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This entry is part 3 of 6 in the seriesThe Student Debt Crisis

Whatever happened to the purpose of a college or university being to educate students with truth that will shape their hearts and minds? Or was that ever the intention? It seems that the shift in education to an experience is connected with another type of problem; the idea that making money and having a good reputation is more important than what kinds of graduates are actually being produced.

Inputs vs. Outputs
It is common in many areas of life to assume that our success is based on or directly proportionate to our amount of activity. A man goes to the gym and thinks he is successful because he did a lot of repetitions with a large amount of weight, but his form was bad. A woman thinks she did a good thing because she gave ten dollars to a man at the gas station who said he was in need, but she didn’t ask him his name or find out how he got there. Educational institutions pump large amounts of money into all kinds of things, including instruction, but often stop short of asking what the activities and instruction produce.

What does it mean to educate someone? If a school has a large library, does it mean people are educated? If a school has 20 nationally recognized professors who have each written two books, does it mean students are being educated? If a major university builds a seven million dollar basketball arena, does it mean students are learning?

The real question should be, “Can a student demonstrate competency with the knowledge that was gained?”

Institutions don’t like the implications of a move towards purely outcome-based assessment because it doesn’t guarantee a revenue stream. Someone could learn elsewhere and come in with competency. The institutions will begin to lose their illusion of power over knowledge and will be forced to more effectively evaluate both students as well as their own institutions.

The hesitation towards measuring competency is also because many colleges and universities are more like businesses. They care about money. So they end up dragging their feet when it comes to assessing themselves, unless they think assessment will somehow bring in more money. When you have an agenda that is anything other than making an honest evaluation of yourself, you are sure to make yourself look better than you actually are. That is exactly what happens, and it’s why colleges market themselves as a place to get a great experience instead of a great education.

Why should we not go even further, and push educational institutions to demonstrate not only what kind of things students can do with what they learn, but also demonstrate what kinds of people they are becoming? Aristotle said, “educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” Paul the Apostle said, “The goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart, a clear conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Tim. 1:5). If you give a corrupt, arrogant, entitled, greedy, self-indulgent young person the ability to navigate the business world or to build jet engines, what do you think he will produce? If you intend to shape the heart and the mind with knowledge of the truth in humility, you will get an entirely different result.

What do you think? Do you, or most people you know measure the effectiveness of a college primarily by its activities and its longstanding tradition, or by the types of graduates it produces and how they are able to live?

This entry is part 2 of 6 in the seriesThe Student Debt Crisis

Unfortunately, higher education has seen a shift in recent years towards college being more about a life experience than an education. One of our students at Eternity recently surveyed a large group of other college students attending schools throughout a nearby county to better understand their culture. One respondent said something to the effect that “I only have two months left of college and I need to make the most of it. I’m going to party every night.” That same person’s parent agreed that it’s just what you do during that time of life so she might as well do it now while she can.

The Cost of Experience
The implications of such a shift are significant and can be evidenced in the budgets of many institutions of higher education. Large amounts of money are pumped into athletics, administrative and operational costs that have very little to with student instruction. Gaining an “experience” isn’t necessarily bad, except that the typical college experience does little to prepare students for real life in society. Knowing that the average student is leaving their collegiate program with $30,000 in debt, I think a series of questions need to be asked to really consider why education costs are so high and whether the experience is worth it:

    1.How much money is spent on athletics?
    A study of college budgets (both public and private) from 1998-2008 found that between 2005 and 2008, median athletic spending per student athlete was between four to ten times higher than median spending per student for education & related expenses. The follow up question is inevitable. Is it really right/just to have a number of students go into debt so that other students may play games?

    2. How much money is being spent on facilities & grounds?
    Is having a nice fountain, nicely manicured lawns & fresh flowers every week (yes, I know of multiple schools that plant new flowers weekly) worth students going into debt?

    3. What are the salaries of administrators? Most institutions are paying their administration strong six figure salaries, but those salaries are being funded on the backs of student debt.

    4. How much do institutions spend on research?
    A lot of people who have no business teaching classes are doing so simply to fund their research at universities. Students often suffer as they struggle to learn under instructors who are very intelligent, but are poor translators of knowledge.

    5. What is the real cost of instruction?
    The study already cited found that “among all types of institutions, the share of spending going to pay for the direct cost of instruction has declined slightly.” Did you catch that? While overall spending has increased dramatically, schools spend less on actual instruction of students!

These questions, along with many others, need to be answered. Are these things essential to higher education (yes, we need administration, but do they need to be paid that much?) or are these things simply adding to the cost of higher education & subsequently adding to the debt load of students?

The standard response is that the athletic programs & the facilities contribute to the recruitment of new students, which in turn provides additional revenue streams for the institution or that the athletic programs often generate revenue for schools (which is only true of top tier NCAA D1 football & basketball programs). But neither of these actually addresses the issue. These things contribute to the overall operating cost of the institution and do not contribute to the academic outcomes of the school. If they do, where’s the evidence? It would seem that modern institutions have been shaped to provide students with an experience rather than simply an education, and students are paying dearly for this.

This entry is part 1 of 6 in the seriesThe Student Debt Crisis

There has been much attention recently given to the looming student debt crisis. Stories about coping with debt and the soaring cost of college are all too common. Some are even suggesting that this could be a pivotal issue in the upcoming elections. There are those suggesting that this is the next debt bubble to burst, while others are questioning the severity of the problem. Regardless, this is an issue that is growing in significance simply because of the amount of debt in question. Within the past year student loan debt surpassed credit card debt as the largest source of unsecured debt in the USA. With the average student completing their academic program carrying $30,000 of debt, the total amount is hovering right around $1 trillion, and it didn’t happen overnight.

