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The Seductive Lure of Obama’s “Free College Education”
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I’ve long suspected that somewhere in the White House basement an obscure office exists who is responsible for inventing high-sounding programs whose purpose is to allow President Obama to maximize Air Force One travel to give upbeat speeches to adoring audiences. That these alluring initiatives often come to naught, even make a bad situation worse, is irrelevant; their real purpose is therapeutic political theater thereby allowing the President to do what he really enjoys—playing Santa Claus.

My suspicions that this office actually exists were recently confirmed when the President announced his latest fix for America’s (supposed) lagging economic competitiveness —the American College Promise. In a nutshell, Washington will commit $60 billion over 10 years with the states kicking in another $20 billion to make two years of community college virtually free. Students would on average save $3,800 per year in tuition plus access to $1000 in Pell Grants and families would receive $2,500 from the American Opportunity Tax Credit. The President called on “everyone to do their part”: community colleges to strengthen their programs and increase graduation rates, while students must maintain good grades (a 2.5 or “C+” in today’s world of grade inflation). In principle, some 9 million youngsters can participate.

The President predictably paints an alluring, optimistic picture. He talks about “hard working” and “responsible students” just waiting to enter the middle class. Community colleges are also viewed as stepping stones to four-year institutions. Programs will be “high quality” which seems to mean academically oriented insofar as they will be given full credit by public four-year colleges (i.e., no underwater basket weaving). Meanwhile, those colleges enrolling community graduates must implement “evidence-based institutional reforms to improve student outcomes” and, just to make sure that the newly minted wunderkinder continue their march into the middle class, the welcoming schools will waive tuition, subsidize books and transportation costs, offer additional academic advising and adjust class schedules (no mention of who will fund these benefits).

Obama’s vision naturally entails yet more government bureaucracy. There would be an American Technical Training Fund to align community college education with the needs of employers thanks to $2 billion in grants. Existing agencies will also have to hire workers to hand out additional Pell grants, administer the pay-as-you-earn learn programs, while overseeing newly created tax credits. Then there’s the newly established “First in the World Grants” program that also expands educational opportunities, the college rating program that helps students become savvy school shoppers, and let’s not forget the Trade Adjustment Community College and Career Training program that has benefited 1,000 institutions to the tune of $2 billion in federal funding. And just to make sure that no stone goes unturned, schools can turn to the recently created Center for the Analysis of Postsecondary Readiness designed to improve English and mathematical education. Finally, the Call to Action on College Opportunity will coordinates the efforts of college presidents and non-profit foundations “… to build seamless transitions among institutions, develop clear educational and career pathways, implement strategies to increase student completion of STEM programs, and establish more accurate measures of student progress and success.”

Sky-is-falling rhetoric aside (“…Americans need more knowledge and skills to meet the demands of a growing global economy without having to take on decades of debt before they even embark on their career”) the America’s College Promise (ACP) program is a terrible idea. In fact, it is a solution without a problem since lower-income students already receive huge discounts on community college tuition with the poorest paying zero. Middle class kids also pay little and even full list price is quite affordable. More generally, Obama’s proposal is just mindless credential mania and if the degree were as valuable as claimed, why are 44% of recent college graduates employed in jobs not requiring their college degrees? But, that said, it deserves closer scrutiny– perhaps a better word is autopsy–for it exposes the deep pathologies that afflict the Obama administration’s efforts at “help.”

Most clearly, do President Obama and his advisors honestly believe that the ACP program has any realistic chance of surviving the GOP dominated Congress? To my mind, the ACP looks like a make-work project of under-employed White House policy wonks. This $60 billion (plus $20 billion from the states) is surely DOA considering today’s concern with deficit spending. Republicans certainly recognize that the ACP only guarantees more government jobs for a very iffy educational gain (more about this below).

Moreover, even if Uncle Sam could afford the venture, ACP reeks of yet even more (and increasingly unwelcome) Washington intrusion into state and local policy-making. Try to imagine the paperwork generated when the Department of Education tries to certify “quality courses” in some 1167 community colleges? This is especially arduous since left unsaid is which specific four-year public colleges will constitute the standard? Would this be the University of California, Berkeley or instead some state diploma mill? Imagine a Washington mid-level administrator lacking professional credentials navigating this task across multiple academic fields? Given the daily number of certification decisions, this requirement invites capriciousness.

