It’s no secret that a student debt crisis exists; with so many students being forced to borrow piles of money with the promise that doing so will help them pave the way to their dreams, it was inevitable. But what if the real reason college has become increasingly inaccessible is that the institution itself is a “scam meant to perpetuate the 1 percent”?

Thomas Frank, a Salon politics and culture columnist, found himself inspired by the recent outrage over “trigger warnings” that some American universities are being pushed to place on syllabi next to reading materials that may cause students “psychic distress.” When Frank read that one of these warnings would be “classism,” he took the warning and ran with it. Classism is exactly what college students need to be given notice of, the columnist argues with biting sarcasm.


Yes! Elite university students must be warned about “classism”! Not on course syllabi or the cover of a book as though it’s comsymp lit or something. No, they need to see it in big red letters inscribed on those elite universities themselves — stamped on every tuition bill and financial aid form and diploma they produce, spelled out in the quadrangle pavement, flashing from a neon sign above every dormitory so no one can miss it:

“Warning: This place exists to enforce class distinctions.”

Perhaps those universities exist to educate, too. Perhaps professors here and there still concern themselves with whether students understand epic poems and differential equations. But that stuff is incidental. The university’s real purpose, as just about every modern college entrance guide will confirm, is to make graduates wealthy. Not too many employers really care what you studied there, or how well you did; they only care that you got in and that you got a diploma, our society’s one-and-only ticket into the middle class. Graduate from college and you have a chance of joining life’s officer corps. Quit after high school and it doesn’t matter how well you know your Nietzsche; you will probably spend the rest of your days as a corporal…

Then again, maybe a “classism” warning isn’t exactly what the rest of us need. For many of us college is not some storybook court of honor where we get promoted to white-collar knighthood, but a straight-up debt mill. For many of the students I am describing here, the standard trajectory of higher ed has been reversed—instead of lifting them up, their degrees drag them down. To go to college, many of them have had to make a monumentally risky financial decision, and warning labels seem very much in order.

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—Posted by Natasha Hakimi Zapata


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