Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Put your money where your mouth is

On a day when SJSU students are staging a protest over ever-increasing tuition and fees, let me quote a few paragraphs from "Stepping on the Dream," a recent NYT Select column by Bob Herbert (published March 22, 2007).
Tamara Draut, in her book, “Strapped: Why America’s 20- and 30-Somethings Can’t Get Ahead,” tells us:

“Back in the 1970s, before college became essential to securing a middle-class lifestyle, our government did a great job of helping students pay for school. Students from modest economic backgrounds received almost free tuition through Pell grants, and middle-class households could still afford to pay for their kids’ college.”

Since then, tuition at public and private universities has soared while government support for higher education, other than student loan programs, has diminished.

This is a wonderful example of extreme stupidity. America will pony up a trillion or two for a president who goes to war on a whim, but can’t find the money to adequately educate its young. History has shown that these kinds of destructive trade-offs are early clues to a society in decline.

At the state level, per-pupil spending for higher education is at a 25-year low, even as government officials and corporate leaders keep pounding out the message that a college degree is the key to a successful future.

...In a nation as rich as ours, it should be easy to pay for college. For some reason, we find it easier to pay for wars.

I went to college in the '70s, and I remember those days. I was one of those "students from modest economic backgrounds" and I never would have made it through college without tuition grants, work-study programs, and being able to commute from home.

I didn't get funded my senior year and had to drop out and work full-time for a while. Eventually, with the help of work-study and a small loan, I was able to go back, finish up my classes, and graduate.

When I graduated in 1977, I owed a grand total of $700 in student loans (don't laugh...that was a lot of money to me back then. Honestly, I wouldn't have been able to make it though the last month of my final semester if my Mom hadn't given me an extra $50...I was that close to the edge.) At the time, the job market for newly minted reporters was piss-poor. I got a few freelance assignments (a good way to starve), then got a job and worked (very briefly, because I sucked at it) as an advertising copywriter for a local radio station.

Then I got desperate and started taking anything...the graveyard shift at an emergency call center...a factory job building prefab houses (my hammering arm gave out after about four hours of straight pounding nails through cheap masonite siding). Hell, that's how I ended up taking a job as a small-town reporter in the middle of nowhere in Kansas...if you're willing to go someplace sight unseen, on a Greyhound bus with just two bags of luggage to your name, you know you're desperate for a job.

Yes, I remember those days...maybe that's why I support today's student protest.

It's also why I was happy to chair the JMC Scholarship Committee again this year. The awards reception is tomorrow evening. Although there's never as much money as you'd like, it always feels good to give checks to some deserving students.
SJSU Student Protest: 11:30-1:30 today at Plaza de Cesar Chavez on campus; wear red to show your support.
JMC Academic Achievement Awards Reception: 5-7 p.m., Thursday, April 26, University Room, Student Union, SJSU.

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