We are working our way through a series of propositions I have offered concerning national higher education policy. Refer to my March 19, 2017, post for the entire list.

Here now is proposition #5:

Education is more earned privilege than entitlement. Students should be required to contribute to earning their education.

I am confident you will readily infer that I am not at all enthralled with the “free college” idea politicians are pandering these days. In the first place, Pell grants already entirely cover college tuition for economically disadvantaged students at some, though not all, public and private colleges. This is a candy-coated government solution in search of a problem.

This follows that

Let me hasten to add, the present proposition must be understood in light of the previous one: Public policy and governmental funding should foster student higher education access and choice.

I strongly support financial aid policies that diminish economic barriers confronting needy and worthy students who aspire to enroll in college and to gain the benefits of personal development, vocational formation, and social empowerment college affords. In some cases, economically disadvantaged students must contribute not only to their own living and learning but also they are obliged to support disabled or disadvantaged family members. We should develop policies that help them. On the other hand, I support a philosophy of personal development and social responsibility that sustains an ethic of earning.

Reward, not punishment

Work is its own reward. Consider John Ruskin’s observation: The highest reward for a person’s toil is not what they get for it, but what they become by it. Work is not a bane; it is both developmentally and socially beneficial. Privilege and indolence are both developmentally and socially harmful. Entitlement breeds a tragic social pathology.

Busy students, better students

Moreover, there is an impressive body of research that documents a positive correlation between student employment and academic achievement. You read it correctly: students who work during college tend to earn better grades than those who do not. Why? Anyone who has studied basic statistics knows that proper research cannot offer a conclusive cause-effect basis. The fact remains, nevertheless, that students who work tend to perform better in the classroom. Why should we support policies that enable—even incentivize—students to avoid work?

All contributions welcome

There may well be a variety of means by which students contribute to their education. Gainful concurrent or between-term student employment may be only one of many. Another may be public service, such as is the case with those who deservedly reap educational benefits in exchange for their honorable military service. Various forms of community or civil service may likewise merit similar reward in the form of college tuition assistance. Not a few employers generously reward diligent employees by offering incentives to pursue postsecondary education.

Incentives not indulgences

Let’s get creative incentivizing ways for students to earn a college education. But let us forsake policies that indulge or cultivate passive and privileged dispositions that are both harmful to students and inimical to societal flourishing.

Next time we’ll consider higher education’s investment value relative to student borrowing. Let’s keep the conversation going.


Fresh gleanings to fuel your leadership awareness, reflection, and conversations …

Speaking of free college … 

New York Times editorial columnist, David Brooks offers an eloquent and compelling critique of NY Governor Andrew Cuomo’s much-ballyhooed free college campaign. I could not have said it better.

 The fake student debt crisis

Check out this University Business article which reviews a 2016 book, Game of Loans: The Rhetoric and Reality of Student Debt (Princeton University Press). Authors Beth Akers and Matt Chingos lay out the facts that easily debunks the “fake news” chronicling an escalating and scandalous student debt crisis. They advocate for calmer and more rational policy proposals to address real problems, not the caricatures over which grandstanding political and media opportunists obsess.