Sunday, November 29, 2015

New President Interview -- Part 33 -- Free Tuition?

New President Interview -- Part 33 – Free Tuition?

Q:  All the presidential candidates have opinions concerning lowering the high cost of college education.  Does your idea of college education agree with any of them?  

A: Firstly let me state that I have conflicting beliefs on the topics.  College debt or the possibility of incurring huge debt is influencing career choices for graduates.  Many two year colleges have careers to education programs that teach a course of study for a career where there is a demand for new graduates and the graduates can be prepared in a two year (60 credits or fewer) program.

Let me explain some contradictory views of education.  First an educated population is important to the community.  Learning for the sake of learning and research without the immediate commercialization of the results has value to the community.  However, this kind of learning is only for the intellectually elite and the highly motivated student and scholar.  Without the flow of new ideas we can not progress and improve as a community, state, or specie.  The adolescent is especially suited to learning.[1]  Without getting into the theory of instruction, adolescents have enough experience to start to understand how the world is built.  They have a base of knowledge from childhood and can see how some of the pieces fit into real life.  They are highly motivated to seek knowledge.  Society does not expect an 18 or 19 year old to live on his own.  They have the blessing of society to sit and learn.

Their cognitive and affective capabilities are challenged.  They begin to see the chemistry and physics of real world objects.  They understand that throwing a ball in a game involves human biology interacting with the physics of objects.  We want to encourage the gathering of information so that eventually wisdom is present.  For that reason life-long learning is encouraged and supported.  Post-secondary education or training is needed by almost everyone because an 18 year old is not prepared in high school with the tools for living in our complex world.

Every academic discipline has the potential to make the world a better place.  But not everyone belongs in an academic post-secondary program.  I see many students in our college who lack the basic language, math, and research skills to learn at a college level. Sometimes I wonder what they were doing during their high school years.  I also see some 10-12th graders who are able to take and benefit from college level courses.   

For those who missed the opportunity to attend college immediately after high school, we do need to provide opportunities for them to get the education they need for their life goals. I would like to see the high schools take over teaching some of the remedial courses the colleges now offer.  The high schools could have a grade 13 for students who are not at grade level for college or offer a post-high school program for those who graduated high school and want to return getting an education after a break or interruption.  Programs in a high school may be more cost effective than on a college campus.

Q: You are diverging from my original question.  What about the presidential candidates’ ideas on lowering costs?

A:  Briefly, they are all naïve. They are politicians saying whatever it takes to please the crowd and get elected.  They will have wonderful ideas that have no Trump on 9/11 Cheering Claims: 'I'm Not Going to Take It Back'  basis in the reality of getting a job done.  On Meet the Press (Nov. 29, 2015 episode 46)[2]  there was a segment, “Is 2016 the post-truth election?,”  in which  Chuck Todd, the moderator, asked citizens whether it mattered if the candidates told the truth.  He backed up the selected interviews with a survey that supported the idea that truth didn’t matter.  Since the respondents have such little regard for Federal government and they didn’t believe or trust the government, they didn’t seem to care when their favorite candidate lied, or misstated the facts due to ignorance.  The respondents thought everyone distorted the truth.  The more often the candidate repeated the lie, the more people didn’t care.  The people believe their candidate can “get the job done” without telling the truth.  This is bizarre behavior.  If any of our faculty read this in a student paper, the student would get red marks on his/her mistake.  A punctuation mark out of place would get corrected.  Why should an adult citizen support a candidate who can not even differentiate fact and fiction?  We challenge our students on much more mundane topics.

In one state the governor wanted to save money on public education by cutting personnel costs.  His department of education had the promotion and salary advancement rules changed so that earning an advanced certificate or degree did not raise the teachers’ salaries.  The public thought saving money is great.  The schools started suffering because without the advanced training teachers were not getting better.  New ideas were not advanced in the schools.  Students didn’t benefit from highly motivated teachers.  The colleges of education saw fewer students, causing them to reduce programs and reduce the amount of research they could encourage and fund.  The public thought this was great – why should they fund the business of education?   What no one outside of the academy understood is that the reward to individuals and society are not immediately apparent.  The effect on society of lower teacher salaries is not apparent for many years.  The effect could be fewer students are willing to train to be teachers creating a shortage of bright, young, idealistic teachers.

Financing post-secondary education requires the efforts of all the stakeholders – parents, students, schools, and community. “Community” includes local, state and federal government bodies.  The federal government can’t legislate programs without proper funding.  They should not expect the states to pay for something without the means for financing them.[3]  In almost every state the amount of money given to public colleges and universities is less than 20 years ago.  Mitchell and Leachman[4]  have a chart that shows after adjusting for inflation 47 states are spending less for higher education than school year 2007-8.  In Arizona spending dropped the most at 47%. 31 states had spending drops of 20% or more.

