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  1. #1
    Solifugid Onnes's Avatar
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    Rising Inequality and Higher Education

    I'm guessing most are well aware of the United States' ever increasing economic inequality largely driven by wealth concentration. However, this backslide into inequity can be seen in other areas as well, many of which are commonly thought to be instead improving. One such area is higher education, where several recent reports have provided evidence for widening inequality in terms of both socioeconomic and racial/ethnic demographics.

    So first, what are the trends? A decent overview is here, while there are a bunch of more specific insights on the statistics scattered elsewhere. The first thing to note is probably obvious: damn near everyone today wants a college degree. (I would say they want an education, but yeah.) While in the past college was largely the domain of the upper and middle classes, now it is practically a necessity for the lower-middle class and a goal of families near and below the poverty line. The resulting huge influx of less socioeconomically advantaged students has largely fallen community colleges, which now enroll roughly half the countries total undergraduates. The result has been relatively unchanged socioeconomic and racial demographics at large research universities compared to an increasingly economically disadvantaged and racially/ethnically diverse community college student population.

    At the same time as these relative student demographics have shifted, so too has relative funding. The gap in per student instructional funding between research universities and community colleges has actually widened over time. In particular, the gap in per student federal and state funding between research universities and community colleges has also widened, meaning that large public universities are actually receiving more public funds to educate less needy students. Now, part of the overall funding split is because both public and private universities have greatly increased tuition year over year, whereas such a move for a community college would almost certainly violate its charter. These tuition hikes, of course, make four-year degrees even more inaccessible for those lower on the economic ladder, which only exacerbates the split.

    A quick aside on what a lack of funds means for educational quality. Most community colleges are now mostly or entirely staffed with contingent faculty, i.e. adjuncts. In many cases adjuncts are the educational equivalent of temp workers. They typically have advanced degrees but make near an effective minimum wage. They also lack any of the benefits associated with traditional university faculty (including in many cases even a shared office.) Basically, they are either teaching as an additional source of income or because they can't find anything else and like to eat. The corollary to this is that many community college adjuncts are far more concerned about finding a less insulting job than anything related to educational outcomes.

    Going back, the end result of these trends is a highly stratified system of higher education. Students from disadvantaged backgrounds end up at woefully underfunded institutions while at the same time top-tier public and private universities becomes more expensive and more extravagant. Personally, I've tended to think of higher education as becoming more egalitarian over recent decades; however, I think most thinking on the subject, mine included, has tended to ignore community colleges and the huge numbers of students they serve.

    The obvious questions here are first, are we OK with this, and second, if we aren't OK with this, how could the current course of things be effectively changed? I'll probably add my own thoughts about changes in policy later, but for now I'd like to see what other people think (and limit the scope of this post.)

  2. #2
    Banned Tycho's Avatar
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    hell no, I'm not OK with this. Me personally, I think that interest rates on student loans need to be brought down, I think that there's a serious fucking issue all across the States with resentment towards the educated and intellectual that needs to be done away with, and I think the exorbitant prices for law and medical schools need to be reined in as a kind of preparation for socialized medicine - doctors expect ridiculous salaries because they paid ridiculous prices to go to med school, and the cycle repeats endlessly.

  3. #3
    Regular Rakuen Growlithe's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tycho View Post
    doctors expect ridiculous salaries because they paid ridiculous prices to go to med school, and the cycle repeats endlessly.
    It's not just that actually. Doctors expect ridiculous salaries because being a doctor is ridiculously expensive.
    There is the cost of studying plus the loss of earning time due to studying. I'm not sure what it's like in the US but in South Africa a doctor has to study for 6 years to get a degree and then do either one or two years community service. That's 7 years with minimal income, not counting an extra couple of years if he specialises. So they have to make up for the loss of earning time.
    Then you have to remember that doctors have to work really hard. They have to make essentially life and death decisions every day, often for long hours, and can be called for an emergency at any time of the day or night. So they need to be properly reimbursed for high stress and high level of commitment.
    Then just having an ordinary practice is expensive. My dad is a doctor and I heard him say he has to make at least R20 000 (~$2040) just to cover the insurance. That's about twice the average income for a white person in South Africa. Pretty much all of that cost is insurance because people sue doctors. I know that there are plenty of doctors that won't assist in births and won't perform various operations, even if they are only person there, because they can't afford insurance for it and the risk to them is just too great. The US has quite a reputation for lawsuits so I imagine insurance for doctors costs even more over there.
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    Didn't try, Succeeded Fay V's Avatar



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    I don't think we actually do anything based on potential earning. If that were the case professors would be making bank, as to get to a tenure track position you'd have to get a PhD. So assuming one is on the fast track that is at least 8 years of study and minimal income. Generally it takes longer because 8 years from high school to PhD is insane.
    That's also assuming all doctors work in the ER and ICU. They don't. There's plenty of clinic work and other such things which aren't constant life and death situations.
    By that argument we would also be paying on call nurses a hell of a lot more than we do.
    We also generally insure hospitals, so a doctor working in a hospital is covered. if it's a practice they cover themselves and that is expensive and the customer pays.

    I agree with Tycho, doctors are largely paid more due to the obscene cost of education that has to be made up for. It isn't a loss of earning potential taking the time to study, it is the immediate need to get out of thousands of dollars of debt.


    on the topic of education I am curious in how research universities have ended up with so much funding. I'll need to look into the land grant institutions as I'm curious how many of them are research universities (my guess is a lot)

  5. #5
    Solifugid Onnes's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fay V View Post
    I agree with Tycho, doctors are largely paid more due to the obscene cost of education that has to be made up for. It isn't a loss of earning potential taking the time to study, it is the immediate need to get out of thousands of dollars of debt.
    The additional context here is that, as demand for medical professionals has skyrocketed, the capacity of medical schools really has not. This means there's substantial unmet demand for degrees in medicine. However, in countries with government owned or heavily regulated healthcare systems this bottleneck can't easily translate into increased salaries and costs because reimbursement rates are largely fixed. (Many of these countries also have secondary private systems; however those must compete with the cost structure of the public system in any case.)


    on the topic of education I am curious in how research universities have ended up with so much funding. I'll need to look into the land grant institutions as I'm curious how many of them are research universities (my guess is a lot)
    I think a big part is the diversity of funding avenues these universities have. There's tuition, donation campaigns, and grant overhead for all of them plus public funding for public universities. The big shift is probably how large public universities are compensating for reduced public funds by adopting the budget models typically used by private ones.

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    Didn't try, Succeeded Fay V's Avatar



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    Quote Originally Posted by Onnes View Post
    The additional context here is that, as demand for medical professionals has skyrocketed, the capacity of medical schools really has not. This means there's substantial unmet demand for degrees in medicine. However, in countries with government owned or heavily regulated healthcare systems this bottleneck can't easily translate into increased salaries and costs because reimbursement rates are largely fixed. (Many of these countries also have secondary private systems; however those must compete with the cost structure of the public system in any case.)




    I think a big part is the diversity of funding avenues these universities have. There's tuition, donation campaigns, and grant overhead for all of them plus public funding for public universities. The big shift is probably how large public universities are compensating for reduced public funds by adopting the budget models typically used by private ones.
    I asked my finances professor about it, so I might have a better idea next week.

    I do know that our university has like 3 avenues that outclass government funding. Our school is largely paid for by out of state tuition. We also have a ton of grants and alumni stuff. so yeah.

 

 

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