Student loan debt, not adversity scores, most pressing issue for colleges

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The College Board recently introduced the SAT Adversity Score. It gives special admissions consideration to socioeconomically-challenged students, on top of SAT scores. For example, students living in zip codes associated with poverty would receive an admissions advantage.

But the problem is that students living in zip codes associated with wealth would receive an admissions disadvantage, despite scoring higher on the SAT.

Tinkering with the college admissions process this way is worse than another bad education proposal—providing free college for all. Under free college plans, students would still be able to compete by merit for limited seats in our most prestigious universities—the place where the best and brightest should be attending, regardless of race, ethnicity or zip code. But with the SAT Adversity Score, lower-scoring SAT students could take seats away from higher-scoring students.

In this country, there simply isn’t the luxury to do that. It’s becoming a matter of national security to improve education efforts. According to the 2019 Condition of Education report presented to Congress, the United States ranks 25th in the developed world in average science scores of 15-year-old students and 40th in mathematics.

There’s a better way to help low socioeconomic students succeed. Assuming these students are carrying larger student loan debt than their wealthier peers, attention should be focused on how to retire that debt after they’ve graduated.

Total student loan debt is at $1.5 trillion. According to the U.S. Department of Education, the average debt is $28,500 for a bachelor’s degree, $84,300 for a graduate degree, and $186,600 for law or medical school graduates. Then, add high interest rates.

While $28,500 doesn’t seem insurmountable, it’s an average—meaning there are many more with much higher debts. And not everyone receives their dream job after graduation. Too often, graduates are underemployed.

There’s a program in place to forgive remaining federal student loan debt after 10 years, if the individual agrees to work full-time in a qualifying government position and completes 120 student loan payments.

A similar approach could work by extending repayment expectations in the, sometimes, more lucrative private sector. Forgive remaining federal student loan debt after 20 years, if 240 student loan payments are made.

Then make all student loan forgiveness programs non-taxable, meaning the amount forgiven should not be considered as taxable income. Some would need another loan to pay the Internal Revenue Service.

It shouldn’t come without consequences, though—consequences to universities. Data on student loan struggles should be made available during the college admissions visit.

For example, students interested in a finance degree from Iowa State University will find a statistics page that states that 98 percent of finance graduates are working, continuing their education, or serving in the military within six months of graduation and that the average starting salary for finance graduates is $48,294.

There should be a required, third statistic that is specific to the university and its degree program—the percentage of students who either defaulted on their federal student loans or had their loans forgiven after working 10 years in the public or 20 years in the private sector. Students need to see this data on the same page where universities boast about percentages employed and average starting incomes.

A reality check.

A national ranking of universities with the overall lowest student loan default and/or forgiveness of debt would also be helpful. There are a few sources trying to gather and provide this information, but it needs to be standardized and more readily available.

In a competitive push to be ranked, colleges would become more mindful in its financial aid departments, more committed to preparing students for economic success, and more conscientious about delivering an affordable education.

It would also cause the admissions process to be more selective. It would be tougher, not easier, to get into college.

And maybe it should.

Something has gone horribly wrong in the college world–$1.5 trillion wrong.

The College Board’s SAT Adversity Score will never turn that wrong into a right.

Made in the USA. Maybe.

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Patriot Puck sounds like a great place to buy a hockey puck, especially when trying to support American manufacturing with your hard-earned dollars. Along with its patriotic company name, it claimed its pucks were made in the U.S.A.

Except they weren’t. They were made in China.

Sandpiper and PiperGear are companies that manufacture deployment bags and tactical gear. Buyers of their products are active and retired American military personnel. The products were marketed as made in the U.S.A., but again—were primarily manufactured in China.

The Federal Trade Commission had an opportunity to impose penalties on all three of these firms for falsely marketing their products as American made. But the commissioners—with a Republican majority—chose instead the “don’t do that anymore” approach.

No fines. No penalties.

The message the FTC sends is to break the law until you get caught. When—and only if—you get caught, you’ll be told not to do that anymore. It encourages greed-centric companies with no loyalty to this country to put U.S.A. flag stickers on products actually manufactured in China, until the FTC issues a mere warning.

