It's no big secret that "Buy low and sell dear," is a rule that has governed market relations for so long that it is now treated as an axiom. The only way to get ahead is to turn a profit. For the worker - that is, the person who has only his labor power to sell - turning a profit means earning a wage or salary that exceeds the expenses she incurs in seeing to her wants and needs.
The worker has every incentive to get the most money for her time and effort. Employers interested in purchasing her time and effort, however, have every incentive to pay her as little as they can get away with. This make for a rather tense bargaining situation. But the employer, who owns the means by which to direct the worker's time and effort toward a profitable end (the production of salable goods or services), holds the high ground in the situation and can bargain down the worker to the point where he secures her time and effort at a most favorable rate, a rate that allows him to maximize the amount of profit he's able to realize.
Many factors go into the advantaged enjoyed by the employer - more, at any rate, than can be listed here. Suffice it to say that the worker does have one card in her hand to play: She can acquire skills that make the nature of her working ability a more specialized sort, the logic being that the more specialized the ability, the rarer it is. Because it's relatively rare, it commands a higher price.
To acquire such skills these days workers aspiring to increase earning power enter colleges and universities of various sorts - nonprofit private and public, or for-profit private. Despite the status of the school, the reason for enrolling in it remains generally the same: the potential to earn greater pay in order to enjoy a decent standard of living.
College graduates of yesteryear achieved this standard of living by buying college education (relatively) cheaply and selling its fruits dearly. Thanks to various state and federal governmental programs and initiatives - Pell grants, easy-term student loans, affordable (and in some cases zero) tuition at state-supported institutions, scholarships - this exchange represented a doable enough possibility to attract people who generations before had no reasonable expectation of a higher education.
The continued doability of this arrangement has these days fallen into grave doubt. Interest rates for student loans have crept up to percentages that equal and sometimes surpass those attached to loans for homes and automobiles, and, most significantly, tuition rates have sailed upward at an astonishing rate. These factors have combined to push college out of reach of a great many citizens who, had they been born earlier, would very likely have been able to attend. Indeed, in terms of education, upward mobility, and other related facets of the so-called "American dream," the post-9/11 U.S. has begun to resemble its younger pre-World War II self.
This grittier reality of higher education in the early 21st century depends a lot on the behavior of the institutions involved. Some valiantly attempt to buck the tuition-hike trend, while others apparently remain content to be swept up in its train. "Some colleges are working hard to keep student debt under control, but others really stink," reports a January 8, 2012 Care2.com article. "U.S. News and World Report has released top 10 lists of the schools with the most and least student debt, and the contrast is astonishing."
Which schools work hardest to keep their students out of peonage? The names might surprise you. "Kentucky’s Alice Lloyd College had the lowest student debt of $3,108, with only 32 percent of 2010 graduates having taken on loans," the Care2.com article continues. "In second place was Princeton University, ranked as one of the two best universities nationally by the same publication, with 24 percent of 2010 graduates owing an average of $4,385."
And which schools cast their students into peonage? Again, the names might surprise you. "The school with the most student debt was Eastern Nazarene College, in Massachusetts, where 87 percent of 2010 graduates owe an average of $51,336. Following closely were Ohio Northern University and California's Holy Names University."
Over $50k in debt and facing doubtful employment prospects is how many of today's postcollegiates find themselves. Yet it might come to pass that these unfortunate souls will appear rather fortunate indeed, once tomorrow's grads are handed their education bills. "Tuition and fees at four-year public institutions now average $8,244 a year, up 8.3% from last year," reports a January 8, 2012 University World News article. "This year will undoubtedly usher in more tuition hikes as state and federal funding continues to diminish." If this is the established tendency, you shudder to think what the class of 2022 is going to owe.
"I owe, I owe, so off to work I go," goes the line of a spoof of a song made famous in Disney's "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves." And at least it used to be that someone in debt could console herself with the fact that she at least had employment that allowed her to service that debt. But with debt and no job, circumstances go from grim to dire in a hurry. The Occupy movement, which stationed itself in Zuccotti Park near Wall Street (a stronghold of global finance emblematic of the very ills plaguing the protests) and elsewhere throughout the U.S. and Canada, reminded the average American of precisely this fact. After all, buying cheap and selling dear only works if there are others to whom to sell. Force the so-called 99 Percent into debt servitude, and buying and selling threaten to cease altogether.