College should be open and affordable for all students

Higher education should be treated as a necessity for our country and not as a business. Photo: Stanford University

MONTGOMERY VILLAGE, Md., January 14, 2012 — Regardless what path our economy takes in the future there is one constant: education. Frequent Republican debates have disclosed very little about how the candidates would improve our current system. We have only heard that several of them would like to abolish the Department of Education, but no details as to the “improvement” that would result from this action.

For the last 30 years we have lost preeminence in the industrial sector. Some predicted back in the 1960s that we would turn into a service economy and these predictions have come true to some extent. Our consumer economy now depends on middleman actions: Products are imported and then retailed by our commercial enterprises. The majority of the profits are retained in the manufacturing countries like China. Some say that this trend has to be stopped and that we should return to an industrial economy to make our consumer economy work better.

Regardless of whether we return to a manufacturing economy or continue the trend as a service based economy, the issue of education is paramount. Today we rate in the lowest third of all industrialized countries in education. The statistics are even drearier in math and science, two areas vital to obtaining a good technical or scientific education.

Our top technical universities like MIT and Stanford are probably the best in the world. However, only a small percentage of our students are selecting technical or scientific careers. One only has to visit a local university’s engineering department to realize that a large number of the students are foreign.

Soaring Educational Costs

The problem is that even if we could turn the tide and were able to get more our own high school students interested in engineering and science (which would also require a big improvement in the quality of our high school education), the cost of higher education has gone through the roof in the last 20 years.

College graduate - How much did the mortarboard coast?

College graduate - How much did the mortarboard cost?

While very poor, outstanding students are still able to get full or partial scholarships, the average middle class student has to incur very high debt to achieve a university degree.In the period between 2000 to 2009, the cost of tuition in our universities went up almost 70%.

Most of this increase is the result of Right Wing politics that would like to see centers of higher learning managed like a business and be self-sustaining to a great extent. This significant increase in the cost of college has resulted in a corresponding average increase in student debt to more than $25,000 as of November 2011.

The issue of high student debt was addressed in an earlier article in this forum. That article dealt with a student who ended up with $38,000 in student debt in order to get his Associate Degree (AA) in Automotive Technology even though he obtained his AA in less than two years. While this is a case of “caveat emptor,” there was no way he could have had found redress without a Consumer Protection Agency. The new bureau created by President Obama could fill this void, but too late for this young man.

While short term needs in our country relate to the economy and employment, there is no doubt that the long term needs have to include educating our workers. We should look at education as an investment in the well being of all of us instead of just another business. Government should look at education the same way it looks at defense, environmental protection, health and other parts of our fiscal realm.

Any student who is qualified should be able to get a higher education at low or no cost. Universities and colleges should receive subsidies according to the number of students they graduate and their quality.

Mario Salazar, the 21st Century Pacifist, is a bleeding heart liberal, agnostic, exercise fanatic, Redskin fan, technophile, civil engineer, combat infantry veteran, jewelry maker, amateur computer programmer, environmental engineer, Colombian-born, free thinker, and, not surprisingly, pacifist.

You can find his articles - ranging from politics to cooking a mean brisket – in 21st Century Pacifist.

<> at The Washington Times Communities. Follow Mario on Twitter @chibcharus #TWTC and Facebook at Mario Salazar.

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Mario Salazar

Mario Salazar is a combat infantry Vietnam Vet, world traveler, renaissance reconnaissance man, pacifist, metal smith, glass artisan, computer programmer and he has a Master of Science in Civil/Environmental Engineering.  Now retired from the Environmental Protection Agency and living in Montgomery County, Mario will share with you his life, his thoughts, his musing on living in yet another century of change.  He will also try to convey his joy of being old.

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