And countless American consumers are being duped.

According to research firm, Morning Consult, a 2018 survey showed that 81 percent of consumers were willing to pay more for a product if it supported American manufacturing. How much more is debatable. The survey found that American companies don’t have to be the cheapest, but they do have to be in the ballpark. When a foreign-made item can be purchased for significantly less, support for American manufacturing drops off.

Still, the desire for citizens to buy American-made products is a known preference to companies. And it’s marketable. Some are luring consumers with false “Made in the U.S.A.” marketing to get the sale.

And while most American manufacturers likely follow the rules, there may be more “Patriot Pucks” out there than we know. As a small business owner, I’ve encountered the supplier who advertises “Made in the U.S.A.” on its website but then blames an overseas manufacturer when products go on extended backorder.

It’s difficult enough to find anything made in this country. (Try buying an American-made frying pan. Sometimes the only choice is a cast-iron skillet.) But now even when there’s success in finding a product labeled as “Made in the U.S.A,” there’s really no way to be sure it’s the truth.

Because the FTC seems reluctant to enforce the law.

In the Patriot Puck/Sandpiper/PiperGear ruling, commissioners commented that the agency has limited funds to successfully prosecute companies. The FTC has a nearly $310 million operating budget and employs about 1,100 full-time government employees. A third of a billion taxpayer dollars should be enough to accomplish more than, “don’t do that anymore” memos.

President Donald Trump wants to make America great again. He wants to bring back manufacturing jobs. He wants citizens to consider purchasing American products first. Who wouldn’t want all of these things?

But none of this aligns with the FTC’s recent decision. It’s a total disconnect from messaging coming out of the White House.

The official mission of the agency is, “Protecting consumers and competition by preventing anti-competitive, deceptive, and unfair business practices through law enforcement, advocacy, and education without unduly burdening legitimate business activity.”

It is a nicely worded mission statement. But taxpayers hired the agency to do more than talk nice.

Stamping out socialist ideas is our country’s Captain Obvious moment

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President Donald Trump has been caricatured in many ways. Now we must add Captain Obvious to the list.

During the State of the Union address, Trump announced that America would never be a socialist country.

It was a jaw-dropping moment—one of those “duh” statements that everyone should already know and which doesn’t need voicing.

Or, does it?

Socialist ideas are, shockingly, gaining approval. The Gallup Poll has been measuring socialist attitudes for the last decade. The most recent poll showed that 57 percent of Democrats have a positive image of socialism. Fewer than half have a positive image of capitalism.

Democratic socialist, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, made a convincing run for the presidency in 2016, narrowly losing the party’s nomination to Hillary Clinton. Now he’s back and easily raising money and gaining support for a 2020 presidential run.

Sanders and many other Democratic presidential contenders back the socialist-leaning ideas of the Green New Deal, a plan that would dramatically increase government intervention into the lives of the average citizen and diminish autonomy. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, California Sen. Kamala Harris and New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand have all voiced support for it. Others who are considering a run for the presidency—and haven’t yet aligned themselves with socialist thinking—will likely face pressure from the Democratic Party to do so.

Politicians, or the ruling class, have the luxury of coming up with freedom-taking schemes to impose upon the working class. Legislators protect themselves—not us. They passed Obamacare without reading it, because it didn’t apply to them. The fallout from socialism won’t affect them, either.

Venezuela is an example of how socialism is good for the ruling class and bad for everyone else. Socialist President Nicolas Maduro doesn’t appear to have missed a meal. Venezuelans, though, must scavenge through garbage trucks to find food. Finding electricity is tough, too.

When we’re forced to make obvious statements, as Trump did in the State of the Union address, it’s an indicator that a crisis may already be on our doorstep. Our country has been through it several times.

In the 1700s, stating the obvious meant that there should be no taxation without representation. Or as the colonists more eloquently stated at the Stamp Act Congress in 1765, “…only representatives of the people of these colonies, are persons chosen therein by themselves, and that no taxes ever have been, or can be constitutionally imposed on them, but by their respective legislatures.” It preceded the Revolutionary War.

