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Indentured Service

I know this is a bit old, but one thing that struck me about Senator Obama’s victory speech in Wisconsin was this portion of the speech,

It’s the dream of the teacher who works at Dunkin Donuts after school just to make ends meet. She needs better pay, and more support, and the freedom to do more than just teach to the test. And if her students want to go on to college, they shouldn’t fear decades of debt. That’s why I’ll make college affordable with an annual $4,000 tax credit if you’re willing to do community service, or national service. We will invest in you, but we’ll ask you to invest in your country.

Why is it that whenever a politician wants to make it easier for people to go to college they do it via indentured service?

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About Steve Verdon
Steve has a B.A. in Economics from the University of California, Los Angeles and attended graduate school at The George Washington University, leaving school shortly before staring work on his dissertation when his first child was born. He works in the energy industry and prior to that worked at the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Division of Price Index and Number Research.

Comments

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  2. Triumph says:

    Why is it that whenever a politician wants to make it easier for people to go to college they do it via indentured service?

    Like most liberals, part of Hussein’s plan is to literally “reverse the ills of slavery” by finding new ways to control Americans for his big-oil, Islamic bidders.

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  3. Anderson says:

    Triumph, you slay me.

    Re: Steve’s point, I would have thought that one’s getting a college education was “investing in one’s country,” inasmuch as it’s good for the economy, etc.

    College should be free.

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  4. Dave Schuler says:

    There’s an additional blooper in that speech. We’re now paying eight times as much, adjusted for inflation, to educate each student as we did 40 years ago. I don’t know anyone who would claim we’re getting better results. Additional money alone doesn’t seem like the answer to that particular problem. We already spend more on K-12 education than we do on Social Security or on the military.

    Besides, in the United States schools are funded and controlled locally, and most Americans want it to stay that way. While complaining about education is a perennial for candidates for the presidency, the federal government isn’t likely to have a much greater role 8 years from now than it does now whoever’s elected.

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  5. Grewgills says:

    Why is it that whenever a politician wants to make it easier for people to go to college they do it via indentured service?

    I agree with Anderson that public university education should be free, but calling a $4000 tax credit for community service aimed at college students indentured servitude is quite a stretch. If he had not made the tax credit for college students conditional on community service you would have berated him for giving away something for nothing?

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  6. Steve Plunk says:

    Dave Schuler’s point is one I’ve pondered for years. Why is the cost of higher ed going up faster than inflation? What drives that cost? What can we do to control it or reverse it? Until we look at the root problem creating means to pay higher and higher tuition will solve nothing.

    Making college free? There are people going now who shouldn’t be there. Making it free will create many more problems than it solves. Again, get the costs under control.

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  7. Dave Schuler says:

    There’s a pretty good explanation for why that happens, Steve, Gammon’s Law.

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  8. Ed says:

    Another no substance hope and change campaign sound bite. Teacher’s pay is determined by local school boards and county school budgets not the federal govennment and certainly not the president.

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  9. Tlaloc says:

    We’re now paying eight times as much, adjusted for inflation, to educate each student as we did 40 years ago.

    How many computers did the universities 40 years ago use? What’s that? None? You mean none at all?

    Oh.

    Well, you know it occurs to me that institutions on the leading edge of technolody and development are likely to have or need costly equipment, particularly at the time when it is at its most expensive- when it is brand new.

    You might as well ask why it costs so much to build a semiconductor fab now as compared to back in the 70s.

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  10. Michael says:

    Why is the cost of higher ed going up faster than inflation?

    Because you can no longer expect to find decent employment without a college degree, so the rate of students seeking a college education has been rising faster than our capacity to provide it. As more students earn college degrees, it becomes easier to hire someone with such a degree, and employers no longer want to “settle” for applicants without, further increasing the demand, it’s a positive feedback loop.

    As much as Gammon’s law can accurately predict what will happen, it doesn’t change the fact that the demand for the degree will increase, even if the quality of the education doesn’t. The price is demand-driven on the employer side, and unless we can change that I don’t see us being able to reduce the cost.

    Making college education free for all would certainly increase the demand from students and employers alike, without increasing the quality, and would cost an enormous amount of money. In the end, nobody wins.

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  11. Tlaloc says:

    Making college free? There are people going now who shouldn’t be there. Making it free will create many more problems than it solves.

