Tag Archives: Education

Hasan Minhaj Goes to Washington

“You know the student loan crisis is bad when I’m asked to testify before Congress about it,” tweeted Hasan Minhaj, the popular host of political comedy series Patriot Act, on Netflix. Minhaj was invited by the House Financial Services Committee to share his findings, after a recent episode of Patriot Act investigated and discovered that deceptive practices employed by loan servicing companies like Navient was exacerbating the student loan crisis.

In fact, the day they shot the episode says Minhaj, a poll of about 200 people in his live studio audience showed they owed an incredible six million dollars of student debt “in that room alone,” a revelation that really hit home with members of his audience.

“Absurdly tragic”

On the episode, Minhaj illustrated how students and families are taking desperate measures to pay off crippling debt. Patriot Act aired excerpts from Paid Off, a comedic game show on truTV where contestants compete for money to pay off their student debt. Contestants earn a percentage of what they owed in loans for each correct answer and could clear their entire student loan if they guessed eight answers correctly. Paid Off host Michael Torpey called the student debt crisis an “absurdly tragic”  situation that was holding back millions of people and the nation’s economy.

Debt is Stacked Against Student Borrowers

Today 44 million Americans have outstanding student loan debt, which can take decades to pay off. Estimates show the average borrower owes more than $37,000 in debt, and more than 2 million student borrowers owe over $100,000 in loans. In the US, student borrowing is expected to hit $2 trillion by 2020.

“You paid far less for your degrees!”

“We know that debt is stacked against student borrowers, in ways that it wasn’t 10 or even 15 years ago”, noted Minhaj, who had done his homework on where the 60 members of the Financial Services Committee had gone to college and what they had paid in tuition.

He told committee members “ …you have paid far less for your degrees,” pointing out that in 1971, Chairwoman Maxine Waters would have paid the equivalent of only $1000 a year at Cal State, LA, while today, Cal State costs well over “…six grand a year, …more than a 500% jump.”

Members of the committee, who on average graduated 33 years ago, paid the equivalent of $11,690 a year, said Minhaj “even adjusting for inflation.” Over that period of time, wages have increased only by 16% while tuition costs have spiked by 110%, so that, “Today the average tuition at all of your same schools is almost $25,000.”

The American dream is slipping away from millennials

“The issue is sidelining millions of Americans,” says Minhaj (33), especially with his generation, who are putting off marriage, kids, home ownership and retirement. “Growing up, it was drilled into our heads, you gotta go to college, if you want a middle class job,” something  that “we even tell kids today.”

But people aren’t making more money and college is way more expensive creating ‘a paywall for the middle class’ that Americans don’t deserve, says Minhaj. The fact is that two-thirds of all jobs in America require a bachelor’s degree, at a minimum, a standard that was not the case, “when most members of this committee were in school.”

Though average student debt hovers around $30,000, most graduates even with bachelor’s degrees barely make a wage that covers cost of living and student loan bills.

As a result, borrowers facing crushing debt can barely afford everyday necessities like rent, groceries or car payments, while repayment struggles and poor credit ratings makes it difficult for many borrowers to buy homes or cars, start a business, or begin even new employment opportunities.

The Department of Education is one of the nation’s largest creditors

Minhaj made it clear that student borrowers are trying to take responsibility for paying their loans, despite reports to the contrary. “They are investing in education and trying to pay their loans back.” It is unfair to treat many borrowers “like deadbeats,” said Minhaj, especially when the government is to blame for placing the financial futures of debt-ridden students in the hands of unscrupulous, “predatory, for-profit loan servicing companies,” like Navient.

“The worst part,” of the student loan crisis, stated Minhaj, “is that borrowers don’t even get to choose their loan servicer – the Department of Education does that for them.”

Why the math doesn’t work at Navient

Minhaj singled out Navient as a prime example of a predatory, unregulated, loan servicing company that uses deceptive loan servicing practices – like placing borrowers in high-cost repayment options known as forbearances – to boost corporate profits.

Navient misled borrowers, “…pushing them into repayment plans that in some cases, have cost individual borrowers tens of thousands of dollars,” in compound interest, collection charges and late fees, while the lack of competition, said Minhaj, allows corrupt companies like Navient to get away with sub par service.

