Wall Street and Capitol Hill – Co-conspirators in the Death of Education

by David T. Bruce


student-loan-debt-1160848_1280More people than ever are going back to college, irrespective of age. While younger students are still the norm, students in their 20s and 30s as well as older students are headed back to campuses in record numbers.

The aspiration of many parents is that their children go to college, and these numbers suggest that students leaving high school, the military, and the like believe the message that a better education will equate to a better job with better pay. Older adults are doing likewise, seeking to improve their quality of life through education.

This is what our academic and government institutions have been selling us. 

The cost of obtaining this education, however, has created an economic burden for students and our society that will likely increase over time. Furthermore, the hope and the promise that a better future awaits for those who obtain a higher education is becoming nothing more than another disappointment for a working- and lower-middle-class society that wants to have a shot at economic success.

A report by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau suggests that the student loan debt in the United States currently exceeds $1 trillion, a number that eclipses America’s credit card balance.

calloutThe data further shows that middle-age students are “the fastest growing group of borrowers.”  This seems to parallel the increase in middle-age adults returning to school to either improve their level of education or to retrain due to job loss.

Whereas determination and a good work ethic were once enough for a person to succeed, a piece of paper purchased from an accredited academic institution is now the only way for a person to have a chance of realizing the American dream that many of our ancestors achieved through hard work and fortitude.

Once an education would almost guarantee success in the upper-middle or upper class of society; now an education is almost mandated to enter into the middle class of society.  The alternative path is the retail industry.

Academic institutions have joined hands with corporate America and the federal government to ensure that this alternative path is the choice of many, whether or not students complete their education.

An Associated Press report cites that 53.6 percent of graduates under the age of 25 with Bachelor’s degrees are without a job or are underemployed.

The majority of American citizens play by the rules in terms of meeting the requirements for employment in their career, but colleges and universities court prospective students, seeking those that fit their preferred demographic, satisfy federal student-body quotas, and most importantly, generate revenue.

Like any big business in America, colleges and universities are now most concerned with making money and staying in business.

Education, at least as far as academic and corporate executives are concerned, is of minimal consequence. As far as our federal government is concerned . . . well, it is an election year, after all. Better to have a student body indebted to you than a student body in debt.

Both President Obama and the expected Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney agree that doubling of student loan interest rates would only increase student debt, without addressing the issue of un- and under-employment.  Romney is quoted as saying that “what young Americans want and need is a new president who will champion lasting and permanent policy changes that both address the rising cost of a college education and get our economy really growing again.”

Neither the President nor Romney have no idea what we want or need.

We don’t need another “champion.” We don’t need a cheerleader who proposes to know what life is like as a lower- or middle-class citizen in America. We need to assemble a group of elected officials who truly care about the education of their citizens, recognizing that it is the working class that ultimately drives the economy and not the practice of massaging numbers on Wall Street.

Our government seems to care only about the corporations (which colleges and universities are quickly becoming a fundamental part of) who fund their campaigns and ensure their ongoing political victories. These corporations want to make money, and they want a working class that will help them make their money.

An education is not necessarily required to stock shelves, wait tables, or sell inventory.  Colleges and universities will take your money, though, building your hopes of a better future, while corporations simultaneously eliminate job possibilities.

The left hand does indeed know what the right hand is doing, and they are choking the life out of America.

If We Don’t Invest in Education, We Pay for Prisons

by David T. Bruce

Image courtesy of the NAACP; please click on the image to sign the NAACP petition to restore education funding
Image courtesy of the NAACP; please click on the image to sign the NAACP petition to restore education funding

Rick Santorum, as have many (if not most or all) Republican presidential candidates and elected officials, has strong opinions regarding the benefits of public education and higher education and the role of the federal government in the preservation and support of these institutions.  In particular, Santorum’s 2005 critique of the public schools in America continues to illustrate how the most economically and politically affluent citizens of this country are grossly ignorant of what it means to be a member of the lower- and middle-class in the United States.

Home schooling may certainly have benefits over a public school education, but a majority of Americans do not have the resources to effectively implement a home-school curriculum.  Public education services the majority, and indeed, public education needs an overhaul.  This does not mean, however, that our federal government should wash its hands of public education, leaving states to their own devices as they would like to do with medical programs.  If our states are truly united, then our education system should be united, a program implemented that provides uniform education to all students, not merely to those who live with families who can afford the very best education.

Santorum argues that the environment in which a uniform education is afforded provides an unrealistic image of “what life is like.”  I am unsure of what frame of reference Mr. Santorum has in regards to public education and “what life is like” for the majority of Americans, but many public schools are those in which various socioeconomic groups are represented, and few of them will ever realize “what life is like” for Santorum.

