Education and Freedom

I recently read a book titled “Crossing the Finish Line” which describes the dire circumstances that the state of our higher education system is in. There are a lot of reasons that education is important. However, in my opinion, the single greatest reason that education is important is because it not only supports but advances freedom and justice for all.

For example, a study of the National Bureau of Economic Research tracked the percentage of the population who’s earnings are among the top 10% of income earners in 20 countries from 1910 to 2005. The study shows that in many developed countries, the percentage of the population that earns the highest income levels has almost doubled in since World War II.

Some economists believe that this is due not only to the economic policies of those countries but also the education policies. In other words, those countries that have successfully offered education opportunities to their populations have seen dramatic increases in incomes and distribution of wealth.

How does this tie into freedom and justice for all?

If education leads to higher incomes and higher incomes lead to more choice it makes sense to argue that education leads to freedom. It’s true that education can develop one’s mind to think freely and that kind of freedom in and of itself is invaluable. But in a more practical sense, the increase in income that an education brings, equips people with freedom to choose a lifestyle of their liking. For many, this freedom to choose is what makes life spectacular.

Some people will argue that educated people have committed heinous crimes and financial scandals. This is true. But those types of people would have probably figured out a way to manipulate any system that they worked under. Education did not force them to make poor choices but their character did. Margaret Thatcher once said, “I do not negotiate my principles, I negotiate from my principles”. Of course, that implies that one must have principals from which to negotiate.

The bottom line is that education helps redistribute wealth and opportunity giving people the freedom to chose a lifestyle of their liking. As Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve Board remarked with regard to the U.S., “the best way to improve economic opportunity and to reduce inequality is to increase the educational attainment and skills of American workers”

Education is the key to freedom. Freedom is bliss. With our education system currently in need of spectacular reform, it’s time to defend our freedom. It’s time to innovate.


Education: A Promise or a Trap?

I recently read several articles referencing default rates on community college student loans in the state of Iowa.  The article, makes makes one wonder, how many students are pursing their dream of a college education and end up snarled in a financial nightmare? The article cites a near 17 percent default rate on the student loans of community college graduates in Iowa. Several things strike me about this statement.

The first thing that is alarming is the actual percentage. Almost 1 in 5 students are defaulting on their loans in Iowa. Even if that number is high and the actual ratio is closer to 1 in 6 or 1 in 10, our society still takes a big hit with each student that defaults. Not only is the former student’s life turned upside down due to the emotional, financial and psychological effects associated with default but we as a society stand to lose a large amount of money on the default itself.

Consider this, there are about 7 million students enrolled in 2-year public colleges in the U.S. paying on average about $2,805 dollars in tuition. Even if just one percent of that population defaulted on its loans the cost adds up to about $200 million dollars.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not one in favor of babysitting adults. I agree that you reap the rewards of the seeds you sow. After all, potential students should consider the return or salary they expect to receive after graduating from a 2-year or 4-year program. But isn’t there something fishy going on here?

Our education system promises so much to so many people but does it uphold its end of the bargain of providing a quality education for those who pursue it? Or only those in the top 20 percent? You may be wondering as I am, what is a quality education? Let’s save that topic for another day (or better yet, post a comment!).

For now, I am wondering how many businesses public and private are cashing in on the honest pursuit of education and failing to uphold their end of the bargain. That is, how many organizations take money from students pursuing an education as they have been instructed to do their whole lives and fail to equip them with the skills to pay for it?

On a related note, a fantastic book called “Crossing The Finish Line” describes how about 40% of college students in the U.S. fail to graduate within 6 years. I suggest reading it if you are curious about the details of who is failing.


Breaking Local Barriers in Public K-12 Education

Even though I was born in Reno, Nevada, I grew up studying (mostly) at american schools in Asia. There are few doubts as to how differently American students study from their Asian counterparts, but not quite as few when it comes to speculating why this is.

PISA is an acronym for Program for International Student Assessment, an assessment conducted by OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development), done once every three years, aimed at comparing scholarly abilities of 15-year olds from more than 50 countries world-wide. The PISA 2006 report shows that students in the U.S consistently fall behind those in other first-world nations by noticeable margins.

Given these numbers, it seems only contradictory, that the U.S is also a leader in higher education, with its universities taking the absolute majority of top-100 world university rankings as shown here (Times Higher Education) and here (Shanghai Jiao-Tung University). It is commonly believed that the amount of freedom and choice that exists in America’s educational systems is what bred some of the brightest minds ever to walk on the planet.

Freedom and choice in determining one’s academic directions thus play important roles in the formation and operation of America’s public K-12 education: de-centralized, lightly-regulated and highly autonomous down to the district, even to the school level. Compared to its first-world counterparts, the U.S is one of the very few first-world nations that afford such high degrees of control over education to its states and territories. While many advanced Asian economies such as Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan carefully assess and control academic and graduation requirements of their public schools, the U.S federal government relegates such responsibilities to local governments, leading to six different regional accreditation boards for primary and secondary education, and couple dozens of school standards for science and math education.