The demand that community colleges only offer “quality courses” is certainly deceptive when funding is linked to graduation rates. As any experienced professor will tell you, upping academic standards usually cuts graduation rates and so how can a college achieve these contradictory aims? Ironically, insisting on a “quality” requirement undermines the community college’s core mission—a school where even academic strugglers (often euphemistically called “non-traditional students”) can gain something of educational value albeit in non-academic fields.


The upshot of this focus on “quality” courses may well push students into dead end jobs in the name of improving workforce quality. Imagine a youngster who wants to be a top-flight aviation mechanic, a much needed, well-paying skill. But, since taking courses in that subject, no matter how vocationally worthwhile, are not transferrable to four-year colleges, a financially strapped student may well choose to enroll in Gender Studies 101 that would likely guarantee ACP funding since nearly all four-year colleges offer this nonsense. In effect, the incentive structure will convert future mechanics, welders, and computer geeks into liberal arts graduates brewing coffee at Starbucks.

In addition, Obama’s plan falsely assumes that cost plays a decisive role in the decision to attend college: cut costs and watch enrollments soar. Not exactly–if cost were decisive, what explains all the drop-outs from totally free high schools? In 2014/15 the average in-state tuition of a public two year college was $3,347. Compared to nearly all other college alternatives, this is hardly financially crushing and, we noted above, is usually far less given plentiful scholarships and the option of stretching out attendance over 3 or 4 years.

Moreover, this Obama model assumes a fixed relationship between cost and student quality so youngsters now enticed to attend a cheaper community college are cognitively indistinguishable from those paying $3,347. (And keep in mind that those already enrolled are hardly the brightest given an average 20% graduation rate). More plausible is that the recently arrived pay-nothing students are less desirous of an education (and probably dumber) than those who pay hard cash. Going one step further, the influx of no-pay students may well degrade the college’s already diluted academic quality, so the community college’s economic contribution will inevitably decline. This is a process identical to undermining the academic excellence of a high school by forcing it to retain dummies and, by hook or crook, awarding them diplomas. Better to stress quality over quantity but that means less money to educators, a key Democratic constituency.

The explanation that people skip college since they can ill-afford it afford it represents a recipe for financial prolificacy; better explanations exist, including low academic ability. Consider a recent NY Times editorial that argued that since tuition is only (allegedly) one-fifth of college’s real cost, Washington might also want to pay for non-tuition costs, namely housing, books, and transportation. So, in dollar terms, Uncle Sam must now spend $240 billion in handouts, not a mere $60 billion to make the US internationally competitive. Actually, this $240 billion is on the low side since the editorial also suggests that work often impedes attending college so perhaps employment would be replaced by a dole. Hard to imagine a more devious plan for enticing yet more Americans into government dependency but then again, this is the NY Times speaking .

Now for the fatal flaw in America’s College Promise. Community colleges (and colleges in general) and the private sector operate according to vastly different incentives. Outside of a few elite institutions, colleges have little (if any) inducement to turn out a handful of high-quality products while flunking the rest. As in the old Soviet Union, millions of ugly, ill-fitting left shoes are fine if this fills the quota. By contrast, a private firm that embraced quantity over quality über alles would go bankrupt.

Non-academics seldom understand how easy it is to manufacture the academic equivalent of shoddy left shoes. Community colleges, given their mission, typically admit all applicants with the upshot that many initial courses are remedial and thus ineligible for ACP funding. But, the line between remedial and a “gut” regular course eligible for ACP funding with a better sounding title can be fuzzy, and a little suggestion to the part-timers who typically teach these disguised remedial courses usually suffices. Invisibly, bone-head English is re-classified as a genuine college course. How about allowing Hispanic students to amass “college credits” by taking Spanish 101?

Schools can also effortlessly mislabel offerings so that “The Economics of Consumer Behavior” becomes nothing more than field trips to nearby malls with store managers giving guest lectures. Even if the material is intellectually demanding, the under-the-gun instructors can always ignore cheating and plagiarism. Meanwhile, astute college administrators will permit failing students to painlessly drop the course before the “F” hits the transcript. Students may also be allowed to re-take the course multiple times until attaining the necessary “C.” All in all, a community college administrator unable to make the ACP numbers despite nearly brain dead enrollees should be fired for gross incompetence.

