What Price Education? What Price None?

Paraphrased from an excerpt found on priceonomics.com, The admissions test for this institute, may be the most competitive test in the world. In 2012, half a million high school students sat for it. Over six grueling hours of chemistry, physics, and math questions, the students competed for one of ten thousand spots in this most prestigious engineering university.

Nearly every student has spent four hours a day, for two years, studying advanced science topics, often waking up earlier than four in the morning to attend coaching classes.

The prize is a spot at a university that students describe as a “ticket to another life.” This institute is part of a system of technical universities comparable in prestige and rigor to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology or the California Institute of Technology.

Alumni include the Sun Microsystems co-founder, the co-founder of software giant Infosys  and the former Vodafone CEO. Popular paths after graduation include pursuing graduate degrees or entertaining offers from McKinsey’s and Morgan Stanley’s on-campus recruiters.

Government subsidies make it possible for any admitted student to attend. The Joint Entrance Exam is also the sole admissions criteria. Nothing else counts. The top scorers receive admission, while the rest do not.”

Makes one proud, doesn’t it, that there is this kind of an educational system where children prepare so rigorously and are so well supported by parents? And what about the fact that these talented students don’t need to worry about tuition? The government subsidizes them and they have no burdensome student loan debt upon graduation?

Oops! Wait a minute. These are examples of what happens in India as students prepare for the entrance test to the prestigious Indian Institutes of Technology, IIT.

So what’s going on here, in the United States?

First, parental support and early prep for students. From thinkprogress.org by Anna Chu, [regarding the sequester]

“Congress’ failure is hurting everyone. Take, for example, our children. Because of the sequester, 70,000 children are being kicked off Head Start, a critical program providing low-income preschoolers with education, health, nutrition, and family-support services. Another 1.2 million disadvantaged students will see the funds eliminated for over 2,700 schools. Low-income families will also lose a total of $115 million in child care subsidies. These are subsidies that enable low-income families to take care of their children and work to make ends meet.”

The total negative impact on education is estimated to be between $2.6 and $3 billion.

But we do have student loans: From the LA Times, “U.S. senators headed home for a Fourth of July recess without passing a bill that would prevent interest rates from doubling on student loans next week, leading to a ramp-up of political finger-pointing.

A new report from the Joint Economic Committee showed that student debt has risen significantly, from $550 billion in late 2007 to about $1 trillion in the first quarter this year. The same report said that without congressional action, the higher Stafford interest rates would add $4,500 to the cost of a four-year college degree.

[…] market-based proposals would bring in hundreds of millions in new revenue at the expense of lower and middle-class students. The House Republican plan, for instance, would generate $4.7billion over 10 years.”

So we’re actually arguing about if and how we should make a profit on lower and middle class students.

Finally the test is about math and science, the keys to the future in a competitive world.

From the Huffington Post, “America has received scores around 500 on a scale that goes up to 1,000: 487 in math, 500 in reading and 502 in science.

The AFP reports, The three-yearly OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) report, which compares the knowledge and skills of 15-year-olds in 70 countries around the world, ranked the United States 14th out of 34 OECD countries for reading skills, 17th for science and a below-average 25th for mathematics.

According to the AP, “This is an absolute wake-up call for America,” U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in an interview with The Associated Press. “The results are extraordinarily challenging to us and we have to deal with the brutal truth. We have to get much more serious about investing in education.”

Why? Because we’re playing with the long term viability of this country. We exist in a world of growingly competitive economies who want the same finite resources we need to remain viable.”

Now if we could just figure out a way to save the $7 billion in military equipment we’re scrapping in Afghanistan as we prepare to leave and use it to fund education here at home.

Hey, I know. How about we don’t participate in any more unnecessary wars? It won’t save that $7 billion, but might help in the future.

Robert De Filippis

Author: The Blue Route

What say you, the people?