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College campus protests and the value of a degree
Apr 26, 2024
Episode 1148

College campus protests and the value of a degree

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Do Americans think college is worth it anymore?

Protests over Israel’s war in Gaza have erupted at universities across the United States. We’ll discuss what the sweeping protests and other high-profile political battles at colleges could mean for the economics of higher education. And, what the Federal Reserve might look like under a second Donald Trump presidency. Plus, we’ll play a round of Half Full / Half Empty!

Here’s everything we talked about today:

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Make Me Smart April 26, 2024 Transcript

Note: Marketplace podcasts are meant to be heard, with emphasis, tone and audio elements a transcript can’t capture. Transcripts are generated using a combination of automated software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting it.

Kimberly Adams 

Don’t blame Jasper.

Meghan McCarty Carino 

Wow. I think this is the first time.

Kimberly Adams 

It is not Jasper’s fault that we’re late. Hello everyone, I’m Kimberly Adams. Welcome back to Make Me Smart, where we make today make sense. It’s Friday, April the 26th.

Meghan McCarty Carino 

And I am Megan McCarty Carino in for Kai Ryssdal. I thought I could do without my second set of headphones, but no, I need them. It is Friday. Thanks for joining us on this podcast and the YouTube live stream. And it’s time for our weekly happy hour episode. I’m ready for it. It’s Economics on Tap.

Kimberly Adams 

Yes, we’re going to get to some news. We’re going to take a break and then we’re going to play a game. But before we get to it, Megan, what are you drinking? Although I already know. Anybody who looked at the newsletter knows.

Meghan McCarty Carino 

Right, so I am drinking a Cynar spritz. I believe that’s how the Italians say it. It is an artichoke amaro. And I was inspired by the kind of glut of beautiful artichoke plants I’ve been seeing in my neighborhood with artichokes all growing out of them and the beautiful thistle flowers. And so, I decided to try some Cynar, which is an artichoke amaro. What are you drinking?

Kimberly Adams 

Have you had it before?

Meghan McCarty Carino 

I have had it before. I have never bought a full bottle of it before.

Kimberly Adams 

I had it for a while.

Meghan McCarty Carino 

I’m a bitter and kind of odd gal, so I’m into it.

Kimberly Adams 

I saw that you were making that and so, I have Cynar. Your face. Oh my gosh, Meghan. It was a little too good. I saw that you were making it, and so I was like, you know what, I’ve got some Cynar. I’ll try it too. I have Prosecco. So yes. So, we’re doing these Cynar spritz. I’m in the office, so I don’t have a proper wine glass. I decided to make one too.

Meghan McCarty Carino 

We have matching Cynar spritzes. How cute are we?

Kimberly Adams 

Very cute. It was a little too bitter for me. And so, I took the option of adding a little fruit flavored sparkling water. I already added a little dash of citrus. What is your news?

Meghan McCarty Carino 

Well, yeah. I think I need another drink before we start this. I thought that, you know, that we should just take a beat and like, acknowledge what’s been going on college campuses for the last week and a half.  Things have been tense. There have been, you know, mass demonstrations, police arresting people on college campuses, which is, I mean, that’s pretty remarkable. It’s, you know, something that hasn’t really happened at this level in decades. More than half a century pretty much since, you know, the student protests of 1968. And USC canceled its main commencement ceremony. You know, kind of without wading into, you know, characterizing the nature of these protests and kind of what they’re about.

Kimberly Adams

I mean, they’re pro-Palestinian protests.

