Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, July 4, 2014

Learning disability

View From The Cheap Seats

William O. "Bill" James, Jr.

I have always believed that education is the great equalizer. It does not solve all of a person’s problems, but a good education can go a long way toward leveling the playing field a person finds himself playing on over the course of his life.

Education is definitely a key ingredient to financial security. If I am correct in my assumptions about education, why is it that we as a country make it so hard for our children and young people to get a good education?

There are a lot of jobs out there that do not require a college degree. While that may be true, the number of jobs that require some type of specialized training is increasing. By specialized training, I mean something beyond the education found in high school. Higher education is not for everybody, but why do we make it so hard for those that want it to get it? Tuition rates are rising every year, and financial aid seems to be getting harder and harder to get.

Now, the leaders of our great country have decided to allow the interest rates on student loans to double in a time when interest rates are at an unprecedented low. How does that make sense? At a time when we should be making it easier for people to go to college, we are putting an albatross of high interest debt around their neck that will be with them for decades. 

One thing that makes this problem even worse is the basic fact that young people rarely understand the gravity and the weight of the obligations they are taking on in order to get their education. The albatross of debt presents itself as a beautiful companion, making life easier for the time being, while masking the pain that it will bring in the future. This problem is only exacerbated during economic downturns when job availability and pay rates are depressed.

Nothing about this diatribe should be taken as an indication that I think that people should not work for their education if their families are otherwise unable to pay for it. I worked full time at Tyson’s cooking spaghetti for TV dinners my last two years of undergrad, and then I clerked all the way through law school. There’s nothing wrong with working for what you want.

It’s only to say that we should at least treat our students as well as we treat big businesses in this country. Saddling the next generation with student loan debts accruing at higher rates than necessary is arguably unconscionable, especially when you consider that it’s almost impossible to get student loans discharged in bankruptcy.

It’s time to reconsider the way we look at education. Education is not only the great equalizer here in the United States but also worldwide. We’re a great country, but the failure to keep our eye on the simple premise that education is the key to long term success can’t be good for us. I have no doubt that, intellectually, we as a country know how important education is to our future. The problem is that knowing and not doing is the same as not knowing. That is true for countries and individuals alike, especially those of us sitting way up in the CHEAP SEATS!

This column was originally published in the Hamilton County Herald on July 5, 2013.

Bill James is a criminal defense attorney and co-founder of the James Law Firm with offices in Little Rock, Conway and Fayetteville, Ark. He may be reached at Bill@JamesFirm.com.