Two highly visible commentary sources slammed American higher education this week. Interestingly, each came from the opposite end of the nation’s political spectrum.
Left-liberal Salon ran an article by Thomas Frank with the polemical title “Congratulations, class of 2014: You’re totally screwed”. It’s a furious screed, starting off with outlining the economic problems facing this month’s graduates. Frank moves on to hit the adjunctification of the professoriate, pausing to note a decline in scholarship.
He wraps things up with a jeremiad:
The rest of us need to ponder how to stop this insane situation from getting any worse. We might begin by understanding college less as a mystical place of romance and achievement and more as a cartel or a predator, only a couple of removes from a company like Enron or a pharmaceutical firm that charges sick people $1,000 per pill (emphasis added).
This is noteworthy not just for the fine turns of phrase, but also because Salon can be relied upon to defend public programs (like public education) and unions (like many teachers).
Meanwhile, from the other ideological corner, the Wall Street journal offers a strikingly similar piece, ““Congratulations to Class of 2014, Most Indebted Ever”. Debt and its impact on lifetime finance is what Phil Izzo targets.
Izzo is actually somewhat less pessimistic than Frank, seeing college as largely worth the investment, as far as we can tell, at least at the present.
Why is it interesting to see left and right join hands in criticizing American higher ed? To begin with, it’s a striking sign of incipient bipartisanship in an otherwise deeply partisan political era.
More to the point of education, it’s another instance of the liberal and/or Democratic turn away from defending education, which has been in place since around 2009. The combination of financial crisis and death of education’s leading political partisan, Ted Kennedy, drove many Democrats into wanting to reform education. The Democratic Obama administration’s energetic pressure on K-12 and higher education has been the most visible instance of this.
To be fair, Frank isn’t a mainstream Democrat, having established himself far to the left of, say, the Clintons or Obama. But the Democratic party, like the Republic, has practiced incorporating political elements of its less centrist wing, so we could see it maintaining Frank’s line.
Watch to see how long this bipartisan constellation continues. It’s one trend I’ve been tracking through FTTE.