We Are the 99%: Understandable Anger, but a Failure to Offer Viable Solutions

If you scroll through the posts at the We Are the 99% tumblr, you start to notice a dominant theme which can be summed up in the following paraphrase:

“I am thousands of dollars in debt due to my student loans, and now I can’t find a job! I am one of the 99%!”

And you know what? I can understand their frustration. I really can. These folks have been sold a bill of goods, and they’re just now discovering that they’ve been lied to — that a piece of paper doesn’t automatically lead to a comfortable living after all. But the proper target for their outrage is not Wall Street — at least, not on the higher education issue.

As I suggested yesterday, I think corporate entities which take government hand-outs should be raked over the coals. As a committed conservative who generally approves of the Tea Party movement, I have no use for crony capitalism regardless of who’s practicing it. However, I firmly part ways with the “99 Percenters” and the “Occupy Wall Street” protesters when it comes to their apparent tendency to blame all of their problems – including their student loan debt – on corporate greed.

The Great College Rip-Off, for example, is not being perpetrated by financiers in New York City. It’s being perpetrated by educators and politicians. Over the past few decades, university leaders have been busy creating intellectually and economically worthless degree programs – and equally worthless administrative positions – in order to offer their fellow academics make-work jobs. What exactly does the dean of diversity affairs do exactly? And how is a degree in gender studies going to prepare a student for full time productive employment? Nobody knows, really. But we are beginning to uncover the consequences of this bloat: 1) tuition costs which rise faster than the rate of inflation and 2) a bunch of college graduates who are woefully unprepared for the real working world.

Meanwhile, high school students are feeling a lot of downward pressure from their teachers, their guidance counselors, and the political class to go to a four-year college — and after six years of experience working in the private college counseling and test prep industry, I have come to the unavoidable conclusion that not every teen will benefit from a traditional college education. I think we have to come to terms with the reality that we are not born with equal aptitudes or equal motivation — and that some kids really would be better off if they were allowed to go to junior college or a vocational school without being made to feel like failures. Refusing to acknowledge that – gasp! – everyone is different only creates needless stress.

Plus, when we flood our colleges and universities with students who are not equipped to tackle college-level work, we only exacerbate the first problematic trend mentioned above. Basket-weaving-type majors (like gender studies) are also becoming more prevalent in large part because many college students can’t handle the rigor of a science major, a math major — or even a history major. And then there’s a basic economic principal to consider: when you increase the demand for a product or service, the price of that product or service is going to increase.

The solution to all of this, as I suggested above, is to back the hell off of all of this pro-college propaganda and allow for the proliferation of shorter-term vocational programs. Additionally, those students who elect to pursue a liberal education at a four year college or university should be offered both a solid, academically challenging core curriculum and the opportunity to develop marketable job skills. I think America’s employers would be far more impressed with a potential employee’s college degree if said degree indicated genuine scholarship instead of four years of wasted time (as is frequently the case today).

Of course, the “99 Percenters” don’t seem to embrace my ideas. As far as I can tell, they want a college education to be entirely free for every American citizen. But this is precisely the wrong way to go. Government education has already failed countless students in grades K through 12. Why on earth should we extend this system to cover grades 13 through 16? As the old saying puts it, insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results.

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