An uncomfortable debate got a little personal.
One consequence of President Joe Biden’s plan to write off much student debt is to focus on the kinds of degrees the taxpayer funds. If one personal decision – borrowing money for college – is now a matter for the public, then why not another?
Should all degrees be treated the same when it comes to canceling a debt? Does a philosophy degree have similar societal value to an engineering degree, since society now foots part of the bill?
Let’s face it: no one who is both serious and honest believes this will be the last pardon of its kind. It is now an expectation, included at least implicitly in future borrowing decisions if not in many past decisions.
That won’t be the only new reality on campus. Here, the universities that aided and abetted the student loan crisis by guiding all comers on all educational paths into the welcoming arms of the federal funding mechanism, at ever-higher rates of tuition, fees, fees sustenance and more, may find there is a consequence they had not fully appreciated.
Degrees will be scrutinized for their broader usefulness beyond the intellectual satisfaction of their pursuers. The university, revered and protected for centuries as a bastion of learning as an asset in its own right, will receive the same kind of cold cost-benefit analysis once reserved for trade and technical schools.
Again, academia practically demanded this outcome, given its willingness to help students get into debt until it became a political issue, alongside the vast endowments and bureaucracies that its leaders concurrently built. Not to mention their radical politics and the incubation of divisive social theories that also breached political dikes.
So it was a fascinating coincidence this month to see Georgia’s university system unveil a list of 215 degrees it was cutting across its 26 campuses.
And a bit amazing to see mine among the victims.
The Bachelor of Publishing Management, along with its close cousins in newspapers and magazines, will cease to be offered at the University of Georgia.
Twenty-one years ago, a small cohort of us graduated from Athens with an ABJ in publishing management, which distinguished itself from its close cousins by incorporating the equivalent of a minor in business. We were guided by one of the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication’s most beloved, respected and feared professors, Conrad Fink. Fink had been a war correspondent, an editor on several continents, and a newspaper buyer and seller before embarking on an equally notable second career as a teacher, which ended shortly before his death in 2012. thinks he would have been 90 this year. last Friday.
This degree, like the others, landed on the shortlist due to declining student interest over the ensuing years. Perhaps it was the lack of a force of nature like Fink to promote and sustain the program. Perhaps it is the powerful forces at work within the print media industry that are making it increasingly printless. Maybe student tastes have simply changed.
If this sounds different to what we originally envisioned, about the economic usefulness or futility of degrees, think again. The market is in play in both scenarios.
It was the market—on the consumer side, that is, students—that informed USG’s decision to shrink its degree catalog. And it will be the market – both economic, in terms of value, and political, in terms of willingness to subsidize people’s bad choices – that will determine what happens next. Willing seller, willing buyer, either way.
Is this a good thing? From the standpoint of pure efficiency, intelligent allocation of scarce resources, probably.
But from the perspective of selling the birthright of the university for a bowl of stew, a stew of high-paying administrative jobs, gold-plated student facilities and boastful endowments, maybe not.