Most of the discussions recently have focused on how to alleviate this debt. Some are suggesting allowing student loans to be included in the debt relief act, which would allow loans to be absolved through filing bankruptcy (most student loans currently are not absolved through filing bankruptcy). Others are recommending further government subsidizing, while others are proposing a myriad of other remedies. The problem is that each of these is merely addressing the symptom & none of these recommendations is actually getting to the cause of debt.

The Causes of Student Debt
Attention needs to be given to the actual cause of student loan debt. There are multiple causes for this sort of debt. Here are a few:

    1. Students & Families

    It is undeniable that students & families taking out loans is a primary cause for debt. Work needs to be done on actually educating people on the implications of graduating with debt (This will be addressed more fully in a later post).

    2. The Cost of Higher Education

    Academic institutions are being funded on the backs of student loans. More attention needs to be paid to the real cost of education, where the tuition dollars go and how things can be reformed in order to mitigate rising costs of higher education (more to come in a later post).

The average cost for tuition has increased 900% since 1978. Basically, once college became “affordable” for everyone following the Higher Education Act, the cost started to skyrocket.

There is no doubt that the symptoms of the problem are real. But, in order to rectify the situation, time and energy need to be devoted to identifying and delivering a solution that will eliminate the cause of the problem.

So, as we get this series rolling, can you identify any other potential causes for the student debt problem?

Also, if you have a few more minutes to spare, please take this brief survey and we’ll share the collected answers later in the series. Click here to take survey

This entry is part 6 of 7 in the seriesQuestion of the Week

It has been a while now since Preston’s thought provoking posts on alcohol. But since the proper use of Christian freedoms in general and alcohol in particular always make for interesting discussion, I will share a real life scenario that happened to me a few years ago (1998 in fact—not sure if that counts as a few years or not).

I was teaching and coaching in the public school system. I was serving as a part of a church body that had a zero tolerance policy on any sort of alcohol. Well, over the course of time I built a good relationship with the parents of various students I had. One dad in particular invited me out one day after practice “to have a beer and talk about life.” I tried the gracious redirect: “I would love to go hang out (without alcohol) and talk about life with you.” He was not interested. This happened in some form three more times over the next month and a half. He would ask to talk about life and partake in some libation. I always tried to find an alternative (drink a soda, have a meal, etc.), but he always declined.

One last bit of information: consuming alcohol did not bother my conscience at all, I was simply trying to be consistent with the church body I was a part of.

So here is the question:

Was I wrong to abstain from sharing a beer with this guy?

Or

Was I right to abstain?

What should I have done?  Have at it…

Often, when it comes to the issue of alcohol, it is only a matter of time before the inevitable point gets made of giving preference to the “weaker brother.” People pull this principle out as a trump card as if it settles the issue once and for all, but some serious thought needs to be given to the idea of the “weaker brother” and how it is that we are to interact with such a one.

First, it is worth noting that the whole principle behind the weaker brother is the issue of maturity. The weaker brother is one who in a specific area of life is by admission weak, lacking, or somehow deficient. Somehow, modern North American Christendom (yes, this is primarily a cultural issue) has allowed this to become the default position. But wait just a minute. Are we really okay with allowing those who are by their own admission weak, deficient, and by extension somewhat immature to maintain such a status? Should we not desire that these people grow in their maturity so they may be strengthened in the area of deficiency?

Paul certainly seemed to be concerned with presenting every man complete in Christ (Colossians 1:28). The text seems pretty clear about how Paul and his entourage were accomplishing this task. The goal for Paul’s ministry was that everyone under his ministry would stand before Christ not lacking anything (having no weakness). The means Paul used to accomplish this are also clearly stated in Colossians 1:28: first by preaching Christ, and also by teaching and correcting those who are in error. An additional means by which we can address areas of deficiency would be to follow and imitate those who are mature. All of these things only happen in the context of relationships where believers are actually walking with each other and living life with each other so they can share one another’s burdens. When it comes to areas of weakness it should be noted that we all have areas of weakness and deficiency. The goal, however, is to grow in maturity and strengthen the areas in our lives that are lacking. The goal is never to stay in a state of immaturity!

Please understand, I am not claiming that maturity is equated with exercising liberties. I absolutely believe that some people should abstain from certain liberties even though the Bible may grant them freedom to participate. In some cases, a past circumstance or struggle with temptation/sin may prevent someone from partaking in a certain activity. I do not think such a person is weak or immature at all; in fact, I think this person could be very wise and incredibly mature.

To go back to the example of alcohol, the point is not to get everyone in the church drinking. All I am suggesting is that the “weaker brother” argument is sometimes used as a trump card. In other words, no one in the church is allowed to use their biblically granted freedom to drink alcohol because someone in the church is offended by it. Let’s certainly be sensitive to these weaker brothers, but let’s also help them mature in their understanding. If they believe that drinking is a sin—even though the Bible does not portray it as a sin—then let’s be careful not to offend them, but let’s also teach them what the Bible says about such matters and help them develop a Christian response to the issue.

Across the board, when we see someone weak, ignorant, or struggling in some area our goal is to help them grow. Why should it be any different with the “weaker brother”?

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