Generally speaking, it is not a good thing to be a “product.”
I know. Everything we produce is a product of, if nothing else, our labors.
But we don’t call what we produce “our product.” We it call it by its name — the mowed lawn, the finished paint job, the Wiley Widget, dinner.
The things we call “products” aren’t that intimate with anybody.
They are mass-produced, and mass-marketed. The people who own the processes rarely encounter the product, and neither do the people who sell it at the industrial level. They’re the ones who call it — who think of it — as a product.
To them the point of a product is its profit. The bigger the margin between cost and price the better. Let the market decide about quality.
The law of the profit-first product market is, If You Bought It, It’s Good Enough for You. Its corollary is If You’ll Buy the Product, You’ll Settle for Less of It. Hence, the 30-ounce “quart-like” jar of mayonnaise, or the all-but-identical-to-a-1-pound box that actually contains 15 ounces, and the 64-ounce half-gallons have been shrinking to 59 or 51 or 48 ounce sizes, never at proportionately reduced prices.
Now there’s the 3-year “college education.”
The details of the “25% off” approach to college are bad enough. What’s worse is the trend to turn public education into a “product.”
College education was meant to be an experience, an immersion in facts and opinions and techniques that enhanced an ability to learn as well as to reproduce data.
Sure, college always began at the bursar’s window and ended with the handover of a degree, but it was assumed that paying up and being paid off were only brackets for the really important stuff. The courses, the classes, the readings, the exams, of course, but also, the time to think and the community of people among whom you thought were what gave a school its value.
At New York University, where tuition, books and fees, room and board average out at $66,000 a year, many students are having trouble paying the bill. So, in the cheerful language of the New York Times, “Now, NYU has a suggestion for them: Finish faster.” Take what had been a 4 year process down to 3.
3 NYU “innovations” in greasing the chute to the sheepskin tell you a lot about the way this second-tier university with a top-of-the-first-tier price tag views its educational product.
Actually teaching students, like housing and feeding them, has become a fungible cost to the academic-industrial complex. Every year, every square foot of dorm space accommodates more students paying higher prices. But the Times marvels at an NYU plan to help students save money on food by using Facebook to alert them “if there is food left over after staff meetings.”
Now the squeeze is on the academic side. NYU is going to help students save more than food money. The school is preparing to sacrifice an apparent scam it’s been running for years: “while students pay for 18 credits per semester, many actually take only 16.” Probably because 16 credits x 8 semesters = 128, exactly the number needed to graduate.
So, for students who want to “finish faster,” “the university will increase the number of two-credit courses it offers.”
Can you say “junk courses?”
NYU called it a “strategy” to re-fashion its education product by head-hunting high-priced “academic superstars” to teach a few classes. But this has meant shunting most classroom assignments to low-paid adjuncts. The increase in the 2-credit class predicts an increase in sweatshop salaries for “knock-off” courses.
But even that abasement of university standards won’t get the turnstile turning fast enough. After all at 18 credits a pop you’d still need 7 semesters to get to 126 credits. So how to fill the gap, get the product and its buyer out the door in 3 years?
The Times reports that NYU has an answer: “It will also allow many students to transfer in up to eight credits from other schools, like local community colleges where they can take inexpensive classes over the summer.”
This practice is not unheard of, but even NYU used to act as if they cared about the relevance, if not the quality, of the imported credits. “In the past,” the Times notes, these transfers have “been allowed on a case-by-case basis.” No more. Now it’s allowed for everyone.
Where this trend gets really ugly is, not a surprise, in some of the states run by right-wing Republican governors intent on giving taxpayers less for their money.
Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, the Times says, “pushed” for the low-course-quality option, “to make it easier for students in his state to graduate from public colleges early by allowing more credits from high school or technical programs.”
But Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin isn’t into options. He wants to mandate “that schools in the University of Wisconsin system should create a three-year degree for 60 percent of its programs by the summer of 2020.”
Meanwhile in Indiana, recently run by Vice President Mike Pence, “Purdue University, which is a state school, has also been experimenting with three-year degree options.”
People go to restaurants for food. They go to McDonalds, Burger King and Taco Bell for fast-food products. If flim-flam schools like NYU and “good enough for you” Governors like Kasich, Walker and Pence have their way, a college education for all those who don’t get into Harvard or Yale or can’t afford private prices, will be turned into a “Happy Meal.”
*****This week on HERE & THERE we have 3 shows scheduled. On Monday, we look at the post-Trump-election boom in dystopian fiction. University of New Mexico scholar Gary Scharnhorst looks at the messages and appeal of 1984,
It Can’t Happen Here and A Cool Million.
Tuesday, AP investigative reporter Richard Lardner busts the US Military’s Web Ops program to wean away online recruits from the Islamic State. The program, Lardner and his AP partner Desmond Butler revealed, has been handicapped by “ignorance, incompetence and cronyism.”
Wednesday, H&T is pre-empted by KSFR’s regular coverage of Santa Fe City Council meetings. But on Thursday, we return with an update from University of Maryland and Brookings Institution pollster Shibley Telhami on American voters’ resistance to anti-Muslim propaganda.
This was a week which had a lot of us screaming at our TV sets, a reaction that inspired Amy Marash’s great graphic illustrations.