EDITOR’S NOTE: In 1957 a group of distinguished citizens were appointed to the
In 1963 the State Legislature enacted a series of tax measures designed to yield about $45,000,000 additional each year "to meet the pressing needs of education." In view of these developments in
That a crisis exists in education in the State of
Individuals must realize that their own well-being, and that of their families, depends on their own efforts; or, they must be willing to become subservient to an all-powerful authority, with all the disgrace and degradation that implies. The indignity is no less at the local and state level than at the federal; there is just a little less authority connected with it.
This, then, is our crisis today, and a moral one it is. It cannot be swept under the carpet. It is distressing to observe, therefore, that the current discussions on education are being conducted as if the state only (the taxing authority) and not the individual has the answers to the numerous problems in that important field. With such limited vision, little wonder that well-intentioned men face frustrations as they seek solutions.
Let it be clear that these ideas are advanced, not as pat solutions, but with the thought that they may stimulate other and better ideas. After all, three million working minds should be much better than one. With regard to financing college level education, which primarily concerns us here, it is my belief that if the people of this state really want strong education for our young people, this can be achieved economically and in relatively painless fashion without requiring the services of armies of educational bureaucrats. This will be discussed later.
The Commission’s Survey
First, however, a question concerning the Alabama Education Commission which was organized in 1957 to survey the educational needs of
There is not much evidence that serious consideration was given to any proposal for financing needs, other than additional taxation. This can hardly be considered a compliment to the Commission. Naturally enough, its recommendation that additional revenue be raised through taxation has received loud endorsement from those who feel the need and who would benefit most. It is interesting and important to note that at the public hearing, the public was conspicuous by its absence, while all the vested interests of education were out in force. Under these circumstances, it could hardly be expected that anything short of highest acclaim should have been rendered the report, and that it should ultimately be considered sacrosanct by all those having occasion to refer to it.
Even though the Legislature in its effort to chip away at the problem has decreed that better than $100,000,000 shall be drained from the purses of the public, it is a certainty that the roots of the troubles have remained untouched and much more will yet be heard about this. Let us see, therefore, if there are not other ways to tackle the task at hand.
Constructive Suggestions, Based on Belief in Freedom
The suggestions which follow have their origin in a fundamental belief in a free society for free men, the belief:
1. That he who benefits from a service should be the one to pay voluntarily its cost.
2. That with one or two obvious exceptions, such as the police and military functions of defending life and property with justice to all, there is nothing that government can do which cannot be done better and much more efficiently by private individuals.
Can these ideas be applied, practically, to higher level education in this state? If the will is there, then the answer is, "Yes, and quite simply, too!" A four point program is advanced as an example of what might be done:
1. All students, or parents, should be required to pay the full cost of their college education. That is, if it costs the school, say, $1,000 a year per student to provide education, then this is what the student should pay.
2. A system of loans administered privately or by the school, but in no instance by a public governing body, should be available to take care of those young people who find themselves both ready for college and unable to pay for it out-of-pocket. These loans can be repaid on all sorts of different terms.
3. The alumni of the different schools can raise funds for various desirable projects of alma mater.
4. Scholarship aid as at present.
Now, let us examine these, point by point. Who benefits from a college education? The individual, of course, and his immediate family, secondarily. Then why should these people not pay the bills? Is it not a parental obligation to do all possible to set aside funds for the education of one’s own children? At a time when the legislature is talking in terms of $100,000,000 for higher education, we have the most preposterous situation imaginable on our college campuses: While the University and Auburn are charging perhaps $200 or $300 to provide educational services which really cost $1,000 or more per year, the campuses are clogged with autos driven by students — cars which cost the equivalent of one or two years’ education. One can add many other examples of students indulging in high living at the same time the institutions which they attend are begging money for operating expenses. If John Q. Citizen, successful businessman, can afford to pay the $1,000 a year, or some portion of it, why should he not do so?
But let us not limit payment of costs involved to the well-to-do. With as high a standard of living as we enjoy in this nation, it is within the means of most any family to provide an educational nest egg by the practice of prudence, thrift, savings, and sacrifice. How many years of education (at full cost to the school) would that new boat, motor, and trailer have bought? Or that new air conditioning system, car, furniture, extra special vacation, you name it?
