campus progress

College Is Not Just Job Training

“The idea of becoming a better person—that, I think, is what education is ultimately about,” William Astore, a professor at the Pennsylvania College of Technology, told Campus Progress.

Astore has written on the trouble of viewing education as a commodity, a means to an economic end. He argues that education is also valuable because it improves critical thinking, ethical living, and personal self-actualization.

There’s a great illustration of this in a 2006 report from the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. It describes Marie Rose, a Burundian refugee who had been granted asylum in Cuba, where higher education is free.

Marie Rose showed off a litany of diplomas to the UNHCR reporter—she had completed courses in “Spanish, Italian, computer studies, massage, negotiation and secretarial skills amongst others,” according to the report.

Not because those certifications would score her a job, but simply because Cuba’s de-commodified education system had given her the opportunity.

The whole thing at Campus Progress.

Should College Athletes Be Paid?

The idea might make you wince. But the status quo should make you wince even more:

Here is the central paradox of American college sports: It’s a multibillion-dollar entertainment spectacle, but the people who make it all possible—the athletes—don’t get any of the profits.

To resolve the contradiction, the NCAA has for decades relied upon the notion of the student-athlete. The idea is that college athletes aren’t professionals, but rather young people playing a sport as one of the myriad activities available on a college campus designed to cultivate all-around personal growth; “the Athenian concept of a complete education derived from fostering the full growth of both mind and body,” according to a federal judge quoted in Taylor Branch’s must-read investigation “The Shame of College Sports.” For their time and effort, student-athletes are compensated not in cash, but in scholarships that make their education possible.

But critics argue that, in practice, there is hardly a healthy balance between “student” and “athlete.”

“Ask a player what would happen if they didn’t show up to a workout or game, even if they were attending class,” said Ramogi Huma, president of the National College Players Association, a non-profit that advocates for college players. “They would lose their scholarship.”

The rest at Campus Progress.

How Cooperative Housing Can Save Residents Cash

Capitalism, schmapitalism. A little team spirit and the absence of a money-grubbing landlord can lead to substantial savings:

Amarro Nelson has lived at House of Commons in Austin, Texas for about six months. He’s a grad student at the University of Texas at San Antonio and landed a scholarship for a semester-long internship in the Texas state legislature. Looking for housing in a pricey city, “I ran into the cooperative,” he said, “and I was looking at how much it cost and the value they had and I thought that it would be a great fit for me.”

Nelson isn’t a UT-Austin student, but most of his housemates are. For them, the co-op living cuts their living expenses roughly in half. According to Austin’s Inter-Cooperative Council, a year of housing, utilities, and food in the co-op costs $6,347, while a year in the dorms is $10,715.

Co-op proponents say the savings come from the absence of a landlord who needs to work a profit into the price of rent, and that tenants benefit from economies of scale.

It’s all at Campus Progress.

How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love LeBron

Or at least to cut him some slack.

I’m one of those people who see the Miami Heat as basketball’s Evil Empire, or like the bad guys in an underdog-story kid’s sports movie. I still haven’t forgiven LeBron for “The Decision” (or for beating the Pistons in the 2007 playoffs). Having him, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh—three of the league’s elite players—on the same team just feels like stacking the deck. It’s as though a team that talented is supposed to win. What fun is that?

But Mychal Denzel Smith has me reconsidering. I spoke to him yesterday for a story I’m writing on money in college sports, and as an aside he said:

In 2010, when LeBron James and Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh all decided that they were going to play in Miami together, what you saw was a shift with black men taking control of their destiny in professional sports and no longer being necessarily what William Rhoden called the “40 million dollar slave,” right? They were understanding their value, and understanding the market, and understanding what it is that they bring to the table. And capitalizing off of their talent and their business savvy in order to do what it is that they wanted to do in order to make themselves more profitable and their brands more profitable.

Maybe as sports fans, we’re not accustomed to athletes being strong self-advocates and asserting control over their careers. And it probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that race influences our expectations. I’ll almost always still root for the underdog (in this case, against the Heat) but I’ll definitely try to spare the scorn. 

How College Students Can Own Their Own Home

Well, so to speak. A housing cooperative actually makes students part-owners of their house, even if only for a couple years. It can bring benefits material and non-material:

“Cooperatives aren’t trying to make money off of everyone,” Crawford said. With no surplus needed for a landlord’s profits, students in housing co-ops can keep costs down.

Other, perhaps more potent advantages can’t be measured in dollars and cents. If we accept the premise that the typical buyer-seller relationship is inherently undemocratic—for instance, a renter has no control over their housing situation except what is specifically granted to them in their lease—then a co-op offers students greater self-control.

“Instead of students paying large sums of money to live in a dorm where they have no control over what happens, who they live with, how they’re governed, et cetera,” said Crawford, co-ops put students in the driver’s seat.