Over 1.2 million students drop out of school every year, according to research data provided by The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation.  Of those students, approximately half of them are African-American and Latino students.  This report illustrates what life is like for the 90% of American children who rely on public education, while their government leaders suggest that less intervention by the federal government is mandated.

Mr. Santorum speaks as poorly of higher education in America, citing the perceived rejection of religious faith by students who go into college.  Santorum and all of our state and federal representatives should be more concerned about the growing lack of faith in our leaders, our government, and in the promise that our nation will provide for the general welfare of its citizens.  Our federal government rarely wants to provide for anything or involve themselves in any program that involves spending money on its citizens, and our elected representatives endeavor to convince us that fending for ourselves is for our own good.

Our government seeks to cut federal spending on education, again placing the fiscal burden on individual states and citizens who are already strapped for cash.  The burden to our country can also be measured in collective dollars and cents, as research shows that among other detriments to society, “dropouts from the class of 2007 will cost our nations more than $300 billion dollars in lost wages, lost taxes and lost productivity.”  Money not spent on public schools and education will ultimately be spent on prisons and incarceration.

Our government can find certainly find the money (in excess of $700 billion) to bail out the banking and automobile industries for fear of how the foundation of our country and our economy would be affected by the collapse of those industries, but our government cannot find the money to bail out an industry that is shown to directly impact the success or failure of our nation today and for years to come?

Money does talk, and the actions (or inactions) or our government have demonstrated where our elected officials place their priorities.

Why College Is a Waste of Time and Money

The Fleecing of American College Students

by Shadra Bruce

When I was in high school in the late 80s, it was just beginning to be expected that college was more of a norm than getting a job straight away. The promise was tangible – get your degree, and you’ll definitely get a high paying job and be able to jump right in to living the American Dream.

The college recruiters came into the high schools and pedaled their wares like snake oil salesman:

College graduates make 62% more than their uneducated counterparts.”

“No need to worry about how to pay for college. Our financial aid department can help you get all the money you need to pay for college.”

“You get a six month grace period while you find a job!”

“Our career center places 90% of our graduates after graduation.”

Sound familiar?

So we swallowed the bait; a lot of us did. And if we started having kids, we have probably been feeding them the same line of crap we heard, grooming our kids to be prepared for college, not for life.

Our oldest joined the Army (a story for another day), but our second child headed straight to college, first to a community college, and now to a state university. She is attending Buffalo State College. It’s part of the SUNY system, what we feel is representative of a typical college. For each semester she attends, she pays

Tuition $2635
Athletic Fee – $133
Activity – $75
College Fee – $12.50
Health Fee – $130
Technology Fee – $160
Transportation Fee – $31
Books, which average $500 a semester
Meal plan $1,510
Housing $3,369

Her total semester cost: $8555.50

Yes, that’s right: in order to get $2600 worth of education, she has to pay almost $9000.

You see, colleges figured out (and perhaps drove) the fabulous racket that is student loans:

  • Loans cover the cost of tuition, books and related expenses, as well as room and board.
  • Poor people (the 99% of us who can’t make $10,000 casual bets) have been conditioned to see a college education as a way up and out.
  • Colleges profit by requiring students to live on campus and eat in dining halls

Our daughter pays far more for room and board ($4879) than for tuition and books ($3135).

What does she get for it? Her housing cost of $3,369 pays for a walk-in closet-sized room that she is required to share with another human being, often a stranger, in such close quarters that their feet nearly touch when they’re stretched out on their beds, in pods that house six students who all must share a bathroom with little to no control over who or how many house guests they have, how late or loud they are, or how much drinking or drug use happens.

Her housing cost includes her being kicked out of the dorm for five days over Thanksgiving (no choice) and being required to vacate for the six weeks of Christmas break (within 24 hours of the last final).

She is on campus a total of 106 days for the semester, so her housing costs her $31.78 per day – which would be $950 a month in the real world. And her closet-sized $950 a month room doesn’t even include the cost of Internet or a gym, as most thousand-dollar-a-month apartments with three times the space would.

She is required to also pay (whether she uses them or not) an athletic fee of $133 and a technology fee of $160.

But the real kicker is the food plan, which all on-campus college students except seniors are required to have. She has to pay $1,510 per semester to eat. That averages out to $14 per day, or $98 per week, for one person.

It’s downright criminal.  For $98 a week, she could feed a family of four at the grocery store!!