But far worse is how many colleges will encourage terrible work habits under the guise of promoting the revenue-generating ACP. After all, why crack the whip when even the most insouciant warm body pays the bills? Just ask any of today’s professors about student sloth: skipping class without penalty, late papers, requesting a second or third chance to re-take an exam, text-messaging during lectures, requesting special treatment due to some vague privacy-protected disability and similar behavior have become commonplace without any stigma. I know of a young lady who requested a dispensation from doing any math for her finance degree since she had a phobia regarding numbers. One of my graduate students whose assignments were habitually late escaped punishment thanks to a claimed (invisible) disability that was a carefully guarded secret.

Here’s the bottom line: what might be acceptable in obtaining a college diploma is generally toxic in the private sector. Imagine workers who haphazardly skipped work just as they once cut classes sans any consequences? Or felt that deadlines were always negotiable and it was okay to hand in Wikipedia copied material as original research? It is no accident, at least in my experience, that businesses often prefer fire-in-the-belly immigrants with limited “book knowledge” versus slackers from second or third tier schools.

It would be easy to dismiss the America’s College Promise as yet one more ill-advised Obama scheme. It is certainly that, but more is involved. Recall an earlier essay about Obama’s proposal to boost the academic accomplishments of academic bottom dwellers by leveling resources —if the rich kids enjoyed fancy science labs, the barely literate must have them, too. Or, if two science labs were unaffordable, nobody would get one so as to be “fair.” I pointed out that this policy hinted at worrisome cognitive deficiencies not just shoddy bill drafting.


The ACP is only one of many such Obama examples. Does anybody remember Obama’s 2014 quixotic My Brother’s Keeper Program? How about the President’s recent call that every federal worker receive six weeks of paid maternity leave (including parents adopting children). There’s a pattern here and to repeat, the scariest feature of this ineptitude not the wasted resources; it is the uncomfortable realization that we are being governed by policy-makers who resemble not too bright adolescents participating in model UN-like high school exercises. I can see such naive 13-year olds saying, “more education cures everything, so let’s make it free, and then enroll everybody in college and then pay colleges only if all students take tough courses and everybody graduates.”

What may be the most frightening is how the President and his staff display a mentality typically associated with primitive people—a belief that a fancy piece of paper (a diploma) is a talisman (or amulet) that bestows magical powers on the owner. Why else the emphasis on easily manipulated graduation rates versus a hard-nosed professional certification tests such as the CPA or bar exam? Why permit the schools themselves to confirm “proven outcomes”? The answer is obvious—learning is hard, distributing magical pieces of paper certifying “education” is easy. And that millions will financially benefit from all these newly printed pieces of paper only adds to the ACP’s allure. Again, something very wrong is going on here, far worse than the usual run of the mill inept policy-making.

• Category: Ideology • Tags: Education, Obama 
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  1. Academics is a good industry to be in.

    In the Netherlands too, since 1950, college/university attendance by 18-25 years olds, has risen from 5% to 40%.

    • Replies: @travell-lyte
  2. donut says:

    Obama is just an upgraded version of Al Sharpton.

    Back when Giuliani was mayor he caught a lot of flack because he didn’t want to fund the remedial “readin’ ritin’ and “rithmatic” classes at City College. His position was reasonably that the morons were supposed to learn that s**t in high school. What was the point of wasting more tax payers money on them.

  3. Quercus says:

    “…. it is the uncomfortable realization that we are being governed by policy makers who resemble not too bright adolescents …..” This brings to mind Mr Unz’s excellent piece “The myth of meritocracy”. How many of these policy makers are graduates of “elite” educational institutions such as Harvard? ‘Nuff said?

    • Replies: @Anonymous
  4. At $4,000< over two years, you could pay for community college just by giving up your cigarettes, tattoos and clubbing.

    The actual beneficiaries are all the newly minted, Democrat-voting, otherwise unemployable Master's and PhD holders.

  5. Jim says:

    We need more college graduates like we need a hole in the head.

    • Replies: @Hubbub
  6. The whole country is Lake Woebegone, where every child is above average! Another example of magic thinking was that of the late and unlamented Bush II, who after observing that succesful people owned homes jumped to the conclusion that getting unsuccesful people home mortgages which they could not possibly pay would magically transform these now doubly burdened failures into exemplars of the American Dream. We all know how that worked out.

