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Working Hard or Hardly Working?

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At a recent campaign rally the University of Illinois College Democrats had on campus, one of the main issues discussed was the rising interest rates on federal student loans and the increase in tuition in general. The gist of it was that the undergrads don't want to pay as much for college (or don't think they should pay at all) and the Democratic candidates were more than happy to take from the rich and give to the middle class. While this event was partisan, the general sentiment on campus is that tuition is oppressive and the government should do something about it.

First, in regards to interest rates on student loans, only a few short years ago the interest rates on unsubsidized loans (those given to everyone regardless of their financial status) were below inflation. My wife's student loans, for instance, are locked in at 1.65%. Because the federal government not only backed up banks for loans that went into default, but also ensured these loans were profitable, the Department of Education was losing massive amounts of money. Raising interest rates (which are still capped at 8.25%) was the solution to at least bring some solvency to the program. At this, students cried foul.

The fact is, the primary beneficiary of a college education is the recipient of the degree. They make more money, have more career opportunities, and they enjoy a four (or five) year-long party.

Paying for college can indeed be difficult… so much more so for those families who don't plan ahead. Students, for their part, seem unwilling to look at alternative ways to finance education. Starting at a community college, for instance, or at least taking summer classes to get ahead is out of the question.

Now these attitudes wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for the fact many students don't take their college education seriously. Many students attend college for the piece of paper, not for education as current surveys on the state of college graduates show (including ISI's own survey). Many high school kids go to college because of the "aura" of college life, namely, parties, booze, and sex.

By insisting that someone else flip the bill, it only encourages students not to take seriously their college education. It is human nature not to value those things acquired with little or no effort.

The unfortunate reality is that by allowing these attitudes to continue, politicians and school administrators ensure the college graduates remain unprepared for the "real world" that is rightfully unwilling to put up with the "hand held out" attitude. We allow 18-year olds to vote, it's time to start treating them like adults.

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About John Bambenek

John Bambenek is a political activist and computer security expert. He has his own company Bambenek Consulting in Champaign, IL that specializes in digital forensics and computer security investigations.
  • Franco

    John,

    This is one of the better articles I have seen on BC. It says it all and I could not agree more. Your thinking is in the best interests of the student whether they know it or not. Well done.

    Franco

  • S.T.M

    I like the HECS scheme in Australia where you begin to repay to the Commonwealth Government on a mandatory but very reasonable sliding scale depending on your income and as part of your income tax.

    Most graduates find it easy to pay off their student debt under this system, although there have been some complaints about scales used to judge incomes post-graduation (ie, those doing law, or medicine, for instance, have paid higher fees). I assume something similar operates in the US, but provided purely as loans through the federal government?

    But I’m afraid I do agree that a university education should cost absolutely zilch. My view is that the primary beneficiary of the degree is not the student but the nation.

    I realise in a country of 21 million, it would be much easier to manage but it’s been done in the past … the Labor Government abolished undergraduate fees in Australia in 1972, and a university education remained free until 1986.

    It was a pretty popular decision when it was introduced, as you’d imagine.

    Given the costs involved, somewhere in between would be a good compromise, with students perhaps encouraged by reduced HECS fees (or loan interest in the US) to shoulder some of the cost by working part time. God knows there’s plenty of work around at the moment in both countries.

  • Nancy

    I don’t think any student should be subsidized by the government or taxpayers, for any reason. They should either be able to qualify for scholarships (and there are LOADS of them out there, approximately half of them untapped or seldom applied for), apply for loans themselves, or be prepared to work off the debt, as some enterprising med students are doing in some communities after graduation.

    students have already been subsidized by the long-suffering taxpayers all their lives, all the way through public school, as they & their ingrate parents are quick to forget, if they ever think of it at all. We are all required to provide a free education to the spawn of the breeding population, even if we have none of our own. To demand that students be further subsidized all the way to mid-adulthood is adding insult to injury.

    Furthermore, IMO far too many people are going to college who have no business being there & who are unequal to the work & unprepared for the self-discipline required. These days, a college degree is being viewed as a high school diploma was 30 years ago: a sign you made it through the ‘basic’ school curriculum. Everybody thinks they have to have a college degree, preferably from a big name college, yet very few are up to the work or level of performance involved, or even interested in the sort of career such education at such institutions entails. To have every Tom, Dick, and Harriet going to college, especially if they’re not up to the work & course levels, is to cheapen the degree, because (& I speak from personal experience with my own classes here) when substandard students are admitted, then the classes have to be dumbed down to accomodate them, to the detriment of those who CAN do the work. I can’t begin to number how many of my classes were held back by students who were admitted because they fit some group or other felt to need the “extra” leeway for admittance, and who were barely literate and qualified to function at a high school level, let alone collegiate courses. My feelings then and now are that if they weren’t up to it, they shouldn’t have been there. They certainly shouldn’t be there at the expense of the taxpayers.

