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Friday, October 3, 2014

Should, and Could, the US Follow Germany's Example of Free University Education?

Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany
Germany has recently taken the steps needed to ensure that all of it's students have the ability to access a quality higher education by removing all tuition fees.  While private colleges are still available and do require tuition, ALL public universities in the country will be tuition free as of the end of this year.  Many see this as a goal which the US should be aiming for, many others though seem to have some reservations.

After posting the story on my Facebook page quite a few comments were made on both sides of this issue.  Many believe that this is the way the US should be moving. Many others were concerned about what it would do to taxes, or if it would discourage students to work to their highest potential if they didn't have to worry about paying their way.  Personally, I feel there is an answer to ALL of these questions while still moving towards a better education system for those of us in the US. I think that rather than worrying about "what's that going to do to taxes" we should be worried about "what happens to the next generation when no one has a degree?"

The debt that most students incur while seeking a degree in this country is mindblowing.  Many end up paying on their education for 30 or more years.  Many others simply don't have the option of higher learning because they have no way to pay for it.  Because of this we are left with a large number of individuals, sometimes some of our brightest minds, living in poverty, barely surviving on minimum wage and dreading the day it all falls apart.

When I graduated Highschool it would have cost me $45,000 to get the degree I was considering at a two-year technical school, or around $40,000 at a 4 year community college.  Making minimum wage and not knowing how to make ends meet as it was I couldn't afford either of these options.  Now, I am 31 and continue to have no degree. Although I've altered my path as to which degrees I am seeking, the question of how I am going to afford tuition is in no way an easier one to answer. I now have three children who need to be considered, and although my income is slightly higher today than it was at 18, my financial situation isn't much better. Of course, had I been able to afford an education then, chances are I wouldn't be in the financial position I am today - and neither would my children.

As I've said in previous posts, I am working hard to find a way to pay for college.  I'm counting every penny and I'm working hard at my business hoping to put enough money aside to pay for tuition.  I am not willing to give up on my dream of having a degree. But I fear that my children will face the same issues that I have when it comes to education.

We all grow up hearing about "the American Dream"  but in today's world that dream requires a solid education.  Once upon a time, when my grandparents were young, you could easily graduate highschool, get a decent paying job, buy a house and afford the things your family needed - plus put away enough for retirement someday...  In fact, that's exactly what my grandfather did.  My grandparents were not "rich" by any standards. But they had everything they needed, made enough to take family vacations, and thanks to some great financial planning, when my grandfather died in 1994, leaving behind his wife and 4 year old daughter, my grandmother didn't have to struggle to pay her bills or look for work.  In fact, there was enough money that, had she been smart about things, she never would have had to work at all.  THAT, my friends, is the American dream!

BUT, it doesn't work that way any more.  Today, you can not simply graduate highschool and go get a decent paying job. Yeah, sure, there are those one in a million cases where it works that way, but they are certainly not the norm.  No, the "norm" is that those who don't go on to gain a higher education struggle to survive on minimal pay for hard work - minimum wage jobs with no benefits and long hours...  A great many of these people find themselves living on welfare struggling to get through each month without completely drowning in bills.  And with the average tuition hanging at around $20K a year and a minimum wage income around $15,200 a year, it's simply not possible for these people to make the required changes to better their situation. So they are stuck, and so are we, we're stuck (as a nation) paying extremely high welfare bills so that these individuals can try to survive on Ramen Noodles.

The people of this country talk often about how much we need to cut welfare.  Well, the best way to that is to create citizens who don't need it.  Of course, many will argue that "this is why we need to raise the minimum wage."  And on paper they are right.  But like I've said before, what's on paper and what happens in reality are two very different things. In this case simply raising the wage isn't going to be the answer people are looking for, because greedy companies are not going to be willing to make less money, they're simply going to raise the cost of everything to match the new wage, and the cycle continues.

No, this is a bigger issue. This is one that requires major changes in our country, but one that CAN be fixed if people would be willing to make those changes.  Our government could, and should, without question be covering tuition for those in Public Universes!  They pay for those in public elementary, middle and highschools, so why does the buck stop with graduation? In NO WAY do I feel we should be forcing private schools to lower tuition or do I feel the government should be paying those fees.  If you make the CHOICE to attend a private college, you make the CHOICE to pay the bill. But the fact is as things are right now, many young people don't have the option to choose ANY school. And THAT is the issue here.

Many pointed out that there isn't enough tax money to pay for the things we have now, where are we going to find the money to pay for college too?  And that's a valid question.  But the answer is actually quite simple.  First, it needs to be realized that if we do not educate this generation, when they are adults we are, as a country, going to be much worse off financially than we are today.  Second, we DO have enough tax money to pay for the things we have and additional things like this, but currently that money is being funneled into one war after another.  If we stopped attempting to fix the worlds problems and focused more on our own, we wouldn't be having the issues we are having.

Don't get me wrong, the things that happen over sees are terrifying and awful.  But you can't help others until you take care of your own!  Our government's FIRST goal should be to take care of US. It should be working to ensure that each and every citizen of this country has access to a quality education through college, has access to quality healthcare, not sick care, has access to quality food, clean water and air and decent housing.  And until they've done that, they have NO BUSINESS funneling our money into other countries.  Now, I believe IF our politicians were to get their shit together, we could be at that point within the next decade... THEN, and ONLY THEN, should we be attempting to aid others.  And that's what it should be - aid.  Not the US shows up and takes over and calls all the shots for the rest of the world...

What things are we supposedly stepping in to stop?  Violence, rape, homelessness, hunger, disease, lack of access to clean water and education...  These are the things our military is supposedly trying to stop all over the world (although mostly in the Middle East).  We say it's the "war on terror" but do you know what terrifies me?  The idea that I won't be able to feed my children. The idea that if my husband gets hurt or sick and can't work, that we will be homeless.  The idea that even in my sleepy little town, crime and violence are creeping in.  I'm all for fighting terror, but it's time we start fighting it here at home. And that's a fight that can't be won by force, it has to be won by creating a better society.  And THAT requires education!

Of course then there is that question of whether or not individuals who are simply "handed" an education would appreciate it enough to work hard.  Would we simply be paying for a bunch of "C" students to party their way through college and end up with a bunch of "liberal arts" degrees?  Well, again, I have an answer here.  Rather than simply removing all tuition fees for public colleges, I think we need to create a system similar to our current scholarship programs.  Tuition would be paid, by the government, under the condition that grade averages, attendance and behavior all remained in good standing.  Those students who missed to many classes, were arrested while on campus or for violent offenses, or who failed to keep their grades (on average) on an acceptable academic level would have "fines" levied against them which would go towards their education fees, or they would have the option to drop out.  The worse the student, the higher their "fines." This would encourage students to remain at the top of their game, while giving them access to a higher education.

In general, I don't think this is rocket science.  People in this country NEED higher education, but can't afford it.  The government has the choice between paying for today's citizens to have that education or paying for them to live on welfare.  Americans don't want their taxes going to pay for welfare, so education should be the obvious answer.  And if we need the money, we should start funding our own people and stop pumping cash over seas.  This should be politics 101.  Take care of your own, create systems that encourage people to be responsible and self sufficient and reap the benefits...

It's not about giving people a "hand out" - it's about giving them a "hand up" so they can do for themselves.  Contrary to popular belief, most people living in poverty would happily take steps to change, but they don't have the ability.  If we don't want to have a society in poverty, it's time we start changing that!

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