In the 1800s, the obvious wrong was slavery. President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation that stated, “…all persons held as slaves…are and henceforward shall be free.” The year was 1863—three years into the bloody Civil War.

In the 1900s, it took a world war to acknowledge the obvious—that the Jewish people, like any people, have the right to existence. But not before Nazi Germany killed six million of them.

We’re in a new century, with all new foreign threats. It’s no time to generate the home-grown threat of growing acceptance of socialism.

The threat of socialist ideas, though, needn’t accelerate into a full-blown crisis. We can hang on to our freedoms by voting for and placing the right people on the ballot—people who denounce socialism.

The citizens of the land of the free and the home of the brave deserve the bare minimum of choosing between a Democratic capitalist and a Republican capitalist in the 2020 presidential election.

And here we go again. Shockingly, having to state the obvious.

What’s your living list?

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Everyone has a bucket list, a list of things you want to do or accomplish—at least once—before you die.

Run a marathon. Climb Mount Everest. See the world. Sky dive.

Or more simply for most of us—experience as many new things as possible.

There’s nothing wrong with the bucket list. It can be a positive driver to add challenge and enjoyment to our life. A bucket list can push us, in good ways, to accomplish big things like successfully completing a marathon. It can also be a way to reward ourselves for working hard, by taking a once-in-a-lifetime trip to a dreamed about location.

But the waiting part is a little bothersome. Waiting—or wasting the day we have right in front of us—while we pursue our sometimes elusive bucket list.

In “Biography of Silence,” a book about meditation, author Pablo d’Ors encourages us to find the magic in daily life. He believes it will, one day, make our final sunset more extraordinary. “We live lives that are not ours, and that is why we die bewildered. The sad thing is not dying but doing so without having lived. Those who truly live are always willing to die; they know they have fulfilled their mission.”

This is his personal mission—what he strives for in order to treasure each day and make it meaningful. It’s not a bucket list. It’s a living list.

  1. To write only what contributes toward improving those who read me.
  2. To abstain from greed and never compare myself to my fellows.
  3. To water my plants and care for an animal.
  4. To visit the sick, converse with the lonely, and play with a child.
  5. To say my prayers, celebrate the Eucharist, and listen to the Word.
  6. To go for walks, which I find essential.
  7. To light a fire, which is also essential.
  8. To shop without hurry.
  9. To greet my neighbors, and visit with family and friends.
  10. To subscribe to a newspaper.
  11. To swim in the sea at least once a year.
  12. To read only good books.

After reflection, I developed my own living list.

  1. To watch the sun rise with a bold cup of coffee and to watch the sun set with a bold glass of red wine.
  2. To pursue truth in all things.
  3. To spend as much time as possible with my family and to rediscover the world through the eyes of a child when I’m with my granddaughter.
  4. To read abundantly—the classics, the page-turners, and the thought-provoking.
  5. To spend part of each day—even if a small part—cleaning, organizing, or tidying up because a cluttered environment clutters my contentment.
  6. To focus on living my life as the unique individual I am and not according to others’ expectations.
  7. To unapologetically car-dance every time a great song on the radio requires it.
  8. To attend as many live performances as possible—concerts and any live music, plays and musicals, speeches and book signings—to enjoy and honor the creativity of others.
  9. To arrive early for the Sunday Mass and to soak in the beauty of silence in a sacred place.
  10. To be there for others as often as I can and to forgive myself when, for whatever reason, I cannot.
  11. To wear expensive perfume daily.
  12. To look for God’s presence—which is always there—on good days and bad.

It seems absurd to have never given this a lot of thought. Maybe part of the problem is that thinking about what is personally wanted out of every day seems a little selfish.

But the message from d’Ors is that at the end of our journey, we will not feel selfish—only regretful—if our days were not treasured.

Hang on to your bucket list. But develop a daily living list, as well.

That will be a mission accomplished.

Note: Special credit to Father Ron Rolheiser and his column, “A Different Kind of Bucket List,” which enticed me to read d’Ors as well.

Addiction and friendship

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What does it mean to be a good friend?

