You Get What You Pay For.


I don’t know why this set me off today, but I saw this in my social media and it struck a nerve.

“It’s incredibly stupid. Education should be free. We should want to invest in a smart society.”

The first part is supposed to be funny, if inaccurate (our taxes pay for public ed so it is never free).  The comment made me angry.

Why the hell should education be free?  I agree that higher education costs are unreasonable (un-freaking-believable, in fact), but in a society where worth is valued through cost, free things are not valued.  At all.

There are many things in this life that are free and most of the time they are taken as due until someone tries to make us pay for it.  I had to pay for wifi on the flights I took last week.  Which is ridiculous because wifi should be free, right?  It’s not like they have to pay for anything to provide wifi, like installing/maintaining equipment or internet service itself.  It’s just the internets, magically hooking my laptop to the rest of the world without the effort of any other person who might want to get paid for his/her services.  (I’m not saying airlines aren’t making a killing by fleecing their passengers for every service they possibly can=> does it really take $4 to run the internet for 30 min?)

I think the problem with the quoted statement is the level of simplistic thinking.  Education costs money.  The money still has to come from somewhere.  I can’t be sure, but a statement like that makes me think this person would also complain about tax hikes and insist that the rich should pay the way for the poor.  It’s a thorny mess in my head, but I believe that people should strive for their own way if they can and that giving back to the community shouldn’t be obligatory or else it becomes a punishment for those people who succeed honestly (we all know that the not-so-honest will always find a way to wiggle out of obligation and duty because that’s how they succeeded in the first place  => their punishment will just have to catch them some other way).

The comment is self-righteous fluff.  Of course we want to invest in a smart society.  That’s why we are paying out the nose for an education.

Public Education is a mess because it is free.  Schools are underfunded because people b*tch about taxes.  Teachers are underpaid because they aren’t being paid by satisfied customers.  When you have a really good waiter/waitress, you show your appreciation with a big tip.  When you have a really good teacher, they get a piece of paper with “World’s Best Teacher” written on it, maybe a mug or something.  They don’t get a raise, or a corner office, or an extra stipend for school supplies.  They aren’t valued because their services are perceived as free.

It’s worse than that, though.  The students are the consumers in this case, yes?  They are directly impacted by the quality of the education.  Yet they have nothing invested in it.  Oh, sure, you can tell kids that a good education will open doors and blah, blah, blah.  Some of them will grab a hold with both hands and squeeze every ounce of worth they can get out of free.  Most, if they were at all like me, will sleep and procrastinate and skip (don’t panic, Mom; I didn’t skip) because I knew that high school didn’t matter, that college would be completely different and public ed was just a waste of time because it was so crappy.

And (don’t be mad, Mom) I was right.  Nobody cares what grades I got in high school.  No one expects that to be the standard for me because public ed is worthless.  Literally worthless because it is perceived as free by the consumer.  Higher ed, though, that they pay attention to.  If I’m paying directly for the service, I feel personally invested in the outcome of the experience.  I don’t sleep through class or skip, though I do still procrastinate.  I work for my grades and I care when they aren’t good enough.

Yet I still complain about the cost of college.  Here’s the thing.  I spent 6 1/2 years on active duty earning my GI Bill to pay for education.  I get a hefty check every month for $1600.00, which isn’t enough to cover tuition, let alone the fees and book costs on top of that.  I came to school prepared to pay for it myself (okay, Buddy is a huge financial contributor, but he’s pretty invested in my future as a rich and famous author).  Your average college kid isn’t.  Either Mommy and Daddy are getting a second mortgage or someone is getting some debilitating student loans to cripple him/her for the rest of his/her life.  And Higher ed is raking in the dough because it is providing a valued service.  How do we know it is valued?  Because people are mortgaging their houses and accepting crippling debt to pay for it.  If it wasn’t valued, people wouldn’t pay for it.  And since people are willing to pay for it, they can increase prices ad nauseam until someone makes them stop.

So, okay, college is expensive, but a degree opens doors to bigger and better things because it was a lot of hard work to attain and you sacrificed a great deal of income in the process, apparently the only sacrifice we recognize anymore.  If it’s so important for so many opportunities (everyone looks for college degrees nowadays), then why not make it free to everyone?

Because you weren’t listening.  Free education already has no value in our society.  The standards are so low that colleges have to teach high school classes to college freshmen.  And they’ll do it because the college is being paid to teach them.  Public ed is being grudgingly paid very little to do what even small colleges will charge hundreds of dollars to do per student.  Once Higher ed becomes free, it loses its value.  “Oh, you have a Bachelor’s in Engineering?  Big deal.  Anyone could get that because it’s free.  I could get that with a 6-week online course wearing nothing but my drawers.”  Higher ed is sought after by employers because High School diplomas are no longer a guarantee that the employee can write in complete sentences or do simple arithmetic.  When people stop paying for college, the teachers’ salaries will drop, making the job less desirable (harder to fill with people who want the job and aren’t settling for the job).  The standards will fall because some idiot will decide that since it is free education, then everyone should pass and if they don’t, the teachers will be fired.  This encourages teachers to cheat by “teaching the test” and hoping that those students who don’t care about passing, because it’s free, won’t  eff up the curve too much.  (A pox on non-educators trying to “fix” education.)

Let me be clear, though.  I don’t like any of this.  I hate that the only value we understand is a price tag.  I hate that public teachers get paid squat to do a vital job for the betterment of society.  I hate that the only apparent path to success comes at the mercy of large institutions that have little accountability foisted on them to ensure the quality of the product they are selling.  I hate that children suffer for the selfish greed and obstinate bullying of stupid adults.  I hate that most of my life has been aimed at college and as my last semester looms, it all feels futile and empty.

Education should not be given away because it is a precious gift.  It should be invested in and earned through hard work.  It should be valued for the benefits it gives to individuals and society as a whole.  It should never, ever be perceived as free because all good things in life cost something.  Time, energy, sleep, stress, tendonitis, boyfriends, whatever.  Just because it doesn’t cost money doesn’t mean it’s free.

I don’t think the solution to our idiot society is free college.  If you want free college, there are grants and scholarships galore, not to mention GI Bills, that will ease the costs while still giving your degree value.  If you want affordable college, write your congressman or something so the government can stick its greasy hands in more of our problems.

“Education should be free.”  What?  12 years wasn’t enough for you?  Now you want to foist the paychecks of more hard-working teachers onto the tight-fisted tax payer so you can take the same classes you skipped in high school?  Public ed was your chance to learn how to learn so you can function in the world.  I know it doesn’t always work, but that’s what it’s there for.  Higher ed is not the only path to success, no matter how hard they try to convince you otherwise.  It’s certainly not the only path to happiness.

Remember, kids, we are guaranteed “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  There is nothing in there about free university.  So stop demanding that other people pay your way.  If you can’t afford to go the traditional route, maybe you should take your cue from all the famously rich people who snubbed Higher ed for the gold-paved road not taken.

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3 Comments

15AM00000032011 · 03:22

3 responses to “You Get What You Pay For.

  1. you know, on average, 13% of state taxes are spent on higher education. granted, it’s less than the average of 25% spent on primary education, but the fact is there that our taxes already do go towards college.

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