|Grandfather E V McKim Sr's practical education|
© 2015 Michael Swickard, Ph.D. One of the talking points for politicians is free college for students. They reason that preschool to high school graduation in public education is free, why not college? It is not free, someone else pays.
Perhaps we should debate the aim of our education system. Thomas Jefferson wrote that education had two aims, "The laboring and the learned. Few students had the ability to be (academically) learned but our country always needs educated labor."
In today's world our public schools push all students to attend college. In 1968 it was not my intention to attend college. My Grandmother Frieda wanted me to go so I went.
In 1917 she got a Masters Degree from Western New Mexico University in Silver City. It was then New Mexico State Teachers' College. She had come to New Mexico in 1908 from upstate New York to be a teacher in a one room schoolhouse in Three Rivers. Later she taught in White Oaks.
Of her children only my uncle went to college. He got a degree in Electrical Engineering in 1952 after serving in the Navy during WWII. I went to New Mexico State University in 1968 reluctantly since I already was a fine photographer. My father taught at the Air Force School of Photography. I thought I had all of the education I needed.
But my grandmother saw something in me that a college education made better. Ultimately I got a Ph.D. in Educational Administration with a focus on distance education. But I could have just been a photographer and writer. Life is a funny old dog when it comes to what we set out to do and what happens.
America was built by artisans and laborers. Two of my great-grandparents came to America to work on the railroads, one from Sweden and the other from Ireland. My Grandmother Frieda's husband was a railroad engineer in steam locomotives.
He only went through the fourth grade but could fix almost anything. Today some are saying that only the academics really matter. Tell that to someone with an overflowing toilet.
In Junior High I took six semesters of shop covering tools, wood, metal, electrical, automotive, and home building during those three years. It was outstanding. I am handy enough to handle most things and experienced enough to know when things need to be fixed by someone who really knows what they are doing.
We will always need handy people in our society. Everything will break, we just do not know when. Instead of pushing every student to college we should smile on all education, be it academic or mechanical.
The movement for free college really is because colleges in the last twenty years have increased the tuition and fees many times the inflation rate. I went to New Mexico State University twenty years ago for my Ph.D. The tuition and fees were about six hundred dollars a semester.
Currently at NMSU it is nearly four thousand dollars a semester so that either parents must pay the cost or the students incur lots of debt. The student-loan default rate is terrible. The solution for some is free college to keep students from going into debt. But should they be going to college in the first place?
The college graduation rate in New Mexico is perhaps forty percent with many students just quitting. These students have student loan debt and no degree. That is one of the things driving the horrible student loan default rate.
Many of the current graduates are either under-employed or unemployed. The college degree for many did not make life better as to supporting themselves. Now one of my favorite classes at college was a wonderful year of Irish writing from poetry to novels. But what pays the bills are the things I do which require my Ph.D. No, column writing does not require a degree, but my statistics and research background helps.
Perhaps the current generation of college students who have graduated and cannot find a degree-required job should have explored something more practical to do. Would it be better if they had a professional trade to support themselves? They could afford college later if they found a desire to change fields.