Dealing With the Looming Budget Crisis Straight Up


A recent article in the Oregonian characterized Democrats John Kitzhaber and Bill Bradbury as favoring tax increases. Kitzhaber leans towards implementation of a sales tax despite its rejection at least nine times by Oregonians. Bradbury has embraced the New Left double-speak of reducing “tax expenditures” — code for eliminating items that are deductible for computing state and federal taxes. The term “tax expenditure” implies that everything you earn belongs to the government and anything it allows you to keep is an expenditure by the government. In either instance the net result is to increase taxes in a state that already ranks near the top in government expenditures per capita. (It is pointless to argue about tax rates because what is taxed and how it is taxed varies so much from state to state. The only true picture of the burden imposed by government is to look at the amount it extracts per capita and even that can be distorted when you include states with high natural resource production such as Alaska and Wyoming.)

It’s not surprising that a party entirely beholden to the financial resources of the public employees unions would advocate additional tax increases as their primary response to a looming deficit in state finances —after all they have to keep the union coffers full. Less is known, however about what the Republican candidates will do. Both Allen Alley and Chris Dudley favor a reduction in the capital gains tax to stimulate economic growth and both acknowledge that government has grown too large and spending must be controlled but neither confronts the issue straight up.

Oregon’s budget crisis is the elephant in the room. You just can’t ignore it and unless a straightforward approach is taken there will be little reason to vote Republican. If you want to energize voters to seek an alternative to twenty-four years of Democrat rule, you need to follow the example of newly elected New Jersey Governor Chris Christy.

You must identify the size of the problem and its major parts with specificity. A recent article in the Oregonian by Harry Esteve noted:

“Oregon, like other states, is facing the end of one-time stimulus spending and snail-paced economic growth. State economists and budget analysts project a $2.5 billion shortfall for the 2011-13 budget and a $1.7 billion hole in 2013-15.

“Without federal help, that would mean more tough choices lie ahead for Oregonians about raising taxes again or cutting state spending.”

That defines the size of the problem, now the cause.

In Oregon’s case it is the growth in government employees, growth in salaries beyond their private industry counterparts, and growth in already generous benefits (healthcare and retirement). It is also growth in expenditures on persons illegally in the United States — education expenditures, welfare expenditures, healthcare expenditures and justice system expenditures.

What it is not is expenditures for Oregon’s poor, unemployed or disadvantaged — and that is important to note because the Democrats routinely play upon the plight of those as justification for unchecked spending. A realistic solution to Oregon’s budget crises can be had without adversely impacting the delivery of services to those most in need.

You must identify the source of the problem. In Oregon’s case it is the public employee unions who own the Democrat party lock, stock and barrel. In a recent article Washington Examiner columnist Michael Barone provided a succinct description of the dangers of public employee unionism:

“Public-sector unionism is a very different animal from private-sector unionism. It is not adversarial but collusive. Public-sector unions strive to elect their management, which in turn can extract money from taxpayers to increase wages and benefits — and can promise pensions future taxpayers will have to fund.” [Emphasis supplied]

That is it pure and simple. In states like California, New York, New Jersey and a host of others including Oregon, the public employee unions spend the monies extracted from mandatory dues to elect the very persons with whom they will bargain. The net effect is that the elected politicians no longer represent the interests of the citizens/taxpayers of the state, but rather the interests of those who have funded their elections — the public employee unions. Where then is the balance, the tension between labor and management? It doesn’t exist. It doesn’t exist in terms of the loyalty of the politicians to the citizens/taxpayers because it was the unions, not the citizens/taxpayers, who paid for their campaigns. It doesn’t exist in terms of the natural reservations about spending one’s own money because it is the citizens/taxpayers monies that are spent. And it doesn’t exist in terms of the resistance to raising money because it is extracted unwillingly from citizens by virtue of mandatory taxes.

