Who Deserves an Education?

American education has been the gold standard for the world largely because of its commitment to provide education to all its citizens, regardless of their potential for success. Education has been seen as the wave that truly lifts all boats in society. All persons are better off in life with education, because it enhances their lives and ability to succeed. Today, that concept is being discarded on the altar of fiscal necessity. I would like to take a moment to discuss with you the plight of the school of which I am chair as we have tried to help needy students, and the result of those efforts on my school. I will be discussing students Alpha a male, and Beta a female attending this school from 2007 until present. For obvious reasons, neither the name of the students or the college will be given.In 2008, I became a school chair for a local four year college. It was at that time I met students Alpha and Beta. Alpha was a young male in his middle twenties with significant learning delays, but no other physical impairments. Student Beta was a female, also in her twenties, but not so fortunate. In addition to learning delays, she had significant speech, and physical impairments. Both were already students in the school before I accepted the position as Chair. Both had been successful in most of their classes, to that point. There was some question arising at the time about the virtue of continuing the education of students such as these. The question was asked; would they benefit from education? At that time, my response is the same as it is now. Everyone benefits from education. I was successful in the argument, but not without some reservations on the part of management both locally and nationally. Both students were allowed to continue their education, and I began actively monitoring their progress. Each required different levels of support, and types of support.Student Alpha was seen by his class mates and school management as slow, and not able to keep up with class regimens. I taught him in several classes, and will acknowledge he needed additional time, but with some additional effort, he could handle the class loads and material. He had great difficulty with writing. This was not a problem unique to him, but one that many young students have when they come from secondary schools with poor staff and equipment. He was, and continues to be a very personable young man, full of eagerness to learn, and hope that he would succeed in life. Alpha completed his courses for a Bachelor’s Degree in 2010. His writing difficulties and other limitation have made his search for employment challenging, but manageable, although as yet unsuccessful. His educational experience has left a very positive mark on him, as he is now reading better, and working hard to overcome his other deficits so that he will be better able to compete. As he is fond of saying, “he will not let other people ruin his dream of success.” The key to this student is not the student’s attitude, but the lack of a job, which counts against the college under existing Department of Education standards, and corporate standards. No job means, no successful student. By those standards, this student and many others like him should not be admitted to colleges, and if they are, as one person put it, “They should be flunked out immediately”. The impact of this type of student on the college will be seen and discussed shortly, but now let us look at student Beta and her journey through education.Student beta not only had significant learning limitations, but significant physical impairments. She suffered from speech difficulties that made her difficult to understand. Sometimes she would have to repeat things several times to be understood. There were also problems with mental health as a result of feeling that others found her unacceptable because of her appearance. You see, she could walk only with the use of a walker. She was living, and continues to live in assisted live facilities more or less independently. Despite these handicaps, student Beta managed to maneuver her walker daily to catch a bus and attend class. The use of the walker was in itself problematic. The use of the walker marked up the tile in the hallways, creating complaints from management. To solve the problem, several tennis balls were modified and attached to the walker to alleviate the scuffing of hallway tile. In the winter, the walker presented another problem. Snow and ice made it difficult and dangerous to use. As a result, student Beta would often miss an entire quarter in the winter. However, as soon as the winter was gone, like a spring flower, she was back in class. She would often catch a bus to class, and have to spend several hours waiting at school before she could get one to return home. She was seldom idle. During her wait times she was working in the library, or getting tutoring from other instructors or mentors. Although she was completing her courses, there were some failures. These resulted in a renewed evaluation of her status, and additional cries for her dismissal. With the help of a sympathetic Associate Dean, we were able to get enough information to put together the documentation for an Educational Plan, and keep her in school. With luck, and a lot of effort and support from many faculty members, she will graduate with her Bachelor’s Degree in 2012.But the problem does not end there. Upon graduation, she becomes a statistic against the college, and my school in particular. Although her life is greatly improved and enhanced by education, will she be employable? If she isn’t, the improvements in her life are meaningless. I started this article to look at the impact education has had on these students and also the impact that honoring the commitment to educate all our population has had on the school. Because students like these are often less employable, they are counted as failures in the grand scheme of education. It is not the improvement in the quality of life of the person education affects, but only the return on investment; their ability to repay the money they borrowed to become educated through having a high paying job that counts. Both students Alpha and Beta are better people because of their education. Their lives will be greatly enriched, and society is the better for it. Yet the effort to educate them is a failure. Last week I was informed that classes scheduled to start in my school, the one that foster students Alpha and Beta would be canceled. The reason given is the employment rate for graduates is too low. No future classes will be allowed to start, and students currently enrolled in the program will be moved through to completion, or shifted to online classes. The corporation has decided they are not worth educating. I disagree. Education is what makes life worth living. I feel privileged and honored to have had the opportunity to teach those students and the hundreds like them that will have richer lives because of their education. I wish each and every one of them the very best in all their endeavors. As for me, the old adage I learned as an engineer truly applies; No good deed goes unpunished.