On September 18, new court documents released by SBPC (Student Borrower Protection Center) revealed that Navient executives plotted to cheat struggling student loan borrowers of billions in extra fees, while raking in taxpayer dollars and paying shareholders huge amounts of money. Senior executives at Navient planned to deceive borrowers by placing them in ‘forbearances,’ resulting in more than $4 billion in unnecessary interest charges passed on to borrowers, according to lawsuits filed by federal and state enforcement officials.

SBPC Executive Director Seth Frotman said in a statement, “The evidence unsealed today in federal court confirms that Navient’s practices that added billions of dollars of debt to struggling borrowers emanated from the top echelon of the company. This follows a decade-long pattern of Navient ripping off service members, disabled veterans, teachers, and American taxpayers. The time has come for policymakers to admit this company’s practices are predatory and corrupt—it should not be given a single additional taxpayer dollar.”

Students deserve better service, not bankruptcy

In his closing statement Minhaj reminded Congress that “students deserve better” from a government “we know is capable of stepping in during a financial crisis – so really all I’m asking today is why can’t we treat our student borrowers the way we treat our banks?”.

Students borrowers deserve some basic protections, Minhaj concluded, so that “Americans should not have to go bankrupt pursuing higher education.”

Meera Kymal is a Contributing Editor at India Currents.

Resources for student borrowers:
https://www.bankrate.com/loans/student-loans/how-fed-rate-cut-impacts-student-loans/

Educating India’s Children: Conversation with Dr. Rukmini Banerji, Pratham CEO

Dr. Rukmini Banerji, CEO of Pratham, is in the San Francisco Bay Area for a conference at Stanford on global poverty. I met Dr. Banerji in San Jose during her visit.

First, a few facts about Pratham: Pratham started off in the slums of Mumbai, 1995. The educational NGO, one of the world’s largest, focuses on “high-quality, low-cost, and replicable interventions to address gaps in the education system.” It has helped about 50 million children to date, with 15 chapters across the United States, all run by volunteers. Charity Navigator, an independent evaluator of charities based in the United States, rates Pratham with its highest possible rating of four stars.

Asked about her vision for Pratham, Dr. Banerji says that they complete a strategy review once every five to ten years. Based on this review, they’ve decided on implementing three or four major programs. While school enrollment levels in India are high, functional literacy is not. Their focus is on raising the foundational educational levels for children quickly, on a large scale and in a cost effective manner.

I ask her what differentiates Pratham from other educational NGOs, considering that the Bay Area alone has over 160 registered institutions working in this arena. Dr. Banerji says Pratham’s mandate is not to buy school buildings. They don’t want to come in as outsiders, tell communities how to educate themselves, then leave. They see themselves as facilitators who facilitate community building through education. This emphasis on structuring learning is not just for the kids, but for whole communities.

According to Dr. Banerji, as these kids enter the workforce, they will need to learn to work in teams, they will need to learn to collaborate. This, she feels, is best done outside of the school curriculum.Towards this end, they bring together children in groups. Funding from companies like Google and Facebook, allows Pratham to provide each group with a tablet computer preloaded with projects, in their regional language of instruction. These tablets have a choice of mini courses. The content is grouped into videos or games; it is up to the kids to decide what they use. As a group, the kids choose a course or a plan, it could be a football game, if that’s what they want. The kids are required to find their own coach, present their plan, then ask for mentorship. This coach is someone within their own community – it could be an older sibling, it could be someone’s grandmother. But it has to be someone who can hold the children accountable. For maintenance of the hardware, Pratham assigns a mentor, one for every villages.

Dr. Banerji recalls a group of kids who came up with project on skeletons. For this, they sought out the local bone setter as their coach. Dr. Banerji feels that schools are so focused on academics that they sometimes leave behind kids who do well in collaborations. In sharing a tablet, and a project, these children learn to work together, learn how to use content that is made available for their use, and how to apply what they know. In this ‘hybrid’ learning model, the children are responsible for their own learning.

The previous year the kids were given a choice of themes – water, mango etc. The kids could choose to go with the theme, or pick something on their own. So many videos were created that village level juries – picked the kids themselves, voted on the best ones, and then uploaded them to Pratham volunteers. Currently, this program covers about a thousand villages. Pratham tests out various such projects in focus labs. Once they begin to show results, they are moved to the mainstream.