    How exactly do you decide who “shouldn’t be there,” Steve?

    As for “free” college, the Irish seems fairly content with their system.

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  12. Dave Schuler says:

    You might read my comment a little more closely, Tlaloc. K-12. Are you claiming that most of the increased costs in K-12 education are for computers and scientific instruments? I think that’s patently absurd. Prove it.

    I might add that Japanese, Taiwanese, and Indian K-12 scientific education doesn’t seem to be doing too poorly and they’re spending enormously less per student educated than we are.

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  13. Michael says:

    How many computers did the universities 40 years ago use? What’s that? None? You mean none at all?

    1968? I think some of them had computers, yes.

    Well, you know it occurs to me that institutions on the leading edge of technolody and development are likely to have or need costly equipment, particularly at the time when it is at its most expensive- when it is brand new.

    Um, I don’t see how that has changed since 1968. If anything, a research computer today costs less than a similarly leading-edge computer in 1968 would have cost (adjusted for inflation).

    You might as well ask why it costs so much to build a semiconductor fab now as compared to back in the 70s.

    Again, I’m not sure that’s actually the case.

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  14. Michael says:

    Tlaloc, there is no such thing as “free” college, somebody somewhere is paying the bills. The question is how do we reduce the cost, not how to we change who’s paying the cost.

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  15. legion says:

    There are people going now who shouldn’t be there. Making it free will create many more problems than it solves.

    Not if the colleges actually flunk out said people. And if the students aren’t directly responsible for funding the salaries of the administrators, professors, and sports programs via tuition, that is actually a lot more likely to happen…

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  16. fredw says:

    If students don’t want to be sold into indentured servitude by Obama they can always join the national guard or the regular military to pay for college. In that case, after serving their contract time; well I guess there is no “after serving their contract time” anymore with the retention orders.

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  17. Steve Plunk says:

    Tlaloc,

    There are a great many college students who do not apply themselves to attaining a degree and are in well over their ability to do the coursework. Many public colleges use and abuse the freshman and sophomores as cash cows. Collect tuition and have grad students teach them. Make college free and you will see many more of these students who just aren’t serious about education.

    Twenty five years ago colleges relied on large mainframe computers but today students own their own laptops with more computing power. The cost of computers is immaterial to the cost of higher ed.

    Let’s look for solutions to control costs rather than make excuses for why costs are high.

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  18. Dantheman says:

    Another reason why the cost of college rises far faster than inflation is that for many students at least some cost of the college is paid for by financial aid grants (not loans). Those students do not pay any part of the increase due to inflation, as they get more grants, therefore the remaining students must pay much more in order to have the total amount received by the college increase by the inlation rate.

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  19. Anderson says:

    And if the students aren’t directly responsible for funding the salaries of the administrators, professors, and sports programs via tuition, that is actually a lot more likely to happen…

    That’s tricky, of course — if college is free, then funding will likely be based on numbers of students attending. But the problem is solvable.

    Moreover, I would rather err on the side of “people in college who shouldn’t be” rather than “people in college saddling themselves with student loans.”

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  20. Tlaloc says:

    You might read my comment a little more closely, Tlaloc. K-12. Are you claiming that most of the increased costs in K-12 education are for computers and scientific instruments? I think that’s patently absurd. Prove it.

    Sorry about the confusion on College vs. k-12. My bad.

    However I don’t understand why you would think it is absurd that the addition of things like computers add a significant, and not unwarranted, cost to the classroom. For that matter how many times has the sum of human knowledge doubled in the last 40 years? I’ve seen figures ranging from 18 months to 5 years for the information age. Lets take the longer duration, that means our world has 2^(40/5) or 256x as much stuff to know in it, and yet k-12 still has the same amount of time to prepare kids to face that mountain.

    I might add that Japanese, Taiwanese, and Indian K-12 scientific education doesn’t seem to be doing too poorly and they’re spending enormously less per student educated than we are.

    Come on Dave, you know better than that. The correct question is not whether they spend less but if their spending has also been increasing faster than inflation explains. I’d bet it has.

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  21. Tlaloc says:

    1968? I think some of them had computers, yes.

    Literally, yes, a few. The integrated circuit was invented at the beginning of the 60s. The point is that compared to 68 when maybe a few major universities had a working computer the ubiquitous nature of the hardware on modern campuses for every field is quite different.