Until Republicans are willing to openly declare and discuss the causes of Oregon’s budget and political crises, voters will remain justifiably ignorant and will continue to default to the Democrat party who promises everything and delivers little.

And finally, you must provide a workable solution. In this instance the two problems have different solutions.

Cutting budgets while painful should not be difficult. It is a necessary and routine fact of life for businesses and individuals when the economy softens or other setbacks are encountered. Apparently state government is the only entity which chooses to be immune from this reality.

When I was an executive for the telephone company we routinely went through this process — in difficult years we did it quarterly. It didn’t take months to accomplish — usually our responses were due within ten days. Oh yes, we had those executives who would focus their proposed cuts in a fashion that would cause the greatest discomfort to the customers in an attempt to avoid making reductions. However, the senior officers generally responded by informing those executives that if they could not make the reductions without harming customers, then the senior officers would find someone who could. It’s always surprising how creative someone can be when their job, rather than their empire, is at stake.

Following are recommendations for making the reductions:

1. Freeze hiring and eliminate all authorized but unfilled positions with the exception of uniformed officers in the State Patrol.
2. Roll back employment levels to those in place at the bottom of the last recession (August of 2003). That would eliminate approximately 6500 positions. (The state ran just fine back then and I doubt that anyone can identify any improvements in the delivery of services since then.)
3. Eliminate the six- percent contribution to PERS that the state is making for employees — they were supposed to be making it themselves. (That includes the six- percent that taxpayers are making for Gov. Kulongoski.)
4. Cap the state’s contribution to state employees healthcare plans at the average level contributed by Oregon’s private industry. The employees, like their counterparts in private industry, can contribute the remainder.
5. Impose a five percent across the board salary decrease to eliminate the voluntary five percent increase granted by Kulongoski as a favor to his public employee unions supporters.
6. Freeze each category of salaries until they are equalized with their private industry equivalents.
7. If these initiatives prove to be insufficient, begin across the board personnel reductions with the exception of uniformed officers in the State Patrol.
8. Eliminate educational, healthcare and welfare benefits to those not in Oregon legally and tie that to meaningful fines and license revocations for those business knowingly hiring illegals. If you remove the incentives for people to immigrate illegally, they will not.
9. In the implementation of these solutions, no benefits to Oregonians (with the exception of those here illegally) should be disturbed.

If the public employee unions balk at revising their agreements to accommodate these changes then begin eliminating positions until you reach the dollar equivalent. If the unions strike, fire those who refuse to return to work. Oregon has lost approximately 160,000 private sector jobs since the beginning of this recession. Another 40,000 people have joined the employment eligible ranks. There is probably not a better time in terms of replacement availability to correct this problem and it only requires a little courage to act.

While these actions may appear to be draconian, they are, in fact, reasonable solutions to an unreasonable problem. I remember the president of Pacific Northwest Bell once telling a senior manager,

“Your negligence does not create a crisis for me. I look forward to reviewing your solution to the problem you created.”

This is a problem created by overreaching by the public employee unions and complicity by successive Democrat administrations. The burden of the solution should fall solely on those causing the problem.

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  • Bob Clark

    I like Allen Alley proposing dropping the Portland Milwaukee light rail project. None of the other candidates have made such a specific cost cutting proposal. Dave Hunt says he supports the project because of its construction jobs. But these are temporary jobs which would be probably more than offset with full time jobs by more prudently spending the state’s monies or cutting taxes on private investment.

    Also, if I live in Milwaukee, I don’t want Portland reaching its tentacles into my community. I wouldn’t want Portland’s high rise cement condos/apartments invading my community.

  • UO student

    Mr. Huss proposes to cut staffing levels back to 2003. I assume this applies to the state universities. Enrollments are way up since then — I think by 10% at UO in the past 2 years alone.

    Does he propose to cut enrollments back to 2003 levels?

