Last week I was walking through the mall when a billboard caught my eye. It wasn't the attractive, larger-than-life teenage girl who was smiling at me from the ad that grabbed my attention. It was the words written below the smiling face.
The text of the ad ran like this: $100 billion is a lot of money. That's how much the U.S. Department of Education has available to help you pay for college.
This to me was more brazen than any other sex-filled ad in the mall. Here, in the midst of our nation's $14 trillion plus debt crisis and in the face of mounting deficits, the Department of Education is buying ad space in a mall to brag about just how much money it has to help kids pay for college.
The hard truth is that many college-aged kids are struggling to figure out how to pay for college. Scholarships are few, costs are high, the pressure to get a college diploma is intense. And in the midst of all of this, the government is handing out money. So, of course, college kids are taking it.
I'm sensitive to this dilemma because just a few months ago I was in the same boat as a lot of these kids. College is expensive these days, especially private colleges. But to lean on the already-mortgaged government for assistance is completely irresponsible.
I made up my mind back when I was searching for college funds that I wasn't going to accept state or federal financial aid. The rationale to take the money and run was pretty strong - if I didn't, someone else would, so I wouldn't be saving any money - but I didn't want to carry the weight of knowing I accepted handouts while our government reenacted the financial equivalent of the Hindenburg disaster.
Last week, I missed out on the news that Obama's proposed 2012 budget makes cuts to the Pell grant program. But a friend's status on facebook quickly clued me in. My college-aged friend was angry that Obama had proposed the cuts to federal financial aid. Or, in her words, "Obama, I know our country is hurting for money, but cutting the funding for college kids (is) NOT the freaking solution."
I hated to say it, but cutting federal funding for college kids is the solution, at least a small part of it.
Life requires making tough choices. Or at least it did before the feds came along to create a government-sponsored utopia. Instead of attending community college or suspending plans for higher education for several years to earn money, college students can now fulfill their dreams on the taxpayer dime, because the government is there with handouts and interest-free loans. But, like everything the government is involved with, the money has run out.
Now that the government-sponsored utopia is crashing and burning, the reality of hard choices has been reintroduced into the equation, and my pampered generation doesn't like it. That we can't attend the college of our choice with help from taxpayer money is outrageous to us.
What happened to pulling oneself up by his or her own bootstraps, you ask? Well, we're so used to Uncle Sam picking us up that we've forgotten how to use those bootstraps.
Helping its citizens pay for college isn't one of the important duties of the federal government. Balancing the budget, on the other hand, is. Once the President and Congress accomplish the tall order of erasing our deficit, then I would support giving a moderate amount to supplement furthering higher education in America.
But the budget isn't balanced. In fact, we're further away from accomplishing that task than ever before. So when I see a billboard in the mall promoting all of the taxpayer money being spent on college education, it annoys me.
Call me draconian, but I don't think that the Department of Education should purchase ad space in a mall to advertise the money it has to help people pay for college. And for that matter, I don't think, in our current fiscal situation, that the government should help pay for college at all.