Victor Davis Hanson’s specialty is ancient history, and he’s quick to notice parallels with modern times. In an essay entitled “The New American Helots,” he suggests that the student loan scam has reduced many young Americans to the status of the Greek Helots of old, who were held in a state of semi-slavery by the Spartans so they could concentrate on warfare. As he puts it,
Over the last few decades, we’ve created our modern version of these Helots — millions of indebted young Americans with little prospect of finding permanent well-paying work, servicing their enormous college debts, or reaping commensurate financial returns on their costly educations.
Annual tuition keeps rising, as it has over the last 50 years, usually at close to twice the rate of inflation. It must, if colleges are to pay for a vast new administrative class that is excused from teaching to monitor sensitivity and diversity, raise money, and comply with ever more race/class/gender federal mandates.
In addition, students support a new grandee class of professors who teach lighter loads, enjoy better benefits, retire earlier — and now offer instruction in a vast array of courses and disciplines that simply were never part of the traditional curriculum.
I couldn’t agree more. Student loans are one of the cruder forms of exploitation in American society. Their easy availability seduces many young people into assuming massive debt to finance educations that many of them consider essential. Most of them have never experienced what it’s like to bear such a debt, even if they are lucky enough to land a job. Instapundit has been posting links to a lot of similar articles about what he calls the “higher education bubble.” Recent examples may be found here, here, and here.
I can think of few things more mendacious than allowing a generation of young people to start their careers with a millstone of unsustainable debt around their necks, and one which they can’t even shed by bankruptcy. We’ve been flattering ourselves about how “free” we are for so long that we’ve come to accept this form of slavery-lite with barely a murmur. There is currently a debate over whether student loan interest rates should be allowed to increase from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent on July 1. By all means! Double and triple it! The sooner the whole, rotten system comes crashing down, the better. If it were up to me, student loans would be illegal. Then the universities could jack up tuitions to their hearts content, but there would be no one around who could afford them. Eventually, they would be forced to shed all the non-essential fluff, and the cost of higher education would descend from the stratosphere to affordable levels.
If you want to get an idea of what I mean by fluff, look at the curriculum vitae of an average young associate professor. If you haven’t published scores of papers, you’re not even in the running for a job, not to mention tenure. Beyond that, you’ll need to go to lots of academic conferences and schmooze with your colleagues, because you’ll need a respectable number of citations to go with the papers. Beyond that, you’ll need to spend much of your time writing proposals, because if you can’t attract research dollars, you’re out of the running. Finally, you’ll need a fistful of academic honors, plenty of outside activities to show your public spirit, hours of unpaid work reviewing other peoples papers, etc., etc., etc. You have to hand it to these young professionals. The level of effort and dedication they bring to their jobs is astounding. It would be better if they could devote more of that commitment to what they’re actually supposed to be doing; teaching.