Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Worth of a College Degree

I am glad, frankly, that there is a current national debate on the skyrocketing student loan debt now about $1.3 trillion.  It is my credential to put this together in teaching over 7,000 students over a decade at a university level from entering freshmen to senior capstone level to MBA courses.  I have seen much and thought deeply on the matter of worth of that "piece of paper" and what resides behind the journey. There will be those, no doubt, that will disagree or perhaps be surprised but my heart will reside in my words on this incendiary topic.
The use or application of the borrowed money is what is of great concern to me meaning that there is far too much of borrowed funds that get fire hosed at new cars, new clothes, drugs, etc. etc.  That, to me, is worse than criminal. But a great parallel is our nation for we have become addicted to living beyond our means in great part due to money being too easy to get and too cheaply. Our nation is now, like too many students and their families, floating in a red sea of debt.
Let me put a principle in here many have heard me state loudly and firmly: Whoever owns your debt owns your future!  Let that sink is for a few minutes! So the debt discussion I am speaking to in student loan debt is a metaphor for our nation. The day will come and come soon when those that loan the money plus interest to be paid, will call the debt and that comes when confidence is lost in the borrower. NEVER forget that! One's credit credential is lasting and vital for the journey ahead and I have witnessed far too many students blatantly not living to that standard. Get the money, enjoy the short term "hit" and worry about paying later. Worse ... my parents will take care of it when I move back in!
Roughly speaking and I cannot be close measurably, I would anticipate at least twenty per cent of the students I taught and feel I can extrapolate that to the aggregate population, should never embark on a college degree. Far too many come ill prepared from high school with fundamental writing skills and have no concept of team operations to accomplish work which is all exacerbated the the cultural norm of no absolutely nor boundaries so the concept of delivering an accountability is, well, "oh well, there is tomorrow mentality."
Those students that experienced me know I have my entirity of energy and drive focused at their success IF they invest themselves into the journey. Those that choose to float along sink and sink quickly and not without pain and confrontation.  Why? For the 20% choosing to not invest in the process impedes the 80% of the students that come to the classroom seeking to learn, to invest themselves, to give their all for the course, for the team and for the learning. It is that portion of the class that find me user-friendly and always on-station for them and that extends far beyond the end of the semester or graduation.  In other words, I believe fundamentally that if you invest in the course, the course will invest in you and I can given you myriad testimonials to support that.
Generally speaking, I do not feel traditional academia holds the students to a high enough standard of performance. There are probably many reasons but taking easy road to getting the semester over is probably high on the list.   Many things I have learned about young college students for I have sought to understand their hearts, their minds, their values and their hearts.  That 80% I speak of will make a positive mark on this world and I know they are well armed for the battles across the horizon.
Just this week I experienced a harsh reality that left me really taken aback. A business leader and great friend asked my help in trying to find some good hourly manufacturing workers for his business for he could not find any that could pass a drug test. I sent job information in wage rates, benefits, job description, etc to 100 "good" students I had.  Would you like to know how many I have heard from? ONE!  That speaks volumes to the general attitude today I believe as well as witness to the stigma manufacturing now carries with it as America is fully into the Service / Information Age and all but out of the Manufacturing Age.  I almost laugh when I see or hear politicians or pundits banging the drum that we need to go back to manufacturing, bring the jobs home China stole from us, etc, etc.  That, for me, is a joke for if the jobs came back, they would probably not be able to fill them nor to retain the worker very long for it is, well, WORK!
I read today that it is a one million dollar question meaning that the lifetime difference in earnings of an employee with a high school degree versus a college BA is one million dollars.  That sort of comparison really tells me nothing but what it does do for me is speak to the fact that we are not producing students from high school prepared for college for the students are not pressed, pushed and held accountable for producing work via skills application. Then they come into college borrowing thousands of dollars because parents have not allocated funds to pay for the education unprepared and in too many cased unwilling to buckle down and fight the battle to win / succeed. Thus why so many change majors, try to skate through college by finding "easy" professors, miss classes regularly by hanging out at Starbucks with their Iphones wasting valuable opportunity to differentiate themselves from the competition. Yes, it is all about competition.
There is much blame to this complex matter of student loan debt and our politicians will find a way for We the Taxpayers to pay off this debt before it is over but that will come will additionally borrowed much from foreign nations so the problem escalates the nation debt.  I believe it well past time for a national debate on the matter of why a college degree, why and what do colleges really need to be focusing on and last but not least, if they do not pursue a degree, then what skills do they seek to develop???
I bounce from frustrated to angry to exasperated on this whole matter of student loan debt because for far too many it is self induced future-suicide. Credit ratings are impacted for years to come but I also realize that many college students come to the classroom fully ignorant of how to manage finances in their lives. So they get flushed with credit cards and easy money so it is all good until the realty bus parks at the door!
This matter is a nation plague on the future of our students and our nation! I welcome the debate but never forget, it begins AT HOME with parents teaching, guiding, directing and supporting. If the parents are not home, and they are not in most cases as society shows us clearly, where do these great young people learn the fundamentals of our society?  Working in prison ministry over ten years has given me a PhD in answering that question! If you do not learn it at home, many on the street will gladly "assist" in that teaching.  My heart hurts!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Anvil of Student Loans

