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Is College Worth It?
Not a Good Look for Connecticut Higher Ed

Connecticut has passed a law protecting colleges against lawsuits alleging that they failed to provide students with a valuable education in exchange for their hefty tuition charges. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Connecticut lawmakers are pushing back against lawsuits that threaten the state’s colleges and universities with the loss hundreds of thousands of dollars in tuition paid by financially struggling parents.

Gov. Dannel Malloy signed a law earlier this month that discourages trustees who handle consumer-bankruptcy cases from suing both public and private institutions to get back tuition money parents paid before filing for bankruptcy protection. […]

The lawsuits arise from federal law that gives trustees the power to recover money that a bankrupt person spent years before filing if the person didn’t get value for the expense.

But surely the services that colleges offer are so obviously worthwhile that such lawsuits should fall flat on their face…right? On the contrary, the courts are in many cases ruling for the plaintiffs in such cases, suggesting that those who argue college is often a ripoff are not so far off the mark.

But instead of doing something to make sure that colleges do provide value for money, the State of Connecticut has apparently concluded that the only way to protect college revenues from pesky lawsuits is to make it illegal for consumers to sue them on those grounds. Another sign that things are not well in American higher ed.

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  • Pait

    I cannot imagine that courts are the adequate venue to decide whether a certain college degree was worthwhile or not.

    Although in the case of many, if not most, for-profit institutions, a judicial procedure would be in order to find that deliberate fraud was involved.

    • seattleoutcast

      And yet there is not deliberate fraud for state-run institutions? Why can’t a court decide that?

      • Pait

        Students do a lot of research before choosing colleges and transfer out of schools and programs that do not work well for them. There are strong incentives for institutions to offer suitable programs, and they respond to those incentives remarkably well. This is by the way the reason why millions of students from all over the world come to the United States.

        I know you don’t believe in economic freedom and the power of individual choice but that’s how things work.

        • nervous122

          Do I have the freedom or choice to not subsidize these loans/grants, etc?

          Or do you just pretend to care about choice?

          • Pait

            Support for science and education is in the national and state budgets. You don’t have the freedom to decide not to pay for items that were approved by the legislature.

            You _do_ have the freedom of voting for politicians who will in turn vote against science and education, in an effort to bring the country back to the middle ages, or perhaps closer to their ideal form of government which is somewhere between Saudi Arabia and Zimbabwe.

          • nervous122

            So you’re against individual choice.

            And not wanting public funding for higher ed is the equivalent of supporting a theocratic monarchy like SA.

          • Pait

            I think you’re getting a little too nervous about the fact that you are required to follow the law. Yes, when the legislature passes a budget item, you lose your freedom not to pay for it with tax money.

          • nervous122

            So, you tried to make a point about choice, got called out on it, and arnow pivoting to the law.

            Has it ever occurred to you that laws often hinder individual freedoms and personal choices?

            And, depending on the source of funding, not everyone loses their freedom because some pay no income taxes.

          • Pait

            You seem to be getting more and more nervous about breaking the law. Only you can know why. Trolling is not illegal in this country yet….

          • nervous122

            You seem to like bringing up high minded principles like choice and freedom, then being hypocritical about them.

          • seattleoutcast

            He’s quite good at that after living in the ivory tower for years.

          • Isaiah6020

            Oh you met Pait I see. Yes, he does like being a hypocrite.

          • Anthony

            Hypocrisy is a charge facilely used on internet threads, Pait, especially if one is presumed to be a liberal and/or college professor. The charge has taken on a self-satisfying affect – something to the effect that you’re guilty of deploying double standards and not really principled (claiming to stand on the basis of an elevated principle when you’re really just self serving). The retort (charge), Pait, may in some circles be politically effective; but its become bad for the civic culture. That is, this argumentative charge presumes a different understanding of hypocrisy than the one more commonly deployed in moral reasoning.