Meghan McCarty Carino

Sure. I mean. I guess in terms of whether with the degree to which they are, you know, causing violence and threats on universities and that kind of stuff. Whether universities have taken the right actions or not, whether they’re justifiable. I think that a lot of people, probably at those universities and in the country, no matter where you kind of stand on this stuff probably feels that a university has done something to alienate you in the last, definitely in the last, you know, week and a half and probably in the last, you know, half of a half of a year. And just kind of looking at it within this broader trajectory of a growing loss of faith in the institutions of universities. I was just, you know, I was just checking out today. Both the New York Times, and The Washington Post had profiles of students on college campuses, you know, just kind of students who are involved in protest to various degrees, students who are completely uninvolved who are just trying to finish their year. And the kind of theme that I saw these are many of the students who are graduating this year were graduating from high school in 2020. So, they had completely disrupted the senior year of high school, went to college, you know, and college campuses are, yet again no matter where you stand, I think for a lot of a lot of folks on college campuses feel unsafe. Feel, you know, that the institution has failed them in some way. And, yeah, so I was just really struck by what these college students were saying. One of them, I think, said kind of something that encapsulated it, which was just that, you know, I’m basically leaving college with this terrible taste in my mouth, and kind of connecting that to the economics of universities, which is kind of what we’re about here. Just looking at it, you know. I mean, college enrollment has been dropping. I saw it dropping after COVID because, obviously, you know, I think folks were not wanting to take out huge amounts of student loans to go do Zoom University and be stuck in their dorm rooms and that kind of thing. But there is kind of a looming cliff for college enrollment, which is 2025, I guess, sort of demographically is seen as the peak of high school graduating classes in terms of the number of students. So, there is a kind of natural, just because of the sizes of generations and kind of declining fertility rates and that kind of stuff in the country, and that college enrollment has been going down and it will continue to go down kind of precipitously after 2025. Again, you know, we’re not kind of talking about these elite institutions like Columbia, Yale, Stanford, USC, you know, that have kind of tiny admissions rates, but in general. Public opinion has been pretty negative on universities. Wall Street Journal had a poll last year that showed a majority of Americans don’t think a college degree is worth the cost. Gallup polling showing kind of decreasing share of Americans and particularly young Americans kind of having a favorable view of four-year college degree. And often the kind of reason that is cited, the most cited reason in Wall Street Journal poll was that it just wasn’t worth the money, that the economic return was not worth it. And I think, you know, I don’t know. My assumption is that the kind of bad publicity that many universities have been getting over the last, you know, year or so, with so much conflagration and congressional hearings, and, you know, I do not envy university administrators, but there have been some pretty remarkable things.

Kimberly Adams 

Yeah, it’s interesting, that point you made a few minutes ago, where you’re saying that, you know, everybody now has a reason to be mad at universities. You had conservatives mad at universities for, you know, DEI initiatives, and for you know, being too woke, and now you have more liberal folks being upset, you know, this perceived crackdown on freedom of speech. And it also really brings in. And I was thinking we should do a story on this about the power of endowments and the funding model for especially a lot of these private universities and even the public ones to some extent that rely so much on donor largesse to, you know, handle certain amounts of the way that these universities are run, which makes them beholden in some ways to the whims of said donors. And that is worth exploring. And I mean, every time I, you know, hear people, particularly older people complaining about oh, you know, younger generations don’t know how to spend their money and you know, blah, blah, blah. You shouldn’t have taken on so much debt. Every so often, I’ll go back and look at how much college actually cost for older generations, particularly relative to average salaries and things like that. I think Janet Nguyen did a really good breakdown of this on Marketplace’s website at one point, and it’s just astronomical how much more expensive it’s gotten, and the level of just crushing debt that so many people are dealing with. So, you have to imagine the stakes for some of these students, right? You’re in a very expensive school. I mean, at some of these schools, probably, you know, there’s certain financial demographics at play. But I mean, you’re spending all this money to be in school, and you are choosing to sit it out, right? You’re choosing not to go to class. You’re choosing to potentially get kicked out of school, potentially be arrested because you care deeply about a cause. And, you know, that’s a decision. That’s tough. That’s tough. And I hope that, you know, right now, it seems the vast majority of these protests are peaceful. Let’s hope people can keep the anti-Semitic language out of it, and the anti-Muslim language out of it and actually keep focused on, you know, the policy change goals that the students I believe are advocating for. And hopefully, it’ll remain as calm as possible, which for the most part has been, it seems. But anyhow. Well, boy. Nick asked a really interesting question. Do we see protests at trade schools? No. As Jason says, they’re too busy working. That’s a very interesting point. And the trade school thing is such a big part of the discussion. I think a growing part of the discussion. because I’ve done some reporting on this, and I know you have as well. And to a lot of young people, it’s just a better option, right? Because you’re going to make your money back, for sure. And your skills are in demand and faster. You know, I guess. When I was doing the reporting on this, the people running these sort of training organizations said they just have to fight against the elitism basically classism around it because they said everybody’s wants their kid to go to college to be a doctor, but a lot of people don’t want their kid to go to trade school to be a plumber. And until we, you know, shake that stigma, it’s not going to get any better because we need plumbers as we need doctors. Yes, yes, we do need plumbers as much as we need doctors. Anyway, Karen said, please do an article on trade schools. We have. You can find them on marketplace.org. We’ve several. All right. I should move on to my news, which is this exclusive in the Wall Street Journal. It’s pretty blockbuster, where they got access to this 10-page document that some Trump allies have put together that calls for if Trump were to win, for him to get more control over the central bank over the Federal Reserve. So, it said “Former Trump administration officials and other supporters of the presumptive GOP nominee have in recent months discussed a range of proposals from incremental policy changes to a longshot assertion that the President himself should play a role in setting interest rates. A small group of the former president’s allies whose work is so secretive, that even some prominent former Trump economic aides weren’t aware of it has produced this document,” right? And so, this group. I’m skipping here a bit. “The group of Trump allies argues that he should be consulted on interest rate decisions, and the draft document recommends subjecting fed regulations to White House review, and more forcefully using the Treasury Department as a check on the central bank. The group also contends that Trump if he returns to the White House, would have the authority to oust Jerome Powell as a Fed chair before his four-year term ends in 2026.” Right? And the Journal says it couldn’t be determined whether or not Trump was aware of this effort or signed off on this this document. But this would be very bad for the economy. There’s no kind of waffling on that, and global markets would not like that very much. And when we think about potential consequences to the economy and to the global economy of a second Trump term, things like this are what other world leaders are looking at as they are trying to plan and what you know, risk agencies are looking at. And Catherine Rampell of the Washington Post did a really detailed thread sort of breaking down what some of the consequences of these sorts of changes would do, as did the Wall Street Journal. And Catherine was on the weekly wrap on the PM show today. And I was chatting with her beforehand, saying how I’m trying to decide sort of as a reporter, at what point do we really start getting into the nitty gritty of the policy proposals of the presidential candidates because we’re a bit early in the cycle for the fully formed strategies that they’re going to run on. And also, Presidential candidates tend to promise things on the campaign trail they have no power to do. But like, when in the news cycle, do we really need to start digging into these policies in order to make sure that everybody has the information they need to go to the polls? And so, I’m sort of trying to figure that out. So yeah, that’s what I got for news.