Another area that Pratham focuses on is the development of vocational skills. They have tie ups with companies like the Larsen and Toubro and others. Pratham helps train young people for entry level jobs. These youngsters are then absorbed by the organization with which they have an existing tie-up. Dr. Banerji estimates that people have been able to take advantage of this program.

On a smaller scale, Pratham runs a program for women who had to drop out of school, called “Second Chance.” Since 10th class certification is necessary for so many government programs, including government jobs at the village level, Pratham provides help to finish high school studies if the women choose to do so. Dr. Banerji estimates that young women have taken advantage of this program.

Dr. Banerji is very optimistic about the future – “India has changed quite a lot,” she says. There are major shifts even within the government to explore new technologies. When asked how people in the United States can help Pratham, she points out that most of the work of the NGO happens on the ground in India. The best way for people based here to get involved, is through fund-raising believing in the organization’s laudable vision and mission.

 

Rasana Atreya is a novelist and technical content writer.

 

Anyone Can Become an Entrepreneur

With a billion people becoming connected via smartphones with the computing power of supercomputers, India has the ability to build a digital infrastructure that is as monumental as China’s Great Wall and America’s interstate highways. There are opportunities to create dozens of new companies as valuable as Reliance.

Just one thing could hold India back: That the people who should be availing themselves of these opportunities continue to believe that entrepreneurship isn’t for them but is the domain of young college graduates like those from Silicon Valley.

The reality is that even Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurs aren’t young and don’t have special backgrounds. They merely saw an opportunity and seized it. Anyone can become an entrepreneur.

I know, because I made the same transition.

I was 33 years old. I had developed a revolutionary technology at First Boston, a New York-based investment bank, and IBM offered to invest $20 million in it — provided that we spun the technology off into a new company. I was asked to take the job of chief technology officer.

I didn’t come from an entrepreneurial family and starting a business was something I never even thought of. My father was an Indian government official; my mother, a teacher. I had no entrepreneurial aspirations and had a wife and two children to support. Taking this position would entail relinquishing a great job that paid a hefty six-figure salary, for a startup that could easily go out of business and didn’t pay well. So it wasn’t an easy decision; but I took the plunge.

Our startup, Seer Technologies, grew to 1,000 employees and had annual revenue of $120 million in five years; then we took it public. The IPO was fun, but the experience thereafter was like a nasty hangover. The excitement had gone. Sick of the big-company politics and the obsession with meeting short-term revenue goals, I wanted out.

Microsoft tried recruiting me, telling me it would offer stock worth a fortune, but I couldn’t stomach the thought of working for another big company. So I chose to start my own company again. Having tasted entrepreneurship, I had become unfit for the corporate world, and there was no returning to it. My only regret was having wasted so much of my life in it. I was 40.

Some people say that my transformation was a fluke; that entrepreneurs are born, not made. They also say that successful entrepreneurs are young and have special entrepreneurial traits. Research — including my own Duke and Harvard team’s — says otherwise. But my health suffered due to the stress of running my second company, and I had to switch careers. I still didn’t want to go back to the corporate world; so I became an academic. And the question of what makes an entrepreneur is one of the earliest I researched.

My Duke and Harvard team researched thousands of American entrepreneurs. We found that the majority, like me, did not have entrepreneurial parents and entrepreneurial aspirations at school or university. They’d started companies through tiring of working for others; they’d had a great idea and wanted to commercialise it; or they’d woken, one day, urgently wanting to build wealth before retiring.

We found that 52% of entrepreneurs surveyed were — just as were Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Larry Page, Naveen Tewari, and Vijay Shekhar Sharma — the first in their immediate families to start a business.

While in college, only a quarter had caught the entrepreneurial bug, and half hadn’t even thought about it by then.

Family entrepreneurship, prior interest, and extreme interest, then, hadn’t heavily influenced their successes. So what had? Tertiary education — though not which university they’d graduated from — provided a huge advantage.

But what about all we hear of IIT graduates’ dominating Silicon Valley? It is a myth. My research team found that only 15% of the Indian immigrant founders of tech and engineering companies were IIT grads. Delhi University graduated twice as many Silicon Valley company founders as did IIT-Delhi, and Osmania and Bombay universities both trumped nearly all of the other IITs. Education matters but not the school.

We also found that, in the tech world, older entrepreneurs are not the exception but the norm. The average founder of a high-growth company had launched his venture at 40. Most were married and had, on average, two or more kids. They typically had six to 10 years of work experience and real-world ideas; they’d simply tired of working for others and wanted to rise above their middle-class heritage.