          • Isaiah6020

            So being a hypocrite is OK as long as you hold the right views. Gotcha,,,

          • nervous122

            Anthony, maybe Pait shouldn’t have been so snarky with his comment that seattle didn’t believe in freedom/choice.

            Students choosing a university isn’t a great example of economic freedom when loans and grants are subsidized by taxpayers.

            Pait was making a bad faith argument.

          • Anthony

            If you say so. But, permit him an opportunity for clarity in event he’s making that argument.

          • seattleoutcast

            Pait is acting on double standards. He believes that private institutions are capable of fraud, but public institutions are only capable of it in principle. And, of course, he brings this up without even paying attention to the content of the post.

          • Makaden

            “hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue”

            Yeah, de la Rochefoucauld said that because the virtue could still be presumed to be shared among the accused and the accuser in 17th century France. What he did not foresee is that hypocrisy can also be charged to someone for not standing for _their own_ principles, even if the accuser does not share such principles. This isn’t a difficult piece of logic. Islamists made such charges in exactly the scenario described after Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib–and they were right. And the left does it to the right dozens of time each day in the media. Hell, Comrade Billy Goat cannot seem to help himself each and every time he posts, for God’s sake.

            So, yes, you have much work to do. But the consciousness-raising you presume should be concentrated on your own.

          • Anthony

            No, there is much work to do among humanity (and if that’s my own then I claim them). Abu Ghraib, 17th century France may have a connection in your mind but Hypocrisy and its recognition is simple not tortured. Thanks.

          • Tom

            Really? I thought it was obvious. He used Islamists pointing out that Gitmo and Abu Ghraib were examples of the United States failing to live up to its purported ideals as an example of his point that hypocrisy is a charge that can be leveled against someone who you don’t share values with, something de la Rochefoucauld did not anticipate.

          • Anthony

            Immaterial and special pleading but that’s beside the point. My response (to Pait) specifically has to do with classical form of Hypocrisy (think of the evangelist caught in an extramarital affair after years of railing against the evils of infidelity and sexual licentiousness) involving a failure to adhere to a high moral standard being conflated for partisan purposes to lend a specious equivalence. Life is long Tom; give yourself an opportunity to live it – high moral aspirations emerge from the human mind and individuals consistently fail to live up to them; consequently, there may always be some new hypocrisy to call out. Meantime, to discuss Islamist, Rochefoucauld, and other, reply to the author.

          • Tom

            The problem with your criticism being that no special pleading has occurred at any point, and you have failed to address what your opponent has actually said.

          • Anthony

            No criticism and no opponent (an insight of time, Tom) – @26/27 years of age, Tom, enjoy life and give internet boards less time.

          • seattleoutcast

            I think someone is worried his cush university job will disappear.

          • Pait

            Very unlikely, if I may say so.

          • seattleoutcast

            Then you are part of the problem.

            I hope you realize that the students that pay your salary will be debt slaves for the rest of their lives. That would make me ashamed, but not you.

          • Pait

            You might consider the alternative explanation that I’m secure in my position because I offer good value to my employer. As I don’t hide behind a fake pseudonym they way troll army members do, it wouldn’t be difficult to check.

        • seattleoutcast

          First, your first paragraph applies to for-profit schools. So you’ve just rendered your argument moot.

          Also, if you believe that students are getting the best information before making their decisions, you are wrong. There is obvious collusion among higher educational institutions. All you need to do is look at the so-called statistics on STEM degrees to see that there are many science and engineering grads who never received work in their field. This is for many reasons, but one of the main culprits is allowing foreigners to get these lucrative jobs at a much lower pay.

          Also, students are being lied to with regards to liberal arts degrees. They are being told that getting a degree in Art History is sufficient for getting a job out of college. What they are not being told, and here is the fraud, is that they will never pay off their student loans with a job as a barista.

          • Pait

            As I said, there are cases of deliberate fraud, “take the money and run” institutions, which might be handled preferably by the courts. Trump University being the most salient example.

            I repeat that students do a very thorough job evaluating institutions before going to college. I understand that you don’t believe people should be entitled to making their own decisions, but while we still live in a free country, that’s your problem.

