Saturday, September 28, 2013

Uncle Ho's Treat

The number is staggering: $61,977. That's the estimated cost for one year of schooling at NYU, now listed as the most expensive college in the country. To be clear, that number includes the costs paid directly to the school, including tuition and required fees, as well as room and board. Beyond that, there are a myriad of other out-of-pocket charges your budding scholar will likely rack up, including the cost of getting to and from their dorm, books and school supplies, and a health care plan if needed, as is now required under the new law. And no, it doesn't include what are arguably the most two important elements of any college education which can add substantially to the bottom line, namely beer and pizza.

But the astronomical sums are just one of the problems with higher education. The other is that regardless of what it costs, kids aren't training for the jobs we need. Look at a list of the ten most popular majors, and you'll see that while some are post-graduation money makers and others are not, most don't include the skills that will be at a premium for our future progress. After all, the number one major is business administration, arguably a most lucrative area. But without passing a moral or value judgment on the profession, will more people on Wall Street or in banking advance the state of gene therapy? And number two is psychology, a wonderful field aimed at understanding people, and good as a basis for everything from advertising to social work to criminal profiling. That being said, it's unlikely be the launching pad for a breakthrough in information processing.  

That's in this country. You have the same basic problem elsewhere, albeit with a slightly different focus. For instance, in Vietnam more students are electing to study areas they think will lead to future employment in that locale. In their developing economy, the hot buttons are communications, tourism, international relations and English. All well and good, but again, not the pressure points the government thinks the country is lacking. And so they have decided that if you want to attract people to a particular profession, you can't just dangle long term possibilities in front of them. Rather, you have to make it economically attractive in the short term as well. And so they have waived tuition to four year universities for students willing to focus on certain medical specialties in short supply, like the treatment of tuberculosis and leprosy. That, and of course the study of Marxism, Leninism and Ho Chi Minh Thought.

Just as students on these shores have to take a certain amount of US History, so too do Vietnamese pupils have to take three classes in the ideology of the founding fathers of Communism, as well as that country's specific varietal. But just as large numbers of American students find the minutia of democracy less than captivating, so too do Vietnamese students wilt when confronted with extended discussions of Uncle Ho's edicts. Or as one student said in a widely published AP article, "Studying Marxism and Leninism is rather dry and many students don't like it."  

It's a tough sell to say the least. While a degree in American History has never been a ticket to a high paying future job, at least you're studying a political system with some staying power. Contrast that with this Asian dragon's situation, whereby you have to balance an official state ideology against a market driven economy almost completely opposed to the founding principles. Is it any wonder that another student lamented that while it might be interesting, it is "just not applicable to my daily life."

Poor Uncle Ho, the man who famously was right when he said, "You can kill ten of our men for every one we kill of yours. But even at those odds, you will lose and we will win." But as with other one-named revolutionaries, like Mao or Fidel, in the end his political revolution couldn't defeat an economic one, perhaps the very definition of winning the battle but losing the war. Then again, under this new edict, if you study him your schooling is free, and that is one of the ten tenets of Communism. Perhaps Uncle Ho would at least be proud of that.


Marc Wollin of Bedford would like some day to visit Vietnam. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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