    • Anonymous

      Dear UO student: you are not entitled to a college education. You have to pay for it. So either agree to pay more tuition, or accept reduced services for the amount you currently pay. Also, your UO education isn’t worth much anyway (and I should know as I have a JD from there). So if you are smart, you should probably forget about UO and just go get a job. Oh, there aren’t jobs to get right now because the economy sucks. How to help the economy? How about cutting back on government? See, the circle is now complete.

      • eagle eye

        So the advice of “conservatives” to our youth is to become college dropouts? What an inspiring message! A sure political winner.

        If you have a JD, and it isn’t worth much to you, why did you pursue it? You were a college graduate when you went to law school, not a seventh-grader.

        • Anonymous

          Like many people, I was suckered into the notion that college education = success in life. And I bought the grad school lie as well. Fell for it hook, line and sinker. Now that years have passed and I am still up to my eyes in student loan debt and earning no more than many people who went right into work out of high school, I feel obligated to pass on my wisdom to today’s ignorant youth, in hopes of preventing them from making the same mistakes I’ve made.

          The reality is, while college is a nice thing, and while it can be great for some people, it is not right for everyone. Programs to get more and more people into college can cause as many problems as they solve. One thing we need to do as a society is break the notion that you “have” to go to college to be a real success. Instead, we should be encouraging people to go right to work, to learn skilled trades, or even (gasp) be stay at home spouses or parents – instead of spending a fortune and amassing huge debts on an education that might not ever pay for itself – and that could very well provide ZERO practical or useful knowledge or skills.

          • eagle eye

            I feel bad for you, but you sound like a sad sack to me. You went all the way through law school and you couldn’t make anything of it! You may not think your degree was worth much — and maybe it wassn’t for you — but you don’t have to try to poison things for everyone else!

          • Harry

            You may not think your degree was worth much — and maybe it wassn’t (sic) for you — but you don’t have to try to poison things for everyone else!
            ===

            As most people know, the sad sack is not the UofO JD, eagle eye, it is you. Your arguments are idiotic, as is demonstrated here:
            If you have a JD, and it isn’t worth much to you, why did you pursue it? You were a college graduate when you went to law school, not a seventh-grader.

            As the JD indicated, his UofO degree is not worth much to him after the fact. Eagle eye, you (and Barney Frank et al) were probably one of the many idiots pushing marginal renters into homes, thus creating the housing bubble. Too many people in homes that they could not afford. That was a huge housing fiasco that liberal do-gooders created, with their stupid but well meaning nanny-state ideas. It should be obvious, even to you, after the fact.

            The UofO JD has identified correctly what we are currently in, which is a higher education bubble. The cost of most college degrees is way too high for the value it gives a graduate. Just like the over-inflated house got foreclosed upon, so will the recent college debts be written off. When the recent kids who graduate with a BS and an MA, and also $150K-$250K loans, get a $15/hr job to pay for that loan, it does not pencil out. No $15/hr job benefits from an MA degree, so that education is wasted.

            The education bubble is starting to show signs of deflating already, even though fools like eagle eye are still recommending “inspiring messages of political hope”. See what Benson HS in Portland is doing: going to a 2 yr vocational-tech curriculum. Zero college prep; better to train them for an auto-mech job, and save each kid $50K. Not only did Gates and Jobs do fine without a BS degree, but so will Joe the Professor’s kids do fine without some wasted, liberal indoctrination 4-5 yr camp, just to end up in debt for a decade or more. And it is not just vocational auto mechanic skills that are needed. Even high tech skills are needed and can be gotten outside of the current higher ed academia. Did the iPhone app developer learn Ruby on Rails coding at a 4 yr college? Do the latest cinematographers learn the flash animation at UofO or OSU? Nope!

            Eagle eye’s ideas are as foolish as Barney Frank’s were. And many people are taking the UofO JD’s advice. Cost out a higher education degree, and see if that quarter of a million dollars is the right investment for the student. The answer for some kids is yes, it is worth it, even if it means borrowing the money (which equates to over $500,000 when you add interest over 15-20 years). But for many kids, going to college is a decision that is not a wise one, and for those kids, they should heed the UofO JD’s advice. And ignore the eagle eye’s message of inspiring hope down a path of financial ruin.

