College: The solution to everything

So there's this headline in the Times, and because I like freedom pie and hate evil, I'm obviously for it: Obama to Call for Better [College] Graduation Rates

The president wants the U.S. to lead the world in college graduate rates. Sure, why not?

The problem I see here is that the President, the Secretary of Education, along with every other platitude smoking pundit is really confounding three or four different concepts.

I'm with Obama on expanding access to higher education. If young people and their loved ones were guaranteed high quality health care, affordable housing, and affordable day care, a lot more people would be able to attend college. Increasing funding to colleges, working with colleges to lower tuition, and making it easier for part-time students to obtain financial aid (especially grants) would be a huge help, too. Obama and Congressional Democrats seem interested in making student loans less profitable. Baby steps, I suppose, but good nonetheless.

Here's where things get dicey for me.

The article talks about "better" graduation rates, while the article is actually about higher graduation rates. Sure, if we assume access is what limits graduation rates, higher rates are better, in that they indicate greater access. However, if the outcome we want is a more educated populace, we should really be talking about education, not graduation rates. There are multiple ways to increase graduation rates, and they don't all involve providing more or better education.

You may have noticed that I had to add the word "college" to the headline. Perhaps an editor left out that particular word for reasons of column-space. In any case, there's a massive assumption that for folks over 18(ish), education equals college attendance equals college graduation. This lets us forget about quality public broadcasting, public libraries, community centers, rural (and urban) internet access, trade apprenticeships, and pretty much every collaborative educational effort that folks benefit from before, after, during, and/or in lieu of college.

And what's that Secretary Duncan? "We have to educate our way to a better economy"? Yes, investing in education would create more jobs in education, which would in turn stimulate the economy. I don't think that's what Duncan is talking about, though. AFAICT, he's spinning the tired yarn about how a more educated workforce leads to a more robust economy.

Sure, I guess. Maybe a little bit. This also strikes me as saying that you don't have a job because you're stupid (or uneducated, which is different, at least to me). This would be easier to swallow if I didn't know tons of people who are smart, well-educated, experienced, and exceedingly unemployed.

There's a real dark side to this "educational economy" perspective. Sure, folks in the future will need to know how to work the lasers in the laser-operated robot mines of tomorrow, and this will take some training. However, the real subtext I hear is that smart (slash educated) people will create jobs.

Creating jobs is not about intelligence or education. It's about having enough money to pay someone to do something. And :drumroll:.... having money is not exclusively a function of being educated, intelligent, good-smelling, or anything else, really. Of course, if we argue that wealth is solely a function of merit (as measured by education, which we assume is a function of intelligence), then yeah, it's pretty much axiomatic that a more educated populace will create more jobs.

If we realize that some folks who have a lot of money and power to burn aren't necessarily deserving of such, the wheels fall off in a hurry. Rather than simply arguing for more college degrees, our leaders would be pushing sustained and broad-based social change as the means of improving people's lives (you know, provided that improving the economy is about improving people's lives, which... yeah). Alas, we're stuck with victim blaming, and solutions that reinforce the concept that the underclass is inferior to those with power.

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