"Thank you. I can't tell you how much I don't need this."
  • "Thank you. I can't tell you how much I don't need this."
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Guest Editorial by San Diego State University President Elliot Hirshman

A recent article in these pages cast aspersions on the likely event that I would receive a pay raise, even as SDSU was imposing new fees on students and considering a five-percent hike in tuition. On the face of it, the concern is reasonable: why, in these tough economic times, would I need to make an additional $12K over my already astonishing $400K salary? But of course, need has nothing to do with it. Neither does merit. And I'm not even going to hide behind the fact that my contract guarantees it. No, I'm getting this raise because it's the best thing for the students here at San Diego State.

If you really listened to those recent college grads in the drum circles at Occupy Wall Street, the thing you heard loudest was shock. I mean, yes, a lot of the talk was about injustice and greed and the radical destabilization of our economy by a tiny number of short-sighted bananafish. But under all that, the thing that really provided the impetus to protest? Shock. These kids had been sold a bill of goods. They'd been told that if they worked superhard in high school and managed to perform, they'd be able to get into a good college. And if they got into a good college and worked superhard and managed to perform there, they could get a job that would pay them enough to pay off the insane amount of debt they'd taken on in order to pay for their education at that good college. And then they graduated into the teeth of the Great Recession. And there were no jobs, let alone jobs that paid enough to pay off their debt.

These kids were screwed from the start, and they never saw it coming. Like I said: shock. You had business majors realizing they could have studied history, or something else they actually cared about, and still wound up in the same place, moneywise. Which is to say, at the bottom of a very deep hole — without a ladder, or even so much as a foothold.

This was, frankly, a grave disservice to an entire generation of young people. We let them live in a dream, even as we built a world that would turn that dream into a nightmare. That ends here. College should be about preparing students for life after college. They need to start learning about what they're going to be facing upon graduation: increased concentration of wealth, increased cost of living, and diminished opportunity. When they start to think of their "student success fee" going to pay for my weekend in Cancun — that will be the first step toward a real education.

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