          • Anonymous

            This is UO JD again – I couldn’t have said it better!

          • a retired professor

            Harry, as of May, 2010, the market is telling us that more higher education is desired, not less. That’s what the enrollment surge means. Perhaps there will be a bubble in higher ed some day. People of your ilk have been predicting it for decades.

            If students think they’re better off without a college education, let ’em do what they think is best for themselves. Everything in life is a crapshoot. There are bound to be losers like JD. (There are also a lot of college dropouts who didn’t do as well as Bill Gates.)

            If you want to come to UO or another college, and you’re serious, by all means do so. If you just want to play around, or just piss and moan about what a ripoff higher education is while you collect your subsidized degrees (including graduate degrees), please stay away.

            It’s interesting how this all got diverted from the student’s inquiry about whether enrollment was going to be cut — into a bunch of rants about higher education.

            Meanwhile, I gotta go. Need to write a letter for a kid for medical school, and then one for a national academic award. Tell me what a bastard I am!

          • eagle eye

            Harry, tuition at an Oregon public university is something like $7-8 thousand/yr. Room and board about the same. Let’s say $15K total. Add in $1K for books. Assume no parental support, no jobs, no scholarships. Multiply by 4 for a BS. I’m glad you said bachelor of science. The average bachelor’s level science graduate makes far more than $15/hr (including, of course, later in life). But we’re up to $64K in loans. Again, with no outside support or earnings, which is extremely unusual.

            The typical public university grad with loans (and nearly half have no loans) owes something over $20K. Not your $150-$250K. It would take the biggest loser in the world to rack up that kind of loan; it would be impossible even for UO JD.

            With your quantitative/analytical skills, you probably would be better off not attending college. I doubt that I’d want you working on my car, either.

            I think the prof has it about right about who should attend college. Not you guys!

          • another retired professor

            It’s a mistake to call the enrollment growth in Oregon universities a bubble or a surge. In the past couple of years, probably because of the recession, there has been growth of 10% or so. Actually, if you look over the past 20 years, and average over the up and down years, it’s been modest, pretty steady growth.

        • Not a Friend

          Let’s not forget all those public jobs that now require a college degree for no obvious reason. Many that simply push paper around on a desk were once done by high school graduates. But some bureaucrat decided they “needed” to have a college degree to do them for completely arbitrary reasons.

      • UO student

        I didn’t say I was “entitled” to anything; I asked if he was proposing to cut back enrollments in line with staff cutbacks.

        As it happens, I’m an out of state student; I pay the out of state tuition, and I’m heavily subsidizing your Oregon in-state students. I do this not because it’s “very affordable” but because other options are less desirable. I won’t go into any details; just read about California higher education problems.

        And Mr. Huss didn’t talk about the option of paying more; he talked about cutting the budgets and staffs of state agencies. Tuition, including my out of state tuition, is part of the state budget he is so intent on cutting. I guess he doesn’t want even us out of state students paying into your state budget and subsidizing your students. So, I ask again if the plan is to cut enrollments. I don’t see why not.

        I’m sorry your JD didn’t work out to your satisfaction. I take it you didn’t mind the idea of publicly subsidized law school (that’s graduate school — did you also get a public undergrad degree?) when you took advantage of it. What’s eating you now? Maybe you don’t think your degree is worth much. Maybe you should have thought about that before you spent three years in law school. I hope you’re better at thinking ahead when you do law! I don’t feel that way about the degree I’m going to get. The economy may be bad but there’s still a future, and I’d rather face it with a college degree than without. You sound like a very bitter person, I hope I don’t end up like that.

        • a retired UO professor

          Good luck to you, and don’t worry too much about these characters. They aren’t going to win anything. The leading Republican candidates are actually in favor of more for Oregon higher education, as was Kevin Mannix.

