Low-risk Investment

President’s Message, Winter 2012-13

 Dr. Schrader and Governor Nathan Deal
President Schrader and Gov. Nathan Deal at the 2012 Brenau-hosted Governor’s Report to the Atlanta Press Club

By the time you read this, one of two scenarios will be playing out: either the United States will have “gone over the fiscal cliff” because government leaders could not agree on a compromise for addressing national budget deficits and soaring national debt; or, we will be learning how to live with a last-minute compromise worked out to forestall yet another economic downturn that may be brought about by automatic draconian cuts in federal spending (THE “Sequester”) devised a year ago when Congress and the president could not come to terms. The hope was that the “Sequester” would be so odious to both Democrats and Republicans alike that congress would come to a compromise and never let it happen…fat chance. When in recent memory has congress agreed to anything that resembles bipartisan governance?

Being an optimist at heart, my hope is that the new year will prove that leaders of all political persuasions will have distilled from the political posturing and media ground clutter a common sense pathway to doing the right things for the good of the country and its people.

There are reasons – on state and national levels – that I believe bipartisanship is possible. Elected and appointed officials have already found common ground in one critical, always successful, economic and societal development tool: higher education.

The example closest to home for me is that of Georgia’s governor, Nathan Deal – a resident of Brenau’s hometown, Gainesville; a product of private college education; a Brenau honorary degree recipient; and a member of my church. Although he suffers the same angst as 49 other governors over the trickle-down effects of global and national economies, in the struggle to make ends meet he has never deviated from his rock-solid support for education. I hold up the State of Georgia as a model for support of education even in the face of substantial economic difficulties.

Similar sentiments percolate from the national discourse. Both presidential candidates firmly embraced higher education as a must-have economic development tool. Even the dreaded “sequestration,” the “poison pill” created to force compromise on fiscal issues by automating those massive spending cuts, left untouched the grants that help needy Americans with higher education and the innovative incentives designed to encourage high school students to prepare for college.

No matter what politicians say in public, the true test for what they believe is how they spend money. By exempting education programs from cuts designed in large part to reduce the U.S. debt, lawmakers say clearly that those programs are worth the nation’s investment.

I argue incessantly that borrowing money for education, whether you are a government or an individual, is the best investment you will ever make.  The Bureau of Labors Statistics’ November 2012 numbers showed that the unemployment rate among people with a bachelor’s degree or higher is only 3.8 percent compared with the national average of 7.7 percent. Other data indicate that the more education you get, the more you will earn during your lifetime. That return on investment also means that you will pay more taxes, thus repaying government for monies it invested.

It is true that the average student loan debt load is increasing, but it is still less than $27,000 for a four-year education and degree. But that debt is no more than many graduates, shortly after they receive diplomas, will incur for their first automobile. They will pay the latter back, with interest, in about six years, and they will have only the “Blue Book” value of their cars to show for it. They have much longer to repay student debt at a very reasonable interest rate, but they now possess a lifetime of economic opportunity that cannot be repossessed or depreciate simply due to the passage of a year; and, each graduate from a liberal arts institution owns an interesting co-product: enlightenment and the potential for personal fulfillment!

I work for a fiscally conservative board of trustees. They do not like for Brenau to borrow money. Yet, when it came time to move forward our $6.5 million plans to expand health care professions programs (which you will read about later in this magazine), they did not back away from authorizing some debt for the project in case we do not raise enough money from contributors in time to pay construction and start-up costs. They stepped up because they know that higher education is a sound investment and that some things are just worth a little more effort.

There is a lesson in that for our political leaders.

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