Meghan McCarty Carino 

All right.

Kimberly Adams 

Did you see that story?

Meghan McCarty Carino 

That’s a heavy duty one. Yeah. I mean, it called to mind for me, you know, when Trump was president, and kind of the shock when he criticized Jerome Powell saying, you know, that he had kept was, you know, was, you know, setting rate policy according to political, you know, kinds of considerations. And just that at that time that was seen as this, you know, kind of unprecedented thing that he would sort of publicly speak out against.

Kimberly Adams 

Right.

Meghan McCarty Carino

Yeah, so this is the next level.

Kimberly Adams 

And then, that time that he basically hinted at the jobs numbers before they came out. Remember that? Memory lane. All right, that is it for the news. We are going to take a break, and when we come back, we’re going to play a round of Half Full/Half Empty. We will be right back. I feel like I traumatized y’all in the chat with that story. Sorry. People are going back for an extra drink. All right, we are back. It is now time to play Half Full/Half Empty hosted by the amazing Drew Jostad, who I don’t even think gets a drink for the game. I’m sorry, Drew.

Meghan McCarty Carino 

He’s fully empty.

Drew Jostad 

Nobody ever asked me about that. I had a peppermint fennel tea today.

Kimberly Adams 

Nice. That sounds delicious.

Drew Jostad 

No Cynar spritzes, but anyway.

Kimberly Adams 

All right. What’s half full, half empty?

Drew Jostad 

The first topic comes from Fox Business. These are some new buzzwords. We remember quiet quitting. The next one we have is “resenteeism,” which would be low productivity due to resentment toward your job and bare minimum Mondays. Are you half full or half empty?

Kimberly Adams 

I don’t. I don’t want to get myself in trouble.

Meghan McCarty Carino 

I will just say. I am always half empty on these made-up stupid workplace trends as the workplace reporter. I actually got pitched on this. What is it?

Drew Jostad

Resenteeism.

Meghan McCarty Carino

Resenteeism. I literally thought it was a typo when I got the email and then I was like, oh no resenteeism because I thought it was presenteeism, which is not kind of a you know, made up trend but kind of an actual, you know, problem that in HR People who come to work when they shouldn’t because they’re sick or whatever. But you know, I’m half empty on quiet quitting, quiet firing, resenteeism. It’s hard to say. I don’t know where to put them, and where to put the emphasis. It’s half empty.