        • current UO student

          Wow! What a stunning display of ignorance this thread has proven to be. I guess the anonymous guy figured his degree would be a free pass to success? What a moron. He was probably one of those people who put in the least amount of effort possible. Looks like he got out of his experience everything he put into it. Shame. Glad to see another UO student whose head isn’t completely up his ass though (I value my education – for more than just its potential to increase my income level – but have no illusions with regard to the quality of a large percentage of my peers). It is incredibly telling of the Oregon variety of conservatism that they seem wholly unaware of the positive correlation between post-secondary education and economic growth; nevermind the fact that something like 85% of UO’s costs are paid by tuition and donation.

    • Anonymous

      “Enrollments are way up since then — I think by 10% at UO in the past 2 years alone”

      If enrollments are up then the cost of going to school at the UO must be very affordable. Let’s raise tuition rates for students and reduce the burden on taxpayers until enrollment levels off. Then we will have achieved economic balance.

      Oh wait, this won’t happen in Oregon because no one knows anything about economics.

      • eagle eye

        Or why not raise tuition until nobody can afford it? Then our kids can all work at McDonald’s, while the Chinese, the Indians, and the Europeans — the sensible half of them — take over the world economy for us.

        Is that the “conservative plan” for Oregon — no college education? I think that is a losing plan.

        Interestingly, both Alley and Dudley are very supportive of public higher education. But then, I see that Larry Huss is not too thrilled with either party. Maybe we have the makings of a split to a third party. Let’s see: Libertarian, Constitution ….

        • Anonymous

          Obviously if enrollment is up, tuition has not been raised to the point that nobody can afford it. Why not raise tuition enough to result in a 10% decrease in enrollment back to previous recent levels? That would mean more money per student and a better education.

          Oh, and remember, UO is not the only option for students. If tuition at UO goes up, maybe more students will consider spending their first two years at a more affordable community college? Maybe more students will seek out other more affordable four year schools. Or maybe more students who can afford to pay more but went to UO to save money will decide that if they have to spend more anyway they may as well spend the extra money on some more prestigious school.

          Don’t assume college enrollment is some sort of closed loop zero sum game. If fewer people go to UO, it doesn’t mean fewer people get a college education. It only means fewer people get it at UO.

          • eagle eye

            “more money per student and a better education”.

            A pretty tough sell in Oregon!

            You mention CC’s — they are overflowing too.

            Anyhow, why shouldn’t they cut enrollment too?

            It sounds like you are out to make it impossible to attend a public college in Oregon:

            “Obviously if enrollment is up, tuition has not been raised to the point that nobody can afford it”

    • Steve Plunk

      Valid point UO student. I think we could probably find those jobs to cut over in administration. That’s where most of the job growth in higher ed has been. I wonder if we could cut the funny stuff like women’s studies and ethnic studies? Cut all sports except those that pay their own way? I bet there are a number of ways to save money.

      • a retired UO professor

        Maybe you should present these ideas to the Oregon University System board. You might have a future as a college president! But let me tell you a couple of things:

        Central administration has been growing too fast, but it’s not nearly enough to cover a 10% cut in total staff. In fact, central administration is something on the order of 10% of the budget — even the “core” budget. You’d have to eliminate it entirely, which is an impossibility.

        Anyhow, Oregon public universities are on the low end of low on spending already.

        You might think things like women’s and ethnic studies are “funny stuff”, but obviously some students think otherwise. And they are LOW-COST programs. If you want to save money, cut business or science.

        As for cutting sports: you might want to just keep the sports that “pay their way”, but the NCAA would have a thing or two to say about that. Except for a fortunate place like UO, where the athletic program basically pays for itself (because of a guy named Phil, mainly), athletics are a money loser. You might think OSU should drop athletics, but a lot of people would be sorely upset — and, they probably have things like facilities bonds to pay for. (An empty stadium doesn’t generate much dough.)

