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The Cost of Education 

In light of the current situation with the state budget, everyone is trying to figure out where cuts can be made in government programs. This has also led to a rash of rationalizations, wherein government officials try to prove how crucial their jobs are. It is important to avoid reading or listening to such rationalizations; like many prescription medications being marketed on TV, they may cause nausea, stomach cramping and severe abdominal bleeding.

Despite my relative youth, I've already lived through several eras of budget cuts in various locales, and it always comes down to the same thing. Politicians always end up scrutinizing educational institutions, looking for ways to cut back on spending. After all, education is too expensive and accomplishes nothing, "if the dumbass kid down the street who mows my lawn inadequately is representative." Why, I can almost hear the old coot spouting off these words. I'll grant you that education is expensive, but does it accomplish nothing? That I would question.

Education is a crucial part of our country. Our boast that the United States offers equal opportunities for everyone regardless of class can only be defended by our commitment to providing education for everyone, not just the wealthy. That, of course, is why public education -- primary, secondary and post-secondary -- is so important to our society.

The cuts CMS is being forced to make have already been widely publicized. When it comes down to it, the people at the top are more willing to lose foreign language and music programs than they are to cut the non-essential positions that currently bloat the downtown school district offices, not to mention state offices and government. Sadly, the programs being cut are providing opportunities for all kinds of children, not just the ones who could afford private music lessons or language tutoring.

An even more invidious threat looms over our fair community in the shape of proposed budget cuts to Central Piedmont Community College. CP is an educational institution filled with educators, many of whom are part-time and dramatically underpaid and most of whom are dedicated to making higher education possible for those hardy enough to pursue it. This is a place for people to build new careers for themselves, to improve themselves personally and professionally and to obtain higher education at an affordable price. If CP is forced to accept the budget cuts, then their staff will be greatly reduced, which will limit the courses available to students. Tuition will likely rise even if positions are eliminated.

Lack of available funding from the state government could also have an effect on UNC-Charlotte, particularly tuition increases; any tuition increases make higher education less accessible to those seeking post-secondary courses. Though UNC-Charlotte won't face the difficulties CMS and CP face, the tuition increases resulting from the financial needs of the school becoming greater than the financial backing the state is able to provide will make the university less available to students with limited financial resources.

This is particularly unfortunate when you consider the positive effect of UNC-Charlotte on all of Charlotte. When I first moved here, I knew that I would one day attend graduate school, but I didn't know where. At the time, UNC-C wasn't even on my short list. Frankly, I hadn't heard much about it, and what I had heard led me to believe that it was a locally oriented school, not the kind of broad-based university I was looking for. As I sought educational opportunities, though, UNC-C came up again and again. Two of my friends took courses there, and both raved about the university and its professors. I continued to doubt and turned my head toward the "other UNC" (the one in Chapel Hill) and even Winthrop. Eventually, however, I was persuaded to call a professor at UNC-C, and after that conversation and a visit to the campus, I was sold.

Now, after taking courses there, I'm even more impressed. The professors are innovative and welcome non-traditional teaching ideas just as they welcome non-traditional students. The courses I've taken have been challenging and rewarding. The culture of literature, theater, art, music, international awareness and other aspects of campus life make UNC-C one of the most intellectually and culturally exciting places to be in Charlotte.

Already, though, problems loom even in this utopian setting. Tuition has steadily risen over the course of the last few years. Since many students at UNC-C are continuing students with jobs who can afford the rising tuition costs, the school's enrollment has actually increased rather than decreased. But UNC-C has also certainly become less accessible to people in lower paying jobs who are looking to improve their situations. With the cuts happening at CP, there will be even fewer opportunities for those who cannot afford to pay expensive tuition fees.

Yet both CP and UNC-C contribute to the academic and artistic feeling in the Charlotte area. Both schools affect even people who don't attend classes there, since both institutions consistently offer plays, recitals and other events that are often open to the public. CMS contributes to the growth of culture in Charlotte as well, especially when music and language programs are offered to students.

The thing that really frustrates me is that I know there are programs and government offices that could be cut with much less detrimental effect on the community as a whole. As usual, when forced to spend less money, our government is much more willing to eliminate the programs that actually affect people than they are to cut the unnecessary and often redundant positions and offices that have swelled our state and local governments to obese proportions. Cutting unnecessary positions kick a few people off the gravy train, though, and politicians don't like to see that happen.

On the other hand, children and teenagers can't vote and people with low socioeconomic status aren't usually politically powerful. That's why the educational institutions that serve them are simply not a high priority. *

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