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Lance Dickie: College for all: a contrived issue, a phony debate

| Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012, 9:02 p.m.

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Lance Dickie: College for all: a contrived issue, a phony debate

By Lance Dickie

The Seattle Times (MCT)

America is in the midst of a pointless, distracting debate grounded in a stupid, offensive question: College for all?

Washington Post writer Robert Samuelson caused a stir when he declared it was time to ditch the idea of college for all, which had outlived its usefulness. He writes about economics, which is obvious from his first paragraph:

“It looms as the largest mistake in educational policy since World War II, even though higher education's expansion also ranks as one of America's great postwar triumphs.”

Classic economic analysis: On the one hand, but on the other hand.

This country's greatness is rooted in its ability to create options, not preclude opportunity. Access to college - to higher education - is part of America's fundamental capacity to lift eyes toward new horizons.

Posing the question of college for all is a contrivance. The people raising the issue are talking about your kids, not theirs. Do they truly have cosmic doubts about the value of a college degree? Perhaps for others, but not regarding the economic and social value of their own credentials - and, of course, for their kids.

America puts its future in jeopardy if it tampers with access to higher education and degrades its universal value for all.

Journalist Fareed Zakaria's best-seller “The Post-American World” and its updated version make a fundamental point we ignore at our peril: The issue is not the decline of the United States, but the rise of the rest.

As countries from Brazil to China hustle to compete, the U.S. embraces a kind of “I've got mine” complacency. Stinginess, with wisps of ideology, sanctimony and social superiority.

Esoteric debates about the value of education have replaced a focused effort to stay competitive.

Our national conversations have a European echo, even back to the central planning of the old German Democratic Republic; yes, East Germany. Track students and test them in the 10th grade. Maybe university, maybe the factory floor.

America went through another time of sneering about expectations and capacities for those people. June 22 is the 68th anniversary of the signing of The Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, better known as the GI Bill.

The legislation signed by President Franklin Roosevelt was a mixture of gratitude and economic precaution. The act included money for low-interest home loans, business loans, unemployment payments and education. Money for school was intended, in part, to avoid a crush of returning veterans into the labor market.

GIs in college? Good grief. Howls of protest echoed from the Ivy League on down. The vets had skimpy high-school educations at best. Why pollute the socially sacred environs of academia?

Surprise, surprise. America got generations of engineers, educators, accountants, lawyers, scientists and some Nobel Prize winners.

A fraction of the money for unemployment was used. America took its educated workforce and jumped on the opportunity to thrive in a world still digging out from the rubble of a world war.

Many smug decades later, we have incentives to export jobs overseas, and swapped manufacturing for trading bits of paper.

Louisiana is leading the descent into the maelstrom, with laws to privatize public education with public funds for private tuition. The Shreveport Times points to scant accountability and standards for those charter schools.

College for all is meant to be provocative generalization. Students seek higher education at different times and rates. Maturity and economic reality have their roles. The key word and value is opportunity, as in “land of ...” The community-college student honing technical skills may well discover a passion for engineering.

Remember, those who dismiss college for all are talking about your kids, not theirs.



Lance Dickie is a columnist for The Seattle Times. His email address is


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