Free Higher Education? But what about Pre-K Through 12?

OK, so I know there are a lot of folks who philosophically disagree with this, but come on, free higher education to all? Even if to just to community colleges… Come on now, to whose expense? I am sorry, but that is not what I believe the American Dream is supposed to be all about. It is not free opportunity – it is opportunity, and those willing to take that opportunity “bull-by-the-horns” to strive for something more in life for themselves and their families.

Where did this free “equal access” thing come from anyway? I seriously take exception to those to believe higher education not to be equal access. Anyone with the will and drive to better themselves in their life makes decisions that can grant them access. Is it harder for some than others, sure. That’s life. Does demographics play a role? Sure, but so doesn’t will. I have many members of my family that went into the military and utilized the GI Bill. This is access to those who cannot afford, and they served, or are serving, their country to boot. I worked between 32-48 hours per week in 2-3 jobs all four years of my undergrad while living my college dream so that I could pay as much tuition and fees as I could as I maxed out student loans each semester. So it meant I didn’t have nights and weekends to play around, but that was access. No one paid for me. No one offered. There were no scholarships. I was an average, white student and came from a middle class family. Could I have come from worse means? Sure, but I was among the first generation in my family to have the opportunity to entertain college. My grandparents came here as small children with their parents as immigrant workers in the early 1900s. My parents, always looking to do better than the generation before, married and had children very young and did everything they could to keep a good roof over our heads. But college? If we wanted it, we knew it would be up to us. Did I ever once expect it to be free? What I expected was for it to be hard work, to cost a lot, but to be worth every penny because I was doing what I was meant to do. I was doing what others in my family weren’t able to do. I was going to pave the way for others in my family to say, “I can do it too.”

After graduating, however, more harsh reality set in. I could not get a job in either of my fields (I was originally a dual major in Graphic Design and Art History). I had a 6-month forbearance period, for which I was grateful for, to secure a job, before I had to start paying nearly $300 for the next 20 years of my life. Twenty years – and that was with all my hard work to pay down costs. I would be 41 years old by then… Not to mention, I just went to a state school, and even skipped out on the meal plan as soon as they allowed me to. Freshman 15? Not for me! I lost 25 pounds! I still didn’t (couldn’t) regret an ounce of it. I knew some how, some way, it would all pay off. So, I went back to school, which granted me deferment. Pretty sad that that was my reprieve (go back to college to get more debt so I didn’t have to pay the current debt yet) I have got to admit.

However (and thank goodness), when I went back to school for Education, I knew I found my calling right away. Profession Bill Harp’s very first course had me sucked in and there was no turning back. I completed my Masters program in about 3 years of evening classes. Again at a UMass affiliate, so I could live and work from home as normal, and not accrue any additional expenses. Even still, I doubled my student loans in those three years pushing my loan payments to $350 for 30 years after consolidations.

As an educator, I of course respect and understand the value of education from womb to all forms of higher ed. As a hard working citizen of a free democratic society, I value the importance of taking care of those who have serviced our communities and nation before us. But, I will not, nor will I ever see the reason in giving free higher education away. I believe in hard work. I believe in discipline. I believe in self-worth. I believe in the American Dream. America was built on those escaping religious persecution and freedoms fought and won against unjust taxation from Britain. Where would all this funding come from? Trees? If I could read a crystal ball, it would be telling me, “The taxes are coming, the taxes are coming,” instead of Red Coats (sorry about the sarcasm).

Lastly, will there be any contingency plans? If a student attends for a semester and fails then drops out, do they need to reimburse the college/state? (That’s how it works when a business pays for employee’s education). If so, how are they going to police that massive influx? If not, how are those wasted funds justified? Did you know the average college kid changes their major 2-3 times? Are there going to be caps on their free education? Some states are starting to answer these questions, some not. Some are just WAY too vague.

So many folks are wrapped up in this discussion about education being a right, not a privilege and that we need to be funding higher education. I agree with the first statement whole-heartedly. Education is a right. We have the right to a free and appropriate education (FAPE) through our K-12 system so that we can meet the needs for all of our children, and that system is in dyer need of support. This is the system that provides the very foundation that turns these little humans into productive members of society. Let’s make an analogy to an old car – our K-12 system being that old car. It’s been beat up on, ridden hard every day, well loved, even hated at times; It’s been serviced when needed, fuel goes in when it’s running low, and there’s always an operator behind the wheel (even if it isn’t the best one all the time, they still usually get you where you need to go). Well, that car’s paint is peeling and breaking down under the surface. The answer is a sparkling new paint job – or, in this case, free higher education, which will undoubtedly drain unfathomable amounts from state and local budgets. Sure, it might look packaged pretty to certain viewers, but to anyone who knows what they are looking at under the hood, they will surely be disappointed.

Not to mention, isn’t that pretty, painted car still going to break down for us to have to tow away anyway? I would much rather see our country dedicate the education funding to building up our pre-K through 12 programs and give equal opportunity to our children so that they can better make the best adult choices for themselves when they graduate high school. If a high school graduate is mature enough to sign up to serve our nation and potentially give their life, then they are certainly mature enough to find a way to pay for their higher education if that is what they choose to do.



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