      • another retired professor

        Here’s another thing: a lot of that administrative or non-educational growth and “fat” is stuff that many students would protest vehemently if they were cut. Examples: “Diversity” and “Sustainability” programs. Those probably cost, I’d hazard a guess, 5 or 10 million per year at UO alone. But cancel them and you’ll have lots of students howling outside (or worse) the admin building. They seem to like paying for them more than doing without.

        One man’s fat is another’s juicy steak, I guess.

  • Dxg

    As long as we are on the subject of universities, this from an NPR interview Last week with univ of cal Davis president

    https://m.npr.org/story/126436545

    his words below, I bout fell out of bed, 30% tuition hike and ‘nobody’ had to pay a dime. This is prime example of bad government. Again no accountability

    So I would say it’s not consistent with our mission. It’s not what I want to do. It’s not what the faculty wants, but it’s necessary to preserve the place. So we had a progressive furlough program; lower salaried people had a four percent reduction in salary; people like me had a 10 percent. We raised tuition 30 percent plus to a little over $10,000. It’s still a fabulous buy. With the California grants and the Pell grants from the federal government and the Obama tax credits for ’09, ’10, three quarters of all families below $180,000 in family income did not pay any of the fee increase.

  • Harry

    From today’s newswire, supporting UofO JD’s point:

    Law school tuition hikes spark concerns of bubble

    By Ameet Sachdev / McClatchy-Tribune News Service
    Published: May 06. 2010 4:00AM PST CHICAGO —

    The rising cost of law school is becoming a sore subject as the number of high-paying jobs shrink.

    With large numbers of unemployed or underemployed lawyers who borrowed heavily to pay for their educations, legal educators face growing skepticism about the value of a law degree. Anonymous critics have started blogs with names such as “Big Debt, Small Law” or “The Jobless Juris Doctor” to advise people considering law school to proceed with caution.

    Much of the ire is aimed at less prestigious law schools that charge nearly as much of some of the top-ranked schools — where a three-year program costs nearly $150,000, not including room, board or even books. Top schools say they can justify their expensive tuitions because they place a majority of graduates at the nation’s elite firms, where starting salaries hit $160,000 before the recession. But most of the nation’s more than 40,000 law school students who graduate every year do not land such plum jobs, and their salaries are much lower.
    ======

    Bottom line: Too many kids going to college, law school, etc via massive debt that is unsustainable. Just like the sub-prime debt fiasco. Pay cash or better yet, don’t go to college, but rather invest the $100K+ into your career/business/future without flushing it down the UofO toilet.

    • Harry
    • current UO student

      Harry, with all due respect, you’re missing the point. Only an idiot would rack up a six figure debt while attending a state school like UO. Seriously. You’d have to be a complete moron. Yale? Princeton? Etc…

      Sure. UO? No.

      An Ivy League/private education is an investment (a financial risk). At a public university, if you’re an intelligent and motivated student (with no financial resources… meaning wealthy parents) it’s an entirely different game. That’s why public universities exist. Are the standards of admission at schools like UO lax? Yes. Does it affect the academic environment? Yes. Is keeping admission’s standards low at public schools required by mandate? Yes.

      The problem is not with public schooling (although I would agree that there are some administrative issues), the problem is cultural. The problem is that education and intellectualism are not valued nearly as much as (I think) they should be in our society. We are a culture of fat, lazy, incurious materialists. We could and should be so much more than we are. But that, of course, would take effort. And who’s got time for that?

      • retired UO science prof

        You are right that admissions standards at typical state universities — I’m not talking Berkeley etc. — are not very high. Same is true of a huge fraction of private schools, by the way. But UO or OSU does not have a student body with SAT scores, say, comparable to a good private college or university. And I’m not talking Harvard, Princeton Amherst etc. I mean second-rung but still very respectable.

