Should They Occupy Universities Instead?

A new wave of civil disobedience is moving across the American landscape. It began a month ago as the Occupy Wall Street movement, a protest against Wall Street, Fat Cat Bankers and income inequality in America. A large number of these protestors are recently graduated college students who find themselves without jobs, or jobs they are trained for.

The American College System is an American treasure, recognized globally as the World’s finest academic system. So how do graduates of such a great system find themselves in their predicament? We got it when we heard an interview with one of the protestors, Angelina Lesniewski. She had come from Boston to New York to join the Occupy Wall Street protest. Ms. Lesniewski told CNBC’s Scott Cohn:

  • “I could have gotten a degree in something practical like Psychology which I find very interesting but I would have been miserable”.

Instead she graduated this May with an English degree from a Massachusetts liberal arts college. The trouble? She has no job prospects in her field and she has accumulated student loan debt of $28,000.

Clearly Ms. Lesniewski is responsible for her own troubles. She decided to study a subject that offered no job prospects and while doing so, she racked up a huge amount of debt. She chose to not study a practical subject that could have provided her a job. She did not because she would have been miserable doing so. As a result, today she is far more miserable, we assume, without a job and a huge debt load.

Unfortunately, Ms. Lesniewski is a victim, we think, of a romantic attitude towards college education. Chris Mathews, the MSNBC anchor, is one of the Pied Pipers of this romanticism. We have heard him exhort students to go to college to find themselves. The corollary is Ms. Lesniewski’s decision – go to college to study something you like and not something that can get you a job.

This
romanticism was fine in an earlier era when jobs were
readily available and college education was relatively inexpensive.
That, coincidentally, was also an era when a college degree was not
necessary to live in a middle class lifestyle. 

Today’s
America is very different. In today’s America, students need a college
degree to enjoy a higher standard of living in their adult lives. But in
today’s America, jobs are hard to get. But in the same America of today, there are reportedly over 3
million jobs vacant in Engineering, Energy, Manufacturing and Mining
sectors. These jobs for the most part require study in hard sciences or practical education.

In this America of today, liberal arts majors like Ms. Lesniewski find themselves uneducated for these readily available jobs despite investing a fortune in a college degree. And when they find a job opportunity that fits their education, they find themselves competing with several other students for that job. 

Today’s America faces a structural chasm between the education sold by Colleges to eager students and the education necessary for them to get jobs. This is a problem created by America’s colleges. Just as naive borrowers got sold unsuitable, unaffordable mortgage loans by greedy lenders by dangling the romantic dream of home-ownership, naive students got sold unsuitable, unaffordable education programs by dangling the romantic dream of a college education.

America’s Colleges sold a defective and expensive product to their customers, the students who paid massive fees to buy the product. Therefore America’s Colleges should pay damages to the customers they harmed. This is basic Tort doctrine.

The scale of the problem is huge. The total student loan debt outstanding in America now exceeds the total credit card debt outstanding in America. In other words, America is more addicted to education than it is to consumer spending.

So under our Tort Doctrine, this debt should be charged to the endowments of Colleges who created this debt by charging exorbitant fees for a defective & worthless product. These colleges should also be required to retrain students like Ms. Lesniewski in areas that offer job opportunities.

In short, the young protestors should launch Occupy Universities movements rather than Occupy Wall Street.

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