Surprise:  More Evidence that College Does Not Really Cost More Than It Did Two Decades Ago

(I have another post coming on “privilege,” but first, this news about college costs.)

Staggering student debt from college……is mostly a myth.

What?  Hasn’t a college education (especially at private colleges) become outrageously expensive in recent years?

Not really.  What actually may be going on is that our our culture has bought into perceptions that just aren’t accurate.

If you care about the Christian faith, you should care about this.  Many Christian colleges (and non-Christian private colleges) are facing financial challenges because fewer students are going to these kinds of colleges.  I think that a major factor here (although I don’t have hard evidence for this) is that many Christian students and parents are steering away from Christian colleges because they believe the financial costs have become unbearable. So, the thinking often goes, better to go to a public university or a community college.  College grads going to a private institution will be drowning in debt for years,   Right?

Wrong — at least for the majority of students.

I’ve supplied evidence on this issue before, but now we have more.  The problem is that anecdotes and simple images (the story of the college grad with $80,000 dollars of debt, for instance) gets lots of media play and the hard evidence does not.  The Brookings Institute has released a study showing that the Staggering Student Debt cliche is actually a perception that has taken on the status of myth.  They don’t phrase it quite like that, but that is the upshot.

If you don’t want to read the whole article, here are a few highlights:

— Average tuition at private colleges (non-profit private colleges, that is) has not increased any faster than inflation over the past decade, once you consider financial aid.  (My commentary:  the standard tuition price you see really does not tell you how much you will pay.  You have to receive a financial aid package to know what you will actually pay. It’s dumb, but that’s how the system works).

— Tuition really has increased at public institutions, by more than fifty percent.

— The amount of income the average grad has to devote to student debt is about the same today as it was in 1992 and it is actually lower than it was in 1998.  How can that be?  Average student debt has actually risen in the past two decades, but so has the average income of college grads.

Ha, ha, this is funny.  But do you think we do better in trusting a cartoon or a evidence from the Brookings Institute?

Ha, ha, this is funny. But do you think we do better in trusting a cartoon or a evidence from the Brookings Institute?

— Large student debts are uncommon.  58% of all grads have less than $10,000 worth of college debt.  Those with Staggering College Debt are outliers — only 7% have more than $50,000.

— Students from financially well-off families are paying more for college.  Students from middle and lower income families are not.

— The real problem comes for those students who drop out of college without a degree.  Their debt has doubled over the last decade.

My thoughts:

1) Compare student debt to the average debt from buying a new car, and suddenly the costs of college do not look as scary.  Consider this:  last year the average amount Americans borrowed to buy a car was $27,000.  But most grads have student loan debts of less than $10,000.  We Americans are going into much more debt for new cars than for college!  Where is all the hand-wringing about the staggering load of our car debts?  A college education is a much better investment, even if you only thinking in crass economic terms.

2) Students need to stay in college and see it through.  For some students, that is a real challenge, for a variety of reasons.  It is a challenge for those of us in higher education who are trying to help them persevere.

3)   Secular colleges and universities present a particular kind of education, framed by secular assumptions, questions and goals.  This can be helpful, though it does not often require students to think about important questions in life.  Christian colleges do more.  They frame their education by the assumptions, questions and goals of the Christian faith.  That is a different kind of education.  It is not interchangeable with the kind of education you get at a public education.

So if you know of a Christian who is considering college, bring up the issue of misperceptions about student debt.  And raise the question about what a Christian education does differently than a secular education.




The Great Dodgeball Uprising of 1972 and the Contentious Idea of “Privilege”

And now, a couple of more difficult and complicated questions about the Great Dodgeball Uprising of 1972 (see my earlier post for all the violent details.)

Was I guilty?  Was I neutral?

I’m not talking about my angry ripping down of Sharon Osowski’s sign.  That’s easy.  Yes, I was guilty of several crimes and sins there.

No, I mean before that impulse swept over me.  At the moment when I walked back into the classroom in a state of Dodgeball Bliss, when I first saw those girls chanting about how it was all unfair.  At that moment, was I guilty of anything?  Was I neutral?

Yes.  No. Yes.

In one sense, I was not guilty of causing the Dodgeball Injustice to Girls.  I was only doing what Mr. Bacon told me to do.  I was following the rules.  In fact, I’m pretty sure I would not have minded if the girls came down and played dodgeball with us.  I mean, come on, it was dodgeball.

But I snapped when Sharon Osowski marched toward my table because it seemed that she was saying I was somehow at fault and I was just doing what Mr. Bacon told us to do.

In that way, I was not guilty.  But here is the problem that I now understand:  I wasn’t neutral.  I got to play dodgeball and Sharon Osowski did not.  It wasn’t from any fault, action or decision of my own — and it wasn’t through any fault, action or decision of the girls — but the fact remains that we boys got to play dodgeball and the girls did not.

