What Are We “Leaving On the Table”?

I admit that I am very much influenced by what I read. I just finished reading Class, by Stephanie Land. It won’t make the Recommended Reading List; it not that kind of book. However, it did make me think about something I often push to the back burner of my mind and sans answers that’s what I’d like to (incompletely I fear) discuss with you today.

While you may or may not agree with many of the positions the author took or the choices she made, (I’m not here to sell her book), she did underscore a broader point: the prohibitively high cost of a post-high school education in America. I contend that there may well be a social cost that we largely chose to ignore.

Too many students are forced to endure food and/or housing insecurity in order to get through college. Even more expensive to society are the people who don’t go to college or don’t complete it because of the costs. When we think of going to college, we think in terms of the cost of tuition, books and fees. That is only part of it. You give up near-term income because you either can’t work or must take lesser paying (in both wages and benefits) jobs that conform to your class schedule. Especially if you are a commuter student you need at least a somewhat dependable automobile. If you are from out-of-town housing (on or off campus) and food may be relatively affordable but they certainly aren’t free.

Although I’m at the extreme left of the progressive movement when it comes to public education, I don’t think it would be all that difficult to get Democrats to expand our free public education system beyond high school where it, for all practical intent, currently is. Republicans are a very, very different matter. Despite their rhetoric to the contrary, they basically oppose public education. They want to filter the money to their financiers who would use it to run indoctrination centers. When almost all you stand for is a lie you certainly don’t want to promote thinks like critical thinking and reading comprehension.

I guess the first thing I have to address is, “Why?”. The simple truth is that in today’s employment environment you often cannot get hired for even an entry level job that has the potential to lead to a good career without a college diploma. That good job will almost without exception include a better compensation package and the ability to grow within your career.

That leads to the financial argument (now I have the right wing’s attention, at least a bit of it). If you make more money, you will pay more in taxes and certainly will not be a drain on the system by requiring social safety net assistance. Think of the government as a big pot of money. When you pay taxes, you put money in. When you utilize benefits, you take money out. As liberal as I am I’d like to see the need for assistance brought as close to zero as possible. The person we keep out of college is much more likely to require assistance over the course of their life.

This is also a generational problem. The biggest predictor of your success is your parents. I was the first in my family to graduate from high school so I thought that getting just my bachelor’s degree was an achievement. Grad school wasn’t even on the radar screen. While I had it better than many, I still worked a full-time job while in college and it took me more than four years. (That was after I graduated from high school in three.)

My concern is the opportunity cost to society. America became the global economic force that it is in large part because of our largely high school educated work force. That was enough decades ago but not today. We are like the team that is in first place but getting fat; we are vulnerable!

Also, along those lines what inventions or cures are not being achieved, or being achieved on a much longer timeline, because the person who would have made the breakthrough never got the chance and is toiling in some low paid job to make a member of the Lucky Sperm Cell Club richer?

I don’t have the answers or a program to put forward but the first step in problem solving is the recognition that the problem exists. You are hereby on notice.

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