You would think it would be enough to get her through the semester, but the food plan only works at the college-provided dining hall. The average meal costs around $10; a small cup of oatmeal costs $1. Choices are limited, prices are high, quality is low…and the dining hall knows the kids are going to run out of money before the semester is over, pushing Mom and Dad to spend even more by adding money to their spending cards.

The students are locked into these meal plans and housing arrangements because they are a huge boon to the profits of the college or university, whose contracts with the vendors include kickbacks to the school or restrict the student’s spending to college-sanctioned locations.

It is so profitable for the colleges that many of them have gone from requiring just freshmen to live on campus to requiring all underclassmen to live on campus, locked into their private-world profit centers.  And it’s all funded by student loans, which kids willingly take with the promise of a brighter future.

To add insult to injury, the Federal government will not let you file bankruptcy on student loans, no matter how bad things get, and when you cannot afford to pay your loans (even for reasons such as no income or receiving public assistance), the student loan lenders have their own capitalized interest profit center going.

And as the latest unemployment numbers indicate, there are few jobs for all these kids the universities are pushing out the doors, yet the snake oil salesman are still coming to the high schools from the college campuses, promising a brighter future, while dumbing down education standards and admitting anyone with a pulse in order to fatten their coffers.

So as our own kids move through the public school system (we can’t afford anything else), we counter the brainwashing the school and society provides them about how important it is to go to college with our own advice:

            don’t go to college, don’t borrow from the government, don’t do anything but
            make it on your own merit, and don’t get yourself trapped in a college-bound,
            corporate track pursuit of this non-existent American dream.


Instead, we encourage them to be individuals and critical thinkers who are politically active and aware.  They can build their own dreams.

Occupy Wall Street – Reclaim Our Independence

Only in America Can 1% Be The Majority

by David T. Bruce

occupytogether_poster07A small group of students are responsible for launching a campaign against the practices of Wall Street and the United States government, the fiscally brutal corporate tag-team that has launched their own campaign against the poorest Americans. In an Associated Press article, the events of the past two weeks surrounding the Wall Street Protests have been summarized, giving voice to the hundreds of citizens who are taking the time to exercise their power of speech during a time when millions of Americans feel powerless to do anything else. While the Republicans and Democrats continue pointing fingers at each other and the President (regardless of who holds the office), our federal government as a whole is demonstrating to an increasing number of American citizens that their health and welfare, their life and liberty, and their happiness mean nothing.

While 14 percent of Americans are relying on the food stamp program to feed themselves, the Republican Party is proposing for the 2012 budget plan that this program should be curtailed and restructured much in the same was as they are proposing to restructure the Medicaid program. Subsidies would be eliminated, replaced by federal grants. Capitol Hill has been relentless in their less-than-bipartisan efforts to shave billions of dollars from the deficit by cutting back on “entitlement” programs from the Americans who need assistance the most.

I am not writing of the small group of Americans who indeed enjoy taking something for nothing. I am writing of the Americans who have worked hard to build a life and raise a family and now find themselves without a job, without a home, and without money for food and healthcare – primarily because of a system that favored corporate greed and Wall Street corruption that led to a broken economy.  It is appalling that the government is cutting back on programs that these people paid taxes to help support while continuing to support tax breaks and loopholes for corporations and big oil.  I am writing of the Americans that are trying to get ahead and improve their lives but are trapped in a system that almost forces people to make less or go hungry, as food prices continue to rise.

While the Associated Press suggests that a clear objective is not apparent, the rallying cry is clear enough: “Occupy Wall Street is [a] leaderless resistance movement with people of many colors, genders and political persuasions. The one thing we all have in common is that we are the 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%.”

This objective seems clear enough.

It is blatantly clear that the 1% does not get it – or does not want to. The objective does not need to be detailed or obtuse. The plan does not need to have a laundry list of stake holders and varied implementation strategies. The United States Constitution is the governing plan for this country, and our current government officials have spent at least the past few decades manipulating and twisting the words of the Constitution to satisfy their (im)moral, corporate, and personal agendas.

We have a right to speak out against such corruption, and the protestors on Wall Street are doing just that. We must speak out with words, with votes, and with dollars that work in support of Americans, not for a political party.

We may not be at Liberty Square with the protestors right now, but we stand firmly with them in every way, as members of the 99% who will no longer tolerate the disintegration of America over the greed, hypocrisy, and the corruption of Wall Street, Congress, and corporations.

Every year, our government asks that we donate $3 to the Presidential election campaign.  The instructions for the 1040 form specifically state that “the fund reduces candidates’ dependence on large contributions from individuals and groups.”

Please.

Candidates do not just depend on these contributions. They thrive on them, and the companies and groups that make these large contributions thrive on the support that their candidate gives to their cause.