        On the other hand, if you take the top 2000 students at UO — the top 10% — they’re quite competitive with the 2000 or so students of a typical selective liberal arts college. Again, not talking Amherst.

        I wonder how hard is it to find those top 2000 and hang out with them?

        My experience was that those top students especially in their upper level courses were pretty satisfied and stimulated. They could go anywhere they wanted if their stats i.e. GPA, GRE scores (or MCAT etc) were high enough. You want graduate study in biochem at a Harvard or Berkeley or Caltech? A 3.9 GPA and 1500 GRE from UO will probably do the trick.

        By the way, take it from me, you’ll find plenty of unmotivated people, even goofballs at the “top” schools. Another thing: grade inflation is generally a lot worse at those places. If you can get an A in biochem or advanced calculus at UO, chances are you could do that well at a name school. It’s true, the general level of students and quite possibly the level of the courses will be higher at the more selective school.

        • current UO student

          Hi prof. Please don’t misunderstand me. My intention was not to complain about UO (I’m quite happy and stimulated myself), but rather, my late night, rambling rant was just an off the cuff response to “Harry/probably Jerry’s” suggestion that anyone was paying six figures or more for a four year degree from UO. Generally speaking, and with few exceptions, comparing public and private education in terms of finance is like comparing apples and oranges. They’re just different animals (or fruits, as the case may be). And all this talk of an “education bubble” strikes me as kind of ridiculous, or at least in no way similar to the housing bubble in terms of vulnerability (again, apples and oranges). Sure, Sallie Mae, its shareholders, and securities investors might take a dive, but if you’re worried about risk… well, get the hell out of the market. Besides, the issue with Fannie Mae et al was not only the writing of bad loans (i.e. that ended up in default), it was the overvaluing by corrupt ratings agencies of the asset backed securities that were created from those bad loans. The economy takes a downturn, the real estate market suffers, and then you’ve got a bunch of jobless debt-ridden folks who can’t or won’t pay out on their underwater, worthless mortgages. Poof! Bubble bursts, and the securities market collapses under its own bloated, fat, greedy, lying, cheating, stealing weight. I just don’t see that happening with the student loan market. Are employers no longer going value college degrees all of a sudden? Doubt it. Student loans are a whole other ball of wax; and in my way of thinking, the biggest problem with everyone and their mother going to college isn’t unsustainable debt, it’s the pressures generated by less than capable and/or motivated students that ultimately de-value educational processes via phenomena such as the one you mentioned (grade-inflation). It’s a cultural problem, not a financial one.

          That said, I have to confess that I may have spoken out of turn. I have no idea what the tuition is for UO’s law school. Maybe they are charging $40k/yr? Man oh man, you’d have to really really really want to be a lawyer to pay that kind of cheddar for a UO law degree. I can’t even imagine.

          • a retired professor

            A few secs on the UO law school website brought this up:

            $24,078 (Estimated Oregon resident tuition)
            $30,000 (Estimated nonresident tuition)

            I’m very sure they’ve calibrated this to the market. Probably, the nonresident tuition subsidizes the resident.

            I don’t buy the “higher ed bubble” talk. It’s just a lame analogy to the real bubbles, from people, mostly on the right, who hate American higher education. There are a lot of problems, but trying to equate it to the financial meltdown is screwy.

  • Anonymous

    The bubble is a huge problem. Another thing to consider is that when more people have a degree, the value of the degree diminishes because it no longer allows you to stand out above others. If we make it easy for almost everyone to get a degree, then having a degree will be about as meaningful as a high school diploma – it will serve only as a bottom-line threshold; then you will NEED graduate school, or a prestigious alma matter, or some other achievement to stand out. When that happens, the value of your degree won’t be in getting a good job – it will only be the personal satisfaction of completing something of personal interest. Now, self esteem is nice and all, but it doesn’t pay bills. And if you have a personal interest in a subject, you can learn all about it by reading books from the library and doing research online for free.

