Typical University (TU) is, like Trump University (TU), (1) overpriced; (2) its teachers fail to live up to promised standards (you get TAs and poorly-paid part-timers when you paid for profs); (3) its degree usually doesn’t lead to promised future success; and, (4) students are actively encouraged to go deeply into debt they’ll never be able to pay back. As someone who’s still over $100,000 in student loan debt in his forties, I must say that all of this Trump University outrage is getting a little tiresome. The hypocrisy is outrageous. Was Trump University a scam? Sure. But he was merely getting in on one of the biggest financial scams of our era. If you want to prosecute Trump University, you better be ready to support class action lawsuits against Typical University.
There’s this stupid poster that sold really well when I was a kid in the 1980s and 1990s. It depicts an opulent mansion and a four-car garage filled with assorted sports cars underneath this obnoxious message: JUSTIFICATION FOR HIGHER EDUCATION. It was the kind of thing teenage guys had on their bedroom wall, sandwiched between posters of Cindy Crawford and Mötley Crüe. The poster’s message to my generation was pretty clear: Wanna get rich? Do whatever you have to do to get a higher education.
Though it pains me to admit it, I’m pretty sure I wanted one of these posters during my Alex P. Keaton phase. But I didn’t get one for fear that my hippie mom would disown me. Or simply drop dead of a heart attack. Imagine, for a moment, how horrified a hard-core fundamentalist Christian mom would be if she found a Hustler centerfold on her teenage son’s bedroom wall: well, no joke, that’s precisely how thoroughly disgusted my hippie mom would have been if she saw this crass consumerist poster on my bedroom wall. It represents a value system which is the very antithesis of my mother’s value system.
Be that as it may, knowing what I know now, it’s hard not to cringe when I look at this poster. Because it’s not only gross, it’s also profoundly untrue. My wife and I went deep into debt to fund our higher education (close to $200,000). And, like many of our friends in their forties, we’re still paying for it! Indeed, my guess is we won’t be debt-free until our early fifties. We didn’t get the five sports cars and a mansion. We got mortgage-sized student loans and job insecurity. So looking at this propaganda poster now, in 2017, is sort of like watching one of those insane DDT commercials from the 1950s: you know, the ones wherein smiling kids are being sprayed with a fine mist of DDT as they play in the park. The DDT spray is supposed to be perfectly safe. Indeed, it’s supposed to be good for the kids. But we know it’s really REALLY not! We know they’re actually being exposed to something dangerous and damaging, something that’s gonna have all sorts of horrible long-term consequences.
—John Faithful Hamer, From Here (2017)