  • pleasexcusetheinterruption12

    I agree with some of the general sentiment in this article (that’s a first for a bambi article) but it is also a little one sided. There are 10s/100s of thousands of college students who take college very seriously. The average student at a private college graduates with over 20,000 dollars in loans. The average student at a public college graduates with over 10,000 dollars in loans. So it’s not that students don’t have plenty of INCENTIVE to take college seriously, as bambenek implies (“By insisting that someone else flip the bill, it only encourages students not to take seriously their college education.”)

    They have plenty of incentive to take college seriously, but some of them are just too stupid to do so, or they are in the minority graduating without loans (the rich kids).

    Personally, I agree that some incentive (loans) are necessary to keep education serious so it shouldnt be totally subsidized. But considering the value of education to individuals and the nation as a whole, I think it’s in the nation’s interest to promote the availability and affordability of education and to minimize the financial risk involved. This being said, I completely disagree with the sentiments Nancy expresses.

    I don’t think any student should be subsidized by the government or taxpayers, for any reason. They should either be able to qualify for scholarships (and there are LOADS of them out there, approximately half of them untapped or seldom applied for), apply for loans themselves, or be prepared to work off the debt, as some enterprising med students are doing in some communities after graduation.

    First of all, scholarships are a form of subsidizing education. Who do you think pays for the scholarship? Society. Even though the scholarship may or may not be through the federal government (some are you know) society still foots the bill. Either the educational institution provides it at the expense of other students, community organizations provide it at there own expense etc. But it all comes back to someone else footing the bill.

    These days, a college degree is being viewed as a high school diploma was 30 years ago: a sign you made it through the ‘basic’ school curriculum. Everybody thinks they have to have a college degree, preferably from a big name college, yet very few are up to the work or level of performance involved, or even interested in the sort of career such education at such institutions entails. To have every Tom, Dick, and Harriet going to college, especially if they’re not up to the work & course levels, is to cheapen the degree, because (& I speak from personal experience with my own classes here) when substandard students are admitted, then the classes have to be dumbed down to accomodate them, to the detriment of those who CAN do the work. I can’t begin to number how many of my classes were held back by students who were admitted because they fit some group or other felt to need the “extra” leeway for admittance, and who were barely literate and qualified to function at a high school level, let alone collegiate courses. My feelings then and now are that if they weren’t up to it, they shouldn’t have been there. They certainly shouldn’t be there at the expense of the taxpayers.

    First, Knowledge is not relative. Knowledge is absolute. Although a degree today may be regarded as a HS diploma 30 years ago, the absolute knowledge is not. HS today teach more information in more subject matters than HS did 30 years ago and the same is true for colleges. 30.. ok maybe 40 years ago, biology was certainly a universal HS subject, now students graduate HS with 2 even 3 years of Biology, much of the information content of which has been gained only in the past 30 or even 5 years. Any college education for anyone is going to result in an absolute gain in knowledge by that indivual and by society at large, which is good for America!!!!

    Second, colleges ARE relative. If you felt stuck at a college with students holding you back, it is only because YOU did not excel to your full potential.

    This being said, I do agree Nancy, that HS and college education lacks discipline. Students should not be forced to work. But if they don’t work, they don’t deserve, and should not be there.

  • Bliffle

    “I don’t think any student should be subsidized by the government or taxpayers, for any reason.”

    But our government is in the business of subsidizing all kinds of things, like the $13billion subsidy in the recent energy bill. And that can’t be for hardship because they report billions for profit.

    Actually, subsidizing students makes a lot more sense than subsidizing oil. Much of our current societal wealth is created by college educated people: indeed, one might claim that the combination of low-tuition landgrant state colleges is the engine that’s driven the economy for at least 50 years. Better to invest in people than the $170billion in welfare we hand out to major corporations every year.

  • JR

    pleasexcusetheinterruption12: First, Knowledge is not relative. Knowledge is absolute. Although a degree today may be regarded as a HS diploma 30 years ago, the absolute knowledge is not. HS today teach more information in more subject matters than HS did 30 years ago and the same is true for colleges.

    Yeah, but the amount of knowledge needed to work in the industry has also gone up. A BS in biology will get you a job pipetting and cleaning glassware at Genentech or Amgen; a high school diploma won’t even get you in the door. To do non-repetitive tasks you’re looking at a Masters at least. Jobs with actual thinking and responsibility (you know, grown-up jobs) are pretty much the exclusive domain of PhD’s. The fields are so deep now that you have to get ten years of knowledge and experience before you know enough to contribute anything. That’s just the reality of science these days – the easy shit’s been done.

    So you should have some fun in college; you’re going to be there a while.