There is no real difference between Indian entrepreneurs and American ones. So if anyone tells you that you’re too old to be an entrepreneur or that you have the wrong background, don’t listen. Go with your gut instincts; pursue your passions. You’ll come to wonder why you wasted your time working for your idiotic boss.

Vivek Wadhwa is a distinguished fellow at Carnegie Mellon University at Silicon Valley and author of The Driver in the Driverless Car: How Our Technology Choices Will Create the Future

This article is published with permission from the author.

Chabot College: Spring Session Begins January 14th

Chabot College is a learning-centered institution with a culture of thoughtfulness and academic excellence, committed to creating a vibrant community of life-long learners.

Chabot College is a public comprehensive community college that prepares students to succeed in their education, progress in the workplace, and engage in the civic and cultural life of the community. Our students contribute to the intellectual, cultural, physical, and economic vitality of the region.

The college responds to the educational and workforce development needs of our regional population and economy. As a leader in higher education, we promote excellence and equity in our academic and student support services. We are dedicated to student learning inside and outside the classroom to support students’ achievement of their educational goals.

The colleges’ vision and mission are supported by the following collective values:

Learning and Teaching

  • supporting a variety of teaching philosophies and learning modalities
  • providing an environment conducive to intellectual curiosity and innovation
  • encouraging collaboration that fosters learning
  • engaging in ongoing reflection on learning, by students and by staff
  • cultivating critical thinking in various contexts
  • supporting the development of the whole person

Community and Diversity

  • building a safe and supportive campus community
  • treating one another with respect, dignity, and integrity
  • practicing our work in an ethical and reflective manner
  • honoring and respecting cultural diversity
  • encouraging diversity in our curriculum and community of learners

Individual and Collective Responsibility

  • taking individual responsibility for our own learning
  • cultivating a sense of social and individual responsibility
  • developing reflective, responsible and compassionate citizens
  • playing a leadership role in the larger community
  • embracing thoughtful change and innovation

http://www.chabotcollege.edu/

Chabot College: Sign Up for Fall Classes

Chabot College in Hayward is a comprehensive community college in the heart of a thriving, diverse community where students of all ages and backgrounds can get a high quality education at an affordable price. The college awards associate degrees and certificates, and specializes in university transfer, workforce training, and lifelong learning opportunities. http://www.chabotcollege.edu/

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Community Colleges: A Well-Kept Secret

Community colleges are the often-overlooked institutions of learning, that are hidden gems in one’s backyard.

In India, the system of community colleges is seen as an alternative system of education that can be used to acquire trade skills, but not as a conduit to institutions of higher learning.  In the United States, on the other hand, community colleges are seen as junior colleges giving a leg up to those that need one, in climbing into the four-year college system. If the student so desires, he or she could earn college credits at the local community college and then transfer to a four-year educational institution in the United States. By completing two years worth of credits at a community college the student then needs to spend only two years at a University school like UCLA to earn a Bachelors degree. 

The aim of both the Indian and American systems, however, is to empower the disadvantaged and the underprivileged through appropriate skills-development, leading to gainful employment.  

The booming popularity of community colleges could also be attributed to President Obama, who was hailed as the “Community College President”, for funding and supporting these educational institutions.  During his campaign, Obama spoke regularly of the importance of community colleges in keeping America economically and educationally competitive in the 21st century.

The Evergreen Valley College (E.V.C.), located on a sprawling 175 acres in the eastern foothills of San Jose, California, is just such an institution that prepares students to transfer to four-year college systems, such as those of the Universities of California and California State Universities.  It has transfer agreements with all 23 California State Universities, 6 of the Universities of California, and some private universities. Accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges – a national accrediting body – the E.V.C. is the largest feeder community college to the San Jose State University.

Community colleges are especially attractive as stepping-stones to international students who need to improve key academic skills, including language skills, before obtaining admission to a Bachelor’s level program.  The credits earned at the community college help complete university education in a time- and cost-effective manner.

The Evergreen Valley College has a large number of international students from India.  Elizabeth Tyrrell, Director of the International Student Program, travels to India and meets high school students in order to explain the American community college system:  

“We have the 2 + 2 system.  At the end, students receive their Bachelor’s Degree from the 4-year institution (from which they graduate).  Almost all of E.V.C.’s international students transfer to accredited 4-year institutions.  94% of E.V.C.’s transfer-ready students do, in fact, transfer.  Students can apply and transfer beyond California and go to any university or college in the U.S.”