On the other hand, there are those who are sending their sons and daughters to private colleges within and without the state. Why should they be required to pay twice?
Again, the alternatives are simple and crystal clear. Either the citizen understands and discharges his own responsibilities, making whatever personal sacrifices are necessary, or he shrugs them off and lets the state take charge, the way of socialism.
There are those who would have you believe that unless the public treasury is tapped, via the legislature, then the wheels of educational progress will grind to a halt, hordes of "deserving" young people will be deprived of an opportunity (they call it "right") for advanced education, and as a consequence of this, society will suffer. Without in the least denying that sound, inspirational education can be a powerful force for good, I would answer, first, that history would seem to support the observation that better and more wide-spread education for the populace has followed and not preceded an advance in economic and political development. Witness our own country! Then compare with
Second, the illusion persists that the public treasury is the only source of large funds. It should be obvious that these monies first belonged to the people, before they became political property. The only, and disastrous, difference is that the individual has been deprived of choice in the expenditure of this money; disbursement is accomplished by political and bureaucratic edict, instead. This may seem fine to those who believe in the nostrum, "From each according to ability, to each according to need," but the consequences of that abominable dictum should also be understood plainly. This is not the doctrine accountable for economic progress in our society.
Third, on the question of "deserving" students being deprived of educational opportunity, I’m convinced that public authority cannot be expected to be all things to all men. More importantly, I know of no way to help those who refuse to help themselves, be it in the field of foreign aid or domestic education. Many a man has helped himself answer this specific problem, some under the most severe handicaps, financial and physical. Where there is a will, there is usually a way. As a free society progresses, so do its methods of coping with problems such as this.
My second suggestion pertained to student loans. For the student who lacks all or a portion of the money needed for his years in college, then a loan fund administered either by the school or a private group can be established to make appropriate loans, at prevailing rates, with arrangement for repayment after completion of formal education. Anyone who would object to this type of self-assistance could hardly merit the description—"deserving." In my opinion, here lies the solution to the "problem."
Point three—alumni fund drives—requires no explanation. Given a motive, and spurred by a conviction that their financial efforts would be matched in prudent decisions by men of wisdom, the alumni of this state would, I am certain, raise funds in amounts calculated to make any old grad carry himself a bit more proudly.
Fourth, scholarship aid is self-explanatory.
What would be the impact of such a program on the colleges of this state? What results can be projected? Well, no one could possibly know! For the truth of the matter is that this program frees individuals and institutions from the shackles of the state. To the collectivist, this may be a most unpleasant state of affairs. But those who believe in the moral validity of a free society know that, even though unpredictable, the end results would be exciting and wonderful.
This much, however, is known. The quality of instruction would improve considerably, and courses which now make a mockery of some college curricula would disappear. Where a man is faced with a decision to spend a dollar which he has earned and sweat for—not one which has been tossed his way—then he will demand maximum satisfaction. He who renders the service for which the dollar is exchanged must therefore perform at his maximum capacity—otherwise the dollar goes elsewhere. This is fair exchange. One’s own reasoning can carry him from this point to some very interesting speculations.
Does He Pay His Own Way—Or Does He Not?
I began by stating that our present crisis was not so much financial as moral. I have presented a simple program designed to cope with some of the financial problems involved. Each of the points I’ve mentioned requires a decision by an individual! For benefits received, does he pay his own way—or does he not? There it is! The answer given by the individual will determine the type of society in which he and his children will live.
For the moment, at least, good judgment has been abandoned; in my opinion, neither the Alabama Education Commission nor the Legislature warrant commendation. The Commission apparently narrowed its vision, starting with an inaccurate assumption and arriving at a conclusion which was faulty. The Legislature also failed to exercise responsible judgment and fiscal responsibility, placing upon all people of the state a financial burden of which they have yet to hear the last. Having failed to get to the root of the matter—$100,000,000 notwithstanding—the people of this state are probably destined for a repeat performance not too many years hence.
Left to their own devices, people can be extraordinarily wise. Contrary to the notions of the planners is this warning from the Constitution of the State of Alabama: "The sole object and only legitimate end of government is to protect the citizen in the enjoyment of life, liberty, and property, and when the government assumes other functions it is usurpation and oppression."