“You are not going to believe this.”
The other day I had my first “Cassandra moment”. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the myth, Cassandra was a figure from Greek mythology who was cursed to know the future and never be believed by anyone she told (seriously, that’s the shortest version I can manage. They all get weirder from there.) This has been used as the basis for the Cassandra metaphor, which you may know from the film 12 Monkeys (and if you don’t know that film I banish you until you do).
Are we all on the same page now? Good. So anyway, I was listening to the news and I noticed that I was hearing a lot of politicians and reporters talking about two things in very close proximity to each other: the fact that a high school diploma isn’t enough to get a “good job” anymore and the crushing weight of student debt. Setting aside any discussions about what exactly qualifies as a “good job”, it occurred to me this might not be a coincidence. There are a couple different historical trends that seem to be colliding here, and not in a way that I am at all comfortable with.
The first is this question of what level of education a person “needs”. Now I’m a big fan of education, and I will be the first to say that requiring universal basic literacy and numeracy has done wonders for our country. The marginal return on universal education beyond that point is something we can debate, as well as the shape it should take, but considering that debate is already happening all the way through the high school level I find it curious that there has been a not-so-subtle linguistic shift over the past few decades. It used to be that “every child should finish high school”. Then the norm became that “every child that qualifies should be able to go to college.” Next up was “every child that wants to should be able to go to college.” Now we’re moving into the realm of ‘every child should go to college.”
Notice that shift? The norm used to be a high school diploma, full stop. Now we’ve moved the goal post to “go to college”, no qualifiers. When does that become “Bachelor’s degree” or more? That brings me to my second point.
How exactly did we manage to get “every child into college”? Student loans. Not a big deal really, since the job market was always growing, opportunity was always on the rise, and that would never change. Except of course that it did change, and now we have a generation mired in debt. Nobody’s fault, really, at least that’s what the politicians tell themselves and their constituents. Certainly not the fault of programs guaranteed to extend credit to students to pursue programs regardless of their likelihood of graduation or securing gainful employment when they graduate – but I digress.
So here we find ourselves, pushing to send more kids, all the kids really, to college, while insisting there’s no way that anyone can afford to go to college. If only there was a historical example we could look back on, something remarkably similar in terms of a formerly non-compulsory, primarily private form of education that had become dominated by government influence….
And all sarcasm aside, that’s where I found myself this weekend, with a horrifying new theory and nobody to believe it. I explained it to My Not So Humble Wife, how I saw the government (probably led by the federal Department of Education, possibly with the states taking a strong hand as they do in the current public education system) taking over university education in the next 20 years and making it compulsory up through at least an Associate’s degree and far more likely through a Bachelor’s degree. After all, it’s much easier to soak taxpayers across the board directly to support the schools than to expect students to pay their own way, and then we can make sure everyone has the same “fair” chance (if you really believe the current educational system is fair, kudos on your naiveté.)
She doesn’t believe me. Neither do my friends who I mentioned it to. Maybe they all think I’ve been watching too much House of Cards. (Not true, I haven’t had a chance to stream season 2 yet). Maybe they think I’m just a nutjob libertarian. (True but irrelevant.) Maybe they just think I’m jumping at shadows. (Never; too much exertion.)
Whatever the reason, they don’t believe me, and chances are neither will you. But that’s okay. Just like the original Cassandra, I’m going to make my prediction, and the future will reveal itself in time.