As part of the recent campaign season we heard again from politicians of all stripes about making even more money availiable for college loans. This is something we have been doing now for a few decades. I always think it is good to go back to square one sometimes on issues and ask the basic questions about why we are doing a particular program. It is a given of human nature that we tend to do what we have been doing just because it has become a habit and no one questions whether or not the underlying assumptions that promoted and caused the matter to become a habit in the first place still have validity.
I am all for a college education for those that need one and have the qualifications for college. The first assumption I believe we get wrong is that everybody is entitled to a college education and that everyone is capable of attending college. Whether we like it or not we are not equal in intellectual abilities. There are some folks that are just plain smarter than we are. Even those that do attend college don’t all get master’s or Phd’s. Many don’t have the mental capacity and many don’t have the stamina for the effort required to complete such a rigorous course of instruction. That difference in intellectual ability doesn’t mean some are “better” than others, merely wired up differently. We are all equal in worth in the eyes of the law and entitled to the equal treatment from our government and equality of our rights. A violin maker doesn’t need a college education to ply his trade and his worth to society is nonetheless quite valuable. Likewise the next Michaelangelo doesn’t require a degree from Stanford to create paintings that will endure over the centuries. That list goes on. Yet to hear some talk we as a society are somehow failing if we don’t make sure everyone is going off to college and they are determined to make it some kind of fundamental right regardless of the costs and the dilution in the merit of a college degree by having lower standards to admit the less qualified or determined.
We are paying out literally billions a year now in student loans. Regrettably I think we are not getting a good return on our investment. The facts are that under the best of circumstances there are many who start off to college but realize after a year or two that is not for them or that they can’t come up to the diluted standards we have now. That doesn’t make them bad folks but it does make for a waste of resources. The default rates for these student loans is very high. The loans also cover much more than tuition and books. They cover living expenses. I recently had a call from a young lady who was inquiring about bankruptcy. She owed $40,000 on her credit cards and $170,000 for her student loans. She did get a degree from a state school and was teaching. If you are like me you see something wrong with this picture. How in the world did she run up so much debt for those loans to a state school? Her basic tuition and books and fees would have been only a couple thousand a year at a state school. Even room and board at a state school in a dorm would only have been another $10,000 at most per year at a state school. Who in the hell authorized those loans in the first place? These Pell loans and other similar programs are completely out of hand. The young lady I described is not an isolated case. Regrettably I have had others that were similar. These people want to live very well while attempting to get a college degree.
Whatever happened to the old fashioned notion of working your way through school if you wanted a college education? Millions of Americans have done this. You live at home with mom and dad and attend the nearest state school and work part time. You can live alone in a dorm and work. All state tuitions are cheap. Let’s not even debate that. I know the private schools are very expensive but even that can be dealt with if you want it badly enough. Who got the idea that going to college was supposed to be easy and without cost. Anything worth having is worth some struggle and work. When I attended school my wife worked full time and went to school part time and I went to school full time and worked part time. It was a private school and yes the tuition was very high but we managed. We sure didn’t live high on the hog but we got by. I offer that example only for illustration. There are zillions more who did the same thing. I don’t believe I was an exception. At the end of my schooling I got one small loan to carry us through the last semester of law school. It was very modest even in those ancient times.
I fear we are losing one of our most valuable traits as a people–self reliance. We are becoming too dependent on government and others to make sure we “achieve” that to which we believe ourselves to be entitled. Student loans should continue but there must be accountability and a demonstration that the recipient is worthy of the loan and that it is used to meet only the basic needs for college. These loans have become a special interest group lfor the higher education industry like any other special interest group in our political life. They should not be increased but decreased. Those who want a college education and have the abilities to obtain one will still manage. As a nation we are better off with students who work hard for their degree and have an appreciation for it with some struggles along the way. We even allow foreigners these loans, ridiculous. It is a wasteful program as currently established and operated. Further it fosters an attitude of entitlement that does not build character. Character matters whether you are an engineer, poet, carpenter, economist or plumber. All I ask is that there be some critical rethinking of this issue and that we support those qualified students with the minimum help, not shower them with funds for a life style better than a working stiff while they attend school.
If the invasion of Normandy had failed Eisenhower had prepared a statment accepting all the blame and praising the courage of those soldiers, sailors and airmen who fought the battle. He put it in a coat pocket and after the success of the invasion forgot about it. His aide found it a few weeks later and kept it. Thank God he never had to release that apologia.