The Business of Edcuation

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My general disdain for the money made from higher education has been pretty evident, if it hasn’t, just browse through the education category over on the left. Typically my focus is on student loans, the impact that students are left to deal with in the pursuit of a decent education, but today I’m taking a slightly different route.

Thanks to the Western Carolinian, the student newspaper at Western Carolina University, today I’m focused on how the money is being spent by the institution. Before I get started though, I will clarify: the issue I’m addressing in this post is not that money is being spent, but how it is being spent.

Having established that, the inspiration for this post comes from a recent article published by the Western Carolinian in regard to the 2020 Vision Plan for WCU, and the impact that a potential parking garage would have on students, staff and faculty.

Parking garages are expensive, they must be managed and maintained, just like any other facility. I get that. Considering the growth that WCU has experienced over the last few years, I’m not one to disagree with the notion that a parking garage is probably a smart idea for the preservation of the campus and the community. In this case, I’d personally much rather see one structure a short distance from campus that could provide solid parking options for students without paving over the whole landscape.

There is one thing however that sticks out to me though, and an issue that I believe should be a more intricate part of the planning well beyond 2020, and should be considered as we head into 2014.

The faculty and staff of WCU have not received a raise in their salary since 2008, and some of them are upset that their parking fees will go up in order to compensate for the garage. Renee Corbin, director of assessment, even talked about parking further away from campus or making a deal with local business, for a fee. If the faculty and staff are to pay more per year for parking or other fees in order to accomplish the 2020 Vision plan, without a pay raise, they have every right to be frustrated.

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I can’t imagine that Western is the only school with this problem, not necessarily directly related to a parking garage, but the idea that faculty aren’t seeing pay raises for the work and dedication given to the institutions they serve, as money continues to be spent on expansion projects and useless campus “beautification”.

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Where my problem with the situation goes deeper, is the fact that all of this money is spent, but programs continue to be cut, class sizes increase as classes are cut from programs, and the blame is placed on money and budgeting despite expansion and beautification projects.

Yes, growth is good. I’m not saying that it isn’t, but should the quality of education, and the quality of programs offered be driven into the ground just so the students can have a new fountain or new campus directional signs?

The simple answer is no. At institutions of higher education, something inside me says that we should be focusing on maintaining a competitive level of education, not making things pretty. There are programs at WCU that have scaled back so much, that they hardly resemble the programs that students initially came to the school for.

On a larger scale, the problem with education across the country, high schools and colleges alike, is coming from how money is being spent. At some point, the focus needs to be on advancing what is best for students, or these institutions need to quit pretending to be focused on education.

Yes, I included high schools because North Carolina can’t seem to get anything right in terms of budgeting for education, which may or may not come from the fact that all the people making real decision have no idea what it’s like to work in the actual education system.

Teachers, professors, faculty and staff, they all deserve respect from the students they serve, but they deserve even more from the systems that they are working for.

If education were actually the focus of higher education, I’d be willing to bet money that many of the problems we’re facing would seemingly fix themselves. But when you’re more concerned with the way something looks than how it operates, then no, none of these problems are ever going to be solved.

Education is a business. It’s time the employees were shown that they are appreciated, not just being used to bring in more money under the facade of helping develop the future.

As always, that’s just my two cents and I don’t expect everyone to agree with me, but where I do think we can come together is in the idea that a change needs to be made to the system as a whole; something is broke, it’s time we fixed it.

Pell Grant Reform?

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I’ll probably make some people mad with my opinion about Pell Grants, but as the program is looking at a well that is quickly running dry, I believe that there is some level of accuracy in my concern.

First, let’s start with the problem I’ve stated before. The government is a business, they make money, they spend money, they do it from behind a veil of concern for you. As education is concerned the government does not deviate, hence the $41.3 billion profit posted for the 2013 fiscal year. According to the Detroit Free Press, that’s the third highest profit level in the world, behind Exxon Mobil and Apple.

Second, Pell Grants, though useful to good students that deserve the opportunity to pursue a higher education, do not need to be given to anyone over 30.

That probably sounds harsh, but when there are 18 year olds that want to pursue an education but can’t because of affordability, then no, I don’t think that a person who chose to work instead should be receiving grant money. Again, I empathize with those people that have personal or family issues that prohibit them from going to school, but having three family members that are well over the age of 30, just now pursuing their education, it upsets me to hear how much grant money they receive for an online education.

When I graduated from Western, I had never been eligible for a grant. Even in the year that my father was out of a job, a year with zero income, which FAFSA is supposed to take into account, my student loan amounts were reduced so that I was forced into taking out parent loans too if I wanted to continue my education.

Yes that was right, parent loans was the government’s answer to my family having zero income.

So if you want Pell Grant Reform, the government needs to do the same thing they should do with Social Security. Allocate money to the people that deserve it, stop handing out pity money, and at some point hold people accountable for the life choices that they make.

The older you are, the more opportunity you’ve had to pursue a career, which could be paying for the education that you suddenly realized you needed. A high school grad shouldn’t be penalized for your decision to work.

As far as money for education is concerned, this isn’t about reform, it’s about common sense.

Student Loans: What They Don’t Understand

“I guess the best advice is to use your head when you are making loans and not to go over your head, to think about the job you’re trying to get and whether or not it is going to provide the income that will sustain your family and enable you to repay your loan.” (USA Today)

I thought it would be best to jump right in with that gem that Molly Corbett, American Council on Education, gave USA Today.

Corbett, President Obama, governors, it doesn’t matter who is speaking about student loans, none of them actually know how the system is working.

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As I did my best in college to make responsible loan decisions, this is how the one-sided conversation really went:

Welcome to college, how will you pay for it?

Oh, your father lost his job? That’s too bad, here, take this higher interest loan. You don’t want it? Well, you can’t afford to attend school without it, good luck.

We see you accepted our offer last year, and your dad found a job, that’s great! We see that he only makes half of what he did before, and you’ve got two loans that we’re cutting back, just take this Parent Loan. They can’t afford it because you’re sister is starting college next year? Well, you won’t be able to pay for school without it, and we’ll just make a note to make sure we only give your sister these options, that way we can catch her with these loans at the beginning.

Congratulations, you graduated! Now, we know this is one of the worst economies ever, and that you can’t find a job, so we’ll set your payments around $500.

Oh, you can’t afford that… Hm. Just ask your parents for help.

They still can’t afford it? That’s right, you have a sister, well congratulations on graduating, but we’re still going to need that money.

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I only accepted federal student loans while I was in college, but I am paying back Sallie Mae and Great Lakes, a non-profit student loan group that I send money to every month. With that being said, I find it hard to believe that the government is actually concerned with my financial well-being, since they already made their money by selling my loans to two other companies.

The truth is, there is no job post-graduation that will provide the magic sustainability to repay loans and start a family, it simply will not happen. Personally, I am paying for loans from each semester I was in school, in addition to the loans that my parents had to take out on my behalf.

Why?

Because it isn’t my parents’ education. It was mine. Unfortunately, being responsible for yourself isn’t what pays loans or eases the burden.

Nor does losing a job.

So allow me to ask, what are college grads supposed to do when they pay their loans responsibly, because they took the first job that came their way, but that job comes to an end without a replacement to be seen?

Why should students pursuing a better future be penalized for doing things in the order it was prescribed to them?

The student loan problem will never be fixed, because there is too much money to be made from it. Thanks to the inflation of college, tuition is never going to be checked. The colleges raise tuition, they get paid by the banks making the loans, then the banks make money by sticking their hands in the pockets of the students and their families.

You tell me where the problem is, and if you really think the government cares.