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Academic Capitalism


Thomas Frank eviscerates the system of academic capitalism that is destroying higher education in the United States. There is so many wonderful excerpts to this essay, but I’ll choose just one here:

The disaster that the university has proceeded to inflict on the youth of America, I submit, is the direct and inescapable outcome of this grim equation. Yes, in certain reaches of the system the variables are different and the yield isn’t quite as dreadful as in others. But by and large, once all the factors I have described were in place, it was a matter of simple math. Grant to an industry control over access to the good things in life; insist that it transform itself into a throat-cutting, market-minded mercenary; get thought leaders to declare it to be the answer to every problem; mute any reservations the nation might have about it—and, lastly, send it your unsuspecting kids, armed with a blank check drawn on their own futures.

Was it not inevitable? Put these four pieces together, and of course attendance costs will ascend at a head-swimming clip, reaching $60,000 a year now at some private schools. Of course young people will be saddled with life-crushing amounts of debt; of course the university will use its knowledge of them—their list of college choices, their campus visits, their hopes for the future—to extract every last possible dollar from the teenage mark and her family. It is lambs trotting blithely to the slaughter. It is the utterly predictable fruits of our simultaneous love affairs with College and the Market. It is the same lesson taught us by so many other disastrous privatizations: in our passion for entrepreneurship and meritocracy, we forgot that maybe the market wasn’t the solution to all things.

But as Frank points out later, whatever happens, whenever the bubble bursts, whenever students revolt, the inevitable answer will be MORE market, more capitalism, more of the same that puts the tuition dollars in the hands of the administrators and takes it away from teachers or doesn’t take it away from students at all. It’s incredibly depressing.

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  • Richard Hershberger

    To which I give my standard spiel: Folks, we have a market opportunity here. We have scads of highly qualified potential professors going wanting, or being underpaid and overworked as adjuncts. We have institutions of higher learning which are suffering from terminal administrative bloat combined with expensive fripperies. We have countless potential students unable to afford the resulting absurd tuition rates in any economically sane way.

    Put these together: The potential professors form a collective, buy or lease one of those closed Catholic high schools, and open shop. Have the professors draw straws: short straw is the president. Hire some secretaries and janitors to keep the place running. Do not put in climbing walls, sushi bars in the cafeteria, and above all no football! Pay everyone a reasonable salary. Charge enough tuition to pay expenses, pay off the startup capital, and perhaps build a modest rainy day fund. Open the doors.

    • I will have what he is smoking. ;-)

      • DrDick

        I think you have to inject something that strong.

        • Timurid

          At this point they’re plugging wires directly into your brain…

    • Gregor Sansa

      Great prescription. Problem is, the disease is viral, while your cure isn’t. Millions of students are suffering the current system, and the most plausible dream we have is to rescue a few starfish.

      • Just like the actual oceans with climate change.

      • Ed K

        Well, if this model were actually reproducible, it’d have a some merit. It at least deals with the over-investment (at students and faculty expense) in administration and physical plant. And stuff *like* this actually has a long history in poor or minority communities, though there it’s usually aimed at younger children.

        Thing is, the amount of money required to get this up and running at the scale and with the legitimacy it would need to operate to be successful isn’t floating around among a bunch of otherwise economically immiserated academics. It just isn’t.

        And of course, even if you could find that money, you’d still be charging tuition (likely not chump change either) because you’d need to pay all those folks and you would have no endowment, no state support, etc.

        So this comment is right. The solution has to be global.

        However, we have a global mechanism that can be used as a bludgeon to enforce a whole lot of policy and administrative changes on the entire range of US colleges and universities that we care about vis a vis the public good, Title IV Student Aid funding. Institute appropriate conditions for eligibility there (full time faculty ratios, faculty/student ratios, faculty workloads, some other management strictures that prevent using universities as cash cows, or outsourcing their expenses to private for-profit firms, faculty/admin ratios, and minimum percentage of FAFSA non-family contribution that must be supplied by the school to prevent schools from forcing applicants onto the private student loan market, etc. It’s quite possible to regulate the shit out of that aid in such a way that radically interrupts the cycle of constant tuition increases to absorb maximum loan debt. All it would take is a bit of legislation / some policy determinations. And if the feds cut off the spigot at that level, the states would more or less have to step up and refund these institutions (and probably take over a few privates that would otherwise go bankrupt. At which point, we might just be in something like systemic business.