This week it was announced that student loan debt in America was at $1.2 trillion and climbing and debt default rates are skyrocketing. I have watched and listened to the squawking and anguish about the politicians not "fixing" this cancer in America, etc, etc.  I will create some skeptics with my thoughts on this topic but factor in having taught 7,000 college students in the last ten years so I feel that a viable factor for coloration of reality more than rhetoric and violins playing.
There are some questions that I believe must finally be asked as we look across the horizon as this cancer metastasizes along with the entire debt picture of our nation.  Keep this in mind for perspective, America's Gross Domestic Product is now less than the amount of money we owe. By any accounting definition, that is telling us clearly two things: our nation is bankrupt and worse, whomever controls your debt controls your future. So who is really controlling America's future? Yep, the nations like Japan, China, South Korea, etc that continue to buy our debt but that will soon slow and we will find ourselves in deflationary times again I believe. So the questions:
  1. What is the value of a college degree?
  2. Does everyone in college or wishing to really need to go to college?
  3. BIGGIE; what do college students borrowing the student loans actually do with the money?
  4. Does defaulting on a loan today affect students as it did their parents?
Four questions that I believe corral the real issues of student loan debt.  I can speak only for myself in what I observed far too many times in my decade of college teaching. Far too many students are in college that really do not need to be there emotionally nor from capability perspective. Many are there because someone said that must go but with no financial planning; that was my case so you can know. I was told by my parents I had to go to college but nothing was done to provide family assistance to met that challenge.  I saw young men and women in college when I attended that were there because they wanted to and felt they needed to be there. There was also the incentive of the Vietnam War as incentive to stay in college and work for young man of my era.  I see much less of that in my decade of teaching today.
I am convinced many are in college for some reason other than seeking a degree. Perhaps it is social, perhaps hoped for status, perhaps, etc, etc.  But many are certainly not there to invest themselves in the course work thus the course drop rates escalate at the first reality that a course actually requires work and focus and energy.  Classes are scheduled based too many times on how "easy" the professor is or how loose the attendance policy is assuming there is one to begin with which usually there is not for professors certainly do not want to push too hard or hurt some one's feelings!
When I see student loan monies too easily gotten invested in nicer cars, computers, clothes, socializing, drug use, etc, I cringe knowing that is what I call a disinvestment and that the probability of the student defaulting on those borrowed "fun" monies is great and predictable. Now mind you there are some great students that sincerely need to get a degree and certainly need the funding and are responsible enough to find a way to pay back the loans. But I believe that slice of the student population today is rapidly going in a wrong direction.
For me the most disconcerting facet of students I personally experienced is a blaring lack of focus, finding ways to not do the work and too, far too distracted with electronic gadgets, Facebooking in classes, watching porn on laptops during classes; see my point?  That is why we hear the hair raising stories of students getting their degree but cannot read it once it is handed to them. They have not been educated for they have chosen to "enjoy" the experience of college on someone else's dime with no intention of ever repaying the money back. That perfectly captures the entitlement mentality that abounds today; they are owed this because they were born; THAT is sad but oh so real.
My students reading this will attest to a person that I was a demanding, frank, encouraging, always pushing them type professor and I led by example and never minced words on expectations, demands and accountability. I had a zero policy on absenteeism and tardiness and failed students every semester for doing just that meaning not coming to class and routinely late and not investing in the course work. Those students that embraced my process were lifted in their own minds that this work is of value, my professor leads by example and he really cares about me now and my future. I challenge anyone to test this paragraph. 
Far too many professors are too focused on non-student education  and papers and writings and research to gain and maintain tenure. I personally believe tenure and protecting poor performers in academia is a worse cancer than student loan debt. Our students will get better when our professors and teachers get better and demand by example more from the student.
In closing, yes, the student loan issue is of mega proportion but it is always in far too many cases self induced financial suicide as students find readily available government or private loans to indulge in "stuff" and not paying for the sacrifice to get their education.  It is possible to go to college to get a degree and borrow not a dime and many do and those that do perform better than those there to simply float through college for five or six years changing major several times each time costing thousands more dollars.  Far too many times, of course, are single parent or no parent families from which these students come thus the student is not used to accountability nor a sense of worth / value of the cost of college.
I must put in here as well that the textbook industry is one of the most sickening components of the educational process.  Charging $300 plus for a single textbook is beyond atrocious which angers me only to watch this and then have the book revised in a year with minor changes and cost then $350 should be worthy of Congressional review. 
There is much the world can do about this escalating issue but there is just as much the student or potential student can do to help themselves.  Determining if a college education is a worthwhile investment is core and objectively assessing is the potential student is capable of college level work? Many are not.  Therefore, finding a skill and pursuing training for that skill should be  a first priority for there is nothing wrong about pursuing and perfecting a skill. Mechanics, for example, are a dying breed as cars grow more complex.  We need skilled workers and always will but we need fewer debt laden people in college not investing themselves into an academic process that more iand more are asking the question of people, was it worth it?
I think it time America stops and stop looking at college as a paradigm far too many can ill afford and ask some tough questions before the journey begins. The general population and We the Taxpayers who will soon be getting the opportunity to pay for these unpaid debts floating a high standard of living, in the short term, will be most happy. Wait, that sounds like America doesn't it ... living beyond our means, borrowing to keep it up, not worrying about repayment, wait, guess I better hush!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

