Tag Archives: george w bush

Beating The Higher Education Hustle.

By: Chris Warren.

The last decade has slapped us with a bucking stock market, bouncing gas prices, and the crash and sort-of rebound of the real estate market. Well under the economic radar and seldom mentioned in the media is the bubbling student loan meltdown. Unfortunately, all of the proposed solutions are reactive. They address cleaning up a disaster that was predictable and avoidable in the first place.

Those who think this problem doesn’t concern them because they or their kids are not in college (or are wealthy enough to pay for it out of pocket) will change their mind when they find out that student loan debt in the United States is at 1.20 trillion dollars and climbing. The problem shows up in our tax bills, the cost of everything we buy, as well as in the skills (or lack of them) in the workforce. Everyone owns a piece of this mess, whether they want it or not.

The exact origins of the student loan chaos are indistinct. In 1993 President Bill Clinton pushed for and won reforms that made it easier and cheaper to get financial aid; the program was expanded by President George W. Bush and still exists today. The intent of the policy was inherently solid, but it did come with unintended consequences: Seeing a big payday, schools started admitting students who did not have the maturity, the discipline, or the academic strength to do college level work. Many of them barely made it out of high school. These borderline students drop out after a year or so, still on the hook for thousands of dollars of debt without completing their degrees. It’s true that they disproportionately have socioeconomic class disadvantages not of their own making but that is not a good enough reason to hand over a pile of money for them to fill space in a classroom in a misguided quest for “fairness”.

Unknown numbers of young people are getting triple-screwed by well intentioned adults pushing them into an academic environment they can’t handle, by colleges willing to bend admissions rules for dollars and “diversity,” and by banks who are eager to underwrite (usually) government-backed loans. College is a worthwhile endeavor…I get that. It’s not lost on anyone that having only a high school diploma severely limits lifetime earning potential, but who is better off: The debt-free kid who went from high school directly to a crappy low wage job, or the kid in the crappy low wage job with thousands of dollars of outstanding student loans from the degree he never finished?Graduation-cap-and-diploma-1

It’s important to point out that not everybody with five or even six-figure education loans on their backs are the innocent victims the media and  politicians want everyone to think they are. Students knew or should have known the terms of their loans and that some degrees have almost no market value. I sincerely respect anyone who pursues a gender studies or anthropology major solely for the love of scholarship, but spare us the “poor me!” crybaby act when you can’t land a decent job and the student loan bill comes due. You’re not a victim.

Community college is the obvious but often overlooked partial solution to the student loan meltdown. Two year schools are the diamonds of higher education, but no one ever gives them credit for it. Typically costing less than half of four year schools, they deliver a huge bang for the buck. The biggest reason Community colleges are not considered: They don’t offer the cool “college experience” that is such a big deal to today’s iPad-toting kids.

Back when I attended College of DuPage, it was derided as the “high school with ash trays.” By 3:00 pm every Friday the place became a ghost town. Nobody was there to be trendy, including me. I was earning college credits on the cheap. When I eventually transferred to a university and graduated, there was no disclaimer on my diploma stating that half of it came from dorky, uncool C.O.D. Like any young person I would have loved to get four full years of exciting big university campus vibe, but there were certain realities I simply had to accept. I graduated owing a lot less cash than my trend-seeking peers.

It bothers me that junior colleges get such a bad rap because without them I along with many others would not have made it to graduation. Yes, College of DuPage made that profound of a difference to me. COD classes were not easier than they at a big name four year institution, but I was able to study without the usual distractions or worry about how I was going to pay for my education. I was neither wealthy nor a stellar student; COD was a place where I had breathing room to make decisions and focus on my coursework without being demoralized by it. A lot of high school seniors who go directly into a four year undergraduate program and subsequently drop out for academic or financial reasons would have succeeded had they attended community college first. What a sad, life-altering, missed opportunity.

I’m under no illusion that the trillion dollar-plus student loan mess is going to be solved by junior colleges alone, but it’s obvious that a big part of the problem is too many students are in way over their heads and their wallets at four year schools. Aspiring to earn a degree is not justification enough and a lot of college loan debt is really the debt of vanity. College is not a party or an “experience” to be had at any price, nor is it (for most of us) a place to pursue highly idealized fields of study with no real-world application. If would-be undergraduates gave their education the same due diligence that they give to any big-ticket investment, there would be a lot more success stories and a lot less balances to pay off.

