October 1, 2015 at 9:22 am

Vedder Describes Five Ways that ‘Adults’ are Putting Students’ Future at Risk

Watch Vedder’s Café Conversation on A&S TV.

Dr. Richard Vedder, Professor Emeritus of Economics and Director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, made his Sept. 30 presentation on Capitol Hill half an hour early so he could catch a plane back to Ohio University to talk with students about why “adults” are putting their future at risk.

In Washington, D.C., Vedder testified at a hearing on “A Review of the Department of Education and Student Achievement,” which can be viewed online.

In Athens, he described five problems in a talk labeled “America’s Leaders: You’re Harming Our Future.”

Dr. Richard Vedder

Dr. Richard Vedder

Excepts from Vedder’s Café Conversation follow:

One: Financial Burden

“The adults of today and the adults of the last 30 years have left the younger generation an enormous financial burden. You hear about the public debt—the national debt is now about $18 trillion. That’s not a small amount of money, but the total unfunded liabilities and obligations of the federal government … there’s some debate on the number, but no one is using a number much less than $100 trillion, and some are using a number around $125 trillion…. What are these obligations? Social security…. Medicare…. The Pension Guarantee Protection Corp…. The Social Security Disability Fund…. So let’s say it’s $120 trillion. How much is that per household? Do the math. How many households are there in the United States? Maybe 120 million households… roughly $1 million per household. That is an enormous obligation. And it’s a burden that’s going to be picked up by the younger generation—those of you leaving college.”

Two: Education

“We’re not doing a terribly good job of educating our youth in this country…. It’s a point that could be debated…. We have the TIMSS test, the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study. The last set of tests looking at eighth-graders in the United States and how they performed … one criteria was how many of them performed at a high level in mathematics in eighth grade. Thirty percent of American students performed at a high level in eighth grade. What it is in Russia? Forty-seven. What is it in Japan? Sixty-one. So you could make a fairly important case that on some very important things we are not really being rigorous enough…. The adults are taking charge, and everything’s done for their convenience rather than the students’.”

Three: Higher Education

“Let’s talk higher ed…. Here’s a few factoids. What percentage of students who enter college graduate in six years? Not four years, not five years, but six years…. Sixty is about right.…What happens to the 40 percent who don’t graduate? What are the universities’ obligations to them?… What’s the data on jobs for new college graduates?… The numbers show that about 40 percent of recent graduates, maybe a little more than 40 percent, are what might be called under-employed. This is a little murky, I’m the first to admit…. How much do kids work in college? Now I’m really going to make everyone annoyed, including my students here. A time-use survey by the U.S. Department of Labor, another by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, and a third survey all reach the same conclusion. The average amount of time spent on academic pursuits—that’s class, preparing papers, studying for exams, etc.—is under 30 hours a week now.… Eighth-graders are studying 40 percent more than (college students). Why do we permit that? Part of the answer is we have a deal going…. We faculty don’t want to be hassled by students…. So we give pretty high grades…. We are not pushing students. We’re not making them work hard. We’re not asking more of them. And part of the reason is that we don’t want to work that hard ourselves.”

Four: Economic Growth

“The rate of economic growth in the United States today, in a typical year, is about 2 percent…. The rate of economic growth from 1950 to 1980 was about 3.8-3.9 percent. Let’s round it off and say that before 2000, the growth rate was typically 3 percent; now it’s typically 2 percent. Now some of you with a mathematical background can understand the miracles of compound interest. Let’s pretend there’s two people born in the same year in countries with the same income levels per capita, and one of them is in a nation growing 3 percent a year, and the other 2 percent a year. By the time those two individuals got to the age of the early 70s, the income would be twice as high in total in the nation with the 3 percent growth rate than the nation with 2 percent…. Who are the losers in low growth? You are.”

Five: Mortgaging the Future

“We’re mortgaging our future generations. To finance all this, to make it all work implies we will have to do things like raise taxes, reduce benefits, cut back. Politicians are putting their short-run future gains ahead of the nation’s long-term priorities…. I personally think we have seen this in both parties.”

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