President Obama is shamelessly pandering to college students by offering them more federal financial aid, aid they are not likely to be able to pay back. The coming financial aid crash is a problem, of course, but there is an even bigger problem looming in the background than student defaults. Conservative thinkers are justly worried about the obvious problems associated with federal financial aid to college students, problems such as the inability of students to repay their government backed loans when so few jobs are available to new college graduates and a president trying to buy votes on someone else’s credit.
These are legitimate concerns. However, there is an even more pressing concern that critics of federal financial aid are overlooking: the fact that government aid to college students is undermining not just their work ethic, but their character. Federal financial aid is turning many of America’s college students into spoiled, entitled brats lacking even a semblance of personal responsibility or even a hint of a work ethic. For an example of what I mean, the reader need only think of the Occupy Movement.
Too many of today’s college students graduate without ever learning some valuable lessons, lessons that would have helped them lead successful lives as productive, contributing citizens after college. The lessons in question include self-reliance, sacrifice, personal responsibility, thrift, diligence, and perseverance. These are lessons I learned by working my way through college without the crutch of government assistance. I am concerned about an America that will be led by people who have not learned these lessons.
I began college in 1968. There were government grants and loans available at the time courtesy of that master dispenser of federal largesse, Lyndon Baines Johnson. However, as an 18 year old on my own, providing shelter, food, and transportation for myself took precedence over everything else. Going to college was optional, but going to work full time was not. For me college would have to be a part-time, pay-as-you-go endeavor undertaken at night and on weekends. In August of 1968, I began an academic journey—more accurately an arduous trek—that would eventually lead to a Baccalaureate, four Masters, and a Doctorate degree, all of them pursued part-time while working full-time and all of them paid for without government assistance.
While I readily admit it took me longer to complete college than my classmates who enjoyed the temporary “benefits” of government grants and loans, upon graduation I had some things my government subsidized contemporaries lacked: several years of valuable work experience, a good job, and no debt. But even more important than these factors, I had a can-do attitude, a positive work ethic, and an understanding of the concept of personal responsibility. As things turned out, these characteristics have been more important to my success in life than the content of all the courses I took in college combined.
At the time, I did not view having to work my way through college as a benefit. In fact, I often resented having to work all day, attend classes at night, and study on weekends while my government subsidized friends were enjoying all of the social amenities of college. I did not realize at the time that in addition to the content of my courses, I was learning how to work hard, smart, and long to achieve a worthy goal. I did not realize that I was learning to sacrifice in the present to assure a better future. I did not realize that I was learning to be thrifty, self-reliant, and diligent. I did not realize that I was learning to persevere through long hours and difficult times. I did not realize these things then, but I do now and am thankful beyond measure for these hard-earned lessons. They have served me well. Thanks to federal financial aid, many of today’s college students are not learning these lessons.