        So the stick is there. The question is what needs to happen to get the political establishment that holds the stick to use it.

        That, I’m afraid, is the really hard problem.

    • BigHank53

      How, pray tell, are you planning on getting this school accreditation? Because if you don’t think every private school and half of the public schools will be trying to keep you out of the club through fair means and foul, you are smoking something.

    • “Pay everyone a reasonable salary. Charge enough tuition to pay expenses, pay off the startup capital, and perhaps build a modest rainy day fund.”

      First, I think these goals are a bit harder to accomplish than one might think.

      Second, none of this deals with the problem of labor supply of college-educated students to labor demand for college-educated students.

    • BruceJ

      Secretaries, and janitors, and an IT staff..or are you going to maintain your computers and network connections yourself? Oh yeah, while you’re at it, you need some security guards, and a lawyer to deal with all the legal stuff the poor sap who drew short straw needs to navigate being a school in modern America.

      And this presumes you’re strictly a liberal arts academic institution. You’re not offering any science?

      Gonna need labs if you are!

      Fantasy aside, neither you or Frank touch on the main issues facing academia and young people going to college.

      1) State support of public schools has been slashed past the bone to crude amputation. These were the places you could go for an affordable education in the Glorious Liberal Arts Education Of Yore Frank refers to.

      2) Most student loans, and by far the bulk of student loans in default are not for the GLAOY, but for two and four year vocational institutions: Phoenix College and their many, many peers.

      3) Most of the ‘Academic Capitalists’ Frank points to actually dwell OUTSIDE the colleges. I”m not entirely sure how college professors, or even the evil scum administrators and their lackey staff are supposed to have any say over the textbook companies.

      (and if you think THAT is bad you should check out the scientific publishing world, where they get authors to pony up ever increasing fees to submit an article, rely on unpaid editors and peer reviewers to manage publications, then charge extortionate fees to libraries for, increasingly, purely electronic access to research publications that are mostly taxpayer-funded.)

    • BoredJD

      The problem with using market competitive forces in higher education is that college is a Veblen good. In the law school system, this is made very obvious: employers hire based on school rank because it serves as a proxy for general intelligence of the graduates, therefore graduates seek to maximize their school rank. Nobody is concerned with the actual substance of the education, because as Frank points out that is a black box. This is not as overt in the undergraduate system because of the diversity of majors and programs and the lack of salary statistics. The dean of GW, Trachtenberg, admitted that the impetus behind his huge tuition hike was to differentiate his school from other expensive east coast privates- and it worked.

      Therefore, unless a new school has so much money that it can buy reputation by hiring excellent professors, establishing pristine new facilities, and providing a traditional college experience, it’s never going to draw the kind of interest that will lead to good students turning down higher priced colleges to attend NewU.

  • Sly

    And lastly, consider the many universities that have raised their tuition to extravagant levels for no reason at all except to take advantage of the quaint American folk belief that price tags indicate quality. From this faith in price correctness the nation apparently cannot be moved—there is simply no amount of exposure or reporting that will do it—and so the university inevitably becomes a luxury good, like a big Armani label you get to wear through life that costs a fortune but that holds no intrinsic worth at all. “It serves as a trophy, a symbol,” the former president of George Washington University told Washington Monthly magazine in 2010, describing his own (successful) strategy for making GWU into a top-tier school via gigantic tuition hikes. “It’s a sort of token of who they think they are.”

    I was at GW when Trachtenberg was President. Who did we think we were back then?

    One night, me and a friend were discussing what the school was spending all our money on, and my friend came to the conclusion that the school was creating a giant golden penis, with Trachetberg’s grinning face etched onto the shaft, that was to be placed in the middle of Kogan Plaza, and that students would be required to perform all manner of depraved sexual acts upon said phallus as a condition of continued matriculation.

    • Marc

      The argument has merit, but it’s ludicrous to claim that universities are raising their tuition because they want to soak students. In the case of community colleges and state universities it’s because public support has been slashed – the former in particular are spending less and charging more.

      A less inflammatory, but more accurate, statement would be that they ended up in a situation where they could spend more and pass the bill elsewhere without consequences.

