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01 September 2012

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MelanieB

"I am becoming more and more convinced that large debt is positively to be avoided in postsecondary education, because having a great deal of debt is a demonstrably unfavorable condition in which to establish a family."

That sums up my position pretty well.

I just find I have a hard time reconciling that conviction with my equally strong conviction that a solid liberal arts education should not be the perquisite of a wealthy few but is something that I also positively want for my children. I don't think it's necessary for everyone but I do think it was a necessity for me.

"An education that fails to give a young person the tools to find stable work and sufficient financial resources to establish a family in favorable economic conditions is, it seems, a failed education. An education that emphasized the wrong things. An education gone wrong. A miseducation."

I can't disagree with this at all. I don't think that's the sum total of what an education should do but I do think that an education which leaves an individual incapable of establishing a family in favorable economic conditions has failed to treat the individual as a full human person. With the caveat that when we say that this is the goal of education we don't mean that it must be the goal of any particular educational establishment so much as the goal of both the parent who is guiding the process of education and the goal of the student who is in the process of being emancipated. I think it's fine to have educational institutions which do not address this goal either explicitly or implicitly. In fact, I think one place where post-secondary education has gone tragically wrong is trying to promise students and parents that a university education can and will meet this goal (or some lesser shadow of this goal at least.) I think it can't and it won't and in fact shouldn't be trying to do so.

Bearing

Melanie:

"With the caveat that when we say that this is the goal of education we don't mean that it must be the goal of any particular educational establishment so much as the goal of both the parent who is guiding the process of education and the goal of the student who is in the process of being emancipated."

This is very important to keep in mind. I think maybe one of the reasons why people are willing to shell out such big bucks for expensive private colleges (particularly Catholic schools) if they have the money, or co-sign giant loans if they don't, is out of a feeling that the school is responsible for providing the necessary education, that they are the specialists that can do a job superior to what the parents would provide, and that it will do so. It might well be worth such a large amount of money if a college really did provide the necessary education, could fill in all the gaps left by an inadequate primary and secondary education, and inculcate the parents' values right along with it! But none of that is shown to be so.

We have to have a realistic idea of what colleges can provide. And I think we have to have that realistic idea as soon as possible, so that we can provide in the home what we know they need but are unlikely to receive in any college that costs a reasonable amount of money.

I am beginning to think that if you are positively convinced that your child should have a strong liberal arts education, and if like me you are positively convinced that debt is to be avoided, you should hedge against the future by providing at least a latent competency in the liberal arts to your high schoolers.

I'd also like to point out that those of us with technical degrees are not necessarily operating in the outer darkness, devoid of humanist values. We just happen to be largely self-taught :)

MelanieB

"I am beginning to think that if you are positively convinced that your child should have a strong liberal arts education, and if like me you are positively convinced that debt is to be avoided, you should hedge against the future by providing at least a latent competency in the liberal arts to your high schoolers."

I think I heartily concur with that statement. In fact, I think that we're really both pretty much in agreement even if we do approach the subject from different angles.

And I would never accuse you or my other technical degree friends of being in the outer darkness. If you were, I don't think I would keep coming back here so often because I'm not sure we could even speak the same language enough to have a conversation. In fact, in many ways my admiration for the self-taught is in direct proportion to the strength of my advocacy for a strong liberal arts education precisely because of my doubts as to my own ability to have taught myself many of the things I've learned formally. I tend to be intellectually lazy and pretty sloppy for all I pride myself as a thinker. I think left to my own devices I'd have sunk pretty deep into that darkness.

MelanieB

I also think that I'm wearing two different hats in this discussion, which might seem a bit schizophrenic.

On the one hand, I do want to be realistic about what college can provide and to be able to see my children begin their lives on a solid financial footing, free of debt.

On the other hand, I am also an idealist who would like to see some kind of post-secondary education reform which would restore affordable options both in a utilitarian vein, preparing young people for a lifetime of supporting themselves and a family and also in a liberal arts/humanist vein. I'd love to see my kids come to adulthood in a world where getting both kinds of education can be achieved and it doesn't have to be an either/or situation and where both kinds can be achieved without accruing crushing debt.

I know these are really two different conversations and your series is really focusing on the first proposition: what can we realistically expect as parents as we prepare our children to go out into the world as it exists. At the same time, I keep wondering what we might realistically be able to do to work towards achieving something more in line with the more idealistic goal.

Bearing

You are right that I am focusing on questions that concern the individual family trying to make good decisions for its members. I am not really addressing the systemic problems of higher education in the U.S.

There are glimmers of hope. A campus in the University of Texas system announced in
May plans for a $10,000 science bachelor's degree ( http://www.utsystem.edu/news/2012/05/02/ut-permian-basin-offer-10000-undergraduate-degree-program ) . And if a chemistry degree can be made that inexpensive, why not an English degree, which doesn't require lab space?

I went googling around looking for a reference I remember seeing recently, where someone was supposedly going to sue for a finding that requiring an undergraduate degree in order to be considered for hiring, unless the degree is related to the job performance, was unjust discrimination in the same way that requiring intelligence tests is, and that such discrimination should be illegal. I wouldn't mind seeing that one go through.

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