Higher education: possible, valuable and worth the effort?

Whenever I read an article online, I rarely bother to read past the article itself and into the comment section. Essentially I could care less that “SuZieRocKs8493” is personally and vehemently opposed to the content of the article. Even with something as casual as blogging, it seems ridiculous to set up a format where people can get away with sharing short and ill-informed quips in response to a thoughtful and well-written opinion.

But I read Cora Currier’s recent post for the “State of Change” blog at the Nation.com, and actually got sucked into the debate happening in the comment section.

Currier raises an important issue about higher education, and you can read it all here: Students Need Relief.

To summarize–Obama’s appointment of Arne Duncan as Education Secretary reminds us that some degree of education reform will be a part of the next for years. But with all of the focus on “No Child Left Behind” and early education in general, we can’t forget the challenges facing higher education–especially considering the economic challenges of these times.

She notes this letter to congress, which essentially asks for the following:

  • Raise the maximum Pell Grant to $7,000
  • Increase funding for the Federal Work-Study Program by 25 percent.
  • Improve access to Parent PLUS loans.
  • Provide a limited “emergency access” student loan pool for colleges that commit to providing adequate need-based aid.

And she concludes:

“This mini-bailout for higher-ed certainly won’t solve all of these problems, but it could make a major difference for many students.”

I’m fascinated by this because I (a liberal arts college graduate who worked through college, took out federal loans ) hardly saw this as controversial at first. My journey into comment-land, however, proved otherwise.

For example, this from “YourJomamma”:

I have a unique idea that appears to have never been given its due…

Do the words…


ring any bells?

My God…..things must be different at the poverty farm known as higher education…

Maybe the tenured guys woiuld be willing to give up a little of their guarenteed cash? Naw………

Any chance?..

I suggest some of these students learn the words…”you want fries with that”…

after all, as soon as you graduate you will be ready to run the world as good liberals everywhere…and a little job experience, even at McDonalds might look good to a policy think tank….so you can better understand the “working poor”…

And this from “lvliberty1”:


Here, Here! and a hearty amen!. Your post echoes my complaint. Used to be that only the rich were able to attend college without working. Now everybody wants free education.

Working through college helps to provide a learning experience that better prepares students to enter the workplace. It is a rare graduate that I have interviewed over the last 15-20 years that was capable of really providing a contribution to the company. With most, you had to assume that you were basically investing 1-2 years of salary and benefits for someone who would not bring any return on investment during that time frame.

I have a lot of thoughts.

First of all, I’m troubled by the assumptions we’re starting to make these days that having a college education or a graduate degree (or god forbid a graduate degree from a renowned and likely expensive institution) makes you an elitist who is out of touch with the world. Sure–the luxury of wealth will inevitably disconnect you from certain aspects of our world, but the hardship of poverty will also do the same.

The issue here isn’t wealth though. It’s education. And that’s why it’s so important to have programs in place so that a student’s financial situation is not a determining factor in his or her education.  For all of its flaws (and certainly there are many) the public education system does a better job at this than higher education.

From what I saw while I was in college, there are those students whose parents simply wrote a check each semester and leave without a single student loan. Likewise there are those students who had a numerous part time jobs in addition to a full course load and still leave with piles of debt. Most students end up somewhere in the middle. It’s tempting to try to define the quality of the education and the lessons learned from each variety of circumstance, but that’s not what’s important here.

What’s important is that students are still receiving different kinds of education based on their financial situation. As a result the simplified paradigm remains: higher education is something that rich people have the freedom to pursue at their own will while everyone else who wants to pursue it will have to work much harder for it. Making college accesible to everyone is one step, but breaking down that cultural divide is most important.

That’s where these federal programs come in. It’s not just about making going to college easier. They’re designed (or at least they should be designed) to encourage students to attend college who might not consider it a possibility. It’s a way for our country to say that higher education is possible,  valuable and worth the effort–even if your background and financial situation suggest otherwise.

I know I have more to say and think about, but I’m going to stop there for now.


~ by ohactually on December 21, 2008.

2 Responses to “Higher education: possible, valuable and worth the effort?”

  1. Interesting. And a debate that’s been around since the beginning of time because there are strong points for and against.

    First of all, I think your summary title is the real issue: Is it possible, is it valuable, and is it worth it?

    Possible: While it would be awesome to pay everyone’s way to college and even the field…from what is the money to be taken? Do we stop supporting food shelves, arts programs, early education, roads/transportation? What is going to happen when our government doesn’t have any money, and other countries won’t loan it to them, and the people don’t have it either?

    Valuable and worth it: When people are graduating from college, what skills do they have that make the rest of their lives better? And if everyone gets an education, does this mean that it loses its value because “everyone has one?”

    In my own experience, I’ve found that the majority of people appreciate more what is harder for them to achieve. I think the grants should be available, but also that people SHOULD work while they’re in school. College is, in my experience, largely dissociated from life. In fact, MOST schooling is. This is somewhat of a necessity, because you need background information before you analyze information of “now”. Working, besides being a way to earn money, keeps a person engaged with the “real world” — interaction with colleagues who are NOT surrounded by the safety nets of college. One learns about the world in this way, too.

    Then, there’s the problem of what is actually learned in a college education. This depends on who, as well as what. It would be great to give people the opportunity to learn. But how are you going to guarantee that people actually WANT the opportunity to learn? I see a lot of people who view college as a way to prolong having to be a responsible citizen. I also see many who are receiving an “education”, even though they are mentally not able to synthesize it. Not everyone is college material.

    And what is the purpose of college, anyway? To encourage people to think about the big picture? To teach a skill so they can be economically solvent in the global economy?

    I’m writing and I want to post this, but they’re only half-formed thoughts since I’ve been interrupted no fewer than 7 times just in a 15 minute setting. Instead of getting annoyed, I’m going to just have to quit here. I realize I haven’t given an answer. I don’t know if throwing money at it is going to work, unless there’s a clear accountability for the return on the investment. That’s the pragmatist in me at work.

    Merry Christmas Eve…:) C

  2. Another assumption is that having a college education means educated in a way that benefits you and/or the world because you’ve got the tools to apply to society in a productive way.

    I predict that having a college education is going to mean less and less in the future.

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