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Consumerism and Democracy
Higher Education
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June 2012

Cropped 2011 head shotSummertime


June is such a great month: Father's Day, the summer solstice, graduations, and vacations. Hope you have plenty to celebrate!


I am proud to share with you that, later this month, I will be receiving "Communicator of the Year" from IABC/LI. It has been my privilege to serve as chapter president for this international group. I have served with a Board of Directors that, while small, was energetic, sincere, and successful in keeping the chapter running. It was a challenge, and could not have been accomplished without them. Next year's Board is just as terrific, and I am looking forward to working with them.

Consumerism and Democracy

The American Brand 


Niall Ferguson recently appeared on a PBS show in which he gave six reasons why the West has dominated the world economically and culturally for the past several hundred years. His six "killer apps" for accomplishing and sustaining this domination are:

  • Competition
  • Science
  • Medicine
  • Democracy
  • Consumerism
  • Work ethic
While competition goes back to cavemen, and Asians are well known for science, medicine, and work ethic, consumerism and democracy are iconic Western innovations. The ability for just about anyone to become educated, improve his or her economic situation, buy a house, or start a business has driven immigration to Western hemisphere countries for at least 400 years (more in the case of Britain). And that drives consumerism; which drives more business. This escalating cycle has worked very well for a long time. In America, each generation has expected the next generation to do better because of our democratic institutions and upwardly mobile philosophy.

This comprises the core of the "American brand." When products are marketed worldwide, many marketers use expressions of this uniquely American brand to attract customers. Regardless of what people in other parts of the world may think about our government and its policies, American culture and American brands are coveted. 

Another important aspect of the American brand is our propensity for risk-taking. When you think about it, most of the people who came here were tremendous risk-takers. They left everything they knew, everyone they knew, to come to a strange place--many did not know the language--to reinvent themselves or to give a better life to their children. And in nearly every case they were right. But it took an optimistic attitude and a lot of self-confidence to trek half-way around the globe (in some cases) to begin anew. This, also, is part of the American brand.

Attaching attributes of freedom, affluence, upward mobility, optimism, and confidence has been effective in marketing a variety of products. And that is not likely to change any time soon, in spite of macro-economic volatility both here and around the world.
Higher Education

An Investment or An Expense?


With Memorial Day just observed, and the marking of the 68th anniversary of D-Day this month, I have been thinking of what a boon the GI Bill was: how many people were able to achieve a college education and how much they contributed to our economy and society. Compare that with our attitudes and practices regarding higher education today. So it begs the question: is higher education an investment in our collective future--both economically and culturally--or is it an expense to be borne by individuals and families for their own benefit?


Sadly, it seems to be the latter, these days. In a recent study of the process of college selection, financing higher education emerged as one of the most important factors in selecting a school. Examples were cited in which good students were accepted at Ivy League schools but chose other universities because of better financial offers. With private colleges charging upwards of $50,000-$60,000 per year, students must have either wealthy parents, the ability to obtain scholarships and grants, or the willingness to assume substantial debt just for their undergraduate educations. The implications for our economy and society are huge. 

  • About two out of three students graduating with a Bachelor's degree leave school in debt, an average of $23,000.*
  • Nearly all of those graduating from private for-profit schools (96%) leave school with debt--$32,900 on average.*
  • About 6% of students who earn a 4-year degree and graduate with debt default on that debt.**
  • In private for-profit colleges, the default rate goes up to nearly 25%.** 
  • Loan defaults are even more common among students aiming for a 2-year degree or Certificate program.**

Sixty years ago, when veterans returned from World War II, the country was so grateful for their service that it offered to send anyone to college who wanted to go, under the GI Bill. Of course, back then, college didn't cost what it does now--even at State and Municipally supported colleges. For example, Brooklyn College was, essentially, free, except for books and some lab fees. Private colleges cost a fraction of what they do today, even in equivalent dollars. Nevertheless, lots of people thought this was tantamount to welfare. The net result of this government largesse was (a) keeping thousands of people out of the workforce until it could retool to a peacetime economy, thereby insuring stability and avoiding a return to Depression Era breadlines; and (b) the infusion of trained engineers, businesspeople, doctors, teachers, and lawyers who would fuel an economic boom the likes of which the world had never seen--and may not ever see again.


An old saying goes: "Give a man a fish and he can eat for a day; teach a man to fish and he can feed himself for the rest of his life." The first part really is the equivalent of welfare, which most people (including those who have been on welfare) believe does not work. It breeds dependency, a lack of self-confidence, and social instability. Investing in education does exactly the opposite. So why is Congress trying to limit aid to education? What do we, as a society have to gain by restricting access to education? Not much.




**"Default Rates by Institution Level and Degree Program," Mark Kantrowitz, July 15, 2010.

Upcoming Events
June 13, 11:30 am-2:00pm 


IABC/LI holds its annual Achievement Awards luncheon; this year it will be at Crest Hollow Country Club. This event lauds excellence in four categories: Achievement in Communications, Community Service Award, Achievement in Digital Communications, and Student Achievement. In addition, the Communicator of the Year Award will be given to a chapter member who has done a lot for the group. The keynote speaker is Adrian Cropley, Chair of the Executive Board of IABC (International Association of Business Communicators), and President of Cropley Communications. Plan ahead and register through the website.
June 24-27
IABC World Conference is in Chicago this year. This gathering of over 1,400 business communicators from around the world presents the vision of 20/15, giving you an opportunity to look to the future of strategic communications. Attendees will learn how to approach and adapt to the global business enviornment over the next few years in order to stand out and be more successful. Click here for more information and registration.
This practice is dedicated to helping companies become knowledge-driven, rather than assumption driven about strategic and tactical decisions concerning lines of business, branding, communications, and various marketing activities. For more information about how we do this, case studies, frequently asked questions about marketing research, and testimonials, please visit our web site:

Ann Middleman