Evergreen Valley College is S.E.V.I.S. certified and approved by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to issue the I-20 Form, which is required to apply for a visa to study in the U.S.

Students from India do not need to take the S.A.T. or the T.O.E.F.L. exam, as long as their high school transcript is in English, and they come from an English medium high school.

The application process is more relaxed as well.  Students may apply for admission till as late as June 30, 2018 for the Fall semester that begins on 4 September, 2018, or apply between October 15 2018 and December 1, 2018, for the Winter session that starts on 28 January, 2019.

There is no question that the savings are significant when it comes to tuition. While the annual tuition at a Universityof California would cost approximately $41,000, a student would only pay $6748 at the Evergreen Valley College – a savings of nearly $35,000.  However, taking into account the cost of living – housing, transport, fun-money, books and supplies – students would be well-advised to budget for $21,500 for the year, per E.V.C.

In addition to the compelling financial savings, students also step into a learning environment akin to that of a University.  While at the beginning of each semester, students are responsible for signing up for classes, maintaining attendance, completing course work and submitting assignments, they have the added advantage of having Counselors on hand, to guide them in the choice of courses and help them meet the necessary pre-requisites for their Major.  

The average class size in community colleges is typically smaller.  While the student-teacher ratio at E.V.C. is only 28 – 45 students to 1 teacher, the class size at a U.C. can sometimes run to over 300 students.  Additionally, students in community colleges have Professors teaching the course themselves, while in large universities, the course may be taught by a Teaching Assistant.

The 2015 enrollment statistics published by the American Association of Community Colleges, reveal that 46%, of all the U.S. undergraduates, are community college students.  Of the 12 million students who go to community college in the U.S. every year, 2.1 million choose California community colleges.

Community colleges cater to the needs of the local job market and have professors who work closely with the students to groom them not only for the needs of the local area, but also equip them with skills that are transferrable beyond.  With the voracious appetite for new talent and the ever-changing skills needed in the Silicon Valley, community colleges provide an alluring and viable solution.

Says Michael Riordan, a tax accountant and teacher at a local Bay Area community college, of the merits of community colleges “This is a win-win situation.  Save your money for (the students’) Masters.”

For queries please contact: Elizabeth Tyrrell, Evergreen Valley College, 3095 Yerba Buena Road, San Jose, CA 95135 E-mail: [email protected] Phone: +1 (408) 270-6453

 

Ritu Marwah is the Features Editor at India Currents and is an avid student of educational systems.

 

 

 

Sikh American Story Airs on CNN May 6

CNN’s Emmy Award-winning United Shades of America with W. Kamau Bell will feature the first-ever hour-long cable episode exclusively focusing on the Sikh American community. The episode is scheduled to air on Sunday, May 6th at 10 pm EST/PST.

W. Kamau Bell interviews Sikh Coalition co-founder, Harpreet Singh and Sikh Coalition Social Justice Fellow, Winty Singh along with Yuba City Sikh Mayor, Preet Didbal; Yuba City farmer and community leader, Karandeep Bains; Sikh lawyer, filmmaker and organizer, Valarie Kaur; Sikh soldier and doctor, Lt. Colonel Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi; Sikh actor and designer, Waris Ahluwalia; and Harpreet’s son, Dilzafer Singh.

“This will be an exciting and important moment for the Sikh community to come together and celebrate Sikh awareness,” said Sikh Coalition Executive Director, Satjeet Kaur. “We continue to make progress in our efforts to educate the American public and this is another milestone.”

Thanks to work by Harpreet Singh and Valarie Kaur, the Sikh Coalition media and communications team spent six months supporting United Shades of America producers with background resource material, fact-checking and B-roll footage. 

“The United Shades episode provides a nuanced portrayal of the Sikh experience in America,” said Sikh Coalition co-founder, Harpreet Singh. “It will educate mainstream America about Sikh values and beliefs that have enabled Sikhs to overcome adversity and thrive in this country for over a hundred years.”

Per CNN, all air dates for episodes of United Shades of America are subject to potential change. United Shades of America will also stream live for subscribers via CNNgo (at CNN.com/go and via CNNgo apps for Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire, Samsung Smart TV and Android TV). The series will also be available the day after the broadcast premiere on demand via cable/satellite systems, CNNgo platforms and CNN mobile apps.