    Um, I don’t see how that has changed since 1968. If anything, a research computer today costs less than a similarly leading-edge computer in 1968 would have cost (adjusted for inflation).

    In the first place we aren’t just talking about computers but *everything.* As an example, no medical school worth a damn can be without myriad radiological instruments, most of which were not imagined in 1968 (PET, CAT, MRI).

    Second, we aren’t just talking about the cost but the ubiquity. Maybe in inflation adjusted dollars a supercomputer in the late 60s would cost three or four times a modern supercomputer but if you have a thousand more of them across the country now as opposed to then the net cost will obviously be much higher.

    Again, I’m not sure that’s actually the case.

    Trust me on the semiconductor fab question. I work on a campus with three of them.

    Tlaloc, there is no such thing as “free” college, somebody somewhere is paying the bills.

    That’s why I put free in quotes.

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  22. Tlaloc says:

    There are a great many college students who do not apply themselves to attaining a degree and are in well over their ability to do the coursework. Many public colleges use and abuse the freshman and sophomores as cash cows. Collect tuition and have grad students teach them. Make college free and you will see many more of these students who just aren’t serious about education.

    I don’t fundamentally agree with your contention that a person not serious about education shouldn’t be in school. Given the nature of college that seems the best place for them to be since it gives them the opportunity to explore different possibilities without be shackled to some random job.

    Furthermore if we are going to argue that disinterested students shouldn’t be in school why does that only apply to colege? Why not start kicking out the high schoolers who slack off? Middle schoolers? Elementary schoolers?

    There’s a point to education, even if the subject isn’t always eager for it. Especially in a democracy where important decisions are made by the suffraged community as a whole.

    Twenty five years ago colleges relied on large mainframe computers but today students own their own laptops with more computing power. The cost of computers is immaterial to the cost of higher ed.

    See my reply to Michael above.

    Let’s look for solutions to control costs rather than make excuses for why costs are high.

    because you haven’t demonstarted that there is a real problem here before you want to jump into what we (annoyingly) refer to at work as “the solution space.”

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  23. C.Wagener says:

    Nothing would make college more expensive than making it free. That is currently the problem. Universities know that every tuition increase will be met with politicians vowing to help students afford the costs. It amounts to a direct transfer of money from government to the big business of education. It is simply an industrial subsidy. Eliminating the middleman, i.e., the student, would make costs even worse.

    If college was free it would be over consumed, a situation that already exists. Quality universities would need to play games in order to have sufficient attrition to maintain brand quality.

    Meanwhile, degree factories would thrive. Their primary criteria would be to collect tuition from as many students as possible for as long as possible.

    Total spending would increase dramatically, while the quality of a degree would be debased. Traditionally college has been for people with above average intelligence. Populist rhetoric sounds nice but would not do society any good.

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  24. The costs for computers is negligible in the K-12 budgets I am personally familiar with. Besides, in just about every industry, including education, the bulk of “computer” costs these days are for software, not hardware. Even so, Moore’s Law is still in effect. But, hey, there aren’t any semiconductor fabricators where I work, so I’ll skip that appeal to authority.

    In any sufficiently large population, half the members are, by definition, below average. This applies to everything from next year’s freshman collegiate classes to comment threads.

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  25. Tlaloc says:

    The costs for computers is negligible in the K-12 budgets I am personally familiar with.

    I find that hard to believe when you have elementary schools that can’t provide students with paper.

    Besides, in just about every industry, including education, the bulk of “computer” costs these days are for software, not hardware.

    That’s really not even remotely true. You can easily operate most office tasks on freeware. Free hardware is rather harder to find. The companies paying big bucks for software either have very specialized needs (which doesn’t apply to k-12) or are buying stupid licensing arrangements with big name vendors for no good reason (*cough* Microsoft *cough*)

    Even so, Moore’s Law is still in effect. But, hey, there aren’t any semiconductor fabricators where I work, so I’ll skip that appeal to authority

    You should probably skip it because it has nothing to do with the matter. Like at all. Doubling the number of transistors per unit area every 18 months says nothing at all about the resulting cost of the computer, only the cost per unit of computing power. But the continual ratchet effect between increased processor capabilities and increased software demand on those capabilities means you need ever more advanced computers to do essentially the same task (just with more bells and whistles- such as retarded animated paperclips asking you if you really want to do something, *cough* Microsoft *cough*).