      • Sly

        While that’s all true of public colleges and universities, GW is private. We later understood that they were investing in real estate (the university is now the largest land owner in DC after the Federal government), which it leases to other organizations like the World Bank and the IMF, and building amenities to attract more prospective students. All the while, the administrative costs ballooned; some to expand the institution’s bureaucracy, and some to pay administrators top dollar in order to remain “competitive.”

        • Johnny Sack

          No matter how much they spend on the place, they still haven’t managed to shake the stigma. I actually think that the school is overrated, but still good. Their graduate programs are pretty solid (maybe excluding the law school, but what else is new-they’ve always managed to get great faculty, although that counts for little if you can’t get a job).

          My youngest cousin was looking at colleges last year as a senior (he just started FSU, good move on saving money-he only got into really expensive private schools that aren’t good enough to be worth the price tag-like American and Fordham. Not bad schools, but not worth the debt). And he was strongly eyeing GW, as were some of his friends. And they basically typify the public perception of a GW student-a rich spoiled brat who doesn’t like to study very much, etc. Last time I was in Foggy Bottom nothing I saw changed that perception (there’s a Whole Foods on campus now! Yeesh).

          Maybe it’s not the school’s fault, but if they want greater respect they need to shake the stigma that GW is where rich parents send their lazy, underachieving kids because state school would be embarrassing.

        • slavdude

          Harvard, my graduate alma mater (yeah, I know, but I finished there just when this crap was getting started), has in recent years bought–not without some controversy–a large chunk of the city of Allston, which is across the river from Cambridge (and home to the Harvard Business School), and is currently developing it. I don’t know where this places it in terms of landowners in the Boston area, but clearly it’s a major player.

      • drkrick

        How much clearer could Trachtenberg be in making that “ludicrous” claim from the inside? Community colleges and state universities are playing a different game. I left GW just as the tuition curve started the sharp turn in the early eighties. The price signal and getting into a couple of NCAA basketball tournaments in the early ’90’s magically made them a “competitive admissions” school with little or no accompanying academic improvement to increase educational value.

      • Marc – it’s not that ludicrous. Certainly, it’s not the only reason, but we can see precisely this pattern in the private universities and there’s no reason why this wouldn’t be going on in the publics.

        I’ll add on another reason: I’ve seen public university administrations come out against tuition freezes because freezing tuition means less loan and grant money from the Feds. Basically, they’re trying to make up for state-level public support with Federal support.

      • BoredJD

        Trachtenberg admitted in an article why he raised tuition.

        “The way Trachtenberg saw it, selling George Washington over the other schools was like selling one brand of vodka over another. Vodka, he points out, is a colorless, odorless liquid that varies little by maker. He realized the same was true among national private universities: It was as simple as raising the price and upgrading the packaging to create the illusion of quality. Trachtenberg gambled that prospective students would see costly tuition as a sign of quality, and he was right. “People equate price with the value of their education,” he says.”


        Again, the market mentality- that we have to have the BEST STUDENTS and the BEST FACILITIES and the BEST PROFESSORS, permeated higher ed. You can see this clearly in the example of NYU.

    • Johnny Sack

      I was at GW Law in the middle of Trachtenberg’s presidency. The school was already bloating pre-2000s.

      And no offense to other alumni but I really hated the place. Maybe because it was always crawling with undergrads. And not just undergrads, GW ones-ie obnoxiously and conspicuously rich.

      • MacK

        It used to be the Georgetown undergrads that were obnoxiously rich. When I was at Georgetown Law in the late 80s and early 90s we had to pay to use the Yates filed house on the main campus (they would not let me take out a shell on the Potomac I paid for though.) Things used to get lifted from our lockers, which led to a quip “median richest undergraduates in America – Marx was right, theft is hereditary.”

        The current crop of GW undergraduates are pretty obnoxious – and it is amusing that GW bought Mount Vernon College.

  • wjts

    According to Ginsberg, “administrators and staffers actually outnumber full-time faculty members” nowadays, even though it’s the faculty members who do the real work of education that we believe is so goddamned important.

    If “staffers” include laboratory staff, librarians, the IT department, departmental administrators, and physical plant workers, then “administrators and staffers” are certainly doing a big chunk of the real work of education.

