Saturday, October 15, 2011

Parting Thougts on the Occupy Movement and Higher Education

It's not my intention to stay on this topic too much longer, but I'd like to raise a few more points today.  One of the frequent gripes of the movement is the cost of higher education.  While I agree with the complaint, I differ with them on their approach for rectifying it.  I do want to point out that I agree that something is wrong with the higher and higher costs for attending universities.  Our daughter is at this stage now, and the costs are indeed stunning.  Why the dramatic increase in tuition--far outpacing inflation?  I'm no economist, but I suspect that the "education bubble" has much to do with rising healthcare costs as well as the willingness for some students and families to take on huge debts to finance education.

This touches on a personal pet peeve.  Lately on social media, I've seen several versions of a photograph of young person holding up a handwritten sign praising his own sound financial and life choices.  These choices usually boil down to living below one's means and attending public university instead of an expensive private university.  Besides the self-congratulatory or prideful tone, I object to this dismissive characterization of all private universities.  

Don't get me wrong.  There's nothing wrong with a good public university education, and I'm sure there are many cases where it's better than private.  Still, there's a sense in these kind of exchanges that private education is being viewed something like a name brand vs generic product, and that's where it needs to be pointed out that education is more than a retail commodity.  Yes, there is a commonsense cost/value awareness that needs to be taken into the equation, but university is more for the learning and less about the diploma--isn't  it?

Our daughter, for example, is looking for a solid Catholic education.  She looks forward to learning more about her faith from professors--not student teachers.  Private schools by and large (especially Catholic or Evangelical) offer a much deeper education in these areas.  If smaller class size is important, private schools are also the way to go.  If you have a pair of binoculars you enjoy using to watch your professor in the large lecture hall, go for it! 

Lastly, I've been hearing from any number of people that it's possible to attend private university for less than public if you're successful with your aid search.  As I understand it, there's often more aid available for the private universities than the public.  So, don't dismiss a family's sacrifice for a private education, if the student is looking for more than just the diploma.  Education is too important to compromise.  (If your family is looking for a good Catholic university in the Pacific Northwest, may I suggest University of Portland.)

Lastly, below is a response to a friend's concerns with regards to my last blog post.  Without her permission, I'm not comfortable mentioning her by name or linking to her thoughtful essay, but I thought I'd offer this--for what it's worth.

You make some interesting points. While I agree with some of your individual suggestions, I don't concur with your conclusions or logic. I think the central and simplest perspective is to analyze what is meant by social and "economic equity." That's just Socialism by a different name. Striving to address legitimate social justice issues such as poverty, homelessness, and lack of opportunities are laudable goals, but it's entirely different than "economic equity," which suggests (to me anyway) a redistribution of wealth to take everyone to the same standard. 

Since that involves the taking of assets not otherwise belonging to you, I see that as a breaking of the 7th Commandment; whether, or not, the government is doing the confiscating and redistribution, it is morally comparable to theft. If that's all Occupy Wall Street is about, that's just as greedy as the people they are supposedly protesting. While consumerism itself is not a good thing, economic activity and prosperity are. They represent the livelihood of individuals, families, and communities. While we may wish for a simpler--agrarian, for instance--life, that bell can't be unrung. (See my "Connection Illusion" blog post for more.) Instead, we as Catholics need to constructively engage our culture and demonstrate the love of Christ--not Socialism. (You might want to read the CCC, Part 3, Section 2, Chapter 2, Article 7.) 

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