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The Higher Education Con By: Michael A. Mayer
The Philadelphia Inquirer | Saturday, June 08, 2002

Letters to the Editor, The Philadelphia Inquirer

June 8, 2002

To the Editor:

I don’t pay for my children’s college education! There, I said it. Most of you are probably shocked and maybe even angry, but I am even angrier.

We are being conned by a system that says our children must incur thousands of dollars of debt in order to get a decent job. Sums of money are required that are completely beyond any normal 18 -22-year old, not to mention beyond the ability of most families to afford.

My son went to a modest private university here in Delaware County. Tuition is about $80,000 for a four-year degree! If our children came to us with an idea to start a business but they needed to borrow $80,000 to get started, most of us would strongly suggest they get some practical experience, work for a similar type of company and then, after a few years, we might talk about working on a loan. Yet we think it's great when our 18-year-old comes to us with an idea of what they would like to do and it will cost $80,000 for their degree.

The system now says you can’t get a decent job anymore without a college degree. Why? Are our companies completely incapable of training people anymore? Why do we live and die by GPA’s and SAT’s? We all know people who were mediocre students who went on to raise their families while making a decent living and live in a comfortable life-style. What’s wrong with working in the trades as a plumber, electrician, carpenter, and auto mechanic and computer repair? Why does a Fortune 500 company need a four-year degree in business administration for a starting salesperson?

Certain jobs require a college education, but even then I am annoyed at the continuing college mantra of "well-rounded students". When college costs represented a realistic investment by a student for his or her future, it seemed like a good idea to expose students to disciplines other than their major. Today, with the cost being equivalent to most mortgages, it is unjust and immoral to insist that an accounting major take a multitude of classes in English, lab science, language and computer science in order to graduate. How is it possible that a person can learn to be a jet-engine mechanic in less than a year but English majors require four years of training?

We, the parents, must rebel against these arbitrary and antiquated concepts of higher education. The only reason the system hasn’t changed to become more efficient and economical is because we, the parents, have become the monetary source for these four-year institutions. We have to stand up and tell them that a system that encourages acquiring tremendous debt in order to find work is absurd and we’re not going to do it anymore. Colleges can create "fast-track degrees" where the subject matter required for the student’s major is accomplished in two years or less.

Saddling our children or ourselves with this kind of debt is crippling. It is particularly unfair when a large percentage of students fail to graduate and an even large percentage find themselves not using their degree seven years after graduation. We must find a way to stop this insanity!

Michael A. Mayer, Parents for Educational Reform


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