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Skelly Should be Teaching Personal Responsibility, Not Handout 101

Original post made by kat on Nov 12, 2007

I recently read an article about our new Superintendent, Kevin Skelly, meeting with some students who attend Palo Alto schools under the voluntary transfer program and agreeing with the idea that the students attending through VTP are not receiving enough support from our schools and therefore are not as likely to attend college. They complain that they cannot afford to attend our state schools and cannot even afford SAT review courses.

Kevin Skelly actually suggested to these students that he could help them by mobilizing a privately funded source of money for kids in the VTP. Why? State colleges are a great deal and anyone, from anywhere, can obtain a student loan to attend. Yes, there will be a bill for the student to pay back at the end of college and after he or she obtains full-time employment, but that's the way most of the people I know from my generation went through college. We would never consider looking for a handout in order to avoid having college debt when we finished school. What is going on here? I can't believe Kevin Skelly didn't bring this concept to their attention.

As far as an SAT review course being so expensive that they are unable to attend one . . . No way! Palo Alto High School even has a course that is put on by, I think, Ivy West. It costs around $50.00. You can't tell me that they or their family can't find $50.00 in their household for such an important class. This isn't a surprise when you are approaching the SAT testing years. Save $1.00 per week for the year prior to beginning the class and you're set.

What Kevin Skelly should have been telling these kids was to begin taking personal responsibility for themselves. Not relying on everyone else to give them what they want. This has got to stop. Personal responsibility needs to be reinforced in our!

Comments (48)

Posted by realist, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 12, 2007 at 3:47 pm

You have boosted my opinion of Kevin Skelly, thank you. I still remember when college became a mortgage endeavor with virtually no merit-based scholarships anymore - it was when I started school. By my senior year, tuition had doubled, something no one could have anticipated based on any previous cost increases. Student loans had a 9% and 12% interest rate when the going mortgage rate was far less. Often the limits on what you can borrow through the student loan program are not enough to pay for all costs, so students incur even more outside debt.

I think this is a ludicrous and unfair way to finance education. We benefit as a society from educated population. Business benefits from the education that students are going into lifetime debt to obtain. Most (if not all) other first-world industrialized nations pay for college education. This will never happen here. Skelly is just doing something for these kids that is a right in most other industrialized nations.

I will judge Skelly based on how well he can deliver on these statements. I'm glad to hear he's thinking about the well-being of the students and can actually put himself in the shoes of people who have far fewer financial resources. Good for you, Dr. Skelly!

Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 12, 2007 at 5:32 pm

I don't know if Skelly did right or not, but Realist's view of higher ed financing is interesting and thought provoking. And she (he?) is right - many other countries publicly finance higher ed, just like they publicly finance health care.

But while many would say other countries have better/cheaper health care systems (and the results to show it), I'm not sure that's the case with higher ed. We in fact have a pretty well-regarded system and I believe good higher-ed outcomes. Of course, many states offer some kind of public financing for public ed through state college and university systems. But many people choose to pay more for privately financed private education, suggesting that additional subsidies may not be necessary.

Why do people pay so much? It seems obvious - they think it is a good investment. The earning power of a college grad is much higher and so he borrows against those future earnings. And many (including Realist, it appears), seem to think paying much more than the state college minimum is worth it.

Realist says it is "ludicrous and unfair" since "we all benefit from an educated population." But the biggest beneficiaries are the people who receive the education - and they seem willing to pay for it. Should we pour more subsidies into higher ed as opposed to, say, high schools and drop-out prevention, special ed, ELLs, and other groups that are struggling?

We do have publicly funded education through high-school of course; but that's specified in the Constitution, for an educated citizenry is a prerequisite for universal franchise. I don't think college is needed in order to be a good citizen.

So, while I would appreciate any donations on behalf of my 3 kids, it does seem fair that we should pay our way, given that we will get the lion's share of the reward.

What do you think?

Posted by Palo alto mom, a resident of Professorville
on Nov 12, 2007 at 6:11 pm

Kat - I must say that is one of the more mean-spirited submissions to this forum. There are many families - VTP and PA - to whom $50 is a lot of money (maybe medicine for the month, food...). There are also many families with illiterate parents, kids who are watching their siblings after school, kids without homes (yes, even in PAUSD).

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 12, 2007 at 8:11 pm

I don't see why it's an issue if Skelly sees about private funding to help out some of our poorer students. Given that my kids will probably have their SAT prep courses funded by their parents, I don't see a problem in giving kids who don't come from affluent families some help.

As a society, yes, we've benefitted from making higher education available and affordable. Take a look at the results of the post-WWII GI Bill, which made college possible for far more people than it had ever been available before. Note the economic boom of the following two decades--including the birth of Silicon Valley (and its well-educated workforce).

