UV Letters

Nov 7, 2014 BACK

Super Creepy Rob Lowe

Volume IV, #23

As a lifelong baseball fan, it would be great if my three boys were interested in watching the World Series. Naturally, they were more excited about the ads. The good news is that they weren’t excited about the ad I was afraid of: a shockingly direct Pfizer ad for Viagra featuring a blonde on a bed in a come hither pose cooing “The setting is perfect.” (It gets more direct from there.) Apparently Pfizer calls the ad “a new and unexpected approach.” Unexpectedly, my boys thought Pfizer was selling beds.

But they were enrapt by a DirecTV ad starring Rob Lowe. The premise is there are two Rob Lowes. Regular Rob Lowe has DirecTV. And “Super Creepy” Rob Lowe has cable. So while Rob Lowe’s DirecTV has 99.9% signal reliability, Super Creepy Rob Lowe’s cable is out. So he’s “down at the rec center watching folks swim.”

Down at the rec center watching folks swim.

Rob Lowe loves to enjoy his shows worry free, while Super Creepy Rob Lowe is at the movie theater (presumably because his cable is out) loving “the smell of other people’s hair.”

At my house, this ad spawned more questions concerning the Manichean duality of two Rob Lowes than about our intermittent cable service. My five-year-old didn’t understand how there could be two Rob Lowes. The nine-year-old explained that Super Creepy Rob Lowe was what Rob Lowe became when he grew up. And my three-year-old thought it would be a good idea to go watch folks swim.

Thinking about it that night after the Cinderella-story Royals had lost Game 7 to the Giants, the theory of Rob Lowe evolving into Super Creepy Rob Lowe was an interesting one. But I could only consider it through the lens of higher education.

***

Early Film Career: The Outsiders, Class
In the 20th century, states got into the business of funding higher education – previously, pretty much a private-pay affair – as a result of an unspoken compact: higher education was to be the engine of social mobility. Outsiders and lower class students could, by dint of access to colleges and universities and hard work, earn a degree and a ticket to a better life.

For nearly half a century, higher education lived up to its end of the bargain. And states increased funding to the point that 70% of all enrolled students attended state-subsidized institutions.

***

Mid Film Career: Masquerade, Bad Influence
But then the engine of social mobility stalled or went into reverse. Today, 75% of students at the 200 most selective colleges come from the top income quartile; only 5% come from the bottom quartile. In the last decade, the percentage of students from families at the highest income levels who earned bachelor’s degrees has increased to 82%, while for those at the lowest income levels, it has fallen to 5%. And in the past 20 years, 80% of whites enrolled in higher education have attended top 500 schools, while 75% of minority students have attended schools outside the top 500.

As Nicholas Kristof has said in the New York Times, the escalator is broken, the American Dream has left America . “Our education system amplifies not opportunity, but inequality.”

***

Late Film Career: The Invention of Lying, Outrage
Add $1.1 trillion in student loan debt to the broken escalator, and you get lying and outrage. Lying because sticker prices continue to increase well above the rate of inflation, but so do discount rates. So students can’t predict exactly what they’ll be paying. Outrage because, according to a new report from American Consumer Credit Counseling, 71% of student borrowers say they “would have made different education choices if they could have forecast the burden of repaying student loans,” and 17% say they would have forgone college altogether if they knew they'd owe so much money from loans.

***

Present Career: Television
Returning to Rob Lowe for a moment, let me start off by saying that the fact he’s working in television is super creepy.

Now back to higher education: an internal UNC Chapel Hill report issued last month showed that more than 3,100 students over an 18-year period received credits for fake classes orchestrated by a student services manager in the African and Afro-American Studies department. Staged to allow these mostly minority students to continue to maintain academic eligibility, the scheme drew in faculty co-conspirators over time, including the former head of the department and the current head of the University’s center for ethics.

According to the report’s author, the former general counsel of the FBI, the only explanation the student services manager provided was a desire to help students who were “adrift” or “having difficulty in college.” Given that the real reason was clearly to maintain academic eligibility for UNC’s athletes – primarily attention-getting Division I basketball players – which benefits almost everyone associated with the institution more than the athletes themselves, this hypocrisy rises to the level of “super creepy.”

***

So from what I know about higher education, my son’s explanation is plausible. Super Creepy Rob Lowe is what happened to Rob Lowe. And upon reading a New York Times piece on family weekends and learning that colleges and universities are now paying celebrities to perform at these events – according to the Times, GWU hired Seth Meyers, Kathy Griffin played Hofstra and UConn brought in Jay Leno – it occurred to me that some school ought to be honest enough about what’s going on to hire not just Rob Lowe, but Super Creepy Rob Lowe.

[Cue Love Theme from St. Elmo’s Fire]

University Ventures (UV) is the premier investment firm focused exclusively on the global higher education sector. UV pursues a differentiated strategy of ‘innovation from within’. By partnering with top-tier universities and colleges, and then strategically directing private capital to develop programs of exceptional quality that address major economic and social needs, UV is setting new standards for student outcomes and advancing the development of the next generation of colleges and universities on a global scale.

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