The value of Bright Futures and majors cannot be measured in median income

Dad was one of the smartest people I know.

He didn’t just read. He read Latin and all the works of Shakespeare. He did math puzzles. Everything for fun.

When I was little and heard that he went to college to be an engineer, I wondered why he had given up on such a cool job. I mean, what could beat driving a train?

He explained that he planned to be a different kind of engineer. But at some point, he changed major. Maybe to philosophy. I don’t remember this detail. I just know he ended up getting several degrees, becoming a Baptist pastor, missionary on an Indian reservation and, for the last job of his life, a hospital chaplain.

And after having three kids in early childhood, my mom went back to school and got her masters in social work.

A minister and a social worker.

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It wasn’t like we were poor. But I’ve always been aware that most of my friends’ families have more money.

They often had new cars. We’ve always had used cars, often with a bit of rust on the outside and the ever-present potential for mechanical issues on the inside. My friends wore the coveted brands of jeans and shoes. I had imitations. And I thought my friends had better family vacations – although I realized since then that I wouldn’t trade our family trips, driving all over America, for anything.

I sometimes wondered why my parents didn’t choose higher paying careers, why they forced themselves to be so frugal, why they didn’t make life a little easier for themselves – and, OK, for their three. children.

I wasn’t as proud of them as I should have been. But even as a kid, it angered me when society seemed to say that the value of a career choice could be measured in dollars.

It was good that the parents of other children made more money for what they did, that they had better things. But it didn’t improve them or their career choices.

I guess I still have a bit of that resentment. Cause the other day I realized that was part of what made me angry State Senator Dennis Baxleychange efforts Bright futures – the program that rewards high school students in Florida who achieve a certain level of grades and test scores with scholarships for public schools.

When Baxley (R-Ocala) presented a bill It would have reduced Bright Futures for majors the state deemed less worthy of such financial assistance, I immediately thought of the current generation – especially my daughter, a major in theater at the University of Central Florida.

But soon after, I thought of my parents.

Baxley amended Senate Bill 86 this week. After being rejected by students and parents, he withdrew the most controversial part of Bill 86 from the Senate. If adopted – and it broke another hurdle on Tuesday when it was approved 6-3 by a Senate subcommittee – it would no longer reduce scholarships for students who choose majors that the state has decided not to “lead directly to employment”.

But it still ties Bright Futures funding levels to the annual credit allocation process, removing a promise made by the Florida Legislature just three years ago. And beyond that, there is always the underlying notion that the value of a major – to students, taxpayers, and society – can be measured by the straightness of the path to a job and the size of the income. annual.

America is full of people who have walked a winding path to success. And not all of this success is measured in dollars.

In a letter to his colleagues in the Senate, Baxley wrote: “My goal in introducing Senate Bill 86 was to initiate the discussion on the cost and value of degrees and programs within our education system. superior.”

Baxley wrote that while students should be encouraged to pursue their passions, “the fact remains (sic) that higher education comes at a significant cost to students and taxpayers and that there must be at least some element of planning. career involved.

Baxley pointed to his own college experience as being part of the SB 86 base. He majored in sociology at Florida State, graduating in 1974 with a degree he said was worth about “two dollars and a cup of. coffee in most towns ”. So he went back to school to become a funeral director.

The bill says the goal is “to help students and families make more informed decisions about educational opportunities and future employment opportunities.”

It asks the state to publish an online dashboard presenting, by academic discipline, information such as median salaries, median student loan debt, debt-to-income ratio and estimated monthly loan payment as a percentage of the loan. gross monthly income.

I am all for schools that make career planning a part of every major. And it makes sense that students fully understand their career prospects.

But in Baxley’s original plan, the state would have given some majors more value – in the form of greater financial aid – than those that ended up on the state’s majors blacklist.

In theory, this would have been done to help the students, to prevent them from making a horrible mistake and getting into debt. In reality, it would have had other consequences as well, digging a deeper hole for those who still chose to enter a lower paying field.

In the current state of Bright Futures, a bright student who wants to major in social work, for example, can attend a public school and graduate with relatively low debt levels. If we reduce this financial aid, we are not only hurting this student by increasing his debt. We keep students away from majors whose value cannot be measured in annual income. And if we do that, we are hurting society.

This is what was missing – and still is missing – from the premise of Baxley’s bill.

With that thought, my father should have stayed with his original middle finger and become an engineer. Not just for himself. For his family, for his community.

Do not mistake yourself. We need and want to encourage young people to get into engineering.

My younger sister did. She majored in engineering and has worked for General Motors for 30 years. Dad was proud of her. And I’m sure he would be proud of his two kids, both in college, studying to be engineers.

But I have to say that while my teenager would have liked to have had a few pairs of proper jeans and sneakers, I’m glad dad didn’t stick to engineering or choose another path of career that could have paid even more. And I know a lot of people would echo that – in the places he worked and in the communities where we lived.

So let’s have what Senator Baxley calls a “cost and value discussion” of college majors. But let’s not say that value can be measured by its direct path to median income.

About Stephen Arrington

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