    • Orpho

      This is what kills me about these articles. I love the historicism, the analysis of the current market, the identification of the present f*cked up system. But for the love of god, include some sort of graining in the category “administrators”!

      It’s as terrible as lumping all “faculty” together – you get boomer full-timers who should’ve been emeritus years ago, adjuncts working at 4 universities just to pay the rent/microwave burrito-lifestyle cost, and new kids who’ve won the tenure-track lotto.

      Not all employees in these situations are equal, and as in all the cases, the absolute numbers mean almost nothing. 10 additional administrators might mean 5 secretaries at minimum/temp wage, 3 lab/grant assistants making even less, and 2 vice provosts of God-knows-what making $199,999/year.

      • wjts

        The absolute numbers mean almost nothing…

        Right. My undergrad institution had seven libraries, two museums, a resident professional theater company, and a major university press. Add in the usual necessities of things a bursar’s office, a registrar, a student health service, laboratory personnel ranging from undergraduates to non-faculty PhDs, maintenance and operating staff for the buildings and grounds, an IT department, and secretarial support at the department, school, and university levels and the idea of administrators and staff outnumbering full-time faculty suddenly seems less like the proliferation of Deputy Assistant Vice-Underdeans for Strategic Dynamism and Synergystic Services and more like a logical necessity.

        • Orpho

          Right. Add in Compliance, EOS, counseling and mental health centers, tutoring, security – and we haven’t even gotten to fundraising, grant administration, physical plant maintenance/expansion, residence halls staff… (obviously some of these can be staffed by students or faculty, but surely not all of them.)

          I realize that half the people writing these articles think that the admins they’re talking about have an MBA and a bullshit title, but universities are mini-cities for a thousand reasons. A finer-grain analysis of where the bloat lies would be very welcome. As I would say to anyone saying we had to cut the federal budget: what, aside from the military (athletics), do we cut? (and btw, cutting the exploitative NCAA athletics out of college would be be great by me, but I think it’s about as likely as the US dropping half its military funding at the next budget.)

      • JL

        Yeah, this.

        My university can’t manage to hire a full-time LGBTQ student support staffer – it is a sore point among the queer students, because the beloved grad student who was doing the job half-time with no benefits left after graduating, because she naturally wanted a job where she could work full-time and have benefits and opportunities for growth and advancement.

        She would probably be considered an administrator by some metrics. But if I’m thinking of admins, I’m thinking of deans and assistant deans and VPs and that sort of thing. Not her, not the janitors, not the sysadmins, not the people who staff our support program for poor and first-gen students, etc.

    • Linnaeus

      Yeah, it’s important to point that out. I’m sympathetic to the argument that administrative positions have multiplied out of proportion to the need for them, but we should remember that universities do a lot more than they did 40-50 years ago. The increase in services (high-speed, ubiquitous internet access, services for students with disabilities, etc.) require people to run and support them.

    • postmodulator

      Yeah. I’m IT at a state university. When people talk about exploding administrative staffs, to some degree, they mean me.

      I feel like I do an honest day’s work, and it’s not like I’m getting rich here, but I have traces of guilt, and I worry that if people ever come to their senses and start chainsawing through administrative staff, I’ll end up on the block.

      I know for a fact that some people consider any IT staff at all to be bloat. There was a professor a few years ago who used to post comments on our school paper’s web site pointing out that the entire roster of the university would fit on a single hard drive and therefore all these other computers were a waste. Now, obviously, this is a shockingly stupid person who has somehow become an educator, but you always have to worry about “shockingly stupid” capturing 50% +1 of the vote.

      • Bill Murray

        at my school most of the actual IT work is done by paid CSC students with a few adminsitrators overseeing them

        • postmodulator

          How big’s your school? We do employ students, but there are full-time employees all across the university doing everything too.

          A lot of front-line support was done by students for a while; we got pushback from professors on this and reduced it.

          • TribalistMeathead

            Mine was around 2500 enrolled total and the only non-student FTEs in IT were supervisors.

          • TribalistMeathead

            But we also had a pretty comprehensive work-study program, so it was pretty much the same in the administration, food service, groundskeeping, etc.

          • Bill Murray

            about 2500 students, nearly all engineering or science majors

            • postmodulator

              We’re substantially larger than that.

