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The Business of Giving: Education Is the Best Investment


The government can't invest in higher learning - so we have to.

I'd like to introduce you to the latest victim of our current credit crisis. It's not a big bank; it's not an insurance company. It's the bright-eyed 18-year-old who's been told not only that his parents are unable to pay for college, but that the banks aren't willing to help him, either.

When kids can't afford to get an education, we're robbing the future to pay for the present. This is a recipe for economic disaster, and it's happening all across the country.

Public university students in New York State are facing tuition hikes, as Governor David A. Paterson searches for ways to cover the looming budget deficit. In California, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is calling for a $132 million decrease in funding for the University of California and California State University systems. In Kansas, higher education is looking at $114 million in cuts.

The list goes on and on. Education is expensive; it's generally one of the largest portions of a state's budget. It's therefore one of the first areas reviewed when states cut spending. But if tuition rates go up at the very same time that students can't get loans to pay the extra fees on their own, where does that leave them?

Unfortunately, it leaves them with no choice but to go out and look for work; without higher education, many start out in low-skill, low-paying jobs; many stay there. Even more unfortunately, most get trapped in a vicious cycle of just making ends meet, where the line between poverty and "getting by" blurs.

This discouraging situation indicates that hard work isn't enough: The only people who get ahead are those who have the financial means to do so.

This is exactly what Lyndon B. Johnson hoped to counter when he created the student loan program in 1965. In signing the bill, President Johnson noted his "firm conviction that, for the individual, education is the path to achievement and fulfillment; for the nation, it is a path to a society that is not only free but civilized; and for the world, it is the path to peace - for it is education that places reason over force."

Today's young people are being robbed of their futures, and we as a society will also feel the loss of their achievements. More unskilled workers means we'll need more funding for food stamps and health care programs when their incomes are not enough. It means that more youngsters will grow up believing that the only path to riches is the one followed by the drug dealer on the corner.

And that means we'll be spending more money on incarceration and drug treatment – arguably more than we would ever spend on public university funding.
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