Saturday, April 28, 2012

Credentialed Debtors Prison – Again

Apparently I didn’t get a memo about why we’re suddenly supposed to care about student loans and the interest rates thereon.  In stunts that would be the envy of contortionists in Cirque du Soleil, Speaker Boehner and Representative Maloney exchanged ideological barbs over a conflict that is all smoke and no fire.  If you watched in slow motion, you realized that all of the theatrics around the student debt crises assiduously avoided any substantive issues on either side of the aisle and, when the lights come up, We The People will still be addicted to our debt-fueled ‘education’ system that continues to fail every aspiration upon which our expectations ride. 

Now before I get into the point of this post, it’s helpful to point out that H.R. 4628 – the successfully passed, soon to be vetoed bill – logically funds a freeze of Stafford loan interests rates at 3.4% for another few years by repealing funds appropriated for medical prevention and public health.  In short, the idea is that a less healthy version of you will be indebted less the argument goes, I guess.  Now the Senate counterproposal – S. 2343 – logically freezes the rate at 3.4% for the same period but pays for it by taxing individuals in S-corporations earning over $250,000 per year as employees with income or loss.  And in a nod to assuage the OWS contingent, it includes as taxable “professional service business” the fields of health, law, lobbying, engineering, architecture, accounting, actuarial science, performing arts, consulting, athletics, investment advice or management, or brokerage services.  Because, you know that our nation’s fiscal problems are created by all those overpaid accountants and artists.  What?

However, while both H.R. 4628 and S. 2343 are equally diaphanously veiled political wolves in sheep’s clothing in a desperate attempt to indulge respective ideologues on either side of the political spectrum, their existence is prima facie evidence of a failure of EDUCATION; not merely pathetic pandering.  Tragically, this bet to buy electoral allegiance in November will work on enough people that it’s worth the price of admission at the expense of substantive analysis of the education ecosystem.

I had the good fortune to lecture to a soon-to-graduate group of Executive MBA students in Chicago on this blustery weekend.  These individuals (or their corporate sponsors) had respectively deposited about $100,000 each for a degree that will, if the thesis holds, more than pay for itself in the value that they return to their productive lives and affiliated enterprises.  According to the most recent data compiled by the National Center for Education Statistics, the Masters of Business Administration is the most costly category of Masters level education.  Promoting a post degree income increase ranging from $10,000 to $30,000 one could conclude that business schools are a great investment.  However with an estimated 150,000 graduates emerging with this credential in each of the past several years (a number that inflates with economic downturns), it is evident that this quantitative educational field is suffering from some serious accounting discrepancies.  Recall the recent press surrounding the Graduate Management Admission Council’s reports which suggest that MBA graduates had a median starting salary of $78,820 (not including the 42% who received signing bonuses) while PayScale research reported median starting salaries including bonuses at $61,000.  With the public vilifying Wall Street banks, brokers and other ‘elites’, I find it ironic that at the educational christening of those who are going to strive for being the 1%, the factories from which they’re minted can’t even get their own economic ROI reported in a reliable and transparent fashion.  Their own data discrepancy has an error range in excess of 21%!  If the institutions that teach business and financial leadership cannot adopt standards for transparent accountability, is it any wonder that their alumni go on to fudge economic data and become Goldman Sachs’ eavesdroppers for Galleon?

And this doesn’t address what actually happens in class.  Today I had the privilege of addressing executives – adults who are pursuing their MBA.  The room was filled with passionate, inquiring and heavily invested minds.  I spoke to them about the amoral effectiveness of Integral Accounting appealing not to social responsibility, ‘goodness’, or humanity but rather to self-serving interests and greed.  Pointing out that unconsidered consequences of geopolitical and ethnographic insensitivity actually diminishes corporate returns; that ignorance of indigenous well-being directly harms business continuity; that duration of economic returns is inversely proportional to the degree of callousness in initiating corporate endeavors; I watched a room filled with responses ranging from dismissive apathy to passionate engagement.  And, as with countless similar lectures before, I had impassioned private conversations with another small group of students who struggled mightily in their self-imposed conflict of wanting to practice greater awareness and humanity in the face of corporate behavioral inertia.  You see, even those who want to change, even those who have pursued a top-tier graduate education to enable leadership, stand on the brink of commencement naked against the prevailing incumbency.  

EDUCATION is DEAD would be the Nietzsche-esque conclusion.  He famously concluded that “large states public education will always be mediocre for the same reason that in large kitchens the cooking is bland.”  He is also attributed with the statement that “to forget one’s purpose is the commonest form of stupidity.”  Our society has for too long pretended that ‘education’ is a pathway to Labor in a Keynesian paradox.  For as we regress towards a unit-productive mean, we will necessarily move away from the punctuated equilibrium events that unleash inspired, context shifting advances.  If we educate with an eye towards greater labor transaction inefficiency (higher wages), we will ultimately extinguish the very enterprises for whom labor aspires to sell their collective life’s purpose.  It’s time that we gain experiential wisdom rather than conformist ventriloquism.  It is time that we have a Mastery program for Consequential Engagement - an MCE.  For when our knowledge is evident rather than credentialed, than we may once again rise to a More Perfect Union.

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Thank you for your comment. I look forward to considering this in the expanding dialogue. Dave