Reporting on comments by New Jersey governor Chris Christie in Iowa on Thursday, Casey Quinlan writes: “Christie said students shouldn’t expect to receive a degree that will significantly improve their earnings for nothing.” Christie also said:
But it’s also the story of how our system is supposed to work – a system where we all need to take personal responsibility to grasp the opportunities of higher education, but also one where we can get a leg up when we need it.
There’s obviously a bit of confusion here, in how Christie (and many American politicians, these days) view the process of education. They have internalized the idea that there is nothing more than a transaction involved in education but also argue that it is something one has to take advantage of on one’s own. Yet they always return to the idea of education as simply an investment:
Christie also mentioned income share agreements, which allow students to essentially issue stock in themselves. It allows people to invest in college students, or to “own human capital contracts,” which means that an investor could pay a portion of the student’s tuition to attend college in exchange for that student giving the investor a certain percentage of their income for so many years.
Christie and so many others have unquestioningly accepted the idea of education as simply another free-market commodity, something one can buy or sell–the vision that led to Corinthian Colleges or the Axact corporation, both of which preyed on naive individuals hoping that they could buy an education and, by extension, a profitable career.
This acceptance, as anyone who has actually worked in education knows, is as inaccurate as it is pernicious. When students, as does happen, tell their instructors that they deserve grades of A because they are paying the tuition themselves, we should hear the alarm. When students take out loans because they believe a particular degree is going to augment their earnings, we should disabuse them of the idea that it is the degree, not the effort, that leads to success.
Education is not a commercial transaction but a personal process of knowledge acquisition through directed inquiry and supported work. Until we get back to this, front and center, in our national discussions of education, we are going to continue to see nonsense such as Christie’s suggestion and fraud such as that so often perpetuated by “for profit” institutions of higher education.
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