I don't, by the way, see any particularly merit to burying college grads under huge loans. It's more a necessary evil--the most politically palatable way to make college available to kids who would otherwise not be able to go. Back when student loans were less of an issue, people simply got married earlier, bought houses and started families. Nothing terrible about that.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 12, 2007 at 8:32 pm

I honestly can't see why the schools aren't preparing the students for SAT exams. Isn't it the schools responsibility to complete secondary education to prepare them for third level acceptance. Why should anyone need to pay $50 to prepare them. The schools should do it.

Posted by SkepticAl, a resident of Ventura
on Nov 12, 2007 at 10:08 pm

Parent - it's not a simple matter of the schools prepare students for the SAT or they don't. Of course they do - though certainly there will be variations in how much test-taking strategy instruction students receive. The booming industry in SAT prep is a product of worried parents and students looking for an edge, operating as they are under mistaken ideas about how impossible it is to get into a "good" college, though they can only name a fraction of their options. But given that the wealthy are skewing the system so much, I think it's a fine idea to make some SAT prep available to students whose families might not be able to provide the money or the experience-based guidance that so many around here do have access to. But then again, personally, I think that if you're a decent student but you need that much extra coaching to get the scores to get into school A, B, or C, maybe you'd be better off at schools D, E. and F. Or, if you're not motivated enough to review on your own out of a $25 book or using some software, maybe you should consider a less competitive school.

Posted by realist, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 12, 2007 at 10:24 pm

Our well-regarded system was well-regarded LONG before students had to go into frightening debt to get an education (at both state and private schools), i.e., the two are not related. Our system became great under huge government subsidies, as OP mentioned, the GI Bill. Studies have shown that public investments in higher education pay back many times over. We do have a great system - we have in the past benefitted as a country when we made it available to the average joe.

I know it's hard to imagine in our well-heeled community, but the cost of even state and community colleges can be out of reach for many people. We should be dealing with this as a society, but since we have such a vocal overclass that cannot imagine the hurdles, I think better of Kevin Skelly that he is watching out for those in our midst who probably cannot realistically get that education without that support.

You bring up many good points, as always. Sure wish you had run for the school board!!!

Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 12, 2007 at 11:04 pm

Realist, I didn't mean to imply that student debt drove educational quality ;-) More that a private funded system seemed to have high quality, which seems to be still true even 50+ years after the GI bill was a major factor. Maybe the GI bill helped fuel growth in higher ed, but things have not slowed down. Here's the data from the Nat'l Center for Educational Statistics:

"Enrollment in degree-granting institutions increased by 17 percent between 1984 and 1994. Between 1994 and 2004, enrollment increased at a faster rate (21 percent), from 14.3 million to 17.3 million. Much of the growth between 1994 and 2004 was in female enrollment; the number of men enrolled rose 16 percent, while the number of women increased by 25 percent. During the same time period, part-time enrollment rose by 8 percent compared to an increase of 30 percent in full-time enrollment. In addition to the enrollment in accredited 2-year colleges, 4-year colleges, and universities, about 429,000 students attended non-degree-granting, Title IV eligible,1 postsecondary institutions in fall 2003."

So it is expensive, and the cost is growing faster than inflation, but more people are going than ever before and the growth rate is high. Students take on debt, but they think the asset they are buying makes it worthwhile; kind of like home buyers.

Not sure about the studies you refer to; I can understand the payback on investing in education, but not sure why the making the investment through tax funds vs. through private funds would have a better return. Got links?

Posted by realist, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 13, 2007 at 9:59 am

How much of the enrollment growth is citizens versus students from overseas (who often have their education covered by their governments or have even considered coming here for an education because they are privileged to begin with)? How does the growth compare to just the growth of our population?

Ah yes, a mortgage to live in a home, a mortgage to get an education, a mortgage to get the medical treatment to save your life. Oops, hardly anyone can have that many mortgages - sell the house to pay the mortgage on the education (as my parents did), if you still have the house after the medical treatment. Did my parents think it was worth it? Well, the calculation they had to make when I was in the middle of the education and the costs were jumping beyond any reasonable expectation from previous tuition increases were different than if I'd had that information when choosing a college. And of course, no one really believes what our medical system does to people until they go through it, and that mortgage wasn't on the horizon yet then. I never got to use my education because of the medical gauntlet. Can I get my money back? I'm not sure I think it was worth it now.

