Imagine an industry that regularly convinces young people with little income to wrack up tens of thousands of dollars of debt in pursuit of a certificate that they promise will help them earn more in the future. The industry executives make big salaries—and they give big donations to politicians who praise the industry and pour money back through government grants and subsidies. But it's increasingly clear that customers aren't getting what they are promised. The job market is recognizing that, in too many cases, the certificates issued by the industry are all but meaningless. Of course, the debt, on the other hand, is very real.
We must be talking about those predatory lenders who swindled the masses into obtaining mortgages that they can't afford? Congressional hearings are going to be held about false advertising and to hold those fat cat executives to account, right?
Not so much. In fact, daring to question this industry and this system makes you an anti-intellectual Neanderthal, at least according to renowned liberal columnists like Paul Krugman. Wanting students to consider the price tag of an education is ridiculed as fighting to keep the masses poor and uneducated.
I don't really think Paul Krugman hates the poor. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt that he actually believes that it's a good idea for average 18-year-olds to invest $40,000 and 4 years of their lives taking history and sociology classes a couple days a week in hopes that having a B.A. listed on their resume will really pay off in the long run.
Yet he should also acknoledge that those of us who worry that young people aren't getting their money's worth from college do so out of sincere concern and a belief that their should be a better, more efficient way to provide an enriching education and needed skilled.
I've written about the growing for-profit education industry and how some universities are trying to find ways to dramatically reduce the cost of a college education. This is good news and, far from giving up on the idea of education, supporters of reform hope that new, better paradigms will emerge.
There is a big difference between questioning the value provided by the existing higher ed system and questioning the value of education itself. Krugman undoubtedly knows this, but is trying to score political points in demonizing his opposition. He does those he claims to care about no favors in attempting to derail this much need discussion with his hateful rhetoric.