Thoughts on Education and Welfare

I wrote something in a local community message board which was my off-the-cuff thoughts toward a wave of both conversations and actions to take on student loans debts and post-primary-school education of Americans. I wrote:

I didn’t attend university. It’s a choice I made and I did okay for myself. The majority of my professional relationships are with folks who not only went to a college but their education was free. I’m talking about Europeans. My dutch, German and danish colleagues had a free or nearly free education and they were able to graduate, get their job and begin building a savings and preparing for retirement just like I did after I got my first job at 16 when I started checking out of high school. I graduated barely but I got to start saving. I’m 36 now and my wife has a masters degree. She makes less than me but pays more in her income to loans because she started her career a full 7 years after I did. I had a huge head start on her but also acrued zero debt. From age 29, I had a mortgage. That’s it. No other debts.

I look at how my colleagues in Europe live and how many of my friends here live and I think there are many forms of education that should be subsidized. Not just university but schools to learn a trade, get a CDL, become a nurse or CPA. There are professional jobs that I think should cost people who have a passion for them nothing. This will of course increase the amount of cash-grab predatory companies who will try to take advantage of a pool of federal money so loan forgiveness and subsidies are a good idea but access to that money needs to be regulated as well. Florida State can’t just make a 4 year degree $250K because they can. I don’t know how Europe does it but there has to be a reasonable cost of education put in place. Maybe the recipient pays the difference if the cost is over $50K a year? I don’t know.

All of this drama over ‘handouts’ is sadly the same dog & pony show where those for it just want to forgive loans and those against it just want to say it’s welfare when the fact is, there’s plenty of money to make this happen if someone brave enough just proposes a tax code reform that forces everyone to pair their fare share. Close these millions of loopholes that allow anyone with a good enough accountant to cut their tax bill by 10-15% with little effort. The money is floating around but isn’t being put back into our economy to invest in these ‘welfare’ programs.

So long as there are tax loopholes, wealthy folks will exploit them while still tapping into the programs that could be seen as welfare (PPP, grants, handouts) and pretending that the poors like us are do-nothing welfare cases mooching off the government.

like libraries, education should not cost anything. I educated myself with just an internet connection (which was a DARPA subsidized program) and real world experience. If someone needs to be in a classroom for that same education, we shouldn’t charge them the equivalent of a house to get it.

The bullshit here is by investing in education, healthcare and infrastructure using tax dollars collected from everyone as a flat percentage of income makes America stronger. We’re weakest in so many areas (drug, crime, education, decreasing lifespans) and yet we’re doing nothing about it but arguing over bullshit. Tax everyone 25%, invest in our people and country and actually make America better than ever instead of pillaging it and throwing scraps to anyone making less than a million dollars a year.

The economic benefits to our fellow citizens is immeasurable. There’s a reason why millions of people from all over the world come to USA for their education. We have great schools here but the median income household American can’t afford to send their kids to one of our great schools anymore. The economic benefits of natural born citizens is HUGE. We’re gutting our country making an education accessible only to the rich. Some would say that’s by design but that’s a short term gain for some and a long term loss for our country.

I am privileged in making the opinions you’re reading because I work with university students as a large part of my job. I connect engineering students to tech roles. I spent last week screening 350 resumes for my 60 person a year internship program that I run in 5 countries. I also act as a connector on LinkedIN for anyone who wants an introduction to my professional network. About 40% off my LinkedIN contacts are enrolled or graduated students in the computer/data sciences fields. As someone who never went to any university, it’s weird to spend a full day at an Ivy League school with staff talking about how I can help place their students and the skills I’m looking for over the next 2-3 years from engineering talent. I don’t talk about that on this blog very much but it is a personal and professional passion.

Through the years of experience, I have realized that there are millions of people that graduated after the year 2000 from high school that went on to gain a college degree and if they were lucky enough to put that education to use and find a higher paying job, they were left spending a large chunk of their income for the next 30 years paying off those loans. Student loans are unlike any other loan type, the interest rates are high and you can’t file bankruptcy on many of them. You can be homeless on the streets and still be getting notices sent to the General Delivery mailbox at USPS or to your last known address trying to collect on these while you walk the streets not knowing when your next meal will be. As I get older, I realize health issues can happen to any of us. You can be unable to work from any freak accident and the social safety nets we have in place don’t apply to student loans.

I want to be clear when we talk about social safety nets aka welfare that every single American citizen benefits from tax dollars. My mother put food on our table thanks to Florida and Federally backed food stamp programs when she was out of work with a health issue for 2 years. My father was our sole provider and tore his Achilles’ tendon and relied on after-school programs, school busses, free lunches, free sports programs and federal assistance to keep our family together while he spent 1 year working on being able to walk again. I used a federal program to purchase my first home at a great rate. Family members of mine use Medicare / Medicaid for their health insurance and my family who owns a dairy farm has leveraged agriculture subsidies and programs when commodities like milk, corn and tobacco prices fell with demand and we couldn’t make payroll for all of the farm hands. Every single member of my family firmly rallies against ‘welfare’ despite these programs allowing me to succeed and get to where I am today.

Also, corporations, universities, non and for-profit businesses utilize tax loopholes, public funding, subsidies and federal backed PPP loans to pad their bottom line and achieve profitability and the winners are the american people who own shares in those companies, a class that is much smaller than you think. Many Americans that don’t have access to a pension or 401K retirement plan don’t own stock in American companies and therefore have not benefited by our nation’s rising GDP on their hard working backs. The government is subsidizing increased shareholder profits among many other programs.

