Doctor Eclectic

Doctor Eclectic
Doctor Eclectic

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

School Daze

Recent features in all media seem to have focus on one or another aspect of education. In California we don’t have money for our schools. In Wisconsin the state government is attacking collective bargaining. In Detroit, Washington D.C., and New Jersey the systems themselves are being reconstructed. And at the Federal level, President Obama says he wants to train students to be of value to the workforce so more people can get jobs.

What a concept!

As Americans we should be justifiably proud of our educational system. Our literacy rates are among the highest in the world, and that takes into account the many immigrants who do not read and write English because they cannot read and write in their native language.

Although I can’t recollect where in the Constitution it might be, it has certainly been the intent of our country to provide education through grade 12 to anyone who needs it and who has skills to achieve a meaningful graduation. Moreover, opportunities for advanced education have been bedrock since before we were a country.

So what is new news? And why?

In California our Community College system has morphed from education to prepare for life in the real world to a cost-effective alternative for one of our many private and state-supported universities, or at the very least a “feeder” to the universities where education can be completed with fewer years of $20,000 tuition, fewer impacted classes, and lower living costs. This fact is borne out by the dismal number of students receiving an AA degree.

An unintended (I hope) consequence of this is that tuition at the Community Colleges has jumped (when my son attended it was $1/unit, now it is $26). You need to pay more for instructors who are preparing one for transfer than for an instructor teaching a trade. There are exceptions. My grand-daughter is taking a two year course that will give her an AA and will prepare her to be a courtroom stenographer. The program costs her less than one semester at USC or UCLA.

William McGurn believes part of the problem is that government is too entangled in the system. In an April 19, 2011 WSJ article “When Big Government Goes to College”:
He makes the point that the more government tries to assist in the tuition process, the higher go the costs.

The same son mentioned above eventually finished his education and teaching credential at a private school. Mary and I filled out the Tuition Assistance forms and literally borrowed the money until he completed school, so I am not saying government intervention isn’t helpful. (Parenthetically, we still joke that if you can fill out the forms, you have too much education yourself to need the money).

My father paid for my sister’s and my college education including post-graduate work. It was really, our only legacy, but it provided both of us an opportunity to start our wage-earning life free of debt. Today, most students graduate with at least $40,000 debt, and a need to pay off the 7.5% loan at a time when they are least able to do so.

When we visited Ireland a few years ago, we were amazed at the prosperity and asked for an explanation. The answer was surprising: a decision was made to invest in education. Schooling through graduate programs was free and restricted only by skill level and performance. The country has since fallen on hard times, mostly because of the same housing problem we have, but the investment seemed to have been a wise one.

Why can we not figure out a way to graduate our students free of debt and trained for occupations that will fulfill their needs?

Baseball is big news in LA right now. There ought to be something of interest for me to write about next Saturday.


  1. You asked, "Why can we not figure out a way to graduate our students free of debt and trained for occupations that will fulfill their needs?" Well, for one, it will increase our taxes even more than they already are, which myself and many others would have an issue with. Second, what are these students going to do in this great economic climate that we're in once they graduate? There aren't any jobs available for them, even after all of the proposed investment!

  2. Scott: Interesting points. But the future may hold some promise. One of the reasons our graduates don't find work is that they are going into the wrong fields. There is a much higher pecentage of Indians and Chinese who are trained with practical computer skills than our universities turn out. Consequently we should (and probably will) change our curricula. There are also positive signs that the cost of training may not come from taxes so much as from prospective employers. As a case in point I wrote an article about the Changing Face of Dental Education: In the article I point out that debt forgiveness is built into attracting the right students to provide care to those who need it.
    Thanks for your comments. Keeps me thinking.

  3. Your article made me think of the GI Bill. Employer: We will pay for your tuition if you return the favor and commit to X years of service in return. I wonder if that's where the premise originated?