I'd like to use a more apt analogy. Way back in the early days of the industrial revolution, worker conditions were horrendous for the masses. The overclass then also righteously felt that the poor were of course to blame for the filthy crowded conditions they lived in, the rampant disease, crime in their midst, infant mortality, and all the human failings that always seem to accompany despair. Yes, many people got out of there through hard work, but far more didn't, despite hard work. Isn't it interesting how the advent of modern sanitation practices, worker rights, social security, etc., changed all that. Our country then benefitted because of a healthy, educated, burgeoning middle class, which has been - surprise! - shrinking as we have gone back more and more to forgetting that public health or social spending are investments in the success of our society as a whole. Oh, but on second thought, isn't it just horrible to have one's luxury vacations ruined by too many other people who can afford them, and all that competition in college and entry-level jobs from public school-nursed cretans?

(Here, parenthetically, is a link to an article about how doctors voted sanitation as the greatest medical advance since 1840. How is it that we ever got sanitation - shouldn't we have instead reminded poor people of their personal responsibility not to throw their waste into the gutters? Let them take out loans to pay for utility services, I'm sure they would think it's worth it. How lazy do they have to be that we have to put public money into cleaning up their messes? They don't NEED to throw their chamber pots into the gutters, and why should they have clean water delivered to them? People have been fetching their water from wells for thousands of years...
Web Link
Note: for the reactionary few who will take that literally, please reread the above paragraph remembering the word IRONY. Terry, that's not you, I see from your past posts that you are sophisticated enough to get what I am trying to say from some irony.)

The point is, what kind of society are we? I'd rather we weren't aiming so hard to become more like 20th century Mexico. I heard an economist point out that we have become economically more like America of the 20's in so many important ways. We weren't the great nation and international power then that we became thirty years later, after the change in public policy and social spending.

The money from the GI bill helped fuel the growth in higher ed in a way that we haven't seen since. Using enrollment growth numbers is a disingenuous measure. How much capital and infrastructure spending has happened in recent years versus when money flowed freely into universities because of the GI bill? I saw a Technology Review article once that said the number of women getting advanced degrees dropped dramatically as an unintended side effect of men bringing so much money to the university system because of the GI bill. The numbers of women getting advanced degrees didn't rebound to pre-war levels until the mid to late '70s (so it couldn't just be the baby boom).

Crushing debt does not equal opportunity. I'm sure I'm not going to win an argument over the need for us to rethink our social spending, anymore than I ever won an argument with smokers over why they shouldn't exercise their "right" to fill my air space with black foul-smelling particulates. But we did eventually win that fight. So for now, just consider me one of the seething masses who will press for universal healthcare and quality education to the level of every citizen's potential (without crushing debt) at every opportunity.

As for the rest, find the links on Google. I don't think for a minute that spending my time going down that road will change your mind! How one thinks about public expenditures really comes down to values, and as I said, I'm sure that's not an argument I'm going to win here.

In the meantime, I wish Kevin Skelley success in trying to bring real opportunity to every student in our midst who needs it!

Posted by Kat, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 13, 2007 at 10:19 am

Palo Alto Mom -
My post is not meant to be "mean-spirited" towards anyone. The purpose is to point out the level of expected help from some students, instead of investigating how one might attend college on his or her own, i.e., personal responsibility. There are fee waiver programs for every college, meaning that all upfront fees are waived,including application fees. There are student loans that can be acquired without any restrictions on the student. The only requirement is that the student agree to pay back the loan following graduation and acquisition of a full-time job. This is a good example of teaching students personal responsibility. To suggest that someone cannot attend college, unless they are provided with free preparation classes is ludicrous.

All of these concerns about SAT prep classes are irrelevant. There are fee waivers for everything at Palo Alto High School. This is a good example of the services available to kids from EPA only. It is posted on the Palo Alto Unified School District website:

The Foundation for a College Education (FCE) aims to increase the number of students of color enrolling in and graduating from four-year colleges and universities. Students and their parents are both involved in programs designed to increase understanding of the full college planning process. FCE relies solely on private sources of funding from individuals, corporations, and private foundations. It serves students of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties.

The College Bound Program encourages students to raise their expectations of themselves, complete advanced college preparatory courses, and apply to competitive colleges and universities.

The College Retention Program (pilot) provides ongoing support and services to students once they enroll in college to ensure that they graduate.


Academic enrichment, support, and monitoring
College counseling
Academic counseling and advising
College admissions planning and support
Application support, including college essays
Academic tutoring
SAT preparation
College interviewing and admissions selection
Financial aid and scholarship guidance
College tours and college fairs
Cultural exploration and career exposure
Mentoring/college coaching
Parent engagement and support
Parent and student leadership development
College retention program
Interested high school students and parents should contact their school guidance counselors. Students must complete a formal admissions application that includes essays and a one-on-one family interview. Students are evaluated on a number of criteria, including GPA and academic standing. Once admitted, students and parents commit to a set of program standards to which they are held accountable.