What do we say, when one group of people, through no fault, action or decision of their own, benefits from the way society is arranged and another group, through no fault, action or decision of their own, does not benefit?  “That’s life?” “That’s discrimination?”  “Life isn’t fair?”  “That’s injustice?”

For a number of years now, some pointy-headed intellectual types have been using a term in their writings and in higher education to describe this situation.  They call it “privilege.”


Ammunition or Illumination? You decide!

And a few weeks ago, this concept flew around the airwaves and internet more widely after Bill O’Reilly came out with a segment on Fox News in which he criticized the idea — at least in terms of how it was used in a Harvard first-year orientation program.  Of course, in this context, it quickly became quite political. And it gets tougher to think clearly about it when people are turning to ammunition rather than illumination.

(You can see the clip here.  I could not find the original segment on the Fox News website, so this link is attached to some snarky political commentary).

So I’m going to try to search for some illumination here.  I’ll say at the outset that I think Bill O’Reilly is incorrect about many things on this issue.  But I should also say he might have a point in another way.

First, I think I understand Bill O’Reilly’s emotional reaction, though I think it is incorrect.  Bill O’Reilly declared that he was going to have to “exempt himself under the white privilege banner” because he worked hard at lower-level jobs when he was younger.  It seems to me he is reacting in much the same way I did to Sharon Osowski.  How was I at fault for the girls’ dodgeball situation?  When it comes to race, a lot of whites feel like others are trying to make them feel guilty for things that they did not cause. Persons who work hard, face obstacles, overcome difficulties, and generally try to treat others decently don’t like to be told they are privileged.

But the issue of “privilege,” as it is explained by its clearest advocates, isn’t about what a person has done or not done.  And this is the important point:  this kind of “privilege” really exists and it matters.  Some groups in society, through no fault, action or decision of their own, reap benefits because of race, class, gender, or any other number of factors.

This is not necessarily the same thing as being born into a wealthy, powerful family and having everything handed to you, as O’Reilly seems to think it is.  Obviously, Paris Hilton grew up with privileges that you and I did not grow up with, which is why she is famous for….well, just what is it she is famous for, again?  But that’s not really what “privilege” in this sense, means.

Here is why:  yes, I am sure O’Reilly worked hard and didn’t have everything handed to him.   He didn’t grow up in the Hamptons.  He explained in the segment that he grew up in Levittown, New York, meaning his parents did not have a lot of money.

But he doesn’t get it.  (It’s possible he gets it, but he’s more concerned about ammunition…but I’ll assume that he is sincere.)

For instance, Bill O’Reilly has benefited from white privilege in at least one very clear way: in the 1950s and 60s (when he was growing up) Levittown was a suburb that had contracts prohibiting blacks from buying houses in his suburb.  In fact, most suburbs in America at that time had official or unofficial policies that kept blacks out.

A 1950s Levittown version of "Where's Waldo?" goes like this:  where's the person of color?  (You won't win this game).

A 1950s Levittown version of “Where’s Waldo?” goes like this: where’s the person of color? (Hint: Give up. You won’t win this game).

What did that mean?  It meant that many working-class whites — especially whites whose parents, grand-parents and great-grandparents came from Catholic or Jewish immigrant communities that faced discrimination in the United States — were taking advantage of economic and educational opportunities available to them.  In the 1950s many working class whites who lived in poor neighborhoods in the city could buy “entry-level” suburban houses in places like Levittown.  As I explained in an earlier post, property and land-ownership has been a crucial way for Americans to move up the socio-economic ladder in American history — and it is a feature that historically made the United States different (and more prosperous) than, for instance, Latin American countries.

But in the 1950s, a black family could not move out of the city and buy a house in Levittown, like O’Reilly’s parents did.  When it comes to homes in upwardly-mobile neighborhoods, the United States did not widely extend this opportunity to blacks until….when?  1975?  1990?  2005?  Do blacks have it, fully, today?

Obviously, middle-class blacks who have the financial resources can buy homes in many middle-class neighborhoods.  Legally, they can now buy homes anywhere they want.

So does that mean we have moved beyond this issue?

Well, I know that if I were black, there are still some towns, suburbs and neighborhoods that I would not want to move into because of how I would be treated — at least by some of the people.  (I know of some of these places in my own county).  And I know for sure that I would be hesitant to move if I had kids and had to send them to the public schools in these towns, suburbs or neighborhoods.

However, I am a white person, so I don’t have to worry about those issues.  Neither does Bill O’Reilly.  Socially, the two of us have a certain privilege because of the color of our skin — through no fault, action, or decision of ours.  That has economic ramifications.  The United States is interesting in that historically, it has offered both opportunities and privileges to poorer whites but denied them to blacks and people of color.  We haven’t fully resolved that issue yet.

Another problem:  this kind of privilege is largely invisible to the person who holds it — unless they have had some combination of experience and willingness to consider how it might be so.  It had not occurred to me at all that Mr. Bacon was privileging boys over girls in that dodgeball situation.  Then Sharon Osowski organized her protest.  Before that, I didn’t see any problem.