"U.S. Caught Off Guard ..."

When I read that in this morning's Wall Street Journal about the debacle unfolding in Iraq, Boka Haram routing Africa unabated, Syria in open civil war, etc, etc and yes our POTUS is "calming" our future military leaders with language that all is good; I just find myself rubbing my forehead in angst at this Administration.  We read much today, a whole industry has evolved, about bullying. I have always detested bullying but learned in this life that to counter act a bully, you must yield strength and courage in the midst of the abusive nature.
Thinking of the thousands of men and women we have sacrificed and the untold trillions of dollars in these places to protect and defend and to rebuild their nations based on safety, democracy and freedom and then to see Iraq implode completely is simply sickening and inexcusable. We, America, has the largest and most well used intelligence gathering apparatus ever assembled and we love to tout that fact. So to read, "caught off guard" by the events in Iraq is hideous and unforgivable. But then we watch the other militant aggression in Africa and the Middle East and I seek to understand how this could happen but then I back up one more step and ask myself the more complex question, who really cares? That is cold I realize but honestly I think that question pierces the heart of the issue; do we as Americans in 2014 even care about an entire region that is being consumed in fundamentalist radicals SEEKING TO DESTROY AMERICA?
This is all more tangible to me in having taught so many returning Iraq and Afghanistan soldiers over the last ten years and thus seeing the ever present ghosts that will linger a life time manifesting their presence in myriad ways.  I still feel the volunteer military concept is flawed on many fronts. I cannot escape trying to understand the parallel of history in the 1940s to the 2000s from a national, citizenry view.  I pose that for I have long felt the landscape of America in the lead up to WWII versus today rests as core to where we are in this great "surprise" unfolding in Iraq. Some will say I am anti-Obama, again, but what I am is anti-wasting our lives and treasure for nothing in return. THAT is what I am seeing with Iraq and these other places.  In WWII, the entire American public was involved in the conflict both at home and abroad. That has never happened since and we see where that has led us I believe.  Nobody wants war but war, once initiated, must be fought with overwhelming power and force by the entire nation. Only a very 1% of America's population are in any way engaged in protecting the 99%. The numbers staggeringly speak for themselves. 
In almost every class I taught for ten years, 142 of them, I would find a way to ask the question about the students thoughts on a volunteer versus a conscription system to protect America.  Somewhere in the range of 100% of young people have no intention or desire to serve this nation in any capacity but especially in the military. We love our nation and its many opportunities and freedom yet will push against service to that nation to protect it from aggression; that always made my gut hurt in listening to the comments. That is not throwing a rock at the students of the new century but it reflects a complete lack of patriotism by their parents, the post Baby Boomers. That yields a sense of entitlement and expectation of being owed by this generation. NOBODY IS OWED ANYTHING in a democracy but the Liberal political machine would certainly paint a different picture.
America has not lost its scepter of power and strength. America has just chosen to lay that scepter of strength and respect on the altar hoping peace will reside; but it does not and it never has. Peace comes from freedom and freedom IS NOT FREE. What we sadly see unfolding in Iraq and soon to be Afghanistan is testament to America pushing back from our global, history responsibility.  The great analogy of Nero fiddling while Rome burned is so unbelievably applicable today and that hurts me at the heart.
America and the treasured American experiment of our Fore Fathers has been placed in a closet and I think never to see the light of day. And the bullies of the world are watching and moving and moving toward America.  The Wilson Era doves that wanted to just pull up the walls on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and let the world just go ahead with whatever while we enjoyed peace led to WWI, the II then Korea, then .. see my point?  Nobody no long fears thus nobody respects America is the blast signal beaming throughout the world. THAT is dangerous beyond measure!

