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In another demonstration of the mainstream Left’s full-throated embrace of illegality, mob mayhem and anti-Semitism, a group of Penn University professors has expressed “solidarity” with the Occupy Wall Street movement. “Occupy Wall Street is protesting a system that provides increasingly few opportunities for the majority–the 99%–while generating vast profits for a tiny minority,” the petition reads. “Along with the demonstrators, we are demanding an end to the extreme inequalities that structure our society.” One of the most extreme inequalities currently afflicting American society? The necessity of acquiring a college education in order to secure a job–and the mind-boggling cost of that education.
Why is a college education necessary? Wall Street Journal columnist James Taranto explains the evolution. “What most professional jobs require is basic intellectual aptitude. And what has changed since the 1970s is that the court has developed a body of law that prevents employers from directly screening for such aptitude.”
The most important part of that body of law was a 1971 Supreme Court case. In Griggs v. Duke Power, Willie Griggs and a dozen other black employees of Duke Power’s Dan River hydroelectric plant in Draper, North Carolina sued the company for discrimination. In 1955, Duke had instituted a high school diploma requirement for every other department except Labor, where these men were employed. In 1965, when passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 went into effect, Duke began allowing transfers of non-graduates, provided they could pass two tests: the Wonderlic Test, which rates general mental ability, and the Bennett Mechanical Comprehension Test, which was geared to predict job performance in mechanical fields. Duke based its passing scores on the national median scores for high school graduates.
Every lower court that heard the case agreed that whites fared better on the tests, thus putting blacks at a disadvantage in hiring. This violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibited the use of tests which could result in a “disparate impact.” Both a federal court and the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Duke, noting that the test did not reveal any discriminatory intent. The Supreme Court overruled the lower courts, essentially contending that while such tests are not illegal under Title VII, discriminatory consequences, rather than intent, was the critical factor. Such tests are legal only if “they are demonstrably a reasonable measure of job performance,” wrote Chief Justice Warren Burger at the time.
Taranto notes that disparate impact does not apply to college admission requirements, such as SAT tests, and explains that businesses requiring college degrees for employment do not violate Griggs because “colleges and universities…go out of their way to discriminate in favor of minorities. By admitting blacks and Hispanics with much lower SAT scores than their white and Asian classmates, purportedly in order to promote ‘diversity,’ these institutions launder the exam of its disparity.” Thus, colleges become the business world’s “shield” against civil rights lawsuits, which is why, Taranto notes, that 65 Fortune 500 companies filed amicus briefs in Grutter v. Bollinger, the 2003 Supreme Court case that allowed for the use of race as a factor in determining admissions. Ergo, obtaining a college degree “is a very expensive way of showing that [a potential employee] has, in effect, passed an IQ test,” he writes.
Once a college degree became a “necessity,” it was inevitable that some level of upward pressure on the cost of obtaining a degree would occur. Yet the level of that increase is astounding, and nothing reflects this better than the amount of borrowing undertaken to pay for it. Last year, the amount of student loans crossed the $100 billion mark, and the total amount of outstanding loans–government-guaranteed outstanding loans–will pass $1 trillion this year. Furthermore, students are borrowing twice as much as they did ten years ago, adjusted for inflation, and the total outstanding debt has doubled in the last five years, and more than quadrupled over the last ten. Americans now owe more for student loans than they owe on their credit cards.
The borrowing goes to pay for college tuition fees, which have been on a meteoric jag, rising almost 130% over the last 20 years (6 percent faster than the annual inflation rate), even as incomes have remained largely stagnant. At some of the more elite universities in the nation, the cost of tuition, fees and room and board is staggering, between $58,000 and $54,000 per year. Yet even the average costs come in at $39,000 per year for a four year institution.
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