Improve education, change the world

Our nation faces several difficult challenges: a climate crisis, an economic meltdown, terrorist threats and insurance costs that are so high that many people cannot afford basic health care, to name a few. Tonight, we will hear our vice presidential candidates discuss their policy initiatives and plans to alleviate these crises, but likely we will hear little discussion of the only action that can truly sustain our ability to confront challenges: vastly improving education.

In the long term, education is the only viable solution to our problems. The changing nature of the world is unpredictable. In a state with nuclear weapons, an environmental crisis and a globalized economy, the only way Americans can continue to prosper in relative safety is to educate people to innovate and solve problems. If we want to compete with countries like China, with more than one billion people who can contribute to their strategic planning, we need to do a better job of educating our population. We need to make sure that every individual who can contribute to the country’s success is given the tools to do so.

As students at one of the nation’s elite academic institutions, one thing is clear to us: We are not the brightest and most-deserving students; rather, we are only some of them. Many students did not even have the opportunity to dream of applying to a school like Washington University because the tuition is so far out of their reach. Many more knew they would not be able to afford a college education at even the cheapest university. The price of college education has created a society where the American dream of social mobility is not possible for many. The United States pays a high price for its education price tags, when for economic reasons some of its most gifted citizens fail to reach their full potential.

Washington University has a very specific role in bringing the opportunity for advanced higher education to the nation’s entire population. In its Strategic Plan for Excellence, Washington University claims it would like to allow its students to graduate debt free. In order to improve itself and contribute to keeping our nation stable and productive, Washington University needs to make this goal its top priority.  Rather than focusing on construction projects, Washington University should begin a capital campaign with the sole purpose of improving the University’s financial aid. This is absolutely the best way for Washington University to fulfill its role as an institution of higher learning in a democratic society.

The United States government must make education a priority as well. Though presidents are often most concerned with security and economic conditions because these issues are reflected in public opinion polls, the presidency is about much more than catering to the public: a patriotic president does what is right for his or her country. The only way to advance and achieve security in an unstable world is to educate the public.

In order to improve higher education, the government needs to provide significantly more funding for education in the form of grants and loans. Additionally, it needs to make primary education a firm priority. In St. Louis, for example, public schools lost their accreditation because they did not meet proficiency standards. Good primary education should not be dependent on where a person lives or how much money their family makes. Offering good primary education for everyone will require increasing the standards for becoming a teacher, which will require increasing teachers’ salaries. The government must work to solve this problem by making education a priority and reflecting that priority with increased funding.

Whether on a small or large scale, offering more opportunity for Americans to pursue higher education is the surest way to protect our nation’s welfare. Both Washington University and the United States government need to put aside other projects in favor of a renewed focus on making education affordable and on giving Americans what is due to them.

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