First, some questions: 1. What is higher education? and 2. How should we fund it? President-elect Biden wants to make community college free to the students. In essence, he wants to take the free and currently failing public school K-12 program and make it a failing public school K-14 program. And he wants to make a piece of it retroactive.
That is the subject of today’s 10-minute episode.
Let’s start today’s conversation with the two main purposes of education: 1. Developing a broad base of knowledge in facts, history, economics and politics, arts and languages, philosophy, etc. And add in the training in logic and thinking skills needed to put that knowledge to use in productive and creative ways. This learning should be akin to a multiple course meal, with a wonderful variety of tastes and experiences. With occasional purely fun education “beverages” to wash it all down with to add to the enjoyment. One of the keys here is to train students how to think, not what to think. 2. Votech. Yes, let’s honor vocational schools, e.g. welding school, dental and medical school, and various MBA factories. My path included an undergraduate degree in philosophy from the University of Colorado in Boulder, and an MBA from Harvard–my choice for a vocational school. We all need both; a broad based education and a way of making money. Together, they are the warp and woof of education.
Too many people think of post high school education as only votech, as a stepping stone to making money, which is why they choose majors like business or marketing. They often wind up without the needed broader education, and without the required specific learning to be attractive to employers looking for real business skills.
Others do not think about either a broad based education or vocational skills, which is why they choose majors like sociology. And the sociology graduates waiting tables are among the loudest voices saying they were “ripped off” because they cannot pay their $40k in student loans, and want someone else to meet their obligations for them.
Enter President-elect Joe Biden. He wants “free” community college for all. Two quick points here: 1. Nothing is free; someone pays for everything and 2. This is just the camel’s nose under the tent. If this gets passed, the immediate next move will be to make all public colleges free. And so on. In essence, Mr. Biden wants to build on the public school model by adding two years to the existing free K-12 program. But that program is failing, needing to be propped up by denying as many new requests for charter schools as possible, and all but refusing access to vouchers. Instead of a failing K-12 system, we’d have a failing K-14 system.
Additionally, the President-elect is calling for student loan forgiveness, starting with a $10K freebie. And this is where the retroactive part starts; Mr Biden wants to make free college retroactive by forgiving debt, by asking others to pay the loans. And that is a second camel’s nose under the tent. The ultimate goals are clear–free college for all, and forgiveness of all student loans. All $1.5 trillion in student loans. Instead of shifting the loan burden from those who agreed to pay by signing the loans to others who had nothing to do with incurring that debt, let’s fix the problem by:
- Reconnecting the provider of the service with the buyer. The colleges are not currently responsible if the student borrower defaults; the college gets to keep the money regardless. Putting the institution offering the learning on the hook if the borrower does not pay would make them dramatically more responsible with both offering loans and the income producing education they promise. It would also lower the cost of higher education dramatically by drying up a large portion of the guaranteed borrowed cash the colleges and universities rely on to add massive expenses, mostly in non-academic areas.
- Asking students to take an hour to do a Google search to see if graduates from their intended institution with their preferred degrees are employable. In other words, what percentage of grads from State U. with a degree in gender studies are employed, and at what annual salary.
- Encouraging students to look at the huge variety of vocational programs that both take far less time and money than college, and pay quite well.
Given that any student who can sign their names can borrow staggering amounts of money, colleges and universities have gone from seeing them as learners who must work hard and perform to being consumers, to be wooed and pleased like customers of a restaurant or store. A rigorous academic environment with high performance standards has been replaced by things like easy availability of a variety of espresso based drinks and snacks, lux living quarters and relaxed attendance and grading standards. Hey, the customer is always right, yes?
K-12 schools and colleges do one thing diabolically well. Remember the part about education being about teaching students how to think, not what to think? Learning institutions are doing the opposite by emphasizing the what to think part, apparently satisfying themselves that if they get that right, failure to teach the actual academic curriculum isn’t so bad. After all, if the system can create wave after wave of climate and social justice warriors, who cares about things like history, civics, economics and free expression based on facts and logic?
Let’s dispel one of the most insidious arguments you will hear from the left. “Having an educated population is good for society; that’s why all education should be free.” Having a population that is getting nutritious food, has adequate clothing and housing, good healthcare, reliable transportation and adequate entertainment, rest and relaxation, is also good for society. Does it follow that all of that should be free? The answer for what used to be the lunatic fringe is yes to all. Be warned: that fringe is expanding rapidly.
We need the described broad based education so that we can be well rounded citizens, interesting and involved people and responsible voters. This education will be wonderfully helpful in allowing us to not only understand the many component parts of life on our earth, but to appreciate and enjoy them. Archie Bunker was an interesting guy, but he had a narrow scope of understanding, and lived a tunnel vision life. The Renaissance man can understand, participate in and enjoy so much more. And he brings enrichment and delight to those around him.
Having sufficient vocational skills allows us to both meet our financial responsibilities and to add value to other people’s lives by applying those skills to their advantage. Whether you are unclogging a toilet to provide relief to a frustrated family, or doing chemical research for a company dedicated to making dramatic improvements in battery technology, you are adding value. Others with vocational skills are there to add value to your life. All in the context of a capitalist system that encourages a consensual exchange of value, often a product or service for money.
Let’s close with a two illustrative fictional examples:
- Charlie graduated high school with top academic marks, and a strong desire to work with his hands. Resisting the teachers, counselors and others who were pushing him toward college and student loans, he enrolled in welding school. He continued to live at home and worked 20 hours a week while studying. Along the way, he came across a copy of Oliver DeMille’s, A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the Twenty-First Century. Reading this book taught Charlie that he could acquire a rich, classical education through reading. He started solo, eventually finding friends who were happy to join him in an ongoing book club. Today, Charlie is making a fine living as a welder, while continuing to stretch his mind.
- Sally wanted to be a cop after graduation, and was determined to not only be a good one, but to rise in the ranks. Not having money for college, and knowing the pitfalls of student loans, she enlisted in the Army, getting a guarantee that she would be in the Military Police in exchange for her 4-year enlistment. After the Army, Sally used her educational benefits to get a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice, emphasizing broader subjects anytime she was allowed to take classes outside of her major. Sally was offered a position as an officer in several cities, and she picked her favorite. After 10 years on the force, Sally is a Lieutenant, with nowhere to go but up.
Both Charlie and Sally took the general learning and vocational advice similar to what is being offered here and applied it to their lives. Will you do the same? Perhaps more importantly, will you help others resist the known harmful pulls and pushes of a debt ridden, college only approach, and point them in the right direction? And then continue to support and encourage them? There are thousands of avenues that allow people to succeed, to grab a hold of life without burdensome debt. All while acquiring a vital broader education and robust vocational skills. Charlie and Sally followed only two of the available paths.
Tell me what you believe. I and many others want to know.
As always, whatever you do, do it in love. Without love, anything we do is empty.
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Will Luden, coming to you from 7,200’ in Colorado Springs.