While the specific methods vary, the idea is that students use a democratic process to set rents, decide what repairs are needed, and figure out who is responsible for which chores. They can even sell their house if they so choose, Crawford said. (But not to cash out—the money would be held by the co-op as part of the zero equity structure.)

The rest at Campus Progress.

The Deficit Hawks Have A Youth Wing

The group that is paying Millennials to care about the national debt:

Peterson bankrolls the “Campaign to Fix the Debt,” which calls for cuts to popular programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid—an agenda Peterson has been pushing for a long time—in the name of eliminating deficits.

The Can Kicks Back is the project’s youth wing. Its mission is to convince Millennials that previous generations have kicked the deficit can down the road, and that the nation which young people are inheriting will be a bankrupt one. “Future investment has been cut to pay for present and past,” the group’s website reads, tracing the impending penury to a growth in entitlement spending.

It’s a pernicious tactic, according to Mary Bottari, deputy director of the Center for Media and Democracy.

“They’re trying to create a division between young people and the elderly,” she told Campus Progress.

The rest is at Campus Progress.

Are Unions Better Than College?

Stupid question, smart (hopefully) answer. I reported on a new study from the Center for Economic and Policy Research:

The authors found that a 25 percent boost in college graduates (from 34.9 to 43.6 percent) would result in a 2.8 percent bump in the number of Americans with good jobs (from 24.1 to 26.9 percent).

Not bad, right? But also far from ideal.

A comparable increase in unionization would be even better, raising the proportion of good jobs to 30.8 percent.

The other policies also fare better than education. Universal health care would lift 4.8 percent of us into good jobs, and universal retirement plans would boost the figure by 9.6 percent. The two would be even stronger if combined, increasing the good job rate by 20.9 percentage points. Gender pay equity would bring 5.6 percent of female workers over the good job threshold.

The whole thing is at Campus Progress.



The government should pay you to do this, even if it’s not entirely clear what “this” is.

No really. We could do it:

It’s not as radical as it may sound. The concept goes by several names, but here we’ll call it Guaranteed Basic Income (GBI). The basic idea is that every citizen receives a monthly stipend of enough value to cover all of their basic living expenses, regardless of financial need, employment status, criminal history, or any other factor. The grant would be funded through taxes on non-GBI earnings. (And of course, calling it “free money” is a bit of a misnomer—many people would contribute more to the program in taxes than they gain in benefits.)

Although GBI has seen some high profile advocacy lately from the likes of MSNBC’s Chris Hayes and Wonkblog’s Mike Konczal, it would likely take a long time for the program to become politically feasible. But from the standpoint of justice, the merits should be obvious. GBI lifts everyone above the poverty line by default.

“It gives people exit options because their basic core standard of living doesn’t depend upon staying with an abusive spouse or staying with an unpleasant employer,” said Erik Olin Wright, Vilas Professor of Sociology at the University of Wisconsin, who has written on GBI.

Read along to see how we could fund GBI, and whether or not it would wreck the economy.

Science Majors: Enough, But Not Enough

A recent study by the Economic Policy Institute found that despite conventional wisdom, there is no job market shortage for science and technology graduates.

At Campus Progress, I wrote that despite the lack of excess demand, we would still benefit from more science. It’s a classic market failure:

There’s an important distinction to be made between the market’s demand for science and our society’s interest in investing in it. Just because private companies aren’t hiring STEM grads doesn’t mean we couldn’t use more of them.

“Market failure,” is the term economists use to identify areas “where the free market won’t necessarily produce the optimal outcome,” Daniel Keuhn, one of the authors of the EPI report, said.

Often market failures result in too much of something. Pollution, for instance: If the government didn’t regulate it, the free market would produce way more than we want. For scientific research, though, it’s the reverse.

“If we left the market alone, we’d probably be producing less science than would be optimal,” Keuhn told Campus Progress.

For the reasons why, read the rest.

What High Youth Unemployment Means For Our Economy


Probably not what you intended to do with that BA in English. When the economy recovers, will there still be college graduates working low wage jobs?

More than a quarter million American college graduates worked for minimum wage last year—that’s 70 percent more than ten years ago. We can all agree that’s a sign of an unhealthy economy.

But what kind of unhealthy? Is degreed underemployment just a product of the Great Recession, or does it reflect more fundamental economic problems?

In a recent paper, economists Paul Beaudry, David A. Green, and Benjamin M. Sand argue that there has been a “great reversal” in the demand for skilled labor. That is, fewer employers need to hire employees with college degrees. The Daily Beast’s Megan McArdle suggested that the findings mean “A BA is now a ticket to a job in a coffee shop.”

Ominously, the reversal began well before the recession started.

“Many researchers have documented a strong, ongoing increase in the demand for skills in the decades leading up to 2000,” the researchers wrote. “In this paper, we document a decline in that demand in the years since 2000, even as the supply of high education workers continues to grow.”

