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Cheapening of College Education

March 13, 1985

I read with great interest, and more than a little trepidation, Samuelson's article about federal grant and loan programs for college students.

I must say I had no idea my college education was so cheap, but I congratulate Samuelson for bringing to the debate the kind of intellectual firepower that Education Secretary William J. Bennett's position has been sadly lacking.

However, I must object to Samuelson's major themes. What is all this talk about "dethroning the notion" that a college education should be open to all? Would Samuelson (and by association, Bennett), have us return this field to the way it was in the early part of this century, when a college education was the exclusive territory of the wealthy?

I should hope not, for it must be recognized that if only the wealthy have the access to the means by which authority and position to make decisions are obtained, then only the wealthy shall rule. Such a view would have in the late 19th Century been termed "social Darwinism," or simply, "them what has, gets," I pray our society has not retreated this far.

Also, I object to the main thrust of Samuelson's article, which is that college aid subverts educational quality and is responsible for the general decline in aptitude at the secondary educational level. This is absurd. Interconnected though the education system may be, the idea that colleges today coddle mediocrity is unrealistic.

If a student such as myself fails to maintain at least a B average, regardless of need, he will be cut off from state financial aid programs; the likelihood of his loss of federal aid will have probably already been determined by the fact that he never had any in the first place, thanks to the already-strict federal eligibility requirements.

I suppose I should have expected my future chances of financial aid for law school to be threatened, voting as I did for Walter Mondale. However, I must confess I fear even more that a government that is so willing to cut off nickel-and-dime programs such as this, while eagerly feeding the monolith that is our military-industrial complex, will find it comparatively easy to put the resultantly dropped middle-class students to another use, like invading Nicaragua.

THOMAS KAHL Riverside

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