Saturday, September 22, 2018

Fishing 4 Answers

     My days of "doing nothing" have ended. I started my two volunteer jobs this week.

     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
     My other volunteer job is tutoring underprivileged and ESL young adults. I tutored at our community college back in New York. And now I'm starting in Pennsylvania. We teach reading, writing, grammar, vocabulary. All crucial abilities people need to hold down a decent job and become enculturated into middle-class America.

    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.


Barbara - said...

One of my solutions is kind of like yours but backwards. Realizing that there are those who don't get a good general education in high school, I still say get rid of at least half if not more of the so called general requirements. Forcing students who are going into the sciences to take literature classes, introduction to the music, PE and the like may make you well rounded, but I'm not sure it should be a requirement for an IT degree or something else. If you want a liberal arts education get it. Othewise, teach what is necessary for the degree, period. And I am personally not a fan of all the "we need a master's or doctorate" situations that have arisen. It's all the fault of the pharmacists who decided that they should be "doctors". I mean yes, my friend the speech therapist should have to continue her education but I don't thing she needs a doctorate to teach speech therapy to kids. Having said that, many countries do offer free education for college and it has served them well. Admittedly, some of those countries are not "college for all" type places, but they also embrace internships, on the job training and degree specific public (as opposed to private" community type colleges..aka trade schools. Something we seem to have left behind.

Linda Myers said...

Great post, Tom! I facilitated a Great Decisions group in our winter Tucson home; this year I handed of the leadership to a friend and will attend only as a participant.

One of my gripes about student loans is how they are set up. My older son took out his first loan when he was 18 and "signed here". When he was 38 he graduated from nursing school and started working for real. His student loan repayment was for $63,000, only half of which was principal. The rest was interest on 20 years of small loans. His repayment over ten years would be $700 a month, so he would be nearly 50 before he was paid off. Many of these kids have no idea what they're signing at 18.

Olga Hebert said...

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.

Ha! Welcome to the world of education. In my final few years of being a special educator I spent far more time doing paperwork and attending to compliance issues related to State and Federal regulations than I did actually teaching students. It was not what I wanted to be doing.

Now I volunteer with various programs and get to work directly with the kids. It's far more satisfying.

DJan said...

Good for you, Tom. I think education is way too expensive for lower income students, so perhaps there should be some way to have it be more equitable for all. Your ideas sound very interesting and well thought out. People like you can make it happen, make a real difference in the world. Kudos to you. :-)

Anonymous said...

All good comments. I’d add another idea: one year of tuition, books, and some expenses for every year of “national service” given... not necessarily military, but also nonprofits, communities, healthcare (plenty of entry level work). Could entail a basic amount of training appropriate to the work.

Many 18 year olds are not ready for college. How about offering the opportunity to learn, and earn, for college just as the new “Iraq Era GI Bill”?

IMO, we’ve lost the connectedness and sense of obligation to community and country (beyond ourselves) that the military draft used to offer to males at 18. These days we’re wiser and more inclusive... open it up to young men and women. Perhaps not compulsory, although we could argue that it should be... either military or community based.

Tom Sightings said...

Barbara, I agree, many students don't need or want the liberal arts, they need more practical applications -- which is the reasoning for my 3-year college idea, altho' I recognize that'll never happen. Your way might be better.

Linda, my daughter got loans for grad school ... I don't know how they get away with the high interest rates. At the least, there oughta be better, stricter regulation.

And Anon., I'm glad you brought up the idea. It's an interesting one that merits more discussion.

Janette said...

Great topic.
1)Surprisingly, the people now being left behind are the middle class! The poor can get scholarships. Their schools are actually some of the best funded in many places. The rich pay their way. The middle class? Mediocrity is why you see the huge rise in homeschooling. Home schooling is taking over the community colleges as well. Maddening.
2) IF a job pays more then $70,000 an advanced degree should be necessary. Otherwise, the Universities need to get over themselves and teach the information to undergrads. A teachers salary starts at $35,000 in most parts of the country. Really, most of the professions you list pay well in big cities, but are poorly paid in most of the country.
3) I agree with Barbara, offer the courses and forget the fluff.
To Barbara's point, the IT degrees are crazy. My sil got his degree while working. He got a C in a class because his mind raced ahead of the IT things from 1990s. The professor approached him after the semester to open a business with him. He knew that my sil was far ahead of him in the topic. An internship would have been better. (But then internships are how big businesses are using up new graduates without paying them. Disney is the WORST!)

Have you seen the dorms and work out places these days? Come on. I know exactly where the money went. ;) Time to get back to basics.

Diane Dahli said...

As you suggest, Tom, you can't solve all of society's problems, so you have to make a choice. I'm glad you chose education, since that institution certainly needs a boost! I read your suggestions with interest, and agree with them, but I have always believed that education should be way, way less expensive for students. Certainly they should pay some of the cost, but not all of it, ending with a huge debt. Since their skill will benefit society, some should be shouldered by the taxpayer, in my view.

Salvador Ortega said...

"Show me the child at 7 and I will show you the man/woman". There are some states- Oklahoma was the last I had read about- that are using resources to that effect. As a Family Doc, I ask my families at every well child visit to read to their kids and to keep the total screen time to less than two hours total daily. My parents were a Spanish speaking seamstress and a furniture upholsterer, so I'm in the ESL demographic. I thank a love of reading, parents who nurtured that even though they were not readers themselves and the Catholic Church keeping access to good education in poor neighborhoods to my change in SES.
I agree with the above comments re the use of education resources for entertainment (fancy dorms, big time athletic programs and some of the curriculum that passes for education), LOTS of administrative expense and time spent on so called accountability, while at the same time, spending as little as possible on those who actually teach (DW is an educator). At the same time, for a myriad of reasons, many kids make poor choices on what and how they use their time, energy and financial resources.

gigihawaii said...

Ack, just keep the status quo.

Marianne said...

I worked in higher education for many years. I became increasingly concerned as I watch young first generation men and women take on debt and enroll in majors that would not lead to good economic opportunities. I often wondered why the counseling and advising were not helping the students make better decisions.

Good topic and good discussion

David @ iretiredyoung said...

With one kid just finished college and a second just starting year two, this topic is close to my heart.

Interesting that you mentioned reducing course length to three years, as that's what it is in the UK already. I think it makes sense, and if one wants to specialize further thereafter, take the Masters separately.

We covered our daughter's college costs as we didn't want her to have debt. It worked OK, but I wish we had done it a bit differently. If I could do it again, I would cover some of the cost, and expect her to cover the balance by a combination of part time working and some student loans. I agree with you, if the student personally has to contribute toward the cost, then there is a direct incentive to put the effort in.

Rebecca Olkowski said...

I would imagine that teaching foreign policy could get quite controversial these days. Great that you do so much for seniors and those who are underprivileged. I like your idea of having colleges handle loans. I'm still trying to pay off a small parent loan, (I was a single mother when she went to college) but my daughter got an excellent job and paid off her loans. She constantly amazes me.

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