Wednesday, November 22, 2006

HIgher Edumacation

Yesterday morning I was having a nice discussion about the costs of college education with a fellow Marylander who was ever so grateful that her man won and mine didn’t. Among other things, she was ecstatic that her daughter's education expenses were going to decrease. Rather than telling her that it would be a cold day in hell before she would see any decreases in education costs I went into my NOT so widely accepted view that we have made getting a college education far too easy in this country, that some people just aren't destined to be college graduates. Not trying to be elitist or the ultimate arbiter of who gets to go to college and who doesn't but is it any wonder we have moved from a manufacturing economy to that of a service economy? Is it any wonder, the construction industry is dominated by immigrants, illegal and legal? We as Americans feel that because we have a college education, we are above such vocations and we should earn more simply because we went to college. College educations have become so standard that to have a competitive edge; one must stay in school and get a masters.

Puzzled and confused that anyone could actually be anti-college education (I'm not anti-education, just pro free market), I tried my best to impart to her that a college education is an investment, anything that seeks to devalue that investment is bad. I expounded into a bad analogy between a college education and the fact that she had just bought a new BMW and it went something like this; Even though cars are a losing investment, let’s analogously pretend for a moment they are not. You work your tail off, save your money, and sacrifice all superficial expenses to buy a brand new BMW Z3 Roadster. You're not like the rich folks driving around BMWs; no one gave it to you or paid for it- no you had to take the seven year plan of scrimping and saving to have a car that you always dreamed about. You take complete satisfaction in knowing you did it yourself with no help from anyone. It also doesn't hurt that the car has got a high resale value after 5 years either. Life is good. A year later Congress passes a law that will give low interest bearing loans to people who want to buy BMWs. All of sudden, more people are buying BMWs just like yours and the resale value has now dropped a bit. No worries, right? The next year, Congress passes a law making the interest paid on the low interest loans tax deductible. BMW sales are through the roof, every parking lot you pull into has a BMW sitting in it. Now your resale value is plummeting and you're thinking, wait a minute I worked my butt off for my car, now they practically give them away. Now, BMW is always lobbying Congress to make it easier for people to buy their cars cause they know its a can't lose situation for them. The following year Congress decides to let anyone who buys or owns a BMW to deduct the cost of gas. Who wouldn't go for that? You'd be a fool not to buy a BMW. They're everywhere, hell the guy down the street that waits tables at Outback is driving a BMW for crying out loud. And although you enjoy the fruits of deducting your gas, it doesn't make up for the fact that your car after five years is now worthless.

Folks, higher education is a privilege not a right. We've made it so easy that we stripped the very competitive advantage that we so sought to obtain by going to college in the first place. The long and short of it is that what used to be a college-degree premium is turning into a graduate-degree premium and the easier we make it to obtain only reinforces that point.

Is it worth it? You decide.

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