For those of us who are white, do we know how often clerks ignore blacks who shop in the stores in our town?  How often do banks in our town give better terms on loans to whites, compared to blacks who have the same financial status?

How often do blacks in our town have advantages over whites in the above examples?

Reality:  I don’t know how often these things happen in my town.  You don’t either.  It’s impossible to know the specifics.  But there is plenty of sociological data to show it is still a problem in our society.

There is more. Even with what I have argued, I think the proponents of privilege can have a problem or two in how they argue their point.  Bill O’Reilly might, implicitly, have a point in the midst of this.  That’s in my next post.

The Great Dodgeball Uprising of 1972 and Title IX

Mr. Bacon successfully quashed the Great Dodgeball Uprising of early 1972. (See my previous post for details).  But this proved to be no more than a tactical loss for the revolution.


At that time, the number of girls who played high school sports in the United States numbered about 300,000.  Today it is around 3 million.  Sports used to be largely a male domain.  The small percentage of females who played sports usually were not taken very seriously — though female cheerleaders for boys’ sports usually were.

Today, however, girls’ athletics enjoys a much higher status.  A girl who plays high school sports can still be considered quite “cool” by her peers.  That “cool” status does not come in spite her athletic prowess, but often because of it.  (Do young people still say “cool?”  I’m 52 years-old.  It is so hard to know these things, anymore).

The revolution of females and sports swept the nation and the world, for that matter.

Who, in 1972, saw this coming?  Mr. Bacon didn't.  Hmm.  Neither did I, come to think of it.

Who, in 1972, saw this coming? Mr. Bacon didn’t. Hmm. Neither did I, come to think of it.

But why the revolution?  A common explanation, exemplified by a Sports Illustrated article from a couple of years ago, states that this came about because Congress passed Title IX in 1972.  The key part of that law stated, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”

Gosh, that sounds like Sharon Osowski had read the text, doesn’t it?  Actually, the legislators weren’t thinking about athletics (it wasn’t even mentioned in the law), they were thinking about other areas of education.  But the most notable impact seems to have been in the area of sports.  And maybe recess.

There are a number of interesting questions that have been discussed here, such as the extent to which the playing field (pun intended) between females and males is or is not level today, and whether Title IX has hurt certain male sports in high school and college.

But I’m more interested in the historical question of whether or not we can really say that Title IX caused all of this.

Why?  Here is what I find interesting:  Title IX was passed in June of 1972, several months after the Great Dodgeball Uprising of Mary L. Daly Elementary School. How could Sharon Osowski, a 4th grade girl from Elkhart, Indiana, show more foresight than Congress?  (Insert joke about Congress here).

Other things were in the works besides politics, of course.  If 4th-grade girls in Elkhart, Indiana were challenging existing gender norms in 1972, then something was afoot in the wider culture.  When I tell this story to my American history class, I ask my students to imagine how it would have played out differently if Mr. Bacon’s dilemma had occurred in 1952 instead of 1972.  My students usually point out that girls in 1952 probably would have accepted Mr. Bacon’s original plan.  It is quite likely they would not have organized a protest, though they might have said something.  Some students observe that in 1952 the girls might not have even really cared about playing dodgeball.

We then dig into the possible reasons for why Sharon Osowski would have thought to lead a protest march in 1972.  I point out that it is quite unlikely that her parents had sat her down in kindergarten and explained to her that if she were ever treated unjustly in school, she must organize her group, assemble protest signs, create pithy slogans, and then march around in front of the authorities.  However, it is quite possible her parents raised her in a way to be aware of these issues.

"You've Come a Long Way Babeeee..."

The logic makes no sense: cigarettes for women = women’s rights.  But we accepted it anyway, along with the other message that roles for women were changing.

The other main factor here, though is media.  I’m guessing that none of the girls in my class knew who Gloria Steinem or Betty Friedan were, but I’m pretty sure that they all, like me, had seen independent women on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “The Mod Squad” or Virginia Slims commercials.  Furthermore, weren’t similar attitudes towards girls and sports changing in Britain, Canada, Belgium and other nations outside the jurisdiction of Title IX?

So which had a greater causal effect:  Title IX or the thousands, maybe millions, of ways throughout the late 1960s and 1970s that ordinary women (and girls!) were acting differently than they had two decades before?   If Title IX had not passed, would anything have changed?  Probably, but how much?  If Title IX had passed in 1952, would it have caused the same amount of change?

I don’t know.  Obviously the changes came about because of a combination of complex factors.  But it is a reminder that changes in society take place every day, through the cumulative effect of the actions of ordinary people like Sharon Osowski who, as we stop to think about it, was on the cutting edge of a revolution in gender and sports.  (My 4th grade self hesitates to call her “ordinary” — because she might be doing remarkable things today.  I don’t know.)

And finally, to commemorate the Great Dodgeball Uprising of 1972, here is a link to the only thing that, in my 4th grade world, would have been greater than a game of dodgeball:  a game of dodgeball played against Major League baseball players!  Epic.