October 10, 2012
Cell Phones and College TuitionBy Steve Baker
In 1978, my college tuition was about $1,200 per year. In 1985 my first cell phone also cost me $1,200, and its sole function was that it could make phone calls -- at about a buck per minute. (Motorola's first cell phone hit the market at $3,995!)
But something interesting happened to both products on the way to the year 2012...
Today, my daughter (and her parents) are staring down college tuitions in the range of $22,000 to $40,000 per year to prepare for her declared career interest. My new iPhone has moved in exactly the opposite direction -- purchased for only $199.
But that's not the whole story. My iPhone has a thousand times more computing power than my first $4,000 computer. It also shoots hi-def video much better than my first camera, which cost me more than $1,000. It will hold and play back over 1,000 songs and music videos. My first CD player cost me $400 and would hold only one compact disc (10-15 songs) and was not portable. My iPhone has replaced my wristwatch, my alarm clock, my stopwatch, my encyclopedias, my radios, my micro-recorder, my flashlight, my compass, my calculator, my DayTimer, my magazine and newspaper subscriptions, my cookbooks, my mapbooks, my GPS, my metronome, my tuner, and a dozen other pieces of outmoded technology -- and most of those items have been replaced with free apps. It tells me where the nearest Starbucks is and when my children are not where they're supposed to be; it unlocks my car when I forget my keys; and I can even mix the live audio sound of my band...from my friggin' phone, dude! Yet, somehow, the cost of that phone is a tiny fraction of not just the cost of my first phone, but also the combined costs of everything it replaced -- and will soon replace. It literally saves me thousands of dollars and fits in my shirt pocket, compared to the square footage necessary to store all the antiques it has made obsolete or redundant.
By way of comparison, in the same time frame, college tuitions have outpaced inflation tenfold. This brings a few questions to mind:
Is a college education that much better today? Are test scores that much better, 35 years later? Are more graduates getting the kind of jobs necessary to justify and pay for those hyper-inflated college tuitions? Have salaries for recent graduates kept pace at levels necessary to pay for the significantly higher college loans? Are students smarter?
Obviously, the answers are no, no, no, no, and hell no.
What is the cause of such severe and disproportional inflation in the education system, and the even greater disproportional improvements in mobile phone technologies, services, and costs?
To the first part -- the "Department of Education" was established and signed into law by President Jimmy Carter on October 17, 1979.
To the second -- there is as of yet no such thing as a "U.S. Department of Mobile Phones."
There's your difference. It's really that simple. But many among us cannot grasp the obvious, learn from history, or admit to the laws of human nature and how those laws are affected by unbridled government spending. When government money and regulation target an industry, costs always skyrocket, and quality of service inevitably wanes. It's as reliable as gravity. But now that cell phones have been defined as a "right," and now that there are 16 million "ObamaPhones" on the street, we may well be on our way to a new cabinet position in the executive branch.
As my 17-year-old daughter is currently neck-deep in college applications, I'm lately thinking a lot about education costs. I'm a working musician in a segment of the music industry that took a 70% income hit in the '08/'09 economic downturn. The effects of the recession were compounded by President Obama's thoughtless and ignorant public criticisms of corporations that sponsor "events" for their employees and customers. By shaming thousands of companies into canceling or severely cutting back their annual holiday parties, customer-appreciation events, award ceremonies, conventions, and the like, as you may logically surmise, musicians were the first to get the budgetary axe from these events. Not far behind were the venues, event planners, caterers, rental companies, airlines, cab drivers, etc., etc. Four years hence, some of those companies are back in the game, and the overall private event business has come back, partially -- but we're nowhere close to where we were in '07 and before. A hundred and twenty thousand dollars for four years in college, on my earnings alone, is not going to happen.
Unfortunately, I don't see my industry fully recovered before my daughter matriculates to one of these overpriced institutions which specialize in her chosen career path -- so we'll be seeking scholarships, grants, or maybe even loans to see she goes to the best institution possible. And it's highly doubtful that this problem will be fixed before my 13-year-old son follows suit. Why? Because there is a criminal cartel -- a "two-headed monster" of sorts -- now fully entrenched and fully dependent upon the existing status quo, and which may literally fight to the death to make sure that "change" never comes.
The first head of the monster is the vote-buying political machines of both major political parties -- neither of which would dare actually "cut" education spending (as Mitt Romney admitted during the debate), despite the fact that nothing has ever gone in the right direction as a result of additional increases in funding. A quick Google search will show you that nearly every school district in the country is asking for more money from local, state, and federal sources. I suppose so they can afford to suck even worse than ever -- only with newer stuff -- because, historically, that's exactly what we get for our money when it's filtered to its final destination through the federal government and it's layers upon layers of bureaucracy, regulation, and control.
The second head of the monster is made up of the school administrators and their unions, who are addicted to the free flow of taxpayer cash. But like any other drug addict, they always reach a point when the high is no longer as intense, so they need further injections -- then more, and then even more in order to get their intended fix. That they are predominately sharing the needle with Democrats is of little solace to the taxpayers or the students footing the ever-increasing costs, alone. Replacing them with Republicans is not much different from switching from heroin to crack. Either way, we're still screwed. The GOP is too easily demonized for their rhetoric of fiscal responsibility, and its members therefore quickly cave to most newly proposed educational expenditures.
Some say the monster's third head was decapitated in 2010, when Congress eliminated the Federal Family Education Loan Program -- effectively severing most major lenders' participation in federally insured student loans. But do not think that these banks and investment bankers have gone so "gentle into that good night" as it appears. A few minutes Google-ing reveals several revelations worth considering. First, most of the nation's largest banks are still offering "private" student loans, and the feds have shown little resistance to bailing out banks in recent years. Are we to believe that lawmakers cannot be cajoled into riding to the rescue of "the children" who might find themselves in trouble with the evil bankers? Also to be considered is how many for-profit and non-profit "Authorized Federal Direct Loan Servicers" have been contracted to service the new federal student loan programs. The boards of directors of these servicers are packed with CEOs, presidents, and other board members of Wall Street's largest financing institutions. Finally, let's not forget who still services hundreds of billions in education pension programs. The compounding result of a feel-good, "for the children" politicization of the education sector, and the lack of free-market discipline by the school administrators, their unions, and the banking sector's crony capitalism, is a disastrous recipe. That this monster is established and protected, (unconstitutionally) by the "law" is a...crime.
Yes, I know exactly what I just wrote. And I wrote what I meant: the law is a crime.
The only fix for the out-of-control cost spiral in the education sector is to eliminate this illegal, redistributionary infusion of government-directed taxpayer funding. So long as those college administrators can count on billions of forcibly extracted dollars to flow from the taxpayers, prices will continue to rise at ten times the rate of inflation, or worse. (Health care costs have risen at six times inflation during the same period. I wonder why! Trend, anyone?)
Only when colleges have to compete directly for the pocketbooks of the parents and/or the students will costs plummet. Quality of service will also increase, and test scores will rise. But when that happens, politicians will lose one of their favorite vote-buying schemes. Administrators will have to rethink the décor of their offices, as well as the terms of tenure, pensions, and other perks not necessarily found in the private sector.
There's now an army of 16 million voters carrying around those "free" phones, and I'm sure that during this campaign season Obama's voice can be heard loud and clear over each and every one of those phones, saying, "Can you hear me now?" As more of these voters are bought and paid for, I fear we'll never see education costs under control, and I fear that the cost and quality of my beloved iPhone may eventually reverse direction -- that is, head into the wrong direction -- as more and more cell phone providers also become addicted to that "guaranteed" ObamaPhone money.
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