        • Erik

          And I suppose at your school they had law school students doing all the legal work, with just a few administrators overseeing them?

          Although, to be fair, at my school most of the teaching was done by grad students with just a few professors overseeing them.

          • Bill Murray

            As far as I know, we have 1 lawyer on campus — the tech transfer guy. I believe we contract for any other law work needed. If we had a law school I would have no problem with paying law school students to do the work they are qualified to perform. I hire students to do the research for my grants, how is the law or IT thing any different.

            • wjts

              I’d be extremely surprised if your school didn’t have some sort of Office of General Counsel.

              • Bill Murray

                Well there isn’t, although there may be one for the all the state universities together at the state board of regents

                • wjts

                  If you’re in the Cal State system, then yeah, it looks like there’s a CSU Office of General Counsel with one GC assigned to each school.

                • csu

                  CSU only has one campus under 4K and that is the Maritime Academy. Pomona and SLO are both around 20K.

            • Erik

              Lots of reasons I can think of. For instance, grants are time-limited. IT projects (e.g. an email system) are going to need maintenance and management for a long time, much longer than most student workers are going to stick around.

              Besides, CS is not IT. (Nor is CS software engineering, for that matter – most academic software is pretty poor quality.) IT is pretty boring. You’re going to need to pay people decent money to keep servers up to date with the latest patches. Students will get bored and prefer to scrap the whole thing and install something new; or better yet rewrite the thing.

              I assume the same thing applies to law. Drafting contracts sounds pretty boring compared to doing some research into the history of contracts.

    • Ed K

      Librarians are almost always counted as faculty, for instance. Though your point has some merit, no doubt.

      • wjts

        But not everyone who works in the library is a librarian.

      • Erik

        Really? “… roughly 35 percent of academic librarians enjoy tenure-track faculty status.”


        • Ed K

          Tenure track faculty isn’t the same as faculty, of course. Though I’m surprised the number isn’t higher.

          • Erik

            OK, but we’re talking 50% faculty (74% of whom were TT), 50% staff (in their survey of PhD-holding librarians).

        • Manny Kant

          Plenty of people count as faculty who are not tenure-track.

        • Rigby Reardon

          In my last full-time academic position, I was 1) officially employed by the library, though I was working there on a special project and not, you know, doing what we tend to consider “library stuff”; 2) considered faculty; and 3) not on the tenure track.

          So yeah, there’s an awful lot of blurriness when it comes to job categories in academia.

          • Rigby Reardon

            And oh yeah, I have a Ph.D. but not a Library Science degree, and have never been an actual librarian.

    • Staffers generally doesn’t include physical plant workers, maintenance workers, groundskeepers, nurses, etc.

      And if you disaggregate, an enormous amount of the growth is in higher management, around the vice-dean/vice-provost level and their immediate staff.

      • Erik

        What would you call them if not “staff”? I’ve never heard of “physical plant workers, maintenance workers, groundskeepers, nurses, etc.” being referred to as anything other than staff.

        • Employees?

          My point is that these specific comparisons are about faculty vs. administrative staff.

          • Erik

            Every university I’ve been familiar with divides its employees into “faculty” and “staff”. You’ll find job openings for custodian, nurse, and food service worker as well as librarian and Vice Chancellor in the UC and Stanford “staff” jobs listings. I guess it could be different elsewhere; but I’ve never seen it.

            • Ed K

              If you look at budget numbers, reporting categories are both more variable and more complicated. Lots of places will divide ‘academic affairs’ from non-academic categories for the purposes of salary reporting, but under ‘academic affairs’ you’ll have both faculty, however that’s delimited, and support staff and administrators. Many places seem to have made an art out of making it as difficult as possible to actually figure out how much money is being spent on teaching staff, how much being spent on other faculty or student support, and how much is going to senior admins. One wonders why…ok, not really.

              • Erik

                Yeah, definitely, it’s not easy to figure out.

        • Bill Murray

          at my school we have faculty, exempt and career service. The physical plant is not part of the school (one of our previous Presidents sold it to Aramark)

  • Karen

    Many of my friends’ kids are starting college this year and next. A surprising number of them are going to Europe, where even with travel and living expenses, it’s cheaper than a private school here. I’m actually looking at sending my older son to the University of Heidelberg, which is less expensive than TCU. We aren’t a trend, yet, but I have to hope someone notices.