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  26. just me says:

    I work in a school system of about 80 teachers.

    Non of them work after school at Dunkin Donuts. And our district is one of the poorest in our state and they pay teachers some of the least.

    Nope, what happens in districts like ours, is the teachers get out of college, come to our district for 2-3 years, get just enough experience under their belts and then move on to the higher paying districts. But even the first year teachers aren’t working at Dunkin Donuts.

    As for college-I think making it free would just turn college into high school plus.

    While I think every student who wants to go, should be given the tools to get there, college shouldn’t be overly promoted. I think a lot of kids arent meant for college-either because they can’t do the work or they aren’t interested in college.

    Trade schools and apprenticeship programs may be the better option for a lot of students, but all anyone talks about is college, college, college.

    And I agree that making it free would only make it more expensive and probably make education worse over the long haul.

    Money in and of itself is not a solution to a problem.

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  27. Michael says:

    You can easily operate most office tasks on free software.

    There, fixed that for you.

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  28. Bill H says:

    Wait a minute. The government should give me money so that I can go to college, and there should not be any requirement that I do anything in return?

    The government gives me, say, $4000 for college and asks that I work for the government for, say, two years after I get out of college, during which time I will be paid for that work. That’s “indentured servitude”?

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  29. Tlaloc says:

    There, fixed that for you.

    What’s wrong with using the term freeware?

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  30. [...] is Obama’s plan to make college affordable for all: It’s the dream of the teacher who works at Dunkin Donuts [...]

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  31. Steve Plunk says:

    Tlaloc,

    I’ll continue to occupy that annoying solutions space for a while. The way I see it our conversation here and the original statement by the candidate provide prima facia evidence of the problem existing.

    So if we accept Gammon’s Law is at play what do we do to overcome it? Like the law of gravity we can know it’s there but just maybe figure out a way to subvert it. We fly without breaking the law.

    What fundamental mechanism can be changed in order to (baby steps first) slow down the rate of growth for the costs of education? K-12 we know salaries make up over 80% of expenditures, what about higher ed? Is it unchecked administrative growth? Who could have an influence over that? Is it useless programs that serve just a few but eat up dollars? Is it too much money going to research and graduate programs rather than funding the primary responsibility of educating undergrads?

    These and other questions need to be answered at each and every college and university. It’s obvious we have a problem and as a parent shopping colleges it seems like a big one to me.

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  32. Tlaloc, arguing with you is an utter waste of time. Sorry I tried. Again.

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  33. Tlaloc says:

    The way I see it our conversation here and the original statement by the candidate provide prima facia evidence of the problem existing.

    I don’t see how that follows, Steve.

    So if we accept Gammon’s Law is at play what do we do to overcome it? Like the law of gravity we can know it’s there but just maybe figure out a way to subvert it. We fly without breaking the law.

    Okay Gammon’s “law” is nothing like the the law of gravity. Gammon’s is more akin to Murphy’s law- a trite cute saying that encapsulates a world view that is equally trite and probably less cute. It is not rigorous. Consequently no Gammon’s law is not at play here because it *never* is actually at play. It’s a joke, not something to take seriously.

    It’s obvious we have a problem and as a parent shopping colleges it seems like a big one to me.

    If it were truly obvious we wouldn’t be disagreeing that a problem even exists. And yet here we are.

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  34. Scott_T says:

    Just to make sure the class knows what they are talking about, most middle schools (where I live at least) are going to all classrooms with at least one computer in class (sometimes 2-4 for the students, +1 for the teacher, or laptop for the teacher), usually with flat-screen monitors (so no hand-me-down CRTs from parents).

    They also have wireless whiteboards called PROMETHUS (IIRC) where the teacher can display stuff from an overhead projector on the screen and use the whiteboard as a touchscreen.

    So while teachers have to pay for paper for their students they get tons of ‘electronic’ goodies which I never had in the late-80s in JrHigh/HS.

    PS. As a side note, I think for education related purchases a ton of products come from overseas (ie China/Tiawan), with computer/electronic purchases so much of the budget, and many paper-based products (textbooks) being produced in China with cheap paper prices.

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  35. Michael says:

    What’s wrong with using the term freeware?

    Nothing is wrong with using the term, but I would never suggest somebody actually use freeware. Especially in an educational setting, it would be better to use Free Software.

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