Tertiary education

Education beyond high school was once a luxury for children of wealthy families and for those targeting well-paying careers such as medicine and law. Increasingly, tertiary education (often, puzzlingly, described as “post-secondary education”) and training is essential for a large number of jobs. Yet the cost of tertiary education has grown much faster than the rate of inflation over the past four decades. Every time federal financial aid to college students has increased, colleges and universities have increased their prices to soak up the extra money that has been made available.

Offering free college education to all Americans and forgiving all unpaid student loans sounds like an attractive proposal to many young Americans. The problem with that solution is that nothing is truly free. “Free college” simply means “taking the cost of college education and dividing it among all taxpayers.” This places an undue burden on current taxpayers, and it will also burden those who receive a college education, enter the job field, and then have to support the education of other students.

The federal government should continue to provide help for college students (both incoming and continuing) who demonstrate both academic prowess and financial need. This help includes Pell Grants, guaranteed student loans, and other ways of supporting education costs of needy and capable students. In addition, the federal government should continue its program of reducing or eliminating student loan debt of workers who are contributing to the improvement of their communities and country while earning less than average wages—teachers, other community workers, medical workers providing help to low-income citizens, and the like.

At the same time, the federal government should reduce the cost of tertiary education by rewarding colleges and universities that lower costs to their students rather than constantly raising their costs. Government research grants and other gifts to institutions of higher education should be distributed with preference to those schools that are lowering the cost of education. When schools are no longer rewarded with more money every time they raise their costs, but instead are rewarded for lowering costs, the price of a college education will be made more affordable.

Meanwhile, the government should provide more support for vocational programs in high schools and community colleges. The nation needs carpenters, electricians, plumbers, auto repairers, and many other kinds of workers who do not require a bachelor’s degree or master’s degree to become adept at their job skills (and who will earn good salaries for their work). Too many programs support the traditional four-year program of tertiary education rather than helping low-income students with interest and skill in other vocations to learn a trade that will benefit them for a lifetime.

Tertiary education in the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral level will continue to be important. Teachers should be educated. Workers in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) usually need advanced degrees, as do those in the GLAM fields (galleries, libraries, archives, and museums). Medicine and law will also continue to need higher education for its workers. Instead of dividing the cost of higher education among all taxpayers, though, the federal government must continue to focus its assistance on the students of greatest need, greatest potential, and largest benefit to the nation as a whole. J.

A novel idea, part two

As I revealed last week, Jason Hero won the lottery—the grand prize of three hundred million dollars—without buying a lottery ticket. Jason never received the full three hundred million dollars. He took the bulk payment option, which was roughly half the promised figure (which would have been paid out over twenty years had he favored the other option), and about half of that prize was claimed by federal and state income taxes. Jason was left, then, with seventy-five million dollars, which is still a lot of money.

Jason chose to tithe, to give one tenth of his winnings to the Church and to various charities. Some congregations are so firmly opposed to gambling in any form that they would have refused his gift. Others would say that he should have tithed from the pre-tax amount. But Jason decided that he would divide his tithe among seventy-five recipients, giving each of them one hundred thousand dollars. He figured that was a large enough gift to do some good in seventy-five different places, but not so much that it would be harmful. Jason had heard of congregations that had been torn apart by arguments about how to spend a large gift. He did not want to cause any such disputes.

Jason chose several congregations that he had attended over the years, and a couple of congregations that were led by friends of his. He also sent some gifts directly to the denominational office, designated for foreign missions and for charitable organizations. He gave gifts to secular charities, including the American Red Cross. He gave gifts to the local public radio station and to the local public television station. Jason donated money to the zoo, to the symphony orchestra, to the ballet company, to the community theater, to the art museum, to the county’s historical museum, and to the hospital. He sent checks to the schools where he had earned his bachelor’s degree and his master’s degree.

After distributing his tithe, Jason began investing in his own future. He set up an account that would pay him one thousand dollars a week for the next fifty years, using up $2,500,000 of his winnings. He then took another five million dollars and set up accounts for his ten children, nieces, and nephews. The accounts were trusts to fund their higher education. Until they turned twenty-five, they could spend the money only on tuition, other academic fees, room and board, and normal living expenses such as a car, maintenance of the car, and clothing. Those who had already attended college could use the money to pay off student loans and, if they chose, to pursue additional degrees. Once they turned twenty-five, they were allowed to do whatever they wanted with the remaining money in their trusts. Jason knew that half a million dollars would not be enough for any of them to drop out of life and do nothing useful for the rest of their years. He hoped that the college educations they received would grant them fuller lives that would also benefit the people around them.

After all these sensible plans, Jason still had sixty million dollars to spend in other ways. Some of those will follow in future posts. J.