    I am reminded of the last good thing I saw with Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, “Good Will Hunting.” Will is an argument with a university student in a bar, and proceeds to verbally rip him apart. He demonstrates superior knowledge of every subject, then tells the student he learned it all with a $5 library card while the student is spending a few hundred thousand dollars of his dad’s money. Now back in the day, when having a good education from a university was less common, the university guy would be able to hold up his degree as a credential and say “look at me, I stand out.” But what happens when more and more people get degrees? Suddenly that degree doesn’t really establish your credentials compared to everyone else.

    And also, having a degree doesn’t demonstrate that you actually KNOW anything of value. It only shows that you had the money and the time to work towards it and that you were able to complete it. Most law school grads enter the workforce with NO IDEA how to win a case. It takes a lot of hard work after law school as a junior associate, being handed low-profile and pro-bono work, and generally being a partner’s b*tch, to gain any sort of competence to be able to actually win cases on your own.

    Most lawyers other than academics would have been better off with a system that allowed undergrad students to major in law, taking 1L courses as undergrad upper division courses, then going right to work as junior associates with only a BA and spending three years getting experience instead paying tuition. But the system doesn’t allow it. Why not? Because lawyers make the system – and once lawyers have completed all the work to become successful lawyers, the last thing they want is competition. So they form bar associations, lobby government to create rules about licensing for practice, and set up a system that makes it very costly and difficult for the next generation to enter the profession. As a result, we have a legal profession where 95% of the lawyers are from upper-middle class or wealthier families that can afford to pay six figures for an education and put off gainful employment until mid-twenties or later. But does the system make better lawyers?

    Well, people like John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln might beg to differ!

    The system – not just for law school but for most academics – is broken. Real knowledge is readily available to anyone with an internet connection. Schools don’t teach logic or reason or how to research – they teach facts (or opinions) for regurgitation on exams. You spend four years getting a BA, then several more years in grad school, and you have a piece of paper that calls you an “expert” but the reality is anyone with an interest in the subject can make you obsolete with a few days of training on how to use Google to find information. So go ahead and spend a lot of money on education. You’ll never get a dime of it back. This isn’t the 20th century anymore. If you don’t evolve, you’ll go extinct.

    • a retired UO science professor

      “anyone with an interest in the subject can make you obsolete with a few days of training on how to use Google to find information.”

      This is so hilarious in the areas I dealt with and know. Try a few days of google training to get up to speed in molecular genetics, or quantum mechanics, or organic reaction methods and synthesis. Try this with any advanced science course or even the final exam in any quarter, even the first, of freshman biology or chemistry or physics or calculus. A good many students have tried it. It usually gets you something between a C- and an F. Good luck to you!

      • a recent UO science grad

        Right you are! Try learning the content of almost any science major on your own. Unless you’re ridiculously smart AND disciplined, it’s impossible. Ask my classmates who majored in chemistry and biology.

        But, it IS possible to fake your way through the “softer” subjects, including much of business. That doesn’t mean you can’t spend a lot of time on them, only that you can get away with doing very little. Probably the fakers are missing out on a lot — I’m thinking of some of my gen ed courses like philosophy and lit.

  • Very Bad Guy

    And while we’re on the subject of college, let’s NOT forget some of the mostly pointless programs they support in ethnic studies, women’s studies, chicano studies and numerous liberal arts programs in english, literature ad nauseum. Unless you plan to TEACH any of these subjects, they are largely USELESS in the world outside of most universities. Try getting a job at Nike or Intel with a degree in women’s studies or chicano studies. They will laugh at you behind your back and shred your resume as soon as you walk out.

    • a retired professor

      You may think English and other literature programs are pointless, I say you sound like a barbarian. And you may not think much of programs like ethnic studies, etc. But they exist because some students like them. Are they a waste of money? Maybe, but probably they are subsidizing the programs you might like. They are generally not very expensive to run. (An exception is music. Think that subject is pointless? Then you are doubly barbaric!)

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