As part of a semi-off-topic discussion of the current unemployment problem on an earlier thread, one commentor brought up an issue I have been wondering about:
1) All of those eager beaver foreign engineering students? Dollar to a doughnut, most of those students have their education being paid for by their governments. This is more than likely not the case for many of the supposedly “lazy” American potential engineering students. Remember these are people who CAN do the math. Incurring a disabling level of indebtedness to have only SOME chance of working in their field while likely, as a consequence, being forced to delay starting up households and families because of that privately-held indebtedness serves as a powerful disincentive to embark upon that career.
2) Coupling this with the easy availability of foreign H-1B engineers in THIS country, it looks as if going into engineering could easily be seen as a sucker’s game. Not only do you go deeply in the hole to get qualified, but when you emerge saddled with debt, the CORPORATE LOBBYISTS have guaranteed that you will have to compete with what are essentially modestly-paid indentured servants for a job.
3) One might hope that universities would make more of an effort to recruit more American students for the engineering department, but if the cost of doing this is to pony up ever-scarce scholarship monies THEMSELVES, as opposed to merely holding out their hands to receive scholarship monies supplied to their foreign students by THEIR GOVERNMENTS, well, the answer is right in front of your face.
And the trajectory for a declining standard of education in productive occupations for American citizens is ever more firmly entrenched.
Y’see, the “Most Popular” article on Slate for most of the long weekend was an article by Chad Harbach, “MFA vs. NYC“, about the immediate future prospects for professional fiction-writers in America. I do not think the article spoke well for whichever advanced degree program credentialed Mr. Harbach, because it was rambling, repeatative, and not very well written. But presumably the fact that it served as high-value link-bait for the Slate audience (upper-middle-class meritocrats with a bias for faith-based bipartisanship?) indicates something about the current Coventional Education Wisdom, which is why I keep coming back to Harbach’s casual announcement of certain key numbers…
… MFA programs themselves are so lax and laissez-faire as to have a shockingly small impact on students’ work—especially shocking if you’re the student and paying $80,000 for the privilege. Staffed by writer-professors preoccupied with their own work or their failure to produce any; freed from pedagogical urgency by the tenuousness of the link between fiction writing and employment; and populated by ever younger, often immediately postcollegiate students, MFA programs today serve less as hotbeds of fierce stylistic inculcation, or finishing schools for almost-ready writers (in the way of, say, Iowa in the ’70s), and more as an ingenious partial solution to an eminent American problem: how to extend our already protracted adolescence past 22 and toward 30, in order to cope with an oversupplied labor market…
There were 79 degree-granting programs in creative writing in 1975; today, there are 854! This explosion has created a huge source of financial support for working writers, not just in the form of lecture fees, adjunctships, and temporary appointments—though these abound—but honest-to-goodness jobs: decently paid, relatively secure compared to other industries, and often even tenured. It would be fascinating to know the numbers—what percentage of the total income of American fiction writers comes from the university, and what percentage from publishing contracts—but it’s safe to say that the university now rivals, if it hasn’t surpassed, New York as the economic center of the literary fiction world. This situation—of two complementary economic systems of roughly matched strength—is a new one for American fiction. As the mass readership of literary fiction has peaked and subsided, and the march of technology sends the New York publishing world into spasms of perpetual anxiety, if not its much-advertised death throes, the MFA program has picked up the financial slack and then some, offering steady payment to more fiction writers than, perhaps, have ever been paid before.
I suppose it makes James Frey’s scam a little more explicable, but still. Whatever you think about the war of market-based versus degree-certified fictioneers (which is, of course, just a new subset of the ‘genre hacks vs. lit’ry aesthetes’ that’s been going on since at least Dickens, if not Jane Austen), the raw data raises a whole rat’s nest of questions…
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