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Kyle Simpson

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One of the most important issues of our time is how to improve the condition of the United States’ educational system. We’ve become somewhat used to it by now, but it still shocks me to see the U.S. consistently beaten on rankings of student performance by dozens of countries. How can we return to the top to make sure our students can compete in a world economy?

Many in the political landscape are arguing for a decrease in government funding for higher education, increasing the value of degrees earned by those who are lucky enough to be born into families that can send them to college. Along with sounding decidedly anti-“American Dream” to me, this idea to improve our educational system by cutting its funding makes no logical sense, either.

Whether or not increased college enrollment lowers the value of everyone’s college degree, it is still exceedingly beneficial for someone to pursue a bachelor’s degree or even a more advanced degree. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the attainment of a Bachelor’s degree increased weekly earnings from $668 to $1,101 in 2014. By obtaining a bachelor’s degree instead of being content with their high school diploma, workers increased their earnings by 65%. Yes, if everyone has a degree, your degree is less rare and thus you are relatively less valuable to potential employers. But, that indicates a strong, educated and motivated country, and who would argue against that? Constant improvement is demanded in today’s economy, and taking away education subsidies in order to lower the bar for everyone is incredibly counterproductive. More education for more people is the only way we will advance as a society.

The actual problem in today’s education is the skyrocketing costs of attendance, which is largely falling on the backs of students. U.S. citizens hold a staggering $1.2 trillion in student loan debt, a debt that often follows people around for most of their adult lives. These cost increases are being caused by rapid enrollment growth that is happening alongside funding stagnation or even a defunding of education by the states. For example, the University of Wisconsin has enrolled more students than ever in its history in the past three years, yet the Wisconsin state government voted in June to approve Governor Walker’s plan to cut UW’s budget by $250 million. A similar situation is being experienced in Louisiana, Georgia and all across the country. Here in Alabama, our well-documented explosion in enrollment has been matched by a dramatic decrease in state funding—from $218 million in 2008 to $170 million in 2012. With numbers like these, it’s no wonder tuition has skyrocketed around the country.

The real solution to our problems in education isn’t a decrease in government subsidies—it’s an increase. In terms of education spending by percentage of GDP, we are behind countries like Cuba, Kenya and Jamaica—that is unacceptable. Our state and our country need to invest in their citizens the way South Korea, Finland, Switzerland and all the other countries that have passed us by in all those rankings do. In a country that spends over $580 billion a year on defense—more than anyone else by a long shot—it is embarrassing and shameful that we cannot even adequately fund our own schools. If we want to maintain our position as the center of innovation, power and influence in the world, it’s imperative that we reverse this disturbing trend in the U.S. education system.

Kyle Simpson is a senior majoring in biology. His column runs weekly.

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