Sunday, July 10, 2011

Lets make educational opportunities merit based rather than wealth based.

I think of two things that occurred after World War II that helped the United States realize its meritocratic ideological goals of merit based advancement leading towards the knowledge society: the GI Bill of Rights made it economically possible for millions of veterans to go to college, and U.S. colleges and universities adopted entrance examinations, especially the SATs. In later years the Government has made educational loans more available, has provided tax financing for education, and there the Government has intervened against racial and gender restrictions in education. These seem to me to have been really progressive moves.

Americans have been delaying entry into the workforce for many decades by extending schooling and other learning experiences. They not only go to colleges and universities in unprecedented numbers, but they continue on into graduate schools. Most students in four year colleges do internships (many unpaid), and people who have completed doctorates spend years in post-doctoral programs.

I was just reading about the increase in college tuition in California, where the tuition for the University of California system is to be $13,000 per year. When I was a student at UCLA there was no tuition, it was free. I was the son of immigrants, and was able to go through to BS, MSEE and PhD in the University of California system because it was free, with the aid of scholarships, jobs as a reader, teaching assistantships (including an undergraduate teaching assistantship at UCLA) and instructorships.

Today it is becoming much harder to afford such extended schooling, especially at one of the research intensive universities that seem to provide the richest educational opportunities. People are not only taking internships after graduation without pay, but sometimes are required to pay for the opportunity to work without pay.

The result will surely be to ration education-based career opportunities to those whose families have the ability to pay their high costs, thereby denying some of those opportunities to the brightest, most motivated students, those who can't afford the tuition and who need to work.

The end result will not be good for our spirit as a nation. It may be worse for our international competitiveness.

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