          • seattleoutcast

            You still haven’t said whether or not you think state-run institutions are capable of fraud.

          • Pait

            They are in principle capable of, of course.

            Public and private universities have all the incentives to align their offerings with what students demand, otherwise they lose students, revenue, prestige, jobs, and so on.

            Some private institutions are happy to lose students and close down after cashing their checks. That’s why they are the most frequent fraudsters. Again the now defunct Trump U is the most visible example.

          • seattleoutcast

            So, in principle, it is the right of the students to sue their (not so very) alma mater. Because universities, are, in principle run by people who, in principle often commit acts of fraud.

          • Pait

            As I said, courts are not a very adequate forum to decide whether a certain education was the best choice for a student. In the same way that courts are not a good forum to decide whether a certain brand of coffee was worth more than another.

          • seattleoutcast

            We’re talking deliberate fraud here. You are under the belief that the students idea of “fraud” is merely a bad decision on their part.

          • nervous122

            Listen, we don’t want folks having the freedom or choice of suing their university.

          • nervous122

            Citation please on first claim.

            As for second point, can I make my own decision to work for or pay less than min wage?

            Can I make my own decisions about drug use?

          • Pait

            In a country ruled by laws, your personal decisions do get somewhat restricted.

            If the existence of laws bothers you, you might consider the alternative of moving to a failed state such as Syria or Somalia.

        • Makaden

          “Students …. transfer out of schools and programs that do not work well for them.”

          Do they now? How about this: poor students on scholarship stuck in a program they might not have continuing confidence in, in order to stay in college must, in fact, stay in the program that offered them the scholarship.

          Congratulations for only speaking to rich people and assuming you speak for everyone.

          • Pait

            Well… the students on scholarships are not the ones that accumulate big debt.

            As I wrote repeatedly, students choose programs with great care. That’s true about the better off ones, the ones on full scholarships, and all the ones in between. I know you don’t trust people to make decisions on their own, but they do, and with great care.

          • Makaden

            You “know” this about me? On what evidentiary basis? Let’s give that one a pass.

            I happen to have been a college student before (five times, actually). None of my family ever went to college. We were very poor. I chose my four-year school based on the fact that it had a program I could possibly do (didn’t really know what I wanted) and it was just far enough from my family to make me feel independent but still get in-state tuition. I had no one to help me choose a program with great care, because I didn’t come from a social network of folks who had a clue. I worked 24 hours per week while going to school full time to help pay tuition and books.

            I happen to have chosen a college whose core principle was the dismantling of Western civilization–I know, what are the odds?

            I chose my PhD school based on a recommendation from a dear professor. At the time, I identified as a liberal. No one can anticipate the vicissitudes of life and how they affect the kind of student debt one must take out to finish a program you have started. And it wasn’t until I was in the program a few years that I realized that, as the only straight, white, cis, male in the program, I and I alone was funded at a scholarship level less than literally everyone else in the program. I couldn’t have known beforehand. Life and poverty, as they came into conflict with the structure and demands of the program, caused a great accumulation of debt. And I got another heavy dose of “Down-with-the-West” and poor treatment (besides the scholarship issue) from (some) faculty because of my previously mentioned life descriptors, since I was evil incarnate.

            So, if you purport to speak for the students you teach, you suck at it. You should probably stop with such an arrogant presumption. Especially since you are essentially making an accusation of hypocrisy at the families that want to sue those institutions, by suggesting they knew what they were getting into when they signed up, thus assigning them ulterior/secondary/hypocritical motives for wanting to sue.

          • Pait

            A lot of the reason why college has become more expensive is because of the extra services directed towards people who, for one reason or another, are less well equipped to apply, be admitted, and finish in time. Some argue that the extra expenses unnecessarily increase the cost of education; one of the benefits is making it less likely that students of less favored background develop the culture of resentment you allude too.