The Sikh Coalition has worked on several high-impact television moments in recent years, including The Daily Show, NBC Evening News and CBS Evening News. For more information about the upcoming CNN episode or to interview Sikh Coalition staff and board involved with the project, please contact Mark Reading-Smith

 

Global Education Company Supports Thousands of Students Through College Admissions Process

We’ve entered a new era in education, where the limitations of physical proximity and available resources for individual students have become less of an obstacle than they used to be.

But if we’re going to take advantage of these new opportunities, we need a new line of thinking and new approaches.

Enter Crimson Education

Crimson Education is a startup dedicated to connecting students from all over the world to resources, mentors, and career pathways that are right for them. Currently, the company has a network of more than 2,000 expert tutors, consultants, and mentors across the globe with 17 offices established in cities including: San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, Toronto, Sydney, London, Bangkok, and more.

Collectively, these contacts work to help students to secure the best education opportunities for them, including admissions to Ivy League universities. Step-by-step support across a spectrum of tutoring is offered, including extracurricular and leadership advising, standardized test preparation, and more.

With a reported value of over $200 million, Crimson helped secure offers to every Ivy League university, as well as Oxford and Cambridge, for students around the world for the past 3 years. During the 2017-2018 admissions round, 50% of Crimson’s early applicants to Harvard in 2017 were admitted, over 3 times higher than the general early acceptance rate of 14.5%.

Main Areas of Development

So what makes Crimson stand apart from other tutoring and mentorship programs? The answer has to do with the firm’s main areas of focus and development.

  • Equal opportunities. Crimson aims to level inequities in education by offering more resources to a broader pool of students.
  • Individualized mentorship. The program also pairs students with consultants and mentors on a one-on-one basis.
  • Technology integration. Crimson also makes great use of technology: It gives students a visual roadmap to plan out their education, as well as regular reporting back to parents.

Crimson alone can’t change the world, but it’s certainly starting to make a difference. When the rest of our educational system to catches up, we’ll have smarter citizens, better job placement, and a better quality of life. To start your journey, book your free initial consultation today.

Also check out our Parents Breakfast in Palo Alto on March 27th where we will cover recent trends in college admissions and good ways to spend your summer break. Get a free ticket with the code IndiaCurrents.

Protesters Demand a Ban on Forced Conversion

SPONSORED CONTENT By James Flores

On January 28, 120,000 citizens in Seoul and major cities of South Korea, gathered to protest against forced conversion “education” by Christian pastors and to create an establishment of legal framework for punishment of violent behavior in the name of religion.

The Human Rights Association for Forced Conversion (HRAFC) group, a South Korean civil society organization promoting social recognition of human rights violation by religion, held this rally for the punishment of Christian pastors who have “consultation” with money and encourage families to kidnap their members who have different religious orientations. Recently, a 25-year-old woman, Ms. Ji In Gu was kidnapped and confined in a vacation home and found dead after she was suffocated by her parents.

HRAFC claims that the death is a typical case of forced conversion for the following reasons. First, Ms. Gu was out of contact after she told her friends that she would be with her family at a gathering. Second, the vacation home where she was found dead was reserved for three months. Third, physical violence between Ms. Gu and her parents led to her death while the parents stated that she was suffocated while they were “persuading” their daughter.

Back in July 2016, Ms. Gu fell victim to these horrendous attacks for the first time. At that time, she had been taken in to a Catholic monastery for 44 days and forced to have “conversion education” by a pastor.

These religious organizations claim to be helping and creating religious freedom. They have even threatened to come to other countries to employ their illegal activities. When will there be an end to these activities? For churches and those involved in religious freedom here in the United States, it is imperative to make known the dangers surrounding these practices.

As a Christian church here in San Jose and the Bay Area, we must do our best to protect ourselves from these organization and make known their illegal activities.

 

 

H-1Bs—The Best and the Brightest?

H-1Bs—The Best and the Brightest?

A relevant piece from our archives, on a topic that is still a hot-button issue. First published on March 14, 2017.

What is this notion of the best and brightest? For one, it is the most conflicted banality of the moment. The term is generously used by liberal politicians and business leaders to make the case for H-1B immigrants, but the phrase has a long history of ideological righteousness much reviled by conservative politicians.