Drew Jostad

It’s bad branding,

Kimberly Adams 

The emphasis is on the syllables. I am half full because I actually like the idea of naming these things. Like, I don’t think it needs to be trendy. I don’t think it needs to be mean. But I do think that naming something allows you to address it, right? And I think that when these terms come up, and the quiet quitting, resenteeism and presentism, whatever. It’s reflective of, especially a generation that is like, we’re not going to keep working for people who treat us poorly, and then have you expect max output from us. If you’re not paying me appropriately, or if I have no stake in the success of the work that I’m doing, and my managers are not great. And then you expect me to show up and bring 100%. Hard pass. You know, hopefully, some manager out there will hear that this is a thing and be like, oh, what can I do to make sure that my employees are not so resentful that they choose to only bring the bare minimum to work? Let me be better at life. You know, so I’m half full on it. Yeah.

Meghan McCarty Carino 

Okay. All right. I’ll give that to you.

Drew Jostad 

Next up, are you half full or half empty on the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, which is tomorrow?

Meghan McCarty Carino 

Oh, who’s the host?

Drew Jostad

Colin Jost.

Kimberly Adams 

Okay. So, I was talking to Sean McHenry, who’s one of the producers and the director on the PM show today about how I’ve never been to the correspondents’ dinner. I’ve never been invited to the correspondents’ dinner. And I got a text from a friend of mine in New York. And she was like, “Hey, I’m in town for the correspondents’ dinner. Are you going?” And I was like, “No, Miss editor-in-chief of a news website.” I have never been invited to the correspondents’ dinner because you have to be a member of the White House Correspondents Association. Marketplace doesn’t have a White House correspondent. And also, the individual news organizations by tables. It’s a big thing. And so, no. I’m not going to the correspondents’ dinner. I have been invited to some of the parties and the after parties and things like that. But I’m not going. I don’t feel like going out this weekend, I’m going to be at home. But in terms of the correspondents’ dinner, I’m going to say half full for purely personal reasons. And that, a lot of my friends really like it. And I love seeing my friends all dressed up and their nice dresses, and they all have a great time. And the associated parties here in DC can be fun. And it’s a little Hunger Games level of access in terms of like the capital city going wild on its own ego, but you know, this is what we got.

Meghan McCarty Carino 

I feel very torn here. I’m half full on the jokes that come out. They’re usually pretty good, and I like to watch you know, the highlight reels and that kind of thing. I don’t know, though on the whole, glittery schmooze thing with the press and the president. Like, I think it’s always nice when you can get together with your colleagues, and I’m sure it is a really intense.

Kimberly Adams

It’s a hard job.

Meghan McCarty Carino

Yeah. I mean, it’s such a pressure cooker and I’m sure that it’s nice to kind of let off steam and then laugh and have some, you know, time to do that. But on principle, I don’t know if I like it. The schmoozy schmooze schmoozer.

Kimberly Adams 

You know what we can both report back once we’ve actually gone. How about that?

Kimberly Adams 

All right.

Meghan McCarty Carino

All right. What’s the next one?

Drew Jostad 

Okay, a new bill working its way through the California State Senate would put regulations on Clear, which is the private airport security FasTrak company. Are you half full or half empty on security line cutters?

Kimberly Adams 

Somebody commented when I posted that story in Slack that it’s funny to see people paying $89 to cut the line mad at the people who paid like 100 something dollars to cut the line. So, as a long-term member of TSA Precheck, look there are some serious security considerations around Clear that have been raised by some other reporting. I also think that it’s a little weird to have a private company that plugged in with you know, the security component of flying. And yes, of course it’s security theater. This is not the way that we catch most terrorists and most threats to the flying public. But yeah, I’m half full at taking another look at that relationship.

Meghan McCarty Carino 

So, with Clear is that one, what kind of biometrics are used in that?

Kimberly Adams 

I think it’s your eyes.

Meghan McCarty Carino 

Yeah, I’m half empty on that private company. I actually tried. I tried to sign up for one of them. I think it was that one. I think it was Clear while I was waiting in line at the airport, you know, I got accosted by like a salesperson. And he was like, yeah, just see if you can, you know. Let’s just like see whatever if your credit card covers it or something, and they could not verify my identity. I couldn’t do it. So, I don’t know. I’m like Hana. Like I got my you know, like the show with the girl who was like off the grid, you know, I don’t know. I have no identity. I don’t know why. I don’t know why. It couldn’t verify.

Kimberly Adams

All right. What else we got, Drew?

