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Student loans rates aren’t what ail higher education

POSTED May 11, 2012 9:37 p.m.

It's time that common sense guided higher education spending in California.
We have three statewide college systems - community colleges, state universities and the University of California.
It is time to stop blurring the distinction between the CSU and UC systems. At the same time, we need to tweak the community college system.
Things started going haywire a few decades ago when the CSU system - feeling somewhat inferior - made a push to shed its traditional role as a teaching college system to offer advanced degrees and such. The argument was accessibility. The end result was runaway costs.
The first step is to reduce the cost of the first two years of college and to increase room at the UC system. Make it the rule and not the exception that UC students get their lower level work out of the way at the CSU system. Get rid of intercollegiate sports at least at the UC level if not at the CSU level as well. Taxpayers are on the hook for a big part of athletics, and surprising as it may seem, it doesn't do a heck of a lot to improve graduation rates.
Drop all remedial programs at the CSU and UC systems. If a student isn't ready for whatever reason, let them make up their deficiencies at community colleges. They should not take space away from better prepared students nor should taxpayers be expected to pay the price in higher cost classrooms so they can get up to speed. Make higher education what it is supposed to be - higher education.
If students in the community college systems aren't on some type of specific study plan then make them pay full freight for each unit. That means no taxpayer subsidy for a student that isn't focused. That doesn't preclude them from switching plans. It cuts down on casual students and opens the door for others who are ready to pursue specific courses of study.
As for the high cost of education and student loans, we need to stop playing politics and refrain from doing the same old, same old.
The reason student loan rates are scheduled to go back up is because Congress cut them temporarily several years ago. It is simply unsustainable to keep rates low.
But why have student loans at all? There is talk about making it easy to shirk responsibility by filing bankruptcy down the road with laws that allow the discharge of student debt which is not the case now.
A 22-year-old the other day who works driving truck asked why he should subsidize peers his age who tell him they are going to college not for noble reasons but so they can make more money. Good question.
We do benefit as a whole from higher education even if we don't partake of it. Why not provide a direct subsidy to students who meet the requirements and want to pursue specific courses of study? In exchange for securing degrees that allow one to become a medical doctor, research chemist, engineer, or teacher how about discharging the debt by working for the federal government for four years?
It may be placing teachers where they are needed, assigning doctors to specific health clinics, using engineers at federal research labs or even "selling" the graduates to high tech firms that agree to reimburse the government for their outlay. There would be a caveat. Those who get degrees in such a manner would be restricted to pay at twice the federal minimum wage for the four years they "work off" their student loans.
If students don't like that option, they are free to pay as they go or else go into debt.
Such a system would be a great equalizer, as one doesn't have to be wealthy to go to college. Instead you just have to have the smarts and drive to succeed and then give four years of paid service. Then you are free to try and make as much money as you want and not worry about a burdensome student debt.
This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Journal or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.

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