[iDC] The Aims of Education

Ken Wark warkk at newschool.edu
Thu Sep 8 17:50:40 UTC 2011

Anya: I'd want to be a bit more cautious about cost-of-education arguments. 

Firstly, pricing in American higher ed is all about discounts. The gap between sticker price and discount has been getting wider, so sticker price isn't all that helpful as a measure.

In the second place, the price of higher ed is actually pretty constant compared to other things that use secure 1st world labor. It got more expensive relative to things that became much, much cheaper because of lower labor costs and or substitution of tech for labor power.

In the third place, it is mostly still a good long term investment. Things like culinary school are in some cases not a good investment, but for most degrees most of the time, it pays off. 

There is a bit of vicious cycle happening between perceived costs and service. Students (and parents) think of ed as an expensive luxury good, and want high levels of service, which means high levels of admin, which just adds to costs. 

One can complain about the ridiculous salaries senior execs draw down now, but that's pretty much the same everywhere with the American ruling class. They won't get out of bed for anything short of a high six figures. And you still have to treat them like baroque era princes. But that's a systematic problem, not ed specific.

More alarming is the decline in the idea of ed as a social good worthy of a social investment. Meritocracy has its problems, but i think we are moving back towards a hereditary ruling class, where your title is your Ivy League degree. (The rest of us are just petty nobility). 

Or in short, i don't think the problem is the costs, its the social distribution of the costs and the benefits. 

Prof. McKenzie Wark
Culture & Media, Eugene Lang College
65 w11th st New York NY 10011 USA

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