Getting The LED Out.

By Chris Warren

I’ve spent most of my adult life trying to reduce the burden I personally place on the Earth’s resources. It’s been an incremental project taking place over many years and has no set end point, nor is it always easy to define how or if a conservation method is effective. I honestly have no idea if everything, or anything, I’ve done has made a difference.

Keeping the planet green and clean should be something we do as individuals because it’s right and good and not because the government or some activist group demands it. There is a place for laws and regulations; how far they should go is another matter. It is a sad reality that we are often compelled by law to do what we should be doing on our own anyway. Do we really need “no littering” signs? Having them implies two false conclusions: One, that those who are inclined to litter will refrain from doing so because a polite little notice keeps them in line; and two, that littering is allowed as long as there is no sign specifically prohibiting it.

This summer I completed upgrading nearly all the lights in my house to high efficiency LEDs. It’s something I’ve wanted for a long time but avoided due to the expense of LED bulbs. The cost of the bulbs has come way down and finally, I can cross this item off my wish list. A big chunk of my household electricity comes from solar panels so I am very aware of the need to make the most of every watt. The only standard bulbs I have now are in lights I hardly ever use anyway, such as in the closets and garage. It is gratifying to reduce my dependence on commercial electricity and the pollution it produces without giving up modern conveniences. I’m still far from being “off the grid,” but I am a lot less on it than the average person.LED-shop-by-bulb-visnav-PLPbanner

The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 was signed by President George W. Bush and introduced phased in mandates, the last of which take effect this year. What is sneaky about this legislation is that it technically does not ban anything. It instead imposes energy efficiency requirements that no incandescent lamp could ever achieve, forcing a default switchover to LEDs. I do not like this law mostly because it smells of regulatory “nanny state” overreach, however I have to admit it did have the unintended positive consequence of bringing the cost of LED lightbulbs down. As more people started using them, manufacturing economies of scale kicked in and within a few years LED lights were no longer a high tech, high end luxury item. They are still pricey compared to old-school incandescent bulbs, but within reach for most consumers. The EISA, for all its many flaws, succeeded in accelerating what the free market would have done on its own anyway.

When I stopped by the local do it yourself emporium to buy my LED lights, the choices were breathtaking. It was somewhat of a surprise that the previously-simple act of purchasing a lightbulb now required, among other technical considerations, an understanding of the Kelvin color temperature scale. Without the helpful charts and working sample lights on display in the store, I would have needed google to figure out that 2700 degrees Kelvin and 800 lumens is the equivalent of an old-school 60 watt incandescent light. I felt kind of foolish for all the time and effort I was spending comparing options and prices. It was, after all, just a lightbulb. I kept telling myself that times are a-changin’ so I had best get used to it and learn the new ways.

LEDs will last tens of thousands of hours longer than their incandescent predecessors and consume a small fraction of energy for the same light output. The theory is this double-benefit will more than offset the higher initial cost of the device itself. It’s not the good deal it seems, especially if you’re on a tight budget to begin with. Spending $5-$50 up front on a single lightbulb under the premise that you’ll earn a profit over the next decade or so isn’t much of a selling point when you also need to buy groceries for your children today.

Even though I have many misgivings about the EISA, now that it is law I want to see it succeed, at least the lightbulb part. Years from now there will be studies and statistics making big claims of how much energy was saved and pollution avoided because of LED lights. But in the same way my individual efforts can’t be quantified, I do not believe  meaningful data on the benefits of LEDs will ever be known. Of course, that won’t stop interested parties from both ends of the issue from coming up with something that “proves” their point. LED technology was a long time coming and I’m really glad it’s finally ready for consumer use because my new lights have eased the burden on my solar panels and freed up hundreds of watts I can use for some other purpose. For my personal situation, they are a clear winner even as I know in terms of the bigger picture LEDs are not the magic potion environmentalists want everyone to think they are.

I may be a dreamer for thinking people will do the right thing without being ordered to. It’s a nice thought that hardly ever happens in reality and I can’t resolve the conflict of my dislike for laws that mandate good behavior with knowing many people won’t behave unless the law makes them. There is no easy path to convert philosophy into practical life, other than to do the right thing and take a chance that others will notice and follow along. If living by example is the best teacher, then I hope the class is paying attention.