Put on your batting helmet George. This one may be high and inside!

(Tribune February 2007)

George Duma is, by nature, a passionate person. Sometimes his passion gets the better of him.

Last Friday, George wrote about student debt. He started by stating that a university or college education was necessary if you want to get ahead in life, and he concluded that unless you were the offspring of independently wealthy parents, your only option was to go into debt.

George goes on to give vague references to unnamed countries around the world that apparently do more than Canada to help post secondary students. He claims the education debt is crippling to students who were not "born into money", he laments that post secondary education should not be there only for the wealthy and he concludes the current system is just plain wrong.

See what I mean? Passionate!

Lets talk about some of those unnamed countries. There are places in this world where everyone is treated to a cost free post secondary education. At a government university - where you are taught an approved curriculum - where it is a major crime to teach opposition to the party or religious doctrine - where guilty teachers disappear. But hey, there is no student debt!

Lets talk about the contribution of our tax dollars to education. About two hundred students started grade nine at Pelham District High School in 1952. I was one of them. Five years later, we were lucky to count twenty remaining who had any hope to enter university. I was not one of the twenty. Some of us, unable to afford university, either became teachers, (a one or two year certificate training, in some cases a six week summer course) nurses, (a three year indentured labour position), or accountants, (another indentured labour position). The rest got jobs in factories, banks, and stores. Most had successful lives, they raised their kids and they paid their taxes.

Those taxes provided funding for the education of future students. There is now a community college system that did not exist in my student days. We have Brock University and Niagara College; each allows many local students to commute from home while receiving their education. These investments turned the statistics from my youth completely around.

We have been pushed to accept the theory that everyone is entitled to a college or university degree. It does not take a university degree to see that this premise is complete rubbish. Acceptance of this premise just forces the quality of such a degree down to the point where it has no value. The post secondary institutions will have to design courses that no one can fail and society will become swamped with college and university graduates who still have trouble tying their shoes.

We need skilled trades. We need good sales persons. Under the current system, we look down our collective noses at such people. We require classroom space and trained professors for needed doctors, scientists and other professions. We spend too much money providing classroom space to deliver useless "bird degrees" to everyone who demands a university education. One can get along in life quite well without such education.

Letís talk about who should pay the bill.

I have two children and three stepchildren. The father of my stepchildren and I have both been successful in our working lives and therefore none of the five children were eligible for government grants or loans to finance the costs of their education. Although we two fathers were both successful, neither of us could be classified as wealthy. Both of us were however, very careful with a dollar. All five children were subjected to tight restraints on the availability of cash during their time at university.

Our children told us that other students, who were being financed with government grants and loans, did not experience these restraints. They said "OSAP kids" had lots of spare change to carry on an active and expensive party life. We took this as hearsay, but the observation has since been supported from many sources. When no one watches the cash, spending does tend to get out of hand. An individualís student debt load is impacted by the lifestyle enjoyed in the college years. This is OK so long as the student accepts the responsibility for repayment. Just do not tax me to get those former students off the hook.

Letís talk about debt management.

There is a simple truth about borrowing money. Borrow and you have to pay it back. You also have to pay interest. You do not need a university education to figure that out.

Money is usually borrowed to make an investment. A post secondary school education is such an investment. It therefore makes sense to think hard about the investment to ensure that it is going to improve your earning ability to the extent necessary to pay back the borrowed funds.

Our tax dollars are continually and generously being spent to ease the financial reality of the cost of education. Government sponsored plans are in place to match savings with grants for those people who are prepared to take responsibility for their childrenís educational opportunities. I am talking about students who were born into responsible families of normal working taxpayers. Those families plan ahead and save prior to the day of high school graduation.

If you want to fix the system, start giving debt control skills to children in primary school. When we hear of university graduates being shocked over student debt levels, we question how much real life skills they received for their money.

As you said, George, "the current system is just plain wrong".

Perhaps you have not yet considered appropriate remedies.

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