What does this all mean?

This means, we as a nation has almost no way of ensuring that our high school graduates have mastered adequates levels of reading, writing and quantitative skills necessary to advance in work and post-secondary academic settings. We have high school students graduating having taken AP Calculus, while many have barely completed Algebra I, which is the equivalent to the math standard of a 7th grader in many first-world countries. In fact, we almost have no idea if an Algebra I or Calculus class mean the same thing on the east coast and on the west coast.

A possibly misplaced paradigm of freedom in our public K-12 education systems has made the U.S a country with staggering differences in the levels of education between cities, between states and between ethnic groups. Is a de-centralized system that claims to shape education based on local and individual perceptions really for the best? a recent report challenges this view. I reckon that very few would actually agree that limiting children’s potentials with perceptions that surround them, is the best paradigm for running our school systems – why should students stop learning because their immediate community does not recognize the kinds of knowledge and skills required to succeed in today’s society?

Every child deserves to be informed of and offered the developments necessary to live rewarding and fulfilling lives in the 21st century.

The take-home message here, isn’t centralized control, and it certainly isn’t imposing homogeneity in learning styles. What we ought to consider, is how science and math education differ so drastically across states. What we ought to consider, is how graduation rates differ between ethnic groups on a staggering magnitude. What we ought to consider, is how local economic and cultural factors that cause schools to fail, can be investigated and remedied by resources beyond local borders.

A problem always calls for a solution. What we’re looking at is not just room for legislative progress, but also a warmbed for distance-learning technologies that deliver high-caliber educational resources to those whose local facilities struggle to provide.


How Education Made A Difference For Me

Life IS like  a box of chocolates! (You never know what you are going to get) Getting a high quality education however, greatly enhances the control you have over your future and can afford you the sweeter things in life. Which, if you are like me and have no inheritance, means a whole lot! Let me explain.

I grew up in a pretty run down neighborhood in my hometown, Gainesville, Fl. Let’s just say many kids in my neighborhood didn’t exactly think that college was a viable path in their lives. However, I was fortunate enough be in academically accelerated programs that allowed me to plainly see the effects of a quality education as easily as day (school) and night (home). More importantly, my peers in those programs were really interesting and diverse people, which gave me the opportunity learn a tremendous amount about the world and myself just by watching how different their approach to life was than mine.

One such program, the IB program is in my opinion, a tremendous example of the positive change a quality education can make in one’s life.  I went through the program in high school and although it was one of the toughest things I had ever done (I wanted to quit a couple of times because it is academically and mentally VERY challenging), the benefits were well worth the effort. I was admitted into one of the best schools in the country, The University of Florida, I got a free ride to college, I earned enough credits to skip my freshman year of college, and I learned how to manage my time in high school so that, I could balance work time and play time and got the most out of all my time in college.  And since I was a student at UF, you better believe I wanted to tailgate and attend as many football and basketball games as possible! Go Gators! I ended up using that extra year in college to study abroad in Paris and Rome, a totally surreal experience. In high school, I would have never been able to afford such luxuries. But earning the IB Diploma opened doors that I never thought possible.

The effect that IB had on my life and the chain of events that it set off were so meaningful to me that I knew I wanted to do something in education for a living and pass on the opportunity. Unfortunately, a career in education didn’t exactly pay well, so I chose a career in finance to get a better understand of how people value things.

To be honest, I had no clue what people did after K-12 schooling. But the IB program gave me the opportunity to ask questions and help steer me in a positive direction. As a kid, did you ever play the game, “Pin the Tail on the Donkey”? To play, you stand a few yards away from a picture of a donkey. Someone blindfolds you and spins you around a few times. When they stop spinning you, you are supposed to pin a tail on the image of the donkey you were previously in front of. Unfortunately, you no longer know where the donkey is because you are blindfolded and you have been spun around many times! But if your friends are generous, they grab you by the shoulders and steer you in the direction of the donkey when you start to stumble in the opposite direction.

I often times felt like the dizzy, blindfolded student but luckily my education helped steer me in a positive direction.

After working in the financial sector for five years I now intend to pursue my dream of working in the education industry. I am now doing my MBA at Carnegie Mellon University (another academically rigorous program, but I already got the IB Diploma so this can’t be that bad, right?). I am starting an education technology company that will help college tutors with no programming experience, create online tutorials that adapt to their students’ specific learning needs. The goal is to help those students who are pursuing a college degree but struggling to graduate. Why? Because by the year 2016 approximately 50 percent of all jobs will require a college education. However, almost half of all public college students fail to graduate in 6 years.

I met some really great people at CMU who are passionate about education. I look forward to working with them and letting you know how it goes. I still have a lot to learn about the education industry before I launch anything. But for the time being, I feel at ease knowing that pursuing a high quality education has steered me in the right direction. Freedom, here I come!

