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HEARTS of the CITY | Navigating the Real World

A rotating panel of experts from the worlds of philosophy, psychology and religion offer their perspective on the dilemmas that come with living in Southern California.

May 07, 1997

Today's question: "With college tuition ever rising, fewer outright grants and graduates facing unprecedented loan and credit card debt, are there ethical grounds for tax breaks and state-run tuition savings plans, or should students be seen as the principal beneficiaries of an education in a market economy and bear the full burden?"

Richard J. Mouw

President, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena

"The urgent reason for supporting such educational subsidies is obvious to those of us who are involved in the business of higher education: student indebtedness is becoming an overwhelming problem. But the reasons for support also go deeper. Many of our most pressing problems today require the commitments of people who have been educated for areas of service that will not make them wealthy--and probably won't even provide them with the means to pay off their educational debts. To invest in providing this kind of moral and spiritual expertise for our culture is not only compatible with the values and goals of a market economy, it is the kind of investment opportunity we can ill afford to miss."

Rabbi Elliot N. Dorff

Rector and professor of philosophy, University of Judaism, Los Angeles

"In Jewish law, parents have the primary duty to educate their children, then grandparents, and then the community as a whole. Public schools were thus established in the Jewish community as early as the first century. In modern times, Jewish immigrants to this country pulled themselves up by their bootstraps largely through the availability of public education. Public support of education is therefore an integral part of Jewish tradition and history. In our own time, when advances in technology require ever more schooling for Americans to be able to compete in a worldwide market, it is not only moral but wise for government to amend the tax laws to help make college and graduate education more accessible."

Sharon Presley

Executive Director, Resources for Independent Thinking, Oakland

"The question posits a false either-or: either students pay the full costs of tuition or have a government solution. Without student grants, college becomes a place for the rich only, which is unacceptable in a democratic society. But as the virtually bankrupt Social Security system demonstrates, government-administered programs are woefully incompetent. We need more creative solutions that will make private-sector participation in funding more attractive. Another important question to ask: Why is the cost of college so high? When I was a professor, I saw many examples of wasteful spending, including tremendously over-inflated administrator's salaries, especially in public universities. Let's apply critical thinking to the problem instead of always assuming the answer is more government."

Compiled by LARRY B. STAMMER, Times religion writer

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