Deconstructing Public Education

The news about private or proprietary online education, continues to sound dire. Bloomburg reports this week that Steven Eisman, an expert in short selling, believes that private education is the next best candidate for a speculative bubble burst. The primary reason, Eisman says, is pending legislation that would strictly limit the amount of debt students at private institutions can take on to pay for their education (“Eisman of ‘Big Short’ Says Sell Education Stocks (Update2)”).

I think that Eisman may be right; the legislation is long over due. (I may well loose my job if it passes and my school cuts full time positions in response to its perceived loss of profitability.) I have to say, though, that I have a lot of colleagues who seem to have created what amounts to an essentialist definition of the public schools rooted in a rejection of the private model. On the one side, the proprietary schools are profit oriented; on the other, the public schools are service oriented.

Like most absolute distinctions, this one falls apart once you tug at a few of the looser threads. I keep thinking about that giant mulit-million dollar football stadium at my Alma Mata, the University of Texas at Austin, lined with luxury booths so beloved by politicians and power-tie types everywhere. It’s a hugely over priced advertising program, designed as much as anything to help line the pockets of powerful administrators. Is that a public service? Orwell would be proud.

The new president of the University of Illinois was recently granted a huge salary increase, even as the school is squeezed under the largest budge deficit in Illinois history. The logic, of course, is that they cannot get a president of “his caliber” without that level of compensation. In other words, this sort of profit-motive is typical in the public system. It’s also common for public school students to have enormous debt, although perhaps they default less because of their class advantages.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol]

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