    • Replies: @Anonymous
  7. Immigrant from former USSR [AKA "Florida Resident"] says:

    Important study by esteemed Professor R. Weissberg. Bravo !
    Small comment.
    It would be senseless to discuss K-12 education
    without making as one’s reference point the material, presented in
    remarkable book “Bad Students, not Bad Schools” by said Robert Weissberg,
    $ 10.65 + $ 3.99 S&H, used, on Amazon,

    In a similar manner it is senseless to discuss post-K-12 education
    without making as one’s reference point the material, presented in
    remarkable book
    “Real Education: Four Simple Truths for Bringing America’s Schools Back to Reality”
    by Dr. Charles Murray (of “The Bell Curve” fame),
    $ 0.01 + $ 3.99 S&H, used, on Amazon,

    Sure, new initiative by our President makes for the necessity of new thoughts,
    so eloquently expressed by Dr. R. Weissberg. But still … .
    With deep respect, your F.r.

  8. Perhaps Obama is looking ahead to a time when ALL of the neocons are dead and that dead-end class needs to be replaced.

    The core neocons were beneficiaries of free education at City College New York where they spent their free time in separate corners of the lunchroom, joshing & punching arms and talking’ sh&t & Socrates.

    Wonder what would have happened if they had had to hustle out of the classroom to a minimum-wage job or two, as is the case with so many current Community College students today, instead of sitting around smoking the addictive weed of their own half-baked ideas? Would Iraq still have its first-class medical system if Irving Kristol had had to get a real job instead of cruising on the taxpayer’s dime?

    • Replies: @Florida resident
  9. @solontoCroesus

    Dear solontoCroesus:
    I will put aside the question of advantages for neocons
    (whom I dislike as strongly as you do),
    provided by City College New York system.
    Apparently you have adopted “The Blank Slate” model of humanity:
    all individuals are born as identical “blank slates”,
    on which education system (and parents, society, religion, etc.)
    are inscribing proper (or improper) qualities.
    You probably read the book by Dr. Steven Pinker
    “The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature”, .
    Pinker shows in that book that Blank Slate model is incorrect.
    Your F.r.

  10. It is no accident, at least in my experience, that businesses often prefer fire-in-the-belly immigrants with limited “book knowledge” versus slackers from second or third tier schools.

    The general thrust of the article is fine, Obama’s ideas are just another attempt at class warfare. But I have to object to what is fast becoming the New Consensus – that Americans are useless, stupid, lazy wastes of good oxygen while “immigrants” possess the opposite qualities.

    All of the jobs created in the recent economic upturn have gone to immigrants, none to Americans. You could regard this as proof of the “Immigrants are hard-working, Americans are slackers” thesis but in fact it is proof of the widespread anti-American bigotry among hiring-class Americans. And these days the ‘hiring-class Americans” are frequently Indian or Hispanic immigrants hiring their fellow Indians or Hispanics on the basis that they are Indian or Hispanic.

  11. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:
    @Jus' Sayin'...

    I thought that was LBJ who robbed the country to put people into houses they couldn’t afford or maintain.

    • Replies: @abj_slant
  12. Hal says:

    Obama has always promoted “race-neutral” legislation that is designed to benefit only one particular race. It is nonsense to provide free community college education for belligerent non-learners who failed to grasp the essentials in high school. It is immoral to fund community college education that would benefit the belligerent non-learners who ruined high school education for the other, less disadvantaged students.

    • Replies: @MarkinLA
  13. GW says:

    What may be the most frightening is how the President and his staff display a mentality typically associated with primitive people—a belief that a fancy piece of paper (a diploma) is a talisman (or amulet) that bestows magical powers on the owner.

    While this is no doubt true, they have every incentive to act this way because much of the public thinks the same way. Every liberal I know seems to think that if only the fiscally-tight governor would open up the state’s coffers, education would flourish five-fold. Every Fox News conservative I know thinks school vouchers or charters schools is the magical cure.

    We get the politicians we deserve, I guess.

    • Replies: @MarkinLA
    , @Stephen H.
  14. Hubbub says:

    “…like we need (another) hole in the head.”

  15. rod1963 says:

    There is nothing wrong with Community colleges. You make of it what you will. The people that are there who are serious about learning will get something out of it. Probably a lot more than those 4 year colleges where they seat 400 students in a class like a factory and the teacher has no clue if anyone is getting anything or even cares. At least at a local CC you can actually talk to a instructor instead a bored and indifferent TA.

    Oh yeah, you won’t be saddled with debt either.

    “It is no accident, at least in my experience, that businesses often prefer fire-in-the-belly im
    migrants with limited “book knowledge” versus slackers from second or third tier schools.”

