Serving the High Plains

Removing cost devalues college

Beyond basic skills and exposure to the required amount of shared knowledge in history and citizenship, education should be something worked for and prized.

Making it free, I think, reduces its value.

Forgiving up to $50,000 in federal student loans for each student debtor, as some Congressional Democrats have proposed, essentially results in free higher education.

If higher education is made free of charge, I am afraid it is likely to become more a necessary commodity than a way to climb above the average through work and talent.

As a commodity available to all, higher academic education is likely to reward ordinary efforts and churn out degrees worth little more than a high school diploma is worth now.

For many American students, the first year or two of higher education is mostly remedial in the first place. Their early college years are spent learning skills and knowledge that should have been gained in high school, as it is in most wealthy countries.

If education beyond high school only serves to achieve 12th grade achievement levels, additional classroom time becomes just one more period of confinement to be endured before one is deemed ready for independence.

Higher education — academic education, that is — should be worth some sacrifice, even if it is by a parent for a reluctant student. There should be a sense that if it’s worth paying for, even if by someone else, it is also worth working for.

College should continue to be a privilege. It should be earned by paying for it, scholarship or a show of great promise. The privilege, however, should be open to those who demonstrate high motivation or great aptitude, regardless of grades, especially if they lack the means.

That could mean revamping how state colleges and universities are funded. Tuition, fees and books should not be priced out of range for all but the wealthy.

But it should not be a right. Leaders should work on ensuring that the first 12 years of public education produce learning at levels that are readily applicable to useful skills that do not require four-year academic degrees.

Students should leave high school with, at minimum, the ability to work with fractions and decimals, write a cogent paragraph and read for information and instruction, for example.

Education after high school, or during high school, that teaches needed, non-academic workplace skills should be accessible to all, however.

In fact, teaching for trades or technician skills would be an excellent opportunity for public-private partnerships. Designing and carrying out these programs could involve companies that need the skills but often cannot or will not pay the price of training, government economic development and employment programs, and schools.

Schools should recognize that many non-academic skills have become more valuable in the workplace than many undergraduate college degrees and should ensure education through high school can prepare students for careers that involve trained hands as well as for those that focus solely on the mind.

Forgiving all student loans, however, sends a message that college is for everyone, even those who are not academically inclined.

College should be seen as a premium accomplishment worth paying, working and studying to achieve, not just an additional grind resulting in another diploma that indicates only that basic minimums have been met.

Steve Hansen writes for Clovis Media Inc. Contact him at:

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