    • This is a strategy people in other countries have long used. We have a lot of Nigerian students for exactly this reason.

      • TribalistMeathead

        When I spent a semester in England in college thirteen years ago, I had to pay tuition + room and board at the uni rather than my home (private, liberal arts) school, and even then it was significantly cheaper at the uni. Plus you have the fact that the kid doesn’t/shouldn’t need a car, doesn’t need their own computer (at least when I was there, rooms weren’t wired for Internet access, not sure if that’s changed), there are no fees for books…

        • Manny Kant

          I’m going to guess that universities in England now have internet access, and that most students have their own computers. I’ll also note that there’s plenty of schools in the US where you can get by without a car.

      • Karen

        There were always a lot of overseas students at UT when I went there. It was a good school with cheap tuition, and the students were treated as ambassadors for our system when they returned. Of course, since we’re no longer stemming the tide of Godless Communism, we don’t need the PR benefit of educating Damned Furrriners anymore.

    • Ed K

      Cheaper in what sense?

      At least with well funded privates, there is still a financial aid budget. I feel as if a lot of folks are not distinguishing sticker price from actual price paid (including, obviously, loan debt taken on). The fucking tragedy of our current environment is that a lot of the supposedly ‘cheap’ institutions (i.e., ones with lower sticker prices) are actually considerably more expensive in real terms for students than nominally more expensive ones b/c their financial aid budgets have been gutted (usually by state cuts).

      Strangely enough, that $50,000 school may be less expensive than the $15,000 one.

      • Philip

        Remember, though, there are a lot of families that get hit with sticker price or near sticker price who can’t really afford it. One of my friends’ family is quite well off, so she’s paying full sticker (>$60,000), but because her family has 6 kids to put through college, she has to pay for most of it herself.

        Financial aid is really hit or miss, and for a lot of the middle and even upper middle class, who can only barely afford sticker price, it’s just “miss.” I don’t mean to say that the upper middle class are poor, but when college costs north of 60 grand a year, you have to be pretty damn well off to pay sticker price without serious hardship.

        • Ed K

          I’m not suggesting that the FAFSA calcluations are ideal, though honestly I’m not crying a river for people in this situation—and it’s quite possible to request a revision on the basis of special circumstances not well captured in the standard form, though again, the results will depend very much on what your institution is capable of doing for you, regardless of what the Federal rules allow. Anyway…

          What I am saying is that the practical result of this entire mess is dependent on way more factors than sticker cost of the school, and in many respects the institutions that have historically been there to serve a large, not so well off population have been defunded / raided / mismanaged to the point that they’re actually underserving that population by comparison to at least some of the private institutions that everyone likes to blame for ‘pushing prices up’ are capable of doing for some of the same folks—though, unfortunately, not many in relation to the overall scale of the problem. Meanwhile, what’s really pushing prices up, both nominal and real prices, and driving the enormous rise in student indebtedness is what’s happening to public institutions, not anything to do with private ones (and this, btw, is one place where I’m less than thrilled with Frank’s analysis.)

          (How on earth a set of institutions that has no more than 20% of the total undergraduate students in the US as of 2k8 are supposed to be able to exert that kind of upward price leverage on an entire market is a question I’d dearly like to have answered, too. I have literally had arguments with proponents of this view where they argue in one line that these institutions don’t matter b/c there are so few of them and then five minutes later are like they’re the ones who forced the rise in prices. I mean, huh?)

          • Manny Kant

            Elite private schools at various levels have always enjoyed helping a few virtuous, hard-working poor people move up the social ranks with scholarships. That’s not new.

            • Ed K

              Yep. I’m just mostly concerned that private schools generally have become something of a red herring in the whole discussion.

    • ironic irony

      I just moved back to the States from Heidelberg. Lovely city, lovely country, but beware: the exchange rate is a killer.

      I’d recommend that he house himself outside of Heidelberg and not in the city itself, as it is insanely expensive. Mass transit lines run to places like Leimen, Schwetzingen, etc. I suggest he find housing there. (Unless you have relatives in the area willing to take him in). He might also be able to bike in, though not from Leimen if he is not used to covering longer distances via bike.

