A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education discusses the content of a YouTube video called “College Conspiracy,” a short documentary produced by the National Inflation Association (NIA) that puts forth the claim that “college is the largest scam in American history.”
The argument is that college officials are more interested in lining their own pockets with cash than with caring for their students, essentially equating higher education institutions with corporations. The documentary runs an hour and features interviews with professors, economists and dozens of college graduates who are either infused with debt or jobless with their degrees, or both. It even features a video of a college graduate burning all his diplomas (which include a law degree). Ultimately, what the documentary shows, if nothing else, is that people are fed up with the price of college, especially considering the ubiquitous nature of a college degree today.
Although most anyone probably finds the price of college tuition to be outrageous overall, Knox sophomore October Santerelli sees every moment in college to be well worth his money, despite the fact that he is barely scraping by financially. As a student who has taken time off from college working as a live infomercial salesman to get by, he understands the difficulty of finding a quality job without a college degree.
“I don’t want to do much. I want to make posters … that’s my dream job, and I’ll write plays on the side and act when I feel like it,” he said. “It’s not like I’m asking a lot, but I would never be able to get that job without a college education.”
Of course, this does not mean that Santerelli, a theatre and graphic design double major, doesn’t wish the price were lower. He is paying tuition month to month, which he can only afford with a full time job on campus and a part time job off campus. But his experience during his year off is evidence to him that higher education, at least in places like Knox, is too immensely valuable in the job market to just be some scam.
“I’m struggling to make ends meet, but this is something I really want because it is useful,” he said.
Junior Monica Price echoes Santerelli’s sentiments. What the NIA see as a scam, she sees as a legitimate means for personal and professional development.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a scam … I’m broadening my horizons by being here, which is benefiting me both now and in the long run,” Price said.
To Price, an anthropology/sociology major who plans on working for a non-profit when she is out of college, a college degree is much more than just a piece of paper.
“No one can take your education away from you,” she said.
Junior Marie Fourman, a psychology major, points out that in addition to students’ positive personal development through college, many schools make available to students more than enough resources to pay for it.
“Even if you can’t afford it, there are plenty of scholarships,” she said.
An additional issue with the idea of the higher education scam is the difficultly finding where to place the blame. In a tough job market and a sinking economy, ethical arguments are cumbersome.
Senior Dylan Reynolds, an English major, is a bit more skeptical about higher education.
“I think parts of our education are a scam. When universities receive funding from corporations and then provide those corporations with their research, when trustees who have a lot of money and power are able to pass changes and regulations on curriculum because colleges need money, yeah.”
Despite his skepticism, however, Reynolds finds it unlikely that a scam like this could be so easily discerned.
“If [education is a scam], then who is perpetrated it? Who does it benefit?” he asked. “I don’t think education is a coherent enough concept to be a scam.”
Reynolds thinks the problem that arises with the scam idea is a problem that arises out of American culture, not out of any particular institution. The complexity of the issue needs to be acknowledged, and generalizations need to be fleshed out in the argument before it can stand on its own.
“I think the problem with American life is that we think we can apply the same solution for everyone,” he said.
– “College Conspiracy”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VpZtX32sKVE
– “I burned my math degree”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fuSFaGhGntc
– “What I’ve Learned in College – My Bachelor’s Degree is Worthless”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KXxCCzXI9D4