Searching for a Solution

I’ve been thinking a lot about my research question today. Actually, I’ve been thinking a lot about research questions in general. There were so many results for my searches in the library. So many people have found areas of interest regarding economic inequality or the enticing but elusive American Dream. From my first short paper, I argued that economic inequality is a definite problem in the U.S. that affects everyone. The hundreds of thousands (and sometimes millions) of results that showed up after my searches supported this. Why have so much information available on economic inequality if it isn’t a problem, right? Why have a first-year seminar centered around economic inequality if there isn’t some idea in your head that it’s a problem?

Before narrowing down my results to the past five years to make the information I received more relevant, I saw that there were many articles, journals, books, and dissertations dated many decades back. These older, more outdated sources dealt with the same issues as what we are dealing with today (specifically in regard to rising costs of higher education), but the issues seem to have only been amplified as time moves forward. I feel as though the only thing that is progressing is time.

I aim to investigate how the rising cost of tuition and fees impacts postsecondary enrollment of students in the U.S. as well as the economic implications of my findings. First, I had to establish that there has been a rise in the cost of tuition and fees over a period of time. I found statistics over a twenty year time period that established that there have indeed been a significant rise in the costs involved with attending both community colleges and four-year public and private institutions. I wasn’t surprised by this because I, with a somewhat biased mindset, fully expected to see growing percentages in tuition and fees over the years. What did surprise me was when I found an article published in 1976 about how the rise in higher education costs impacted student enrollment. I did a double-take when I saw the date listed as 1976, over four decades ago from today. People so often complain about the enormous amount of debt they’re in or will be in after graduating from college because of how much tuition and fees cost today, especially in comparison to a decade (or several decades) ago. Because it’s seemingly so much worse now, the past seems like a dream in comparison. It’s easy to glorify the past when the present and predicted trends are overwhelmingly bleak in comparison. If there are journals from several decades ago explaining an issue and why that issue is a problem, why has the problem gotten worse? Why does it seem like no one is doing anything about the problems that plague our nation’s economy? Wouldn’t the people who already suffered from high college costs in the 1970s want to make a change for future generations? Surely, they wouldn’t want their children to have even more financial stress…right?

I like research projects in the sense that they allow students to read and evaluate sources from experts in a field. It’s a very in-depth and personal way to gain knowledge, especially in comparison to multiple choice tests. However, finding all of this information – knowing that there’s a vast array of scholarly knowledge that’s published and many experts in economics who believe that economic inequality is a problem in the U.S. that needs to be addressed and solved – makes me wonder why we seem to be digressing further and further away from a U.S. that allows everyone equality of opportunity.

Goldstein and Pinker’s Ted Talk does a good job discussing the importance of reason and empathy, but it fails (in my opinion) to provide anything substantial or conclusive that we can use going forward. After the talk, I have a solid understanding of the definitions of reason and empathy, but I’m not as certain as to how I can apply them in my daily life since Goldstein and Pinker left the discussion rather up in the air. They remarked on how we have abandoned some barbaric human practices, such as slavery and disembowelment. However, they also discussed how we continue to practice inhumane treatment of animals in factory farms, possess nuclear weapons, and tolerate rape in our nation’s prisons. Goldstein wonders if “when our great grandchildren look back at us, will they be as appalled by some of our practices as we are by our slave-owning, heretic-burning, wife-beating, gay-bashing ancestors?” This statement is a subtle acknowledgement that, although on different levels and in different ways, we continue to do wrong even though we know what we should be doing to do right.

This incorporation of the Ted Talk might seem out of context, but I associated it with my findings from my research question because of the absence of a clear answer to a clear problem. I’m full of questions and have a very minimal amount of knowledge in the field of economics and economic inequality. From the lack of progression (or the actual digression in some cases) on the issue of economic inequality, I can tell that it’s a very complicated matter. Seeing journals from the 1970s on problems then that have only worsened in the current times gives me a very bleak outlook. I’ve noticed that all of my blog posts have carried a tone of frustration and pessimism (although I prefer being coined a skeptic than a pessimist). I wish that I could have an optimistic attitude and a firm belief that things are going to be more fair for everyone in the U.S. and that soon no Americans will be living below the poverty line. I also wish that I could end this blog post with a solution – or at least on a sunny note.

The truth is that the only thing I have in common (that I know of) with the experts whose articles I read today is that I haven’t done anything to really change the U.S. economy for the better. The experts likely have made attempts to find a solution or have theories on how to better our economy while I’m still spinning in curiosity. Perhaps it’s easier for me to get fired up about economic inequality because I’m young and haven’t experienced as much disappointment from rejection of any proposed solutions. I’m not anywhere near accepting that this is how our economy will last – skewed far to the right by a small portion of individuals who hold forty percent of the nation’s wealth. However, today my morale has taken a hit because everything I’ve read indicates that accepting defeat is an ever popular choice.


1 thought on “Searching for a Solution”

  • A couple thoughts:
    * How do the experts explain the rising costs of higher education?
    * In commenting on Pinker & Goldberg, you are right that reason only goes so far in identifying the correct policy. If we could rule out the irrational policies that would make a huge improvement. What criteria are there to judge between different rational policies?

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