    Really, would you want your doctor to be a fire in the belly illegal alien from Bombay who simply lied about his credentials or a white doctor who paid his dues and has all the right creds?

    You really want your kids being taken care of by a fire-in-the-belly illegal whom it is impossible to verify anything about her other than she’s alive? That’s ended badly for a lot of stupid, greedy parents who thought they had a nanny and instead got a child abuser and thief. Sometimes they just beat the kid to death and leave.

    I’ve worked in companies that as you say. They were all hell holes who treated the help like crap and made them work in conditions where whites would have went on strike. One company accident record was so bad(Delta Scientific) that they couldn’t get anyone to insure them. Why? Because they didn’t believe in training their workers. They mostly hired illegal aliens and released ex-cons who were gang bangers, who lacked the common sense needed to work around steel and power tools. So viola crushed fingers and feet were common along with chemical poisoning and burns.

    I had a friend who was in high rise construction in Los Angeles, he repeatedly complained about his boss hiring illegals off the streets because they could work like dogs(many were meth heads) and on the cheap, problem was the work they did had to be repeatedly be done over by competent workers(who were not illegals). The boss didn’t care because he still came out ahead.

    “second or third tier schools”? This is snobbery talking. Once a student is employed it’s his/her job experience that counts. The degree doesn’t count after the first 3 years or so.

    • Replies: @rustbeltreader
    , @MarkinLA
  16. Hubbub says:

    “… the influx of no-pay students may well degrade the college’s already diluted academic quality…” and imagine the decline in discipline that will effectively turn community colleges into extended inner-city high schools with their rampant minority student disrespect and thuggish behavior, with little recourse to oust the troublemakers. No, thank you.

  17. abj_slant says:

    Sky-is-falling rhetoric aside (“…Americans need more knowledge and skills to meet the demands of a growing global economy without having to take on decades of debt before they even embark on their career”)

    You may not like Obama or even Democrats en masse, but that statement is true. That is, unless you have a nice, dependable manufacturing job that has been guaranteed for life. Yeah, didn’t think so.

    IMO, a more workable solution would be to offer community college to the high school students who have accumulated AP credits that can be transferred to college. First off, the credits they’ve already earned knocks off expenses. Second, the fact that they were able to score decent grades in an AP course(s) proves they are smart and focused. In other words, a relatively safe investment for our future.

    • Replies: @Elf Himself
  18. It is logical. Voters rejected the entire agenda and now something popular needs to be forwarded. Free education without the football free ride scholarship. We might even have scholars who aren’t in perpetual debt. That’s outrageous!

  19. @rod1963

    Vice President at the bank got a CC degree. She knew her stuff. That was the 70’s with smaller banks. Now we have Ivy League losers with MBA’s looking for public funding of losses. It’s better to just waste the money on unneeded things. Blow more on defense. Build more of those trillion dollar subs!

  20. MarkinLA says:

    Obama just thinks letting them get high around a JC and looking to get some female equivalent pregnant is cheaper than incarcerating them.

  21. MarkinLA says:

    How many liberal arts majors think their degrees are just as valuable and should be compensated just as much as an engineering or nursing degree. The stupidity is everywhere.

  22. MarkinLA says:

    “Probably a lot more than those 4 year colleges where they seat 400 students in a class like a factory and the teacher has no clue if anyone is getting anything or even cares.”

    If you are getting a STEM degree and are serious (and I wasn’t) nothing beats being in an environment with people who are at the leading edge of something. You won’t find that at a JC, not even a teaching college. A friend of mine has a daughter who gave a presentation at a physics conference while still an undergrad. The kind of immersion in a field where you can do that is not possible at a JC. Obviously, you are working beyond what the average undergrad is doing but for those who can do the work and afford it, I would not recommend a JC.

  23. @GW

    Vouchers would be Section 8 education, not a miracle of the marketplace.

  24. What are the unexpected outcomes of this cc policy? If cc is free then why would anyone pay for the first two years of college? Will it weaken four year schools?

