Oliver: Education has Value

The following opinion piece by President Rob Oliver appears in the Monday, March 26, edition of the Argus Leader:

Education has more value than 'stuff'

I think it’s time to have a serious talk about values.

What do you value in your life?

For me, above all, I value the relationships I’ve been blessed with. My wife, my children, my extended family, and my friends have all helped shape me into who I am today. And, for their love, support and guidance, I am eternally grateful.

Beyond my relationships and my faith in God, what I value most is my education. It was, as I’ve often said, what provided me with a coveted membership to the lifelong club of eternal curiosity. The more I’ve learned, the more I’ve questioned, discussed and explored — all in an effort to seek solutions that I hope will one day make a difference in the lives of others.

So I can’t help but feel exasperated at the news that, in an effort to save about $6 billion annually, Congress is proposing to allow interest rates on Federal Stafford loans to double from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent.

At the same time the government is proposing to charge our young people more —twice as much more — to learn the technical, creative and critical reasoning skills they’ll need to pilot our country tomorrow, the rates on items most categorize as elements of the “American Dream” — homes, cars and property — are at historic lows.

According to bankrate.com, an aggregator of financial rate information, the average interest rate for a 30-year fixed mortgage ranges from 3.80 percent to 4.70 percent. The average rate for an auto loan ranges from 3.25 percent to 3.77 percent (that’s the average; countless dealerships offer 0 percent financing).

In other words, if Congress doesn’t act soon, it will be cheaper to finance a home than it will be to finance an education.

I’ve always believed that public policy was intended to reflect the values of its citizenry. If we’re willing to essentially double the cost of borrowing for an education — which according to the South Dakota Board of Regents’ FY2011 Factbook has been proven to “improve voter participation, volunteerism and civic engagement, and raise aggregate income” — while continuing to decrease the cost of tangible items, are we in effect saying we value “stuff” more than knowledge and creativity?

If that’s the case, what does that tell us about our society?

Don’t we, as citizens, have a moral responsibility to leave this country a better place than what we found it?

I think we do. I also believe that the only way to ensure a strong and lasting economy while building a civil society is through education. Without education, how will the young people of today find better ways to preserve our environment, guarantee equality, extend life, advocate for humanity, strengthen our communities, share cultures and advance technology tomorrow?

I’d like to publicly thank U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson, who is co-sponsoring legislation to keep Federal Stafford Loan interest rates at the lower level. And I’d like to ask each of you, my fellow citizens, to join me in lobbying our elected officials to support Johnson’s efforts.

Let’s send a message to our elected officials about what we really value in America.