Felicia Muftic: Legacy to our next generation should be education
May 1, 2012
Dream acts are not only for undocumented Hispanics, graduates of U.S. secondary education who are hoping to be able to afford to go to college in the United States and to become valuable contributing members to our society. Those born in the USA – of all backgrounds – have their dreams, too. Going to a four year college has been the key to class mobility in our country for as long as I can remember …until now.
I remember as an exchange student in Europe longer than 50 years ago Americans could boast with pride that anyone with intelligence, motivation, and energy could move across all income levels by going to college, that the U.S. was superior to Europe because we were not locked in a class structure. For us it was only a matter of motivation and being able to work through college because the cost was low enough and one could find jobs to pay for tuition.
I was struck that middle-schoolers in post-war Europe were already divided into class – some going on to “gymnasium” in preparation for higher university learning and others were designated for trade school. Family and class attitudes were also a prediction of slotting for future employment. Those whose fathers were miners or factory workers could only see a future of working in factories or the mines. Money was not the barrier to higher education in Europe because universities were free; it was a matter of passing exams and envisioning one’s life could be different than the generations before.
It hit me hard recently how much it has all changed. One was a study that showed those in Europe have more ability to improve their position in society and income brackets than in the U.S.
The other: Two grandchildren applying to college and two younger grandchildren, whose parents are beginning to think about their aspirations to a first-class four-year college in a few years. Listening to their conversations with their parents and overhearing discussions with their classmates, I am jolted by the new reality of the class of 2012.
Both skyrocketing costs of higher education and the financial crash of 2008 have changed many high school graduates’ strategies for attending college. Debilitating student-loan debt is to be avoided, even if it means sacrificing the best education suited for their abilities and talents. Instead, they are looking to community colleges for their first two years, and then hoping they can afford and can transfer to a four-year institution so they can have the more prestigious diploma and a chance at a better-paying future. This is true of both those seeking a liberal arts education and engineering degrees.
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For some it has meant working to earn money, from flipping burgers and making sandwiches, to other $10-an-hour jobs. It means attending colleges close enough so they can live at home with parents to avoid having to pay for room and board. The dream of going to a big-name college that will guarantee them a high-paying job upon graduation is dead for so many more. For others, the financial mountain is too high to climb so they drop out of school.
What a waste of brains and talent of both native born and immigrants for our nation’s vibrant economic future and our ability to compete in the world.
To add insult to injury, forces from the political right continue to cut state-provided funding for Kindergarten-through-college, and vote to increase interest rates on student loans and to lay off teachers. They concentrate their worries on our national debt we leave to our children just as they demand their own taxes be kept low. They are unwilling to pay for the more important key to their children and grandchildren’s success: the best education they can have.
For more commentary, go to http://www.mufticforum.com
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