Today, while working on another article and starting my second gallon of coffee (yeah, many writers live off coffee, if you didn’t know) I had that all-too-frequent moment where my brain just jogged to the side for a moment. Earlier I’d been looking at some different new gaming laptops because mine has been saving universes for about four years now and I was thinking about updating (okay dreaming and drooling, same thing.) And at the same time I was also thinking about a great article my daughter had posted on her FB about the ridiculous price of college and the weight of debt students are being forced into. I know, that is a lot of different things going on and, yes, I am always like that; my brain swirling with about ten imaginary conversations, stories, articles and random facts. It is a wonder I ever write a single, cohesive sentence. But then, there is that moment, like just now in the kitchen, when two or more of these random, unrelated strings of thought collide and I find the link. Maybe my brain is looking for that link unconsciously, maybe not, but WHAM! There it is. And I saw exactly what has happened in our education system from the viewpoint of a video or computer game.
I know many of you out there will be familiar with the gaming set up. Think of World of Warcraft, Perfect World International (PWI), LOTR Online, Guild Wars, Rohan, and a huge number of other games. Okay, I don’t actually know if Rohan is around any more. It was the first MMORPG game I ever played, so it sticks in my head. In any event, if you like this type of gaming where you log in, have a character that you create and evolve, build up their gear and skills, and play with other people from all over the world, then you are going to know exactly what I am talking about, when I finally get to the point. But hold on for a sec while I catch the other people up.
These games come in varieties from Pay to Play, purchasing the game and/or membership access to play on their servers, to free gaming with the options to purchase extras, to free gaming and ability to make game money to purchase extras or gears inside game commerce or get instant gratification by buying it with real money, to free to play but pay to win. Now, pay to win is where the best gear in the game either can’t be farmed by spending time making game money or completing quests (working for it) or the amount of time required to farm the gear is ridiculous and unattainable to anyone who also intends to eat, sleep, use the bathroom, go to school or work or in any other way, have a life outside the game. Basically, you can play the game for free, but unless you spend a lot of money, you are going to suck, forever. That is Pay to Win in a nutshell.
Today, that ideology, in my brain, collided with our current state of post secondary education. Kids graduating from High School (okay, young women and men, if you prefer) are being thrown out into a not-so-virtual world of Pay to Win. And when it comes to an education it is both Pay to Play and Pay to Win. Fifty years ago in the United States there was no college tuition fees at state universities and even the private universities and Ivy League had very low tuition costs. Their status was not based on their expensive price tag, but on the quality of the students they admitted. Students didn’t pay to play. They earned their place with grades and determination. What they paid for were student and administration fees, which were nominal, room and board, books and necessities. A student could work part time and pay their way through college without ever needing a loan. See, Free to Play, because they could work within the game to pay for itself and come out with great gear (in the form of an education and a degree) when they were done.
But today, students do not get that opportunity. Sure, they still need decent grades and they still must be willing to work diligently through the quest, but no matter how hard they work, there is no way they can work while going to school to pay the tuition, student fees, room and board and books and necessities. They simply cannot work enough to pay for it all and still have hours left in the week to attend class. Even if they don’t sleep. Now we expect them to take out loans and pile themselves with debt, a lien against the salary they hope they can make if they get a degree, paid back at comparatively high interest rates. Without those loans the majority of students (71% of the college graduates of 2015) could not afford college. Those same 2015 college graduates hit the world at large with an average of over $35,000 of debt to carry around while hoping they can secure a good enough job to start making those payments. That average student debt increased by over $15,000 between 2005 and 2015. That is more than a 75% increase in a single decade. And guess what! That degree is not earning you more money than it did in 2005. The U. S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics (2015) says that based on the Consumer Price Index (which allows us to compare the value of money equally between different years by compensating for inflation factors) says that college graduates in 2015 with a Bachelor’s Degree (all graduates, not just newly graduated) are making almost the exact same amount of money they were in 2005. Except, of course, those new graduates have racked up 75% more debt to get that same paycheck. And the debt ceiling is expected to continue to rise, far outpacing inflation and market pay schedules.
If you are wondering how this stacks up with other demographics, well, a master’s degree is paying less today than it did in 2005, an Associate’s Degree pays considerably less, and a HS or GED pays somewhat less today than it did in 2005, as well.
So here is the question… where the hell is all this money going? It obviously is not going to campus security, given the escalation of campus based violent crimes. State schools managed to operate fifty, even one hundred plus years without huge tuition costs because the communities and government saw the wisdom in subsidizing education for people. But those budgets were cut, the tax dollars once used to help educate our citizens for better future, were siphoned away to other endeavors. (Like building prisons) They set up the system to make it affordable to those seeking an education in order to keep the U. S. growing and prospering in the world, but abandoned that project in favor of shifting the burden onto the students and their families. Why? And who is making the big profits off of the loans? Well, the “who” answers the “why.” If you guessed the universities, you would be wrong. If you guessed the United States Federal Government, then you get a cookie! I may even throw in an “Awesome Job!” sticker, too. in 2013 alone the federal government made over $50 billion in profits from student loans… yes that was billion with a bit, fat B in profits with a big, fat P. Less and less government money is being put into education, but more of your educational dollars are being sucked out by the government. They have turned getting an education into a nice tax revenue that they spend on their pet projects, with no restrictions, whatsoever, that these dollars be put back into our educational system. If the government were forced to put their profits from Student Loans back into the schools, it would decrease the costs of an education tremendously and take away the incentives to keep tuitions high. Then we can work on alternatives to facilitate reducing or eliminating tuition costs. Of course, there will still be administration, student, housing and meal plan fees to contend with, as well as expenses for things likes textbooks and supplies, but this would go a long way towards making college affordable and reducing the number two cumulative debt in our country, second only to mortgages.
So, it appears the government, for its own nefarious purposes to gain access to more of our hard earned cash in a way that doesn’t LOOK like a tax, has perpetuated the rising cost of education. The price tag is going up, they are getting more and more and you are getting less and less. But without that education, you face about 200% higher risk for unemployment and you will make, on average, about $19,000 less per year. Of course, a degree does not actually work out to that much more money in your pocket. You have that student loan payment plus a higher tax burden (fed, State, Medicare, Social Security) which makes it equate to closer to $12,000 a year that you actually see, at least until that loan is paid for. This is where they get you on the pay to play and pay to win. You graduate High School and you are thrown into the world, where the free play version equates to a life of poverty or ridiculously hard work just to survive, or you can pay to play four to five years of your life, stacking up debt against your future, still working both at a job and in the classroom just to pay the difference between what loans, scholarships and grants cover and the University Tab. And when it is over, you are hoping you have paid to win. In fact, you are praying it is pay to win, while you are looking for a job, hoping to get something that lets you break ahead and eventually climb out of that mountain of debt you have accumulated. You really hope all that money bought you end-game gear and some ability to use it.
So, why is this on a women’s advocacy blog? Because it affects women and men. Because a poorly educated society falls prey to bigotry, misogyny and superstition. A well educated society sees the flaw in bigotry, undermines misogynistic control and contradicts superstition with science and fact. A truly free society is one which values the education of its citizens and promotes their growth. Right now, our society is built on nothing more than the aspirations of greed and this look into our university system and the fundamental change of our government’s role in it denotes that greed with efficient detail. Free market has its place, but it should also have its limitations.
We are One Woman, One World