looking at eliminating 'non-core' courses (in life, we call these 'hobbies') required to gain most college degrees. And if they are unwilling to do so, then the government needs to step in and apply all the needed moral, financial and legal means to force this change upon them. And the colleges themselves should be looking to reinvent themselves to be true to their higher ideal.

Idealistic? Maybe. Realistic? Definitely.

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1 comment:

Jim Bauer said...

I have always found college to be both overrated, and quite frankly unneccessary. Learn to earn as much as one can, live below ones means, and INVEST, INVEST, INVEST. Financially passing up college grads is easy.