            It is not often productive to have an argument with basis on personal experience in an anonymous conversation, however let me say that, if indeed your professors wished to imbue students with a death wish upon Western civilization, its values, its culture, and its ancient universities, they have succeeded admirably. You should congratulate them!

          • Tom

            Wait wait wait, hold it. Because Makadan disagrees with your assessment of students as purely rational actors and thinks the current climate of academia is lousy he hates Western civilization, its values, and its culture?
            I realize you think you have The One True Way, but that’s just nuts.

  • Anthony

    Peculiar period we’re in ($1.44 trillion in outstanding student loan debt). Premises assumed are 1) colleges are producing worthless degrees; 2) colleges are, moreover, soaking both gullible parents and their college attending children for exorbitant tuition costs. Hmmmm.

    How much does your college education really cost? Well, here’s another view: theweek.com/articles/706375/how-much-does-college-education-really-cost

    • Pait

      I found the key phrase in the article to be the following: “The crushing debt load is having a ripple effect on the economy, affecting home ownership and other household financial obligations.”

      It is as if the author assumes “paying for college bad”, “spending on houses + cars good”. Yes, it’s a choice people make – spend on health and education, or spend on autos and real estate. There’s not reason to put a judgement of value on that – except that education (I added health to the argument as well) has a high return on investment, while an old car or an old house works just as well.

      It is true that the sticker price on college looks high from the point of view of someone who earns an average wage. The average family has many alternatives to make education more affordable – state colleges, scholarships of various sorts, work-study, and so on. The complaints almost invariably come from wealthy people who resent the fact that less rich ones are getting an education they are not able to get into.

      The problem of loan defaults in concentrated in the fraudulent for profit sector. Not coincidentally, the sector that critics of education are most favorable too.

      As for the other thread, it is better to declare the trolls won and have them have the last word. They have no interest in the subject at hand anyway. It’s just a way for some to vent off their unresolved Freudian frustrations, and for others to collect their 50 cents from China.

      • Anthony

        Concur. You anticipated my point (peculiar period: education at college level bad considering costs and value added?).

        That key phrase reflects an economist eye and assumes a priori values. Finally, your last word quip has always merited with me. And I subscribe to it more than not. Thanks, Pait.

  • Pete

    The pigs in government protect themselves first and foremost and the public be damned

  • FriendlyGoat

    This looks to me more like closing a door on creditors of bankrupts than anything else. Apparently, attorneys of “trustees” (for creditors) thought this would be a dandy way to recover monies to distribute to creditors of people who have gone bankrupt after maybe having paid for some college. Connecticut appears to be saying fuggedaboudit—–which it should. WHO was going to be alleging the worthlessness of college courses? The students? The parents? Nah, the present creditors at the time of a bankruptcy. Heck, THEY will say or do anything.

    • LarryD

      But they have to convince a bankruptcy judge that their claim is valid. Don’t trust judges, FG?

      • FriendlyGoat

        Connecticut doesn’t, apparently, in that setting. If we’re going to debate whether colleges are frauds, it ought to be done by the actual customers, not by surrogates with conflicts of interest.

  • Josephbleau

    Sure, don’t let contingency lawyers sue colleges but advocate malpractice suits of Doctors who deliver kids with genetic diseases. Must be a difficult choice for the ABA financed legislature.

  • Neo

    This is all the more reason to treat colleges in the same manner at other investments.
    Every publicly held offering has certain requirements to the investors, but apparently, colleges want to be treat like ice cream dispensers who have no liability past making sure the “jimmies” are put on properly.

    • not a liberal

      Money to burn?
      This state couldn’t light a match. They do like keeping lawyers busy though.

      I get the argument that a number of graduates may feel the state universities may have not prepared them for the competitive market at the cost they paid to the school. The thing that comes to mind to me would be, how many of the degrees awarded are actually useless? Womens studies, African studies, Social justice degrees….? When “everyone must get a degree”, they look for curriculums that accommodate students that probably should not go to college.
      Wait until they make college free. Then you will see the real cost.

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