Readers: this blog is set in the future (sometime after the year 2020). Each entry assumes there has been a 5th revolution in the US — the Revenge Revolution. More about the Revenge Revolution and author, How the 5th US Revolution Begins and About the AuthorOccasionally I do a “sense check” about the likelihood of a Revenge Revolution.  Entry #318 is the most recent “sense check.”  One more note — sometimes I write about another topic that does not quite fit the theme of the blog.  Those comments are available on the page titled “JRD Thoughts and Comments.” 

In the entry describing the coming technology tsunami (#319), I suggested a way to help mitigate the impact of the inevitable tsunami was increasing support for public education. Here’s another aspect of public education that needs more discussion.

Entry # 327 outlined arguments why society would be better off banning for-profit universities, or FPU’s, from charging students for class material that should have been taught as part of their secondary, and in some cases, primary education. Why should students who learn at a different rate, or learn in ways outside the standard teaching method, be penalized and required to “pay twice” for the same classroom material?

But what about course material not taught in public schools? Or course material taught in technical schools? Why burden the taxpayers with such cost? Why not use for-profit universities for such training?

If someone wants to become a licensed cosmetologist, why should the public have to subsidize such training? Same with say someone who wants to become a licensed auto mechanic. Why should the public support such training?

Such an argument is a valid one. At the same time, society needs to consider the role of public education beyond high school. If North Carolina’s Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC) is representative, there are numerous classes and training programs aimed at some very narrow occupational fields. In some cases at CPCC, classes are designed specifically for types of companies. Based on a cursory review of CPCC website, students have an opportunity to prepare for licenses, earn certificates, or an Associate degrees in a wide range of occupations. Yet all these classes, including those for the companies, are subsidized by the public.

Some key benefits to having such specialized classes taught using the public education system include:

  1. Control over quality of the course material. There is more oversight over relevancy and quality of course material at accredited universities than at for-profit universities.
  2. Ability to integrate other learning material into the course. For example, courses could include basic class material as well as additional information about how to integrate emerging advanced technology such as artificial intelligence. Having this opportunity to broaden the student’s perspective, would help the student understand how to use emerging technologies.
  3. Using a community college for specialized training is less costly to the student and to the public. Because the infrastructure and administrative overhead are already in place, the incremental cost to add specialized classes is less at a public university than the cost at a standalone for-profit education institution. As a result of using public-education facilities, the student can be trained and begin working with fewer outstanding loans and ideally no loans. The reduced financial burden increases the likelihood the student will quickly migrate to becoming a full-time worker and taxpayer.

Some will ask, “Is subsidizing the cost of specialized training yet another aspect of more socialism? Another harebrained giveaway by liberal Democrats?”

Clearly, or maybe not so clearly, there is a point beyond which the public should not pay for specialized education. Such training should be the responsibility of the individual or the company where the individual is employed.

The beginning of the “no-more-subsidized-training” line will vary by geographic area. Community colleges in urban areas will have a different course mix than community colleges in rural areas. I think most everyone can agree that local communities should make that choice of what courses should be subsidized rather than letting the federal or even state government do so.

“Isn’t subsidizing specialized education a slippery slope? I mean, should the public be subsidizing someone who wants to learn basket weaving or how to make greeting cards? C’mon. What about those situations? We know someone will push for such classes and then claim discrimination if the classes aren’t offered. Why create all the hassle. Let them all go to the for-profit teaching institutions.”

The “slippery slope” argument is often cited…and probably occasionally valid. But always justifying not doing something because of a slippery slope would negate most societal norms and laws we have today. Laws and behavioral norms are based on actions of a “reasonable man” (or woman). In many cases there is no clear line between reasonable and unreasonable. Focusing on how the extremes, or outliers, might be affected is a path to stagnation and not a path to progress and Improvement. For those classes or technical programs that fall outside the norm and could be considered unusual or extreme, then maybe a for-profit university or a collection of private tutors is a better choice for such training.

The default, seems to me, whether for general education content or for specialized content, should be through a public institution. If the public education path cannot work, then consider a for-profit institution. Public institutions afford greater opportunity to control content quality and greater opportunity to control cost for the student…and public.