To an active substance abuser—the addict or alcoholic.

According to a 2016 Surgeon General’s report, about nine percent of the population met diagnostic criteria for substance use disorder for either alcohol or illicit drugs, or a combination of both. Nine percent of adults in this country translates into tens of millions of people. Of that number, only 10 percent receive any type of treatment.

The tragedy doesn’t end there.

Statista.com found that an average of 38 percent of adults in this country felt that alcohol, heroin, cocaine, amphetamines and prescription drug abuse was a serious problem in their community. To say that it’s a serious problem in one’s own community indicates that one in three individuals likely knows someone who is struggling with addiction.

And that someone could be a friend of yours.

Some substance abusers are high functioning. Others cannot function at all. There’s a sadness to all of it, though, and its ripple effect reaches friendships.

Over time, usually after several years, a substance abuser’s lies, disrespect and manipulation tactics will take its toll on friendships. Friends may willingly accept this treatment in order to keep the relationship going—hoping that if they’re present enough, empathetic enough, and selfless enough that it will all be enough for the substance abuser to become well again.

All too often, that’s not what happens.

Instead, a new addiction is created. An addiction to the addict’s or alcoholic’s needs. The addiction of trying to fix problems and rescue people.

And before long, the substance abuser and the rescuer become co-sufferers.

Author David Sheff writes in, “Beautiful Boy,”—a journey with his son’s meth addiction—of the hopelessness of giving a consuming attention to another’s substance abuse. What is hard on a friendship must be many times more difficult for a father-son relationship. He quotes writer Ha Jin who once said that for ordinary people, too much suffering can only make us meaner, crazier, pettier and more wretched. Sheff acknowledges that his own addiction of trying to make his son well led him to times when he felt meaner, crazier, pettier and more wretched.

It was only with an eventual and reluctant understanding that his son was the only one who could make himself well again that he could say, “…now I feel fine, at least much of the time.”

We come into this world on our own. We’ll leave it on our own. And while we’re here, we alone are responsible for how we live it.

Sheff says, “I am no longer preoccupied with Nic. This could change, but at the moment I accept and even appreciate that he is living his life his way. Of course, I will always hope that he stays sober.”

Back to the question of, “What does it mean to be a good friend to an active substance abuser?”

Sometimes in seeking an answer to a question, we find that we’re asking the wrong one. In unpacking the question of what it means to be a good friend, we arrive at the real question which is—“What more could I have done?”

The answer is that too much, probably, has already been done.

Practicing loving detachment is difficult. Setting healthy boundaries is hard. Focusing on living one’s own life takes effort.

And it may very well be the best you can do, as a good friend.

Absentee voting should have a place, not a priority

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Here’s an easy New Year’s resolution. It doesn’t involve weight loss, exercise or financial goals. In fact, you’d only have to alter your schedule once or a few times each year.

Make the resolution to vote at your local precinct, when possible.

Too many are voting with absentee ballots.

There’s a place for absentee voting.

According to the National Conference of State Legislators, the practice originated with Civil War soldiers. Then, members of the military who were stationed overseas were given the opportunity. By the 1970s, it became available to many more—the elderly, the disabled, the business traveler, the vacation-goer, and just about anyone for no particular reason at all.

The Election Assistance Commission now reports that two out of five votes are cast early or with an absentee ballot. It more than doubled from 24.9 million in 2004 to 57.2 million in 2016. And unfortunately, that increase is not from new voters. The majority are citizens who had historically voted on Election Day at their local precincts and are now choosing to vote with an absentee ballot.

Despite the big numbers, absentee voting has its drawbacks.

Citizens who vote an absentee ballot at home may be more susceptible to pressure from other household members to vote for particular candidates. At a precinct site, it’s just the voter and a privacy booth—with no helpful suggestions from those around you.

There’s a certain amount of trust that goes along with sending in an absentee ballot. The voter gives up ownership of the ballot to a county auditor’s office for safe handling until Election Day. But at a precinct site, the voter inserts the completed ballot into a ballot machine where it is instantly accepted and counted.

