Civic republicanism is the idea in political thought that suggests that the members of society’s interconnectedness with one another, provides incentive and benefit for all members through engagement and working together in order that the common good of all can be achieved. Alternatively, classical liberalism finds its traditions in the principle of the individual’s right to liberty and one’s owns nature to pursue his or her own interests and that of which we see as beneficial to us.
Some of the great many of things that comes to mind when the term civic republicanism is mentioned are how we as a society understand and manage things like the prevention of disease, care for the environment, crime control and public defense, disease prevention, sanitation services, and the education of young people in the higher learning school system. The premise for all of these institutions (often referred to as public goods) is that the benefits that they provide, serve the best interests of society as a whole. In the cases of higher learning and management of the environment, proponents would agree that the more people that are engaged in them, the more successful that the institutions can be considered. As a result of that logic, advocates for all these things go through great lengths to educate society of their value to and promote government policies that reinforce their place in public life. I find this interesting, as I am not always sure that things are what they seem.
A moment ago I mentioned higher education as an institution that is widely accepted as useful tool for young people, the idea being that they will transform the education they received into a successful career, business, or other venture. In promotion of this idea, the government has made it extremely easy for almost anyone to go to college to receive an education. While the majority of Ivy League schools have remained competitive to get accepted into, most other two and four year universities in the country have become significantly easier to become a student at. Lowering the standards for admission, and ensuring that all students have a way to pay for their education through grants and loans have essentially made post high school education available and the desired outcome for an increasingly larger percentage of high school graduates. While on the surface this is widely seen as positive thing (more college educated people equals more productive members of society), I take the position that the devil is sometimes in the details.
While the percentage of college educated adults is higher than it has ever been, Americans have not seen wages rise in at least two decades. While the portion of our national debt attributed to student loans has increased dramatically in the last 20 years, more Americans are in need of public assistance and other forms of welfare than ever before. Universities and banks have profited billions of dollars, while the percentage of young people who are forced to live with their parents long after graduation day because of the enormous burden that their school debt has placed on them is at the highest we have seen in three generations. Many young degree holding Americans are forced to face the harsh reality that the careers they have been promised are simply not there; many will never find employment in their field of study and are forced into low paying food and customer service jobs. Defaults on student loans are at an all time high too, ensuring that some will never be able to work in the fields that they aspire to as well as make it impossible for them to open businesses where they may need capital to start.
Higher education is an example of something that while it is marketed as something that benefits us all, may not always do exactly what it is intended to do. If in the event that it does more harm than good, can it still be seen viewed to the civic republican as valuable to society as a whole? In my opinion, the answer is no. While higher education is certainly a public good, the fact remains that just because someone chooses to receive a college education, does not mean that their time or money spent in a university will produce a contributing member of society- in fact it may just even have the opposite effect for them.