In The New Year, Make A Deal To Educate Yourself Out Of Unemployment.

After reading an article in CBSNEWS that was sent to me by TIE-Pittsburgh I thought it would be important to state the obvious.  Pursuing an education (either formally or informally) in something that interests you can lead to a higher quality of life (and not so coincidentally, higher wages…surprise!) The reason it is important for you to do so is because the employment market is rapidly changing. Those who don’t reinvent themselves may find it hard to maintain employment. The link to the article can be found here.

“In a recent study, 15-year-olds in the U.S. ranked 21st out of 30 countries in science scores.” However, it seems that developing countries are quickly turning to both formal and informal education strategies to rapidly develop the potential of their citizens. An effective combination of formal schooling and corporate training are providing more employment opportunities to citizens in some of the poorest nations. The result of course, is that citizens of developing countries that used to be unqualified for jobs in the U.S. seem to be gaining credentials quite rapidly.

From my personal experience working for a major corporation in the U.S., the on-the-job training is pretty much non-existent. I remember being told “This is the real world, figure it out yourself. Those who want to succeed always find a way.” I thought that it was an interesting approach but I was glad that the rest of the world was not so naive. Of course, not all industries or companies are created equally. I worked in the financial industry and we all know what happed there….

Countries that are developing their citizens using formal education and corporate training seem to be emulating what U.S. corporations did for its own employees. However, these countries have the benefit of learning from the mistakes of the U.S.

The question for the U.S. is, can it find a way to motivate it’s students to reinvent themselves (and the economy) so that we are not all competing for the same jobs? From my experience, innovation comes with a healthy dose of inspiration and education. Inspiration can come from anywhere. But education requires patience, practice and experience. What I love most about the U.S. is that you are allowed to think about whatever you want. Indeed, education is freedom. And with freedom comes innovation. But it all starts with education. Which is what I like most about our government’s latest campaign. “Educate to Innovate”

Lets do this!

With Their Whole Lives Ahead Of Them: Myth #4

Myth #4

Students who don’t graduate university understand fully the value of a college degree and the consequences and trade-offs of leaving school without one.

It’s unclear how a college student would be able to calculate the value of a college degree considering that our society does such an abysmal job of preparing them for college in the first place. Forget about enumerating the benefits of a college degree. There is no standard for high school students to learn about finance, or managing a large budget (ie financial aid) in fact achievements in math in our high schools is on average, pitiful. How can the average high school student be expected to value anything meaningfully? Incoming college students often depend on poorly trained guidance counselors for career advice and some sense of the value of a college education. Our education system rarely gives students the opportunity to experiment with what they like or what they are good at in K-12 but when they attend college they are suddenly expected to know what career path is best suited for them. Ironically, students are told to experiment in college, a place where the cost of failure is the highest.

College students are simply told – you need a college degree. In a society that prides itself on reasoning and questioning, this is pretty poor logic. Considering how economies around the globe are more intertwined than ever, labor markets from various countries will continue to affect one another. We owe it to our students to have a better explanation for why college is important and we with all the data available we should be able to enumerate how they can leverage their degree to achieve the quality of life they desire.

I do not think that the answer to rising tuition costs is simply to provide more financial aid. As a culture corporations and the government seem to be ok with throwing money at problems. Unless of course we are in a recession, then drastic cost-cutting measure are put in to effect. In order for our education system to remain competitive I think that one major component will be our ability to cut education costs via the use of technology today. Not when its too late and many more millions of students fail to graduate college or forgo the opportunity completely.

“25 percent of those who dropped out and 40% of those with degrees suggest as their top priority cutting the cost of college by a quarter.”

Page 22 of the report has some great suggestions for how to make the dream of achieving a college education more likely for more students. Among them include cutting the cost of attending college by 25 percent, making sure that students are taught good study habits, providing day care services for students that need it, providing the opportunity to talk with advisers who know all about the different college and job-training programs so that students can make an informed choice, and put more classes online.

In summary, expecting college students to figure everything out on their own is sure to lead our country down a dismal path of failure. We need open lines of communication and honest efforts to help college students find their way through higher education. What we should demand in return is that college students put in the effort to take advantage of that opportunity.

With Their Whole Lives Ahead of Them: Myth #3


Most students go through a meticulous process of choosing their college from an array of alternatives.

From my personal experience I know that this is not true. In fact, I was fortunate enough to grow up in a town with a flagship university (The University of Florida) which is where I attended college. I applied to college because that’s what all my friends were doing during my senior year of high school and up until that point I kind of just did what they did to get by.  I got lucky. But I can imagine that if you grew up in a town without a flagship university, adequate guidance or an academically rigorous high school experience your knowledge about college may be slim to none.

“Among those who did not complete college, two-thirds say they selected their school primarily for its convenient location, nearly 6 in 10 because its schedule worked with theirs and 57 percent because the tuition and fees were affordable.”

Navigating the college application process without any guidance is like walking blindfolded into a maze.