Friday, April 20, 2012

Riot season.

With the coming of the warm weather, it was only a matter of time before our nation's students again took to the streets to impress one another with the annual spectacles of marching, chanting, rock throwing and police provocation.

Students in Montreal clashed with police as part of a campaign to reduce tuition fees, probably to nothing, and presumably to ensure their undergrad degrees will be as truly worthless as they treat them.

Perhaps counterintuitively, they should be agitating for more expensive tuition while maintaining their current access to credit. This is so that when they go into debt, and their families sacrifice everything to send them to school, and they foergo 3-4 years of full time wages and adult experience, they will graduate with a credential that fewer than %70 of people in the workforce already have.

 If an undergraduate education were more valuable in society - and in particular the workforce -  students would not be agitating for lower prices. (You don't see homeowners agitating for lower prices.)  However, while I do not agree that higher education should be free to all, specifically because that would distribute a scarce resource to the people who would benefit from it the least, the students' view that their tuition is too expensive may have some validity.

But, not for the reasons they might think.

Is an undergrad degree worth $40-$80,000 (with interest) in debt? That depends on what it gets you. If it gets you a job in investment banking or the professions, sure. If it gets some half-baked enlightenment and 20 years of debt serfdom, not so much. An education shouldn't be about getting a job, but it is reasonable to state that for most people it is.

What appears to send these kids into the street is that the reductions in the price of tuition has not been consistent with the the oversupply of degrees.  Demand for the status and enfranchisement proffered by a degree is practically infinite, and so for there to be some equilibrium in this state-provided service, the government must either cut the supply, or cut the price. Politically, it seems improbable that the government will cut the supply as a means to improve value for degree holders, and so instead the real price will gradually approach zero - and the value of the underlying degree will inflate away.

Anyway, I only ever go to protests to see the horses.

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