  25. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    An interesting but absent footnote to any Harvard (or Stanford, Berkeley, whatever) resume is that these places boast 90%-plus, often 98%-plus grad rates, within 5 years of course. The only use of the diploma is to prove one was admitted by the great meritocratic priesthood, so the undergrad sojourn can be spent on clubs, networking, activism/self-promotion; hence, Washington D.C. 2015

  26. “Mencken believes Americans to be more gullible than most people, dwelling as we do in “the home of freak economic schemes” (often, alas, contagious) and “the happy hunting ground of the most blatant and absurd sort of charlatans in politics.” From this intimate knowledge of the American “mind,” Mencken thinks that Americans, as lovers of “the bizarre and the irrational would embrace communism with joy, just as multitudes of them, in a previous age, embraced free silver. But, as everyone knows, they will have none of it.” Mencken concedes the attraction of Utopias to the foreign-born and educated Americans, but “two-thirds of the native-born Communists that I have encountered are so plainly mashuggah that it would be flattery to call them stupid.””
    Can we have free silver if we don’t take the free education?

  27. @abj_slant

    “Second, the fact that they were able to score decent grades in an AP course(s) proves they are smart and focused.”

    Not necessarily. I teach math at a CC. I’ve seen plenty of young students who claim to have passed “AP Calculus” and who clearly know little beyond a few basic formulas. There seems to be a lot of variability in AP courses.

    To Dr. Weissberg’s essay, I heartily say “Bravo.” A key pull-quote:
    “The demand that community colleges only offer “quality courses” is certainly deceptive when funding is linked to graduation rates. As any experienced professor will tell you, upping academic standards usually cuts graduation rates and so how can a college achieve these contradictory aims?”
    Yes, this. Raising standards, especially at an open-enrollment school like a CC (that means we have to admit everyone who applies, as long as they have a high school diploma or a GED) will inevitably reduce “success” rates, if success is to actually mean anything. This program is doomed to failure, not just by the fact that Congress will never pass it, but by its own criteria for success.

    Community colleges, in their proper place, are a wonderful asset. The lack of admission standards means we are a place where someone can go for a second, or even third, chance. Many students screwed up when they were young, for whatever reason, but wise up at some point and go on to become successful, productive citizens. Those guys and gals are some of my greatest joys. Filling the place with freeloaders will make the experience worse for everyone.

    • Replies: @abj_slant
  28. Esteemed professor obviously lives on an American Globe. No international experience exists. No comparison with the advanced countries that have free or almost free high education matters.
    It’s all about Obama.

    This is an incredibly shallow article.

  29. @siberiancat

    To the best of my recollections, in USSR and in Russia higher education was free,
    at least up to the year 1994. Reminder: formal dissolution of USSR took place in 1991.
    Admission to _good_ Universities (or to, as most of them were called, Institutes)
    was pretty competitive. In national republics of USSR bribes for admission
    of very weak students were typical. Bribes for good grades for poor performing students
    there were typical as well. But formal tuition price was zero. In 1965 I even got a stipend;
    not very large one, but still … . My (present) wife was out of town in one of Moscow institutes, and the dormitory was almost free for her.
    What is the situation in Russia now, I do not know.

  30. abj_slant says:
    @Elf Himself

    Good points all.

    I based my AP expectations on classes I myself took, but that was 35 years ago.

    • Replies: @rustbeltreader
  31. abj_slant says:

    I have a family member (by marriage) from China, and education there is pay-to-play—big time.

  32. @Immigrant from former USSR

    theodp writes
    “Harvard economist Roland Fryer Jr. did something education researchers almost never do: he ran a randomized experiment in hundreds of classrooms in Chicago, Dallas, Washington, and New York to help answer a controversial question: Should Kids Be Bribed to Do Well in School? He used mostly private money to pay 18,000 kids a total of $6.3 million and brought in a team of researchers to help him analyze the effects. He got death threats, but he carried on.

    In USSR you bribed the teacher. The American Way? What we do is bribe the kids! This is even better than “free” because you get a bonus for good results which will mean more bribes.

  33. @abj_slant

    With all the debt and baby boom now a bust you might have to lower your expectations. Raise the stakes for the young ones though.

    • Replies: @abj_slant
  34. abj_slant says:

    You could be right. When I took AP classes, they were taught by the best of the best teachers. I hear the teachings standards are lower now.

    I remember getting an A- in English Lit in college even though I only went to two classes. It was because I was able to quote one of Shakespeare’s soliloquies that had been drummed into me in AP English. Too bad testing out wasn’t an option back then.

  35. Hal says:

    The theory is that “college degree” makes people smarter. Magical thinking.

    The problem is that we want people to be able to think. Putting non-thinkers in college classrooms will stink up the room.

  36. If cc is free then why would anyone pay for the first two years of college? Will it weaken four year schools?

    Why are your beloved four year schools so expensive?