So does that mean we’re headed for an education surplus? Are those college-educated minimum-wagers here to stay?

It’s too early to tell, according to Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

“I do think we will need more college grads,” Baker told Campus Progress. “The question is: do we need them at the same rate we’re producing them? And that’s just much less clear.”

To find out for sure, though, we’ll have to bring the economy back to full employment.

“Let’s assume the economy does recover five, six years out,” Baker said. “I think we’ll see a lot of college grads working at jobs that would not ordinarily require college degrees.”

However, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be working for minimum wage. Even if it’s not a requirement for the job, employers will likely still be willing to shell out for the skill set and credentials provided by a college degree.

But, once the economy has recovered, if college-educated Americans still find themselves in dead-end jobs, there might be a political gain in their economic pain. As The Roosevelt Institute’s Dorian Warren said recently:

“The Millennials who are more privileged and get to boomerang are finally starting to feel and realize just a sliver…of what these groups of poor black and brown kids are experiencing, and that does open up possibilities for alliance and solidarity.”

Posted at Campus Progress. Photo: Flickr / Judy Baxter

Meet SSI, The Most Important Government Program You’ve Never Heard Of


There are reasons to both love and hate SSI, one of the nation’s most vital public assistance programs for people with disabilities.

NPR provoked a firestorm late last month when they reported that Social Security disability benefits have become “our extremely expensive default plan” for dealing with our economy’s declining capacity to generate well-paying jobs. According to reporter Chana Joffe-Walt, disability insurance is the last resort for many Americans who can’t find work.

But there’s a whole population of people who don’t even qualify for what we know as “disability,” due to their lack of recent work history. For many of them, a program called Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is the only safeguard against abject poverty.

While Joffe-Walt reported on the rising number of disabled children whose families rely on SSI, the program is actually a vital source of income for eight million Americans of all ages with severe disabilities. However, SSI is also an illuminating and unflattering reflection on how America treats its most vulnerable.

For some insight, I spoke with Ashley Moore, public benefits social worker and co-worker of mine at Bread for the City in Washington, DC.

SSI is “basically one of the only welfare programs that we do have for people either disabled or elderly or blind, and who have little to no income and low assets,” Moore said. Recipients get a maximum of $710 per month, well below the federal government’s own poverty line of $958 per month for an individual.

“Seven hundred and ten dollars doesn’t get you very far at all, especially in DC,” Moore said. “A lot of clients I work with live in a shelter.”

That $710 also comes with an arduous set of strings attached, designed to ensure that only folks who desperately need the money collect benefits. Finding other sources of income, getting help with living expenses, or accumulating savings all result in cuts to a person’s SSI.

The restrictions make sense from a budget perspective, but the result is “we’ve built this underclass system where you’re stuck at that level always, and there’s no way to get out of it,” Moore said. SSI benefits are enough to prevent people from dying, but not enough to free them from the hardship brought by poverty.

A decade of increasing child poverty has seen a substantial increase in children who rely on SSI. As America’s social safety net becomes more porous, programs like SSI make up an increasingly important part of the patchwork.

“I spend most of my week trying to help people get this benefit,” Moore said. “I don’t know what people would do without it, but it’s not even close to enough.”

Posted at Campus Progress. Photo: Flickr / Rachel Groves

Will UC-Berkeley Occupiers Get Justice?

At Campus Progress, I wrote about protests, police, privatization, a lawsuit, and the future of UC-Berkeley:

Video of the afternoon raid shows police officers thrusting batons into the chest of seemingly nonbelligerent protestors. But participants say the real violence came after dark. Morgan Crawford, one of the protesters, told Campus Progress:

It felt like we were in a war zone—we had these militaristic police officers who were charging at us from the front, yelling at us, pushing us, and beating us with these weighted batons. We had the press moving in and taking flash photos, so there were these random strobes of light, and then you get beaten. And then you get yelled at. And there was this huge, large mass of people just moving and struggling, and the person to your right is getting pulled out of the crowd and just screaming bloody murder because she’s being on the ground and pulled down by her hair. […] A very large officer who was beating my friend then turned to me, took a baton, and started beating the side of my leg repeatedly, which was excruciatingly painful, and caused me to double over in pain.

In an email to Campus Progress, UC–Berkeley Strategic Communications Director Janet Gilmore said that Chancellor Robert Birgeneau “has been very clear in stating that [the police response to] the events of that day, even if legally justifiable, are disturbing and inconsistent with the values and traditions of this institution.”

Crawford said he managed to avoid arrest but spent weeks on crutches. Now, he is one of 29 participants suing police officers for excessive force and suing university administrators for ordering the injurious police response and violating the protestors’ First Amendment rights.

But for the plaintiffs, the case is about more than free speech or police misconduct. To them, their protest—and the university’s response—are manifestations of a broader political and economic battle over the nature of public education at Berkeley.

Read the whole thing