Friday, April 07, 2006

Welcome to the Jungle

Welcome to the Jungle. 
Apparently the declining college admission rate--the fact that there are so many students applying to college today that even students with rather good High School performances aren't getting in--has gotten so bad that the Washington Post is breaking from their political coverage to inform us of our imperiled future.
Too bad for Sinclair's protagonists, but Hobbes' description of life as competition is clearly getting worse as Thomas Friedman's description of our Flat World becomes more apparent to those of us living it.
Part of me wonders how the ever-increasing drive for people to go to college is coupled with the fact that wages in all non-college (and really, non-graduate educated) positions are going down.  I wonder how this is coupled with unions driving wages up, and influxes of immigrants (from countries that are economically far worse off), are playing into making the erosion of a working-middle class evaporate. 
Any thoughts?


ramblingbarrister said...

How much of this stat is due to grade inflation at the high school level? Across the country we have systematically tossed the notion of the bell curve and further encouraged the inflation of grades at the high school level by pressure on our teachers. Billy was a good student but not a great one. If teacher gives Billy an B, mom and dad will be a thorn in teacher's side because it will ruin Billy's Ivy League chances, and lawyers may need to be involved. If I give Billy a A, that problem goes away.

So you have more A-students who are told by their parents that they are Ivy quality and need to apply there; hence, more rejections.

Couple this with the ever-increasing mobility of our populace (not a big deal to go from Mpls to California or D.C. anymore, wherein it used to be Chicago), and you have more schools within range to apply.

I see this stat a bigger problem of society and parenting than the middle class. Too many times the parent is stepping in for the kid instead of upholding the teacher/authority figure's decisions. So children are staying in their nest longer and their parents are living vicariously through them-- if I didn't win a state title in football, at least Billy will.

theoldman said...

So what you are really saying, "ramblingbarrister", is that the real origin of the problem is 3 fold. First, we have too many frustrated high school athletes in the guise of parents. Second, travel is far too easy and accessible. And third, there too many non-productively employed lawyers. If that is the premise it follows we should eliminate most high school athletics, close down most of the Law Schools and make travel more expensive and cumbersome.
Let's see. Airline bankruptcies, consolidations, mergers, and passenger screenings higher fuel costs and more use of toll roads.
Higher tuition costs along with less money available for Grants and higher interest rates on the loans.
Looks like we already have taken care of 2 of the 3 problems. This situation may be self correcting.

Just a thought.

ramblingbarrister said...

You forgot one thing, theoldman. In the words of Shakespeare, "The first thing we must do is kill all the lawyers."

theoldman said...

Seems a little harsh.
Alas, Shakespeare lives no more, but the lawyers are still among us. It doesn't appear that we have taken Shakespeare's imperative and made it reality. I guess immortality resides not in the individual but in the collective body.
What was the second item on his to do list?

tegwarrior said...

I'm willing to bet I've said the same basic thing in a previous comment as I am about to say now- which will make me appear more of a one trick pony than I'd like to be the case, but...

Winner-Take-All games and Scale are important here. There is a relatively fixed population of elite educational institutions. Not perfectly fixed as the Harvards and Yales come up with a few more slots each year and a Stanford or Berkley eventually comes to be thought of elite. And on it goes. But elite is a positional good- if everyone were elite, no one would be. Outside of Minnesota, all the kids can't be above average and admitted to college as such.

Next, Scale. There's a damn lot of people in this country. 300 million total. On top of the trend of more people seeking college education (which is slightly overrated- we've had a fairly consistent level of 30% with bachelor's degrees, 40% or so attend a 4 yr university for a some time, etc over the past 30 years or so) we're witnessing a bulge in college age kids. This is rough, but gives you the right idea- 1957- the peak of the Baby Boom- was a high point for birth in this county that we're only now beginning to attain once again (and these stats miss the additional role of immigration). For the last 10 years or so we've witnessed 'portable classrooms' popping up to give this surge it's primary education. And now they're going to college in similarly large numbers. But a Harvard can't expand that fast- it's already built up. Which only makes the elites more elite.

Add in the ease of common applications (if it's easy for everyone to try and be elite, it's becomes harder and less effective for the elite schools to choose 'the elite' students).

This isn't actually an 'elite' school problem any more- it's much broader than that at this point. New schools- without any name, history, or track record are always at a disadvantage here (what parent- alpha or not- wants to send their kid to a school no one has ever heard of- especially at today's prices?).