      Good luck.

  • Matt_L

    yeah, reading that article gave me a glowing feeling of satisfaction, because Frank had articulated many of the complaints I had read in other places or intuited on my own. But the glow was short lived, because he is absolutely right. The whole thing has to collapse, with unthinkable cost to students, professors and institutions, before anything will change. And there will be an interregnum of More Markets, More Money, More Privatization, before a reasonable solution can be found.

    As an older and wiser friend of mine said, its fire ecology. The whole forest has to be burnt over before something can sprout up in its place.

  • BamBam

    It’s not a free market and it’s not capitalism. It is cronyism. The system would not exist without taxpayer-backed student loans and in a free market, no one would be forced to guarantee someone else’s loan. Without taxpayer backing, lenders would (God forbid) apply some basic underwriting and would not make loans that are unlikely to be paid back.

    • Oh like actual private sector business practices are something other than cronyism.

    • TribalistMeathead

      “Basic underwriting” based on what? The 18-year-old high school graduate’s ability to repay? The parents’ ability to repay? Or is this step one towards the old “Non-STEM college degrees are useless” saw?

    • Steve LaBonne

      Yeah, let’s not think about the insanity of forcing young people to mortgage their lives to the hilt in order to get the credential required for any decent job. Let’s just blather idiotically about underwriting standards. Because Capitalism, Fuck Yeak!

    • Linnaeus

      We could take this even further. No public post-secondary institutions at all, and then the market can work its magic or something.

    • DrDick

      it’s not capitalism. It is cronyism

      They are and always have been intricately intertwined, as any decent economic history would tell you.

    • First of all, given the recent history of financial sector behavior in the real estate market, I think you’re assuming facts not in evidence.

      Second, I think this is a real case of public goods – without a government guarantee, I don’t think there’s enough return on student loans to create a market here.

  • TribalistMeathead

    “Obiang is still in power. But the money he will have to pay Davis, it now occurs to me, could have been spent on human rights violations. Maybe Lanny is really a messenger of peace after all.”

    Yeah. Too bad enforcing a court judgment against a sovereign nation is a Herculean task.

    • TribalistMeathead

      Wrong thread.

      • Bill Murray

        I’m sure even Obiang hates administrative bloat that doesn’t pay kickbacks to him

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  • Greg

    Ginandtacos.com, an excellent theorist on the problems of higher ed, recently recounted submitting an article to the Baffler on the corporatization of academia, never hearing a word, and waking up to find that Frank has a new cause: the corporatization of academia. I like Frank and I like G&T.com. But I feel bad if it’s true.

    • ruviana

      No way I know anything but it could’ve been that Frank’s article was in the pipeline and Ed’s would’ve been duplicative. Sometimes journals do make decisions based on that sort of thing.

  • BigHank53

    Dunno if Frank or his editor picked the title, but huge points for the Mission of Burma reference.

    • Bill Murray

      Is that really a Burma reference though. Shouldn’t it have been like Academy Capitalism Song or Academic Capitalism Spring or This is not an Academy?

  • Anonymous

    I just love it when Erik starts writing about capitalism…it’s as if he actually ran a business at some point in his life and knew what he was talking about.

    • bobbyp

      About running a business: Buy low, sell high, ignore externalities, pay low wages, dilute the product, conspire with your competitors to rig the market, advertise falsely, cheat on your taxes, sue people with impunity, avoid regulations, default on your obligations, hide behind the corporate shield, lobby the state to make collecting economic rents part of your business plan, contribute to the Republican Party.

      Are you seriously going to claim it’s some kind of rocket science? What’s to know?

      • wjts

        Please stop referring to your betters in such a flippant fashion – Anonymous is clearly a JOB CREATOR and privileged to a special gnosis incomprehensible to our feeble hylic/collectivist minds.

        • Philip

          I could actually believe that Anonymous creates jobs. At the welfare office, that is.

    • TribalistMeathead

      I just love it when JenBob starts writing about higher education…it’s as if he actually went to college.

      • Stag Party Palin

        Au contraire. If the Shrub could go, so could JenBob. It’s just that, hmm ….

        Otto West: Apes don’t read philosophy.

        Wanda: Yes they do, Otto. They just don’t understand it.

    • Yes, because only business owners understand capitalism.