To figure out how to lower costs, one must define what a lower cost is.  What is saving money?  If I go to the store and don’t buy anything did I save money?  If I make a choice between product A and product B based on price do I save money by buying the lower priced choice?  I can tell you that wasting time is wasting money.  If I have to fill out a government form that does not help the education process, that is a waste of time and money.  In education results are not easy to quantify.  Success is not easy to judge in the short term.  Yet supervising bodies, who are business people, fail to understand.  None of the presidential candidates are academic types.  They want people to like what they say and they will say what they think people want to hear because in the end they want votes.  It is rare for a candidate to say that it takes hard work and sacrifice to achieve group prosperity.

College affordability is one of the major subjects of campaign rhetoric.  Everyone agrees that college graduates do better on most metrics (earning power, happiness, life expectancy, etc.) than non-college graduates. However, the statistics are misleading as to the cause and effect.  There is no way to make a controlled experiment to show that college is the cause of the success or the result of the same human forces that encourage success, earning more, and having a longer life. A long time ago the state decided that an educated public was important; they established public schools.  Schools became compulsory from about ages 6 – 16. Not everyone graduated high school.  Later high school graduation became minimum requirement.  High schools were tax supported and student attended tuition-free.  Even today the high school graduation rate is only about 80% over all and much lower for low income students.

A recent article in Money summarizes the major candidates’ views.[5]  They want state universities and colleges to be free for students.  There would be a combination of federal grants to states, work-study payments to students, scholarships, and family contributions.  The source of the tax revenue varies by the candidate.  No one proposes a direct tax such as a line item in the property taxes as we do with the local public schools and community colleges.  They all want some “rich folks” to pay for education of the masses.  The problem with those ideas is that if we tax a specific group such as the “rich” or the “Wall Streeters” they will figure out ways to avoid the taxes.  The anticipated money will not be there.

Q:  Wow!  Do you have an answer on how to finance higher education? How should we lower the cost of earning a degree?

A: It would be foolish to claim a definitive answer that would satisfy the institutions, the community, the students, and the parents.  In brief all classes of stakeholders must shoulder part of the responsibility.  Students need work opportunities, parents need saving and investing programs, institutions need to offer aid, and the local, state and federal governments need to devote tax moneys to keep costs down. Institutions need ways to spend money wisely to keep costs down.  Governments need to figure out ways to control how funds are spent without causing increased compliant costs. The public has to learn that taxes are for two purposes – raising money and social control. Increasing taxes or changing regulations could have unintended consequences. Alumni, as part of the interested community, still would need to give support to their colleges and universities.
Q:  Are there any candidates that you support?

A: I don’t think any of the presidential candidates will make a good president.  They are great at finding campaign rhetoric that will please a crowd.  Many years ago a cousin ran for state legislature.  I supported him by campaigning door-to-door.  I personally know one state senator and a recently retired senator.  I trust their wisdom and honestly, but I never even put a sign of support on my lawn.  I never publicly support candidates for high office.  I find most of them have severe limitations. 

Q:  Thank you very much.

Part thirty-three of the imaginary interviews with the president of the College. After more than 30 interviews the president is no longer “new,” but since we are all works in progress I am continuing the series as if s/he were a “new president.” Please feel free to suggest new ideas for interviews and presidential comments. This article is for your information, amusement, and edification. Everything is true, but some details have not yet happened. Any connection to a real college or president is strictly coincidental.

Note:  Most of the time I have very little confidence in candidates for political office.  The skills to run for office are not the same as the skills for leading, governing, and managing.  This  column is dedicated to Chaim H. Zimbalist who served two terms in the Missouri Legislature.  He was responsible for for helping me to learn to think critically.  While he was friends with many people in government, I was not. I trusted his opinions and analysis about topics from politics to Torah.  I spent many yom tov meals in his home.  It also helped that we shared grandparents.  He passed away this past Shabbat, Nov. 28 (16th Kislev).  Baruch dayan emet.  May his memory be a blessing for us all.

[1] Beamon, Glenda  “Supporting and Motivating Adolescent Thinking and Learning” Reprinted from: From Teaching With Adolescent Learning in Mind by Glenda Ward Beamon. ©2001 SkyLight Training and Publishing Inc.

For a explanation on how they learn see: Fuller, Andrew “Adolescent Learning,”   Fuller says that adolescents lack the ability to plan.  That means to get them to succeed in post-secondary schools; mentors and advisors are needed to help students learn how to succeed.  While Fuller’s ideas are beyond the scope of this article, they do reinforce the idea that education is more than what happens in the lecture hall.

[2] Meet the Press is long running NBC news department TV show.    Donald Trump claims to have watched when people in Jersey City, New Jersey cheered when the World Trade Center came down.  There is no evidence that this ever happened.  

[3] Many colleges and businesses have to pay for employees who sole job is to ensure compliance with government rules and regulations.  The government does not compensate anyone for this work. 

[4] Mitchell, Michael and Michael Leachman. “Years of Cuts Threaten to Put College Out of Reach for More Students”  Washington, DC : Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, May 13, 2015.  Retrieved from :   on November 26, 2015.

[5] Mulhere,  Kaitlin.  “Where the 2016 Democratic Candidates Stand on College Affordability” New York, Time Inc, Oct 14, 2015.  Because I do not want to appear to support any particular personality, I will comment only on the ideas. 

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