The Wall Street Journal reported that IITs were ranked fourth behind Stanford, Harvard, and University of California for incubating the most number of students who formed billion dollar startups in America.

In 1972, David Halberstam, a Pulitzer prize winning New York Times journalist, wrote a seminal book questioning President John F. Kennedy’s foreign policy decisions during the Vietnam war. He called it The Best and the Brightest. The book debunked the foreign policy credentials of the best and the brightest in Kennedy’s administration. Halberstam wrote about how this group of academics and intellectuals, “all of whom had seemed so dazzling when they had first taken office,” ended up becoming the architects of one of the worst disasters of American history.

It was just a few weeks ago that Stephen K. Bannon, the White House Chief Strategist, was spotted in an airport carrying a copy of The Best and the Brightest. In an op-ed published in The New York Times, Marc Tracy writes about Bannon’s respect for the book and quotes him as saying: “It’s great for seeing how little mistakes early on can lead to big ones later.”

In the book, Halberstam describes an incident between a “dazzled” Vice President Lyndon Johnson and his mentor, Sam Rayburn, after the Vice President’s first Cabinet meeting, when Lyndon Johnson exclaims enthusiastically to Rayburn: “how extraordinary they were, each brighter than the next,” referring to the intellectually attuned Cabinet staff. To which, Rayburn responds “you may be right, and they may be every bit as intelligent as you say, but I’d feel a whole lot better about them if just one of them had run for sheriff once.” That story, according to Halberstam goes to show “the difference between intelligence and wisdom, between the abstract facility and verbal facility which the team exuded, and true wisdom, which is the product of hard-won, often bitter experience.”

Hobbled by this narrative, it is no wonder that when the same term came to be applied to those poor, unsuspecting foreign nationals who came to America armed with H-1B visas to connect the wires of innovation in the Silicon Valley, it became baggage that they either had to live up to or confront.

As the number of H-1Bs increased, the labor bottleneck eased somewhat, and those who began to lose jobs because of incompetence, lack of knowledge, incomplete education, insufficient application or a combination of these factors found a bogeyman they could easily identify. Today, “the best and the brightest” is used as both an invective as well as an invocation. It depends on one’s political bent.

As a reader recently commented in response to one of my immigration columns: “The education system [in] India [is] far worse, but they are able to infest the United States with mediocre engineers, disguised as the best and brightest engineers. The problem is the dumping of inferior tech workers from India displacing American workers.”

The commenter is only partially wrong. The Wall Street Journal reported recently that India’s Indian Institute of Technology schools were ranked fourth behind Stanford, Harvard, and University of California for incubating the most number of students who went on to form billion dollar startups in America. But not all engineers who are hired in the H-1B program are from the IITs or from top notch institutions. And not all engineers hired from top notch schools are necessarily the best or brightest.

The issue is about volume and displacement, stupid! Elementary science terms have become yardsticks of aggravation.

People who enter the pool tend to displace others from the same pool and the more this happens, the more there is a pervading sense of affliction. In 2016, there were 236,000 H-1B applications received, an increase of 3,000 from the previous year.

We may argue that these jobs that H-1Bs are hired for are not always replacements, but merely the right fit for the right job at the right price. Even so, grievance is a perceptive state and given voice to even by those who are not really good fits for those same jobs.

Many folks I talk to tend to provide anecdotal evidence of at least one H-1B engineer they know, or they’ve heard of, who performed sub-par at his/her job—who had poor communication skills, did not speak up at meetings, was behind schedule, delivered an inadequately thought-through product, required more training, or had deplorable personal hygiene habits. It’s about the impact of numbers. The pervasiveness of an idea begins to take hold, if enough people have enough anecdotal evidence.

It’s a time of crisis for H-1B visa holders and applicants. This cannot be about working longer and harder anymore. That alone, unfortunately, may not be sufficient to stave off the perils of imminent White House policies.

Writing about Robert Kennedy, Halberstam recounts how “toughness fascinated him; he was not at ease with an America which had flabby waistlines.” That frame of reference has not changed much since Kennedy’s time. As America’s H-1B policy heads to the chopping block, it is time to cinch those smart belts. America has no patience for even a hint of slackness.

Jaya Padmanabhan was the editor of India Currents from 2012-16. She is the author of the collection of short stories, Transactions of Belonging.