Stephanie Wick, Executive Director of FCE

If you have questions, contact your school guidance counselor or Foundation for a College Education.

Foundation for a College Education
2160 Euclid Avenue
East Palo Alto, CA 94303
(650) 322-5048

The idea that kids are not being offered an immense amount of help if they come to the district under the Voluntary Transfer Program (Tinsley decision) is just wrong.

Realist - Some of these kids will benefit from both need-based and merit-based scholarships. They are everywhere and they are numerous. Kids that need the financial help to enter and stay in college will get it. If they don't qualify for a need-based scholarship, then the parents are making sufficient money or have sufficient assets to contribute to the student's education. Tuition within the U.C. system is as low as $4,700 for in-state students(UCSD). This is hardly a "lifetime of debt". Also, could you name some first-world industrialized nations that pay for the college education of the citizens of those countries? It would be interesting to compare the quality of their education to ours.

Over 88% of the students at Palo Alto High School go to college. At Gunn that number is even higher, 92%. Kids who want to go to college do so in this district. My post has nothing to do with keeping kids from going to college. It has everything to do with teaching them about personal responsibility, while there is still a chance to do that. It benefits the kids in the long run. Just continuing to hand out money is not a good teaching tool.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 13, 2007 at 10:40 am

Well, first of all, if a high level person is in position to mobilize PRIVATE sources of money (this isn't coming out of YOUR checkbook) for PRIVATE uses (so PAUSD resources here), what skin off your nose is it?

You would have to assume that the PRIVATE source would be interestd in making sure that the donated resources went to appropriately needy people with appropriate strings attached. (ie: like giving back after graduation in some way to help the community, not necessarily by repaying dollars, but perhaps by mentoring other kids through the process or something) Its hardly appropriate to fault a person for trying to mobilize resources for the needy.

And where exactly does it say that this would be done in lieu of personal responsibility?

Kat seems to be using the "we walked 10 miles through the snow to get to school when when we were kids" argument. Maybe kat should walk 10 miles in their shoes before whining about what other people obviously don't need.

(And believe me, I am NO FAN of Skelly!)

Posted by Fan of Skelly, a resident of Terman Middle School
on Nov 13, 2007 at 12:14 pm

To "No Fan of Skelly"-
Would you like to share what you based your opinion on? He's pretty new here and so far has been very well received from what I can tell.

Posted by Kat, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 13, 2007 at 12:31 pm

Parent - You know nothing about my life. I grew up poor, but did go to college. I did take out loans and I did pay them back after graduating and locating a full-time job. It's called personal responsibility and it is taught by the family and/or schools. Someone or some organization has to take on that responsibility so that kids don't develop a "where's my handout?" mentality. What's wrong with taking out a loan and paying it back later, just like everyone else does. Paying back the loan itself would be an example of personal responsibility. The other examples you provided are examples of community service, not personal responsibility. A college eduation comes with a monetary cost and that's a fact of life. Who's going to bail them out later when they need to take a loan out for graduate work or to buy a home?

Posted by yet another parent, a resident of Escondido School
on Nov 13, 2007 at 12:47 pm

Kat, while I appreciate the idea of teaching personal responsibility, the undertones of your posts worry me.

You described The Foundation for a College Education as "a good example of the services available to kids from EPA only." But in the first paragraph copied from their website it explicitly states that "It serves students of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties." This doesn't sound like EPA only to me. Do they limit their services by city? Maybe I missed that part.

"Over 88% of the students at Palo Alto High School go to college. At Gunn that number is even higher, 92%. Kids who want to go to college do so in this district."
How do you know the motives & desires of all 12% or 8% of the non-college-bound students? Is it that they don't want to go to college, or that they can't afford it? Maybe some of these kids are working first in order to save money for college – they hardly need a lecture on personal responsibility (and some may even be from EPA – gasp!)

It's unclear why you single out VTP students. Do you think they're the only ones in our district who can't afford college, are part of the 8-12% who don't go directly to college, are receiving financial help, or lack personal responsibility? There are more than a few students in each of those categories living right here within PAUSD's boundaries. And with the exception of lacking personal responsibility -- which can be exhibited in far worse forms than accepting financial assistance to further one's education -- is it fair to fault them without knowing their personal circumstances?

