My focus is on education. I donate both time and money to my colleges, to the community college, and other local organizations that are trying to help people improve their lives. I know it's also important to help feed the hungry, house the homeless and help the aged. But I choose education, maybe because I still remember that old saying about giving a man a fish and you feed him for a day, but teach him how to fish and you've fed him for a lifetime.
So B and I together lead the Great Decisions in Foreign Policy course at the senior center at our local university. I'm not sure we're "teaching anyone how to fish" with this course. But the material from the Foreign Policy Association is informative, and the discussion is supposed to elevate the level of political discourse. And goodness knows, we certainly need to elevate the level of political discourse.
|Great Decisions is held at the Alumni House|
But just because I support education doesn't mean I don't get frustrated with the whole system. The training I received for this tutoring job was maddening. My class went for 12 hours over four days, and we still didn't get the information we needed to do the job. The time was taken up by needless background, endless administrative details, irrelevant tangents -- and inedible snacks that were consumed by no one. This is just one example of how the educational system seems incredibly bureaucratic and inefficient.
And maybe that's one reason why college is so expensive these days. College is way too expensive. Yet, I am not one who favors free college tuition for all. Why not . . . 4 reasons:
1. Someone has to pay for it. Shouldn't the person benefiting from a service pay at least some of the cost?
2. That which is given free is not so highly valued. If you pay for something you are more likely to use it, and use it well. It's human nature. If there's no cost to education, there's no penalty for letting things slide, not paying attention, and otherwise squandering the opportunity.
3. Paying for college is an investment. The idea is that we pay for something now in order to reap bigger benefits in the future. And we all know that we need to encourage more investment in America, whether it's individuals saving and investing for retirement or governments investing in infrastructure for the future. Paying for college supports the value of investment.
4. Besides, so what if a person comes out of college with $100,000 of debt. Is that so bad? After all, we don't blink when someone takes out $100,000 mortgage to buy a house. So why should we blink at a $100,000 "mortgage" on an education. I'd argue that an education is a better investment than a house. Wouldn't you?
All that being said, however, I don't really think it's a good idea for a 20-something to be saddled with a huge college loan. Instead I'd argue that it makes sense for the public to provide free college tuition -- or some other higher-level training -- at least for the disadvantaged. And I'd also suggest that perhaps some particularly talented people should get paid for attending college. So . . . 4 ideas:
1. Federal and state governments should invest more in education, from pre-kindergarten up through graduate school. After all, the public at large reaps huge benefits from a more educated population. So we as taxpayers should help pay for it. Also, money from federal and state governments is spread more equitably than the traditional real-estate tax which funds most primary and secondary education -- funding that favors the wealthy and the upper middle class over the poor and lower middle class.
2. College and universities could and should lower their tuition, and make funding more transparent. Much of the price of college tuition is controlled by a secret cabal of college administrators, and they dole out money and credits not for the benefit of students, but for the benefit of the institution. I honestly know very little about college funding. But it seems they spend way too much on administration, sports and trendy courses. These are luxuries. Why can't colleges -- or at least some colleges -- compete on price?
3. Why don't we make colleges themselves, rather than the government and banks, loan the tuition money to their own students. Making the colleges responsible for the debt would force them to be more prudent in their loan practices -- and would give them an incentive to keep down both loans and tuition.
4. Maybe an undergraduate degree should take three years instead of four. Instant 25% savings! My premise is that college provides basic, background information. Then people have to go on for a masters degree to get the training to become a librarian, teacher, social worker, health-care provider -- or, it seems, anything else. So let's get on with it!
Well, these are just some ideas, jotted down one morning over coffee. Now for me, it's back to the trenches, just helping two or three students become better fishermen.