Drew Jostad 

Yesterday was Take Your Child to Work Day. Marketplace Morning Report had a story about the five-year-old son of a high school basketball coach who helps his dad coach his team. Are you half full or half empty on Take Your Child to Work Day?

Kimberly Adams 

All the way full. Love it. And we’ll remind our dear listeners of the time that on a Take Your Child to Work Day that shall forever live in infamy. Some kid turned off NPR for more than a minute because they were giving these kids a tour of the studios. And they pushed like just the right combo of buttons in the studio.

Meghan McCarty Carino

Yeah, I mean. Is there one button that can turn off NPR?

Kimberly Adams 

I don’t know, but it was hilarious. So, I am all the way full. And I remember my dad taking me to work with him sometimes. And I always thought it was cool to walk the factory floor and stuff like that. So, all the way full. How about you?

Meghan McCarty Carino 

I’ll do all the way full too. I forgot that’s not really an option. But yeah, I’ll do all the way full on that.

Kimberly Adams 

The options are what we make them.

Meghan McCarty Carino 

That story, by the way, for those who have not listened to that story is one of the cutest things you will ever hear on Marketplace, which, you know, doesn’t always have the cutest things, but it is the cutest thing. Yeah, I used to go with my dad to work. He worked like swing shift at the hospital as a nurse when I was a kid. And the best part of that was the cafeteria where they had sugar cereal in those little, tiny, tiny little boxes.

Kimberly Adams 

The reason I always went with my dad to work was because my mother worked at the school that I attended, so I was always at work with my mother.

Meghan McCarty Carino 

Yeah, my mom had my mom was kind of like a freelancer, so she didn’t have a workplace. So, she had nowhere to take me.

Kimberly Adams 

The home. All right, what’s next?

Drew Jostad 

This is the poll.

Kimberly Adams 

All right, everybody get ready. I know we’ve been like chatting everybody for so long. So yes, everybody in the chat, get ready for the poll. Let’s do it.

Drew Jostad 

All right, I’m going to give the prompt and then I’ll do the give you the backstory. Half full or half empty on AI-generated cocktail recipes. Last month, a Houston cocktail bar had a humans versus machines special drink menu where patrons could compare four human designed cocktails with four ChatGPT ones and vote for the winners. So, are you half full or half empty on robot beverages?

Kimberly Adams 

I feel like everybody’s going to know my take on this since I have openly made cocktails based on what I got from ChatGPT. What about you?

Meghan McCarty Carino 

Well, I think this is probably one of the maybe safer uses of AI. Although I will say I have gotten some odd combinations. Maybe not as odd as putting an artichoke in your cocktail, but on the order of it. I’m half full on this, you know?

Kimberly Adams 

I feel like even though I can get really great ideas from ChatGPT on cocktails, and especially if it’s like, I have these ingredients, what can I make. It’s helpful for that. I do think that a good bartender and mixologist is just magical, and the way that they can use the human creativity to layer flavors and presentation, and like the smoke and the performance art of it. I think that there’s always going to be like a beautiful human touch to a well-crafted drink. So, I am half full on this existing, but I don’t think it’s going to meaningfully make us not want to go to bars. All right, Drew, let’s close. The poll says half full 52%, half empty 47% with 167 votes. So, pretty good split. All right. Yeah. Right, that is it for us today. Kai and I will be back on Monday. But in the meantime, if you want more Make Me Smart in your life, which of course I am sure you do. Sign up for our newsletter. And this week, we’re getting into the power of product reviews. By the way, you can leave us a review on your podcast platform of choice or on YouTube. Hopefully, a nice one. Yeah, you know, we like honesty, but product reviews and whether they can actually tank a company or a podcast. You’ll also get links to what we are reading in the newsletter and of course drinking, so subscribe to the latest issue at marketplace.org/smarter. Make Me Smart is produced by Courtney Bergsieker. Today’s episode was engineered by Charlton Thorp. Our intern is Thalia Menchaca.

Meghan McCarty Carino 

The team behind our Friday game is Emily Macune and Antoinette Brock. Marissa Cabrera is our senior producer. Bridget Bodnar is the director of podcasts. And Francesca Levy is the executive director of Digital and On-Demand.

Kimberly Adams 

Yes. They’re requesting a chair dance, Meghan, in the chat.

Meghan McCarty Carino 

A chair dance?

Kimberly Adams 

There you go. Everybody happy? Oh well, my ego, you got good posture.

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