I have almost zero interest in what officials, elected or otherwise, do. The worst of them are reined in —eventually — by a system that keeps any one person from doing too much damage, so I don’t worry too much.
Once in a while, though, they do manage to get my attention. Governor Christie got mine a couple weeks ago when he said he was considering merging Thomas Edison State College with Rutgers University. I don’t believe for a second that it’s a political move (who, after all, would the constituency be?), but I also don’t believe it makes any sense.
I am an alumnus of TESC, and I would be nothing without it. I know, because I was nothing before. I worked a string of crappy retail jobs for the princely sum of 6-something an hour, and that was at the more generous outlets.
Today I am the business editor of this newspaper. I oversee business news and a staff of freelancers, and I have earned enough money here to put my wife through college. She just last month completed her requirements for a bachelor’s degree in art. From TESC.
She is now using that degree to study animation, which has been her dream probably since I met her.
You don’t have to care about my life, but I want you to pay attention to the implications of it. I left college for a period of six years in the early 1990s. By the time I got back, I was married and working fulltime, trying to string together meager checks with my wife. I lost out on a real job because I didn’t have a bachelor’s degree and that sent me back to school to get one.
If TESC had not existed, I would absolutely never have finished that degree of mine. I didn’t have the money for a brick-and-mortar school, and even if I could get it, I had no ability to attend daytime classes and take internships.
TESC exists for people like myself, who want to do something better with their lives than ride a cash register for minimum wage. By nature of being a graduate, I personally know a number of people who have used TESC to advance their careers and change their lives.
Forgive me for coming off mawkish about this, but consider that many people fail on their first try and need a second chance. Taking away TESC would rob motivated, intelligent, entrepreneurial people of one more way to help themselves.
I don’t criticize the governor’s efforts to save money by scaling back aid to state colleges. But damn if I understand why he thinks this merger is a good idea. Taking away an affordable and convenient college that helps adults become more prosperous members of society makes as much sense vowing to refurbish the inside of a crumbling building and then walling up all the entrances so the workmen can’t get in. It is only going to let the ultimate problem linger.
The onus will have to fall on TESC to warrant its independence, of course. The school will have to make a few adjustments of its own.
One thought is to facilitate a more sweeping financial aid system (or even help develop an education-focused microloan system) that allows more people to borrow lower amounts toward their education.
Also, TESC might have to seek and develop more relationships with businesses that foster employer-sponsored degree paths. TESC already does this with some of its programs. Capital Health Systems, for example, offsets a large portion of the tuition for employees studying nursing. But the school might have to broaden its programs in order to reach more businesses or craft more deals within its framework.
Lastly, TESC might have to take a more active nonprofit-style approach and seek alternate sources of funding from more sources.
I am a firm believer in not trying to fix what already works, and TESC works as-is. It just might have to work harder to stay working, like everyone else. I don’t ask Governor Christie to lavish money upon the school, I just ask him to leave it alone.