No Thanks, Mr. Brokaw (A Rant)

I’ve had something in the back of my mind since I got home from the SHRM conference, and I am going to have to get it off my chest. If you’re not in the mood for a little rant, feel free to check out The Oatmeal for something funny.

One of the general session speakers at the conference was Tom Brokaw. I was not sure what to expect from the man when he got up to speak to an audience full of HR professionals, but I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. He’s Tom Brokaw, people!

So he gets up there and starts discussing politics, world events, history, and makes it all tie into the economic situation that we’re facing today. It was an excellent confluence of topics, and I really was enjoying it.

Until he got all wacky on me. 

At one point he started talking about requiring everyone to work in a public service position after school in order to “give back.”

That, my friends, is a load of crap. 

Would you like to give back? Here’s how you do it.

Become a productive citizen. 

If you want to take it a step farther (and this isn’t for everyone), then start a small business. Small businesses make up the majority of this country’s employer base.

Think about it. What better way is there to “give back” than to create something that employs other people and provides food for their families?

Many people at the conference cheered when Mr. Brokaw made his suggestion, but I cringed. People have forgotten what the government’s role was originally intended to be.

Contrary to what you might have heard, it’s not the government’s job to force people to “give back.” It’s the government’s job to provide roads, defend our country, make sure the laws are enforced, and get the heck out of the way for the individuals in this country to be successful.

Nobody seems to understand the concept of personal responsibility anymore. You make choices, and you deal with any consequences (positive or otherwise).

Like I said, I’ve been pondering this since the conference last month, and when I read this week about the college students marching to protest high student loan balances, I couldn’t contain myself any longer.

Seriously. Students are protesting the loans they signed up for. Really?!? It’s like they forgot the entire decision-making process where they said, “I want to go to college x. It will cost me y. I have z. Now I will borrow money to pay for my own college.”

Here’s a little tip for those students who must have missed out on the Government, Economics, and Civics courses in high school: it isn’t the government’s job to give you a free degree. How about getting a job and paying for it? A lot of us have, and you don’t see us marching and griping because we have $100k in student loans around our necks.

Here’s a solution for you. It’s hard to comprehend, but I’ll help you out.

  1. Find a school that has the degree program you are looking for
  2. Decide if you have the money to pay for it
  3. If you do not have the money, you have two options
    1. find a cheaper school-a degree is a degree; nobody really cares where you went to school
    2. wait until you do  have the money before you start taking classes

Seriously, it’s that easy.

I got a degree for relatively little money and no debt. There was no magic formula involved. I attended local schools with reasonable tuition rates. I found a company that would reimburse me for my tuition (I wish I had started there when I was a freshman, not a junior!), applied for scholarships, and worked full time while I finished school. And you know what? My employer doesn’t care where I went to school as long as I know what I’m doing.

Too many people think that a college degree is a silver bullet for a great job and they will borrow up to their eyeballs to make that degree happen. It’s not. While a degree can help you to find a job, it is not going to automatically entice the employer to pay you more or give you additional responsibilities. Until you give them reason to believe that you’re halfway intelligent, the degree serves little purpose.

Be accountable for your own decisions. If you’re looking for a job, you’re going to need a measure of personal responsibility to be successful. 

Sorry for the rant today, but I get all fired up about a few things, and this is one of them. We’ll be back with our regular HR topics on Monday!

17 thoughts on “No Thanks, Mr. Brokaw (A Rant)

  1. akaBruno

    Interesting perspective, but a history lesson is in order.

    College education used to be much more affordable, and in some cases, free (i.e., provided by the government). For example, City College of New York was founded in 1847 providing children of immigrants and the poor access to free higher education based on academic merit alone. This continued up to 1970, allowing thousands upon thousands (including my father) to gain education opportunities they might not otherwise have had.

    Second, The Morrill and Hatch Acts in the 1800 provided land and Federal financial support for universities. State support for public universities has been slashed dramatically over decades. As with CCNY, the purpose of a public university was to provide low cost opportunities for higher education. Prior to 1970, it would not be uncommon for at least half of a public universities revenues came from tax dollars, that has now been reduced to less than 20% in most states. Nationally, higher education budgets were trimmed 7.6% in 2012, New Hampshire had the largest cut, with a funding reduction of 41.3%. Arizona\’s cut ranked second at 25.1%, and Louisiana ranked third at 18.5%.

    Third, because state support has been slashed, costs have shifted to individuals, and tuition increases far exceed the inflation rate. Washington State University has seen double digit (16%) increases the past two years. What might have been “affordable” when one entered his or her freshman year, becomes exorbitant 2 years later.

    Fourth, much of the debate and protest you cited was about the doubling of interest on loans. You sign up for a loan at x amount, and suddenly it doubles on you? Not what many of those students were expecting.

    I don’t even want to begin to rant about what working does to the quality of work students turn in while attending college full-time.

    Higher education used to be seen as an investment by the public. We help support your education and you, in turn, use that knowledge to build businesses and make the world a better place. Many of the great business leaders of today might not have been here if it wasn’t for the investment of federal and state tax dollars into our higher education system.

  2. Alison Green / Ask a Manager

    Great post, Ben! And I say that as someone who has spent my whole career in nonprofits and thus might be expected to argue the opposite, but I agree with you 100%.

    akaBruno, I think you’re talking about Stafford loans, right? The interest rate actually didn’t go up (Congress extended the discounted rate) — but I’d be very surprised if students don’t agree to those terms when they sign up for one (since it would otherwise be illegal to change the interest rate on a loan if the recipient didn’t agree to that prospect from the beginning; I assume it’s in the paperwork).

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  4. Sandra

    Ben – loved your Rant – you are spot on and I completely agree with everything you wrote. Keep up the great work!

  5. HrRemix

    Hi Ben, Excellent post. As someone who is still paying off my student loans it really ticks me off to see people out there protesting and wanting to get there student loans wiped out. And yes, they are clear that with some types of loans, the interest can go up or down.

  6. Michael D. Haberman

    He did accomplish one goal….he made you think about. He said we need big ideas. He suggested one. You reacted to it and thought about. That is how you get more ideas….suggest one and hope people react.

  7. megan

    I am also frustrated with the complaining about student loans. Sure the cost of college is ridiculous, but you SIGNED UP FOR THE LOANS! If you couldn’t afford the monthly payment, you shouldn’t have taken the loan. If I had known that my loan would be wiped clear, maybe I would have put myself in debt. Instead, like you, I worked full time and went to a local university. I came out of it debt free. Personal responsibility seems to be failing the millennial generation.

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