Friday, June 6, 2014

D-Day Plus 70

Normandy is a beautiful area famed for its apples, scenery and battle space.  This day I have intentionally taken the time to watch many of the array of programs all focused on the invasion, honoring of veterans and their stories, assessment of the battle from both sides. It still grasps my heart when I see the terrible business of war and I have never been able to watch Saving Private Ryan since the first time due to the carnage of war.  Knowing men in my childhood that came ashore, some wounded with lifelong limps, all with stories yet never told; that is what brings this sense of choking to me as I try so hard not to be moved to tears; but I always lose that battle. Knowing so many that went to Vietnam during my teenage years and seeing them return, if they returned, different! Really different and I could not understand why.
It is all made much more panoramic and real in having walked those beaches, walked Pointe du Hoc and can still enter the 88 mm German gun emplacements, see the pocked earth from shells from battleships trying to quell the German defenses and held rock from the cliffs our Rangers had to scale. Walking through the American Military Cemetery at Omaha Beach just yards from still existing machine gun bunkers that easily scanned the beaches with our soldiers trying to get ashore. I have held in my hands fists of the hallowed sand upon which so many never got to leave from and have stood behind the breech of a German artillery piece near Saint Mere Elgise implaced for firing at our landing ships. It is all so real like the infamous paratrooper that got stranded atop the chapel in Saint Mere Eglise with a dummy parachutist still dangling from the top of the chapel.  I stayed in a hotel in the town but could not sleep for thinking about what had happened there, so close, so real, so amazing, so wrenching still!
One of the markers of my adult life is having the opportunity to walk many major battlefields and seeing many, too many, international military cemeteries. Gettysburg, Sharpsburg, Verdun, Bastogne, Metz, Amiens, Casablanca, etc, etc and with each one my whole brain is transformed back to the carnage, smoke, noise, death! It is really strange for me to feel like it is all happening again and I am there in the midst of it all.  Sleep goes away for a day or two after the experience and I will dream about the battle due to consuming books and research on the strategy and the tactics and the political situation that led to the conflict and yes, the devastating loss of life for generations of scars and anguish. It is all just so real!
On this night where much has been celebrated about this great battle, all deserved, and seeing the veterans for the last time, and they know it as well, I am reminded of the simple true of it all; FREEDOM IS NOT FREE!  When I see the world today that these men and women fought so hard to protect, I am, frankly, pained and sickened in many cases.  Alcoholism, drug addictions, crimes, divorce, wrecked families, emotional scars that never erase, heinous acts during the campaign triggered many times by experiencing deaths of close friends in combat and retribution ensues; all these and more are part of the cost of war but the price of Freedom.
As this day ends and the clocks of destiny prepare to chime, my heart is warmed by being an American, by having worn the warrior cloth, by knowing so many, young and old, that paid such a dear and lasting price for our freedom.  When conducting chapel services in the prisons, I will always ask if there are any veterans there and invariably there are. I ask them to stand, what branch they were in, hand salute them, shake their hand and hug them close in thanking them for what they did for our country; our Freedom.  I am a patriotic person and still cry at the National Anthem, my heart rate always increases when I see a Veteran with his or her hat on indicating their service and love to walk up to them, hand salute them, shake their hand as well as the hands of their family members that always beam and tear up with me.  When I have my grandsons, I love knowing they are watching their Poppy render that level of respect for I get to explain it all to them. They will now do the same thing as will their children due to the stories of watching their Poppy; a generational hope for me!
I close by saying thank you to every person reading this that gave something for my freedom and for the freedoms of my family.  I am so honored to have met so many on this journey. I have seen the physical and emotional scarring and the impact on families for years and generations to come.  And yes, FREEDOM IN NOT FREE .. nor should it be, ever! So the question; what have you done to pay for that Freedom?
Be blessed!