    • ADHDJ

      You’re correct, he should remain silent on issues of capitalism, just like Ayn Rand chose to do, due to her complete lack of business experience. Good thing she didn’t publish several works of fiction that show a ludicrously magical belief in how business actually works in the real world! She certainly wouldn’t be revered as a hero today if she had.

      Ditto right wing think-tankers like Thomas Sowell, who, having been employed at institutions that are designed to lose money for their entire career, know they have nothing to contribute to the discussion of capitalism.

      Ditto Paul Ryan, who has never even held a private sector job since high school, much less started a business. If a man who has spent 25 years at the public teat tried to radically reform our entire society around some bizzare distortion of capitalism he picked up from a fifty year old work of fiction about trains written by some idiot who also knew nothing about business, we’d all just laugh at him, not nominate him for VP, right?

  • Bitter Scribe

    According to the editorial writers at the Wall Street Journal, the problem is that it’s too easy for kids to borrow money to go to college, so the colleges raise their prices to soak up all that money. Therefore, the solution is to make tuition loans harder to get and more expensive.

    It must be wonderful to be a Wall Street Journal editorial writer.

    • Ed K

      This is an idiotic solution, of course.

      But pretty much everyone agrees that a non-trivial part of the problem was an extension of credit to pretty much everyone, tied to the non-discharagability of those loans and their being guaranteed by the feds. Things got worse when the private market was opened up later, under more or less the same terms but without the federal interest subsidies, and it became easy for people to get way, beyond the Stafford limits in debt for an undergrad education. This, combined with cuts, combined with prestige races, combined with outright neoliberal greed on the part of administrators and all sorts of predatory ‘service provider’ friends, and other factors, did a lot to facilitate the rise in tuition. But if the money hadn’t been there due to the loans, a lot of the other stuff wouldn’t have played out the way it did, guarantee it.

      So let’s say they’re confusing a necessary condition with a sufficient condition. But then, they’re the WSJ.

    • MacK

      I don’t have much time for the Wall Street Journal, but they are right to suggest that at the heart of the problem lies the student loan system, with its utter lack of underwriting standards and absence of any limits on what it will lend money for as long as the cash flows through a college.

      • bobbyp

        “….but they are right to suggest that at the heart of the problem lies the student loan system.”

        Disagree. The loan system exacerbated the problem. The problem begins with the shrinkage of the public sphere from higher education. cf the soviet of california had a great higher ed system…great that is, until the people decided to defund it.

        • Rigby Reardon

          Yes, this, exactly.

        • Ed K

          Largely agreed, and pretty much what I said above. It wouldn’t have worked without the loan system, but the drivers are loss of state funding…and a whole lot of other things that they’re doing to try to replace that revenue, a lot of which are debt funded at the institutional level, and have thus actually made the revenue crisis worse, rather than better (ok, when you get into the weeds, it’s more complicated than just state budget cuts; there’s some world class mis- and predatory-management going on too).

  • MacK

    My late father was an Irish diplomat – and an astonishingly large number of US citizens were getting Irish passports when their future child of grandchild was en ventre sa mere with a view to sending the child to college in Ireland or Europe as an EU/Irish national, mainly because of the lower tuition.

  • Lit3Bolt

    Fuck America. I’m leaving.

    You guys can have this white supremacist, pro-slavery, genocidal country. Good luck changing it; because you won’t.

    • Rigby Reardon

      I find your views intriguing, and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter.

  • BoredJD

    What’s happened to the law schools was and is an exaggerated version of what Frank described. The major differences are that (1) debt levels are much much higher, (2) it’s a professional school, so the focus on employment stats and rankings is greater, (3) full-time faculty are partners in crime, paying themselves “market competitive salaries” on the backs of students. Even reputable law schools have engaged in behavior reminiscent of the worst for-profit colleges.

    Over the past few years, we’ve hit somewhat of a tipping point. The cost is too high, the number of people complaining is too great.

    Although undergrads are younger, more naive and more susceptible to the influence of the Boomer generation for whom college is always the answer (but cheap college like we got is just a waste of government tax dollars to these lazy kids) eventually word will get out.

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  • Anonymous


    “There is . . . excerpts . . .” — EL

    “. . . is our children learning?” — GeeDubya Bush

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