Absentee ballots must be reviewed at the county level with an absentee board. Missing signatures, signatures that do not closely match or other directions not properly followed could result in ballots that are rejected and not counted. However at the precinct site, election officials obtain information from the voter and most questions are typically addressed immediately and resolved.

The absentee ballot must be postmarked the day before the election, and yet the post office is not required to postmark absentee ballots. Probably very few in Iowa knew this until dozens of mail-in ballots in Winneshiek and Fayette counties were not counted because of missing postmarks. An Iowa House seat in that district was decided by just nine votes.

Because the absentee ballot must be mailed early, the voter runs the risk of not having late-breaking information that could sway a vote. Election Day precinct voters have current information.

And perhaps the biggest concern with absentee ballot voting is the consolidation of election power into fewer hands. There are about 1600 precincts in Iowa where voting takes place on Election Day, but there are only 99 county absentee boards.

We will always have absentee ballot voting. It’s necessary for those who truly depend upon it to exercise their right to vote.

But keeping the vote decentralized as much as possible is pretty important.

It was former President Obama who once stated, “There is no serious person out there who would suggest somehow that you could even—you could even rig America’s elections, in part, because they are so decentralized and the numbers of votes involved.”

Obama is right. A decentralized vote is the best way to run an election.

And the vote is most decentralized on Election Day at the precinct level.

More respect is needed for election outcomes

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There’s no crying over elections.

Or there shouldn’t be. It’s disrespectful to the voters who placed a particular candidate in office.

First, we had protesters and resisters over the legitimate election of President Donald Trump in 2016. Being disappointed that your candidate doesn’t win is understandable. But disrespecting the vote from those who put him in office becomes divisive.

Now, we’re seeing that same mentality creating divisiveness from the midterm elections.

Georgia candidate, Democrat Stacey Abrams, lost the governor’s race to Republican Brian Kemp by about 50,000 votes. Abrams had the support of 1,923,582 voters. That’s a lot.

But 1,978,383 Georgians voted for her opponent. That’s a little more and enough to secure the win. These facts—and people—can’t be ignored, but she still disrespected all Kemp voters when she said, “Let’s be clear: This is not a speech of concession.”

Abrams has claimed possible fraud, but evidence of it has not been produced. What she does have are certified election results—results showing that nearly 2 million Georgians voted for her opponent. It may be tough for her to acknowledge, but a thin win for Kemp is still a win.

Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, Martha McSally, also lost her election by about 50,000 votes. She lost the Arizona seat to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema. Surely, McSally would have liked to focus on the support she received from 1,059,124 voters. But it would have been disrespectful of the 1,097,321 Arizona citizens who voted for her opponent. She graciously conceded the race by saying, “I wish her all success as she represents Arizona in the Senate.”

McSally understands that we’re not entitled to much, but in this country we’re still entitled to vote for the candidate of our choice. And that vote must be respected.

Losing a hard-fought election by just 50,000 votes when 2 million or 4 million are cast must be gut-wrenching. It doesn’t have to be divisive, though.

Divisiveness happens when there’s a refusal to accept that others have the right to form political opinions and vote in a way that doesn’t match your own. It isn’t what we do. It’s what we not allow others to do.

Without this considerate understanding, family and friends can morph into “deplorables” or “leftists” instead of just citizens doing their best for country and family.

And when things don’t go our way, there’s always another opportunity in two, four or six years to try again. Voters don’t always get it right, but they’re pretty good at making adjustments and corrections. Midterms are notorious for that. But in some ways, every election comes down to answering one central question, “Is an adjustment needed?”

Abrams and McSally have proven they are viable candidates with strong support. They are certainly worthy of trying again in their next election cycle, if it’s what they desire. Showing respect for the vote and all voters—whether they were for you or against you—would be a great place to start.

In the last presidential election, my three adult children all voted for a different candidate. Surprisingly, it created a sense of contentment for this fiscal conservative. They think for themselves. It’s what should be expected and then respected of every voter.

Advocate your beliefs without dismissing someone else’s. Exercise your right to vote without disrespecting the vote of others.

You will win some. You will lose some.

Nothing, at all, to cry about there.