I write the above because the folks who believe that Americans who commit to a student loan should be required to honor those commitments can direct their opinions toward every single American citizen who has received food stamps, medical assistance, disability assistance, PPP loans, Covid-19 stimulus checks or a discount on anything paid for by taxpayers. You have my permission to write a check to the government reimbursing them for all of the welfare you and your family has received.

I also ask my fellow Americans who believe that they shouldn’t pay for someone else’s education to not forget that this is for the greater good. This isn’t cash-for-clunkers. This is a program that makes our people smarter and better prepared to continue growing our economy relative to other countries. Not every American needs a college degree but those that have a passion for a legal/sciences/medical or other profession shouldn’t have $250,000 USD be the cost (loans + interest) to make our country better. I don’t want to be a nurse but someone who does shouldn’t have any barrier to realize their dreams and help our country. A low-income black man in Alabama should have he same opportunity to be a nurse as a wealthy white man in Connecticut. Both of them are working hard to get into a school but both of them don’t have the economic abilities to attend the nursing schools and get that degree.

I ask when is the best time to make education free? When was the best time to form our Social Security safety net, Medicare, Medicaid, our department of transportation, FAA or other public good initiatives? There’s always going to be someone who makes an out-of-pocket payment for a medical procedure or student loan bill right before the cut-off. There are going to be people who just paid their insurance premium or finished paying off student loans before a new program kicks in. If you retro-actively reimburse them, what’s the cut-off? There is no system that fits all but we have to start somewhere.

My ideology in this and why I am writing is because I have met hundreds of people at job fairs and talked to online who chose to self-teach themselves programming versus going to college because they couldn’t afford it. There are good programmers who are self-taught but not everyone can learn this way. I can’t fathom how many millions of American Citizens who went into a different career field because they couldn’t afford college. To be honest, I’m one of them. I had no college savings from my parents, I had no grants or assistance given to me and at 18, I had to pay my parents rent and get a job or move out. I could have very well been sitting here talking to you at 36 with $100K in debt to pay off and arrived at the work force 4 years later and who knows where I’d be financially had I took on that debt and gone to college.

We need to support Americans who want a college education to get one. This should include trade schools, STEM education and specialized schools for welding, commercial trucking and more. Gaining the necessary skills to improve our country’s economy and fill specialized vacancies is something we shouldn’t put barriers up for.

There is an elephant in the room for me and that’s how the government should regulate the cost of education. Through Executive Order, President Biden is forgiving $10K/$20K in loans for all Americans. There is a bill submitted late-July that has yet to get through committee that would forgive $50,000 in loans. There is talk of making education free not just through the services loan forgiveness program but for everyone. This is what most other developed nations provide but there will be institutions that take advantage of this.

What’s to stop a community college in Florida from charging $100K a year in tuition because the government will just pay the bill when it comes? This will require the federal government to setup a system that regulates that tuition cost. The same goes for a trucking school for commercial drivers. A $5,000 course will balloon if the feds can just reimburse the student based on the number written on a receipt.

There will need to be a way to keep these prices in check. My suggestions is schools are rated based on their degrees offered, public funding, size of their endowment and placement rates. How many graduates get a job in X industry and what do they make per year after 10 years? That’s the only way to properly measure what each school will be owed in tuition reimbursement from the government.

The long tail of this free education is something I’m not seeing anyone talk about on either side. Let’s look at the economic benefits of the federal interstate highway system. What are those monetary benefits? Immeasurable, right? What’s the benefit of dams, bridges, subway systems and taxpayer funded football stadiums? There are economic arguments for all of these to be taxpayer funded even if the benefit is just entertainment and a few jobs working concessions / parking.

The long tail of Americans having a specialized 4/6 year degree is going to make this country more competitive globally and it will help us to eliminate the shortages in the engineering, medical, transportation and energy sectors. I’m not talking about more MBAs. I’m taking about programmers, structural/mechanical engineers, nurses, doctors, drivers, power plant engineers, wind farm designers and developers, all of the things we’re going to need in the next century. What about the psychiatrist/psychologist/crisis help we need that requires a college degree? The list is long on the specialized professions we are currently short.

When you have a country that already hasn’t found a way to keep household income in line with inflation and cost of living, this means less Americans will attend secondary schools and more people from overseas will. It’s good we have people from all of the world who come to America for their education. I get to meet hundreds of them a year but when I look at my applicants pool, only 10% of my applicants are USA citizens for computer programming jobs. How many American kids wanted to go to school for computer science and couldn’t because their family is barely making ends meet so they take a job locally and our shortages grow while our median household income shrinks relative to cost of living.

Opening up college (and trade schools) for all will have a long-tail economic benefit that will reverse this trend in 20 years. It’s going to take a long time and we’re not even close to offering a free university education yet. Today, we’re just talking about loan forgiveness as an economic booster but long-term, if I have a child who wants to become a therapist or build robots, my household income or their 20-40 years of debts won’t be looming over their head when they’re considering what path in life to take.

As you can tell, I’m incredibly passionate about this. Education is our key to a strong nation. Making it free will benefit all of us. I didn’t go to college and I wish I had the opportunity to but now, others can and that’s a good thing. The greater good of this country requires we invest in education. I frankly don’t care that someone is upset that they paid off their loans already or didn’t go to college because this program didn’t exist and are angry they didn’t have this opportunity. This country is more than just one person’s issues. When your town has higher paying jobs thanks to specialized trades and education, you’ll make more money. This is an economic stimulus that makes us all stronger, smarter and better equipped to remain a super power.

Healthcare and Education should be free just like our infrastructure.

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