The Short Form Catastrophe

Briefs and bits: Longer than tweets, shorter than blog posts. Updated randomly and elegantly.

Education is good, so private, for-profit education must be better!

For those of you who didn’t already know this, going to college typically means that you will be better paid in your working career. Of course, I am a stunning example of how that is not really a certainty, but in general it’s true.

So, what could make that equation even better for the developing nations of the world?

Doing away with public universities altogether, or at least supporting them less than their for-profit cousins, at least according to Parag Khanna and Karan Khemka in Harvard Business Review’s “List of Audacious Ideas” from earlier this year.

Throughout the world the proportion of a country’s population attending colleges and universities is directly correlated with the country’s wealth. In emerging markets such as India and China, incomes and higher education enrollment have been rising hand in hand in recent years. Though correlation doesn’t necessarily imply causation, the rationale for the argument that higher education increases productivity and affluence is clear: Education creates human capital, which enables economic growth. That’s why pouring much more money into for-profit higher education could jump-start the global economy and deliver big returns.

I hope you paid attention during that opening paragraph from their piece, because it showcases some of the stunning “deep thought” that Khanna was eviscerated for by Evgeny Morozov this week. First, we have the idea that going to college makes life better for you stretched into the realm of statistics on the national level (without, of course, any link to back the data up). Next, we mention two “emerging markets”, India and China. Then, we quickly remind you that our first sentence doesn’t mean anything, since “correlation is not causation” (but we want you to believe it is), and last (and most important) - even though we just talked about two countries where public education is the norm, and has lifted those two economies, we’d like to replace that with private, for-profit schools.

Why? Well, because “traditional Western universities” do not produce the right kind of “human capital”. In other words, we theoretically don’t mass produce office drones (although most of us wind up as office drones anyway, and we’re miserable - probably because we all had at least one course in Humanities along the way that clued us in that there might be more to life than “Work, Consume, Die”).

You see, private, for-profit schools don’t have to worry about creating good citizens, merely good workers - ready to drive the New Economy right back up the side of the cliff (and we’ll completely ignore how it might just be possible that over-educating a population without producing enough jobs for them to fill could be a cause of economic distress for now).

But don’t worry, since 2001 China has allowed for-profit schools and in India, where they are technically illegal (horror!), there are plenty of loopholes that allow for pseudo-educational opportunities to abound.

The best part? The output of these universities won’t even know what a “dystopia” is.

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