When my oldest was getting ready to start college, I had to fill out the required FASFA paperwork. For those of you who are unfamiliar with such a thing, FASFA is a form required by law for every college student. It gives financial information to help determine what type of financial aid the student may be eligible for such as scholarships, grants and loans.
Back in 2001, the process was somewhat arduous, although there was an online format. Still one had to first obtain a pin number, then answer a series of questions about the student and the student’s parents, then give income tax information and any other data about personal wealth such as businesses or investments. Only then could the student be determined to receive any form of aid, if any. The process of filling out forms then usually took me at least an hour, during which I had a copy of both our tax returns, and was double checking what I was inserting into the data base. Several changes were made to the process, and I was becoming something of an expert at the task, although that process was still time consuming.
As I am myself in college these days, I have to now complete FASFA’s if I hope to be able to afford to pay for classes. I just did finished the online form for the upcoming school year. It literally took ten minutes. I actually was quite surprised. A few years ago, they had upgraded the data base so that repetitive information such as addresses, dependents and where one goes to school could carry over. This year something new was added. The FAFSA could directly access the IRS website so that they could pull off my income tax information from the previous year. Naturally this only works if you have already filed which I have. Not having to hand key each line needed, is a huge time saver, and helps prevent errors.
For people like myself, who’s income falls just below the median income levels I know I need more then my income alone if I want to finish my degree and obtain a position that puts me at even $5000 more year then I am making now. I am not alone in that, and I fear that its going to get harder for people to further their education if some in government have their way. And I find that idea frightening.
South Carolina is just one state that is considering cutting funding for educational grants and scholarships for college students. That means one of several things could happen. Either students will have to borrow even more money then they do now to get their education, they will opt for less then what they hope to get when it comes for their education, bypassing bachelor degrees for the much cheaper associate degrees, or they will not go at all. None of these options hold much promise for the next generation of American workers, or the people who will be looking to hire people with the needed degrees in medicine, engineering, math and sciences.
If we want a future in our country, our communities and our children, then education needs to be paramount, especially if we want to remain competitive in the world market. We can’t continue to de-fund the very entity that gives students and the men and women who teach them, the very tools they will need to sustain and bring innovation to the work place. To continue to cut funds to education at all levels may seem like a great short term solution, but it just may have long term ramifications that we may never be able to recoup.
We need chemical engineers, computer programmers, nurse practitioners, sociologists, English professors, attorneys, biologists, physicists as well as teachers, writers, administrative assistants, and all those other careers that a college degree helps to create. There are young people right now sitting in middle school or high school classrooms that would love to find themselves in one of those fields some day soon. Why is anyone considering keeping students from accomplishing that goal, for the sake of a line item in a budget?
We need to be supporting our students, our teachers, our schools and colleges, working together to have and maintain the best educational environment we possibly can. We need to be encouraging our students to get degrees in math, science, the arts, etc. We need to work to ensure that all people who seek degrees can obtain them by insisting that education is the one of the most important items in a government’s budget, not the least. Meaning it feels the reduction of funding last, not the usual first it gets today. We need to let the men and women we elect to public office know that we feel that our children’s future, our future is important enough to fight for.
It obviously bothers me that, at least in my state, that education has usually been the first to feel the effects of the downturn in the economy. It bothers me that people in government are, yet again, failing to think long term when it comes to the decision they are making today. That is one more thing we need to be asking the men and women we send to the state capitals or to our nation’s capital. We need to be asking, “If you make this decision today, have you thought about what tomorrow may bring?” It is quite possible one of those questions we aren’t asking enough.