  37. Immigrant from former USSR [AKA "Florida Resident"] says:

    Dear abj slant and rustbeltthreadr:
    Somehow your claim is that somebody took and passed AP exam (passed in local school ?). Nobody mentioned, what grade he (or she) got from Federal College Board exam, and what was the subject of that course/exam ?

    • Replies: @abj_slant
  38. donut says:

    Back in 1990 I had reason to take two courses at a community college outside Boston. One was biology and the course was worthwhile and taught by a committed prof. The class was mostly adults who were paying their own way and serious. There were abt 3-4 straight out of high school nitwits who giggled and grab assed but not enough to ruin the class.
    The other was a chemistry class taught by a public hs teacher from Quincy . He taught no chemistry and instead spent every class just talking absolute progressive BS. At one point a young woman left the class in tears of frustration fearing that this non class was derailing her plans for a future.
    Some of us discussed this craziness after class and decided we had to suck it up for the credit. He couldn’t possibly fail anyone and we were stuck.
    His favorite hobby horse was OXFAM . Even today when I see that name I curse them and all their works.
    Of course the other thing that occurred to me at the time was WTF are they learning at Quincy high ?

    • Replies: @Elf Himself
  39. @Immigrant from former USSR

    I went to Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology in 1979. Never been ashamed of the quality of my education. I will hold my own against any MIT or Stanford grad.

    I was paid to study, actually. But getting in was very difficult.

  40. @siberiancat

    Hi, siberiancat.
    I graduated form FisFak MGU, and taught at POPF of MFTI for about 13 years (1969 through about 1982), while working at FIAN as base institute. Alas, we all were younger then.
    Prof. Weissberg (author of the article above) is pretty good guy, by the way.

  41. More student debt compounded.

    “However, as bad as this is, it can get worse.

    The turking vs. bot dynamic is going to create a a need for lots of retraining — as soon as a bot learns how to do the job, it forces the Turk into a new job.

    My gut suggests that this “retraining” will be in the form of online education provided for a fee by the company providing the job. However, if you don’t have the money, the company will offer you a micro-loan of the type we see ravaging the developing world right now.

    NOTE: Micro-loans are a “market based” humanitarian experiment that has become a scourge. It’s done the impossible. It found a way to turn hundreds of millions of poor people into perpetual debtors paying extortionate interest rates — locking them into debt based poverty forever. Who knew that debt was a bad thing (we used to know this)?

    You can guess what this dynamic will look like.

    Micro-loan offered at extortionate interest rate financing training for turking job.
    Turking job lasts a couple of months. Earnings are garnished to pay loan.
    Bot eats job.
    New loan required for more training. Cycle repeats.”

    The education and debt will last longer than the job and you’ll be needing more loans to get another job.

    The Abolition of Work

    Bob Black

    No one should ever work.

    Work is the source of nearly all the misery in the world. Almost any evil you’d care to name comes from working or from living in a world designed for work. In order to stop suffering, we have to stop working.

    That doesn’t mean we have to stop doing things. It does mean creating a new way of life based on play; in other words, a *ludic* conviviality, commensality, and maybe even art. There is more to play than child’s play, as worthy as that is. I call for a collective adventure in generalized joy and freely interdependent exuberance. Play isn’t passive. Doubtless we all need a lot more time for sheer sloth and slack than we ever enjoy now, regardless of income or occupation, but once recovered from employment-induced exhaustion nearly all of us want to act. Oblomovism and Stakhanovism are two sides of the same debased coin.

  42. @Willem Hendrik

    PLEASE everyone, stop calling Academics or Academia an “industry”. “Buisness” is probably more appropriate. “Industry” and the implication of “industriousness” just doesn’t apply, because we are not talking about the concrete, useful, practical.

    “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.” Eric Hoffer

    Maybe racket is better.

    • Replies: @Untermenschen
  43. abj_slant says:
    @Immigrant from former USSR

    The courses I took (35 years ago) were English Lit and History. AP courses at that time were designed to keep those who were able engaged in the learning process.

    AP courses have evolved, though, to cover a variety of subjects. And they are being utilized more and more to earn college credits in those respective subjects to save time and expenses for the college-bound. IMO, a good idea all the way around. But that only works if the instructors for those courses are competent.

  44. @travell-lyte

    You’re right, racket is the best term to describe this nasty business.

  45. @donut

    This anecdote serves to illustrate the importance of full-time permanent faculty, who are personally and professionally invested in the integrity of the educational enterprise.

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