Photo of Morehouse College in an article by Allen West about student debt, college loans, and Robert F. Smith.

Generosity Vs. Participation Trophies

In Culture, Education, Front Page by Allen West

I will never discourage the generosity of an individual. I truly believe it is best to have more charitable donations for Americans, instead of dependence upon government largesse. As a classical liberal and constitutional conservative, I do believe in safety net programs for those who are climbing up the American ladder of success in the opportunity society. The purpose of the safety net is to enable those who have slipped off the ladder to bounce back up, and continue to climb. Sadly, there are those who do not believe in a safety net, but rather a hammock.

Furthermore, I am concerned about what is becoming a culture of the participation trophy in our society. It appears that there are those who believe that they are entitled to something, for actually not doing anything, other than showing up. Nowhere is this more evident than in the debate and discussion about free college education and student debt.

I think we need to come to an agreement, realizing that it was the Obama administration, through Obamacare, that nationalized our college student loans. Yes, the government basically became a sole source, single payer, of college student loans. It was in Obamacare that the government raised the interest rates on college student loans to 6%. Also, when one visits a college and university campus, you will find incredible, lavish, amenities, as well as high salaried, “tenured” professors.

I am one that believes we need more accountability in the student loan system in America. I mean, do we actually think it is a good idea for a student to amass debt for a degree in Gender Studies? The current system has money going to the school, and schools are more than willing to take those “free” government dollars.

But, where is the accountability of those taxpayer funds? Let me make myself very clear: my wife, Angela, and I have funded undergraduate degrees for Aubrey and Austen, and helped Aubrey with her Masters and Physician Assistant degrees. Frankly stated, we ain’t paying for anyone else’s kid to go to college. We funded our girls to pursue degree programs which lead to their being productive American citizens.

Recently we learned about the generous offer of one black billionaire, Robert F. Smith, during his commencement address at Atlanta’s Morehouse College.

As reported by Fox News:

“Smith, a billionaire investor who founded Vista Equity Partners, made the surprise announcement during the historically black college’s 135th commencement service. 

“We’re going to put a little fuel in your bus,” Smith told the graduates. “This is my class, 2019. And my family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans.”

Is this a generous offer, absolutely, but in the long-term, could this be a bad decision? First of all, I can bet that Mr. Smith is already receiving more commencement speech invitations for 2020. As well, the expectation may be to invite the wealthy in order to replicate what Mr. Smith has started. We must honestly ask: is this indicative of a very big, adult, participation trophy? What lesson are we really teaching these college graduates?

What happens when these graduates go out into the working world, and perhaps amass credit card debt, or other forms of debt? Will they walk into their employers’ office and request that their debt be erased, or increased compensation to cover their debt? Did what happen at Morehouse College lend itself to being a teachable moment about personal responsibility and accountability . . . or does it reinforce the entitlement mentality?

What do I think? It’s simple: what Mr. Smith did was a bad idea. It means that the kid who worked hard and had an A average in a tougher degree program is no different from the student who barely made it. It reinforces the idea of social egalitarianism, ya know, that idea of collective equality. It did nothing other than to inculcate into these young men that someone will be there to cover your financial obligations.

And, then, there is the congresswoman who can’t find a time not to speak.

“New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez weighed in on billionaire Robert F. Smith’s offer to pay off the student loan debt of the entire graduating class at Morehouse College, saying that while she applauded the gesture, college students shouldn’t be forced to rely on the generosity of others. 

“It’s important to note that people shouldn’t be in a situation where they depend on a stranger’s enormous act of charity for this kind of liberation, to begin with (aka college should be affordable), but it is an incredible act of community investment in this system as it is,” she tweeted Sunday.”

First of all, someone should be demanding a refund from Boston University for a cum laude degree in Economics for Rep. Ocasio-Cortez. And I agree with Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, students should not have to depend upon the generosity, charitable act, of a stranger . . . and that includes the American taxpayer. American students, and their parents, need to take responsibility for their own lives, and educational pursuits. I believe that student loans should be restricted to only those degree programs which are aligned with the critical competencies needed for the country and its economy. Who would sign off on a student loan for someone studying these feel-good programs which have no related employment opportunities. Yes, you can take philosophy and gender studies as an elective, but an actual major?

Remember, adults created the insidious participation trophy because they were concerned about the self-esteem of kids that didn’t get to play. Now, we are offering grown-up participation trophies by way of free college, dismissal of student loan debt, and other “freebies.” What ends up happening is that the development of our future generations is arrested because they are told someone else will take care of it for them.

If I am to pay for the college education or relieve the debt of students who are not my kids, then I will determine what degree they get. That is called ROI, return on investment. Mr. Smith, there are those who are singing your praises, I do not. It would have been better for you to offer a job to those who qualify in your Private Equity firm.

Sir, all you did was buy a bunch of participation trophies, but you probably feel good about doing it.

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