Our federal government, led by either party, has done little or nothing for us over the past few decades – and little or nothing to change what is broken within the system. What little they have done has been to further their own interests and that of the major companies that have been filling and continue to fill the coffers of our elected representatives.

If any taxpayer is at all compelled to check the box that allows candidates to have any more money, please give the money to Occupy Wall Street or similar movements. Give $3 to a homeless person. Help feed a neighbor. Those people are the Americans that are fighting for the rights of all Americans, and they do so without massive contributions or media attention.

Take heed, Wall Street. Someday – perhaps soon – American citizens will have nothing left to lose and will gleefully sit by and watch while your economic empire crumbles.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. – Declaration of Independence

War on Education

by Shadra L. Bruce

00military-economy-x-pslweb-org1Everywhere you turn in this country, teachers are getting a bad rap. In Idaho, they’ve passed a bill to cut teachers in place of laptops and online education. In New York, school districts are slashing teachers while paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for each small town to have is own Superintendent. The story is the same everywhere you turn: teachers have a tarnished image.

Wherever you live, whether you have kids in the school systems or not, you ought to be paying attention to what is going on with the education budget. Not only does education have an impact on individual health, there is no one thing more likely to stabilize and grow the U.S. economy than a well educated, competitive work force.

No, teachers should not get to keep their jobs just because they’ve been teaching for a long time and have earned tenure (which should go away). But implementing a high-quality, standardized national education system (no, we don’t have one now) is crucial.

What we are seeing on the national level with the budget, as the conservatives choose to target those least likely to be able to protect, defend, and advocate for themselves with cuts to Medicaid, Medicare, and other “entitlement” programs (we should be entitled to equal access to education, healthcare, and representation), is what we are starting to see at the local school district level as well.

Superintendents and school boards are building budgets that prioritize protecting their own high salaries, perks, and benefits at the expense of those who cannot fight back: students with special needs, students who benefit from arts and music programs, and teachers who perform but don’t have tenure.

We do have to make changes. If we have to make cuts, start looking at ways districts can be more efficient. Look at ways to combine small districts together. I think most parents wouldn’t even care if transportation budgets were targeted. Ten minutes longer on the school bus would be worth having a class size of 18 instead of 40, wouldn’t it?

Even though I’m not very good at math, I can do the math here:

  • From 2001 to 2010, we spent $1,291,000,000,000 on trying to recreate the world in our image in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • We have 3,823,142 teachers in the United States. Their average annual salaries are $44,053.55.
  • If we took the $1.291 trillion dollars that we spent on war and put it into education, we could pay every teacher in the United States their full annual salary for SEVEN full years.

It is time to stop prioritizing everything but the home front and start worrying about protecting democracy here.

Students not a Collective Bargaining Right

by David Bruce

tenureThe recession that the United States is not in, according to government and business officials who want to keep their jobs, is forcing the hand of Wisconsin officials in respect to budget cuts for the coming fiscal year.  These budget cuts, among other details, eliminate collective bargaining rights for many state employees, teachers among them.  This particular event adds fuel to the debate of whether or not teachers are paid what they are worth.

This argument can be levied against any career.  Certainly those people who work any hours and many hours for retail operations would say that they are not paid what they are worth, and many would argue that sports and entertainment icons are paid far more than they are worth.  The issue in the instance of educators and in respect to the profession of teaching in general is in regards to the quality of education that we should be giving to our children and how we may accomplish that task.

Most teachers may argue in favor of labor unions to promote competitive pay and benefits and to secure their jobs.  If this is the impetus for teaching, then why teach?  The students are the focus.  No, services should not come for free.  Teachers provide a service than can never be measured in pay stubs and benefits, and teachers that perform admirably as measured by their superiors should be compensated accordingly.   Unions, however, are another level of bureaucracy that benefits those at the top more than those people that they were originally chartered to protect.

Unions are another layer of government and business that takes the focus away from the students.  Eliminate unions.  Eliminate tenure.  Resources may then be used to hire and promote teachers who do want to teach, and those that teach well should be paid their worth and prosper.  Those that do not teach well can learn something new.  This approach is not fool proof.  Administrators have been known to take advantage of employees, but a level of trust must be established for the best interests of all parties.

Ultimately, the goal is to promote learning.  The best teachers are a product of education and an innate desire to engage with students.  This is not necessarily accomplished or fostered by labor union and government intervention, as is evident by the failure of No Child Left Behind and the ongoing feud between school districts and teacher unions.  Students who learn, regardless of demographic, are good for and to themselves, their communities, and or country.