Posted by Palo alto mom, a resident of Professorville
on Nov 13, 2007 at 2:05 pm

Most of the kids in Palo Alto grow up assuming that they will go to college - it would never even occur to them not to. But there are still students who will struggle even with the idea of college - because no one in their family has gone, because their parents are not literate (even in their native language), because of a variety of reasons. They may not know or may not feel comfortable navigating the pitfalls of applying to college. These are kids that we want to reach out to, whether they are VTP students or not.

Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 13, 2007 at 5:22 pm

Sorry Realist, you have more time to write than I have to read, I'm afraid ;-) Hopefully people who want college and think it is worth the price will pay for it and those who think otherwise will go elsewhere. Seems to have worked so far ;-)

Posted by Kat, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 13, 2007 at 6:53 pm

Yet Another Parent - The reason my comments are limited to EPA, i.e., Voluntary Transfer Program students, is because it is only those students that are the subject of the article at issue.

With regards to the percentage of students who are not going to college . . . you'll have to try to get that information from the District. It is not on the Profile Sheet. I don't know why. Seems like it should be there.

Finally, I don't "single out VTP students". It was the EPA students, here under the VTP, that want these financial benefits. They are the subject of the article and Skelly's promises.

Posted by realist, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 13, 2007 at 8:49 pm

Here's a link to a story about our declining degree rates in the US:
Web Link

The declining rates seem right in step with the loan situation getting ridiculous.

The Scandinavian countries offer free education through grad school. Australia I think is still free at university level. Many (if not most) European countries offer some form of free college education. I have a friend from Malaysia who told me that their public universities are better than the private ones; people only pay for private because they can't cut it at the public universities.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by yet another parent, a resident of Escondido School
on Nov 14, 2007 at 8:27 am

Sorry, apologies are due. I should have read your first post more carefully. Where did you read the article - is it available online?

Posted by Kat, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 14, 2007 at 12:42 pm

Yet Another Parent - I think it was the 11/2/07 issue.

Posted by Kat, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 14, 2007 at 1:24 pm

Realist -
Your facts are not correct. Australia had experimented, between 1974 and 1988, with providing a free college education to those who qualified academically, but it failed miserably.

Malaysia?? Just try to get even one kid from America to agree to attend University in Malaysia. I don't even care if they provide a free education . . . I don't even know if they do or don't. Noone wants to go there and the colleges in Malysia are certainly not considered comparable to our own.

While some countries in Europe offer a college education without costs or very minimal costs, they are also the same countries that have the highest taxes. For instance, Denmark and Sweden, offer a free college education, but they also hold the honor of having the world's highest tax rate for their citizens. Nothing is free.

Posted by Mary, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 14, 2007 at 7:22 pm

Skelly is trying to help children ..... children! These are kids who need a little help. If they are in fact poor, then they know great the responsibility that comes with living at a lower socioeconomic level. In my experience as a parent of three kids in PAUSD and as a teacher, it's the middle class kids who don't own up to any responsibility. I applaud Skelly for wanting to help kids.

Posted by realist, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 15, 2007 at 12:05 pm

I'm no expert on tertiary education in Australia, I was going by what I saw on the internet, for example Web Link
Under "Tertiary Education in Australia", this 2000 article says education is free for local students.

I wasn't suggesting Americans would go overseas for college. I was pointing out that most other first world countries pay for or heavily subsidize college education. No one to my knowledge makes students of average or lesser means choose between college education and horrendous debt like we do. While I believe we have the best university system in the world, we did long before we saddled young people with this kind of debt - i.e., the two are not related. In fact, as I pointed out, our university system became great under huge government subsidies after WWII.

You know, I get really tired of this drone about taxes in other parts of the world being so frightening. The only members of my family who have been able to leave inheritances after death (i.e., after long illnesses) have been Europeans, mainly middle class. The one who left the largest was a secretary her entire career (and her money was her savings). She had a higher standard of living for most of her life than most of the highly paid engineers I know here. Her countrymen in general enjoy a much higher standard of living than we do, frankly, and I never hear them complaining about their taxes which are undoubtedly higher than ours.

It's a difference of values. I would rather have a higher tax rate and universal medical care and free college, great transportation systems, etc. etc. - I would rather make these public investments and reap the benefits as a society.

Although, I sometimes wonder about the tax rate stats people like to spout to scare us all into eschewing these social benefits - my taxes went way up under Reagan's "cuts". I guess I was in the wrong socioeconomic class.

It does come down to values. I value a strong middle class.

For a little bit of local history, Stanford University was originally tuition-free, per the Stanfords' wishes. After the campus was badly damaged in the big quake, Mrs. Stanford sold her jewels in order to rebuild Stanford and keep it tuition free. (Yes, I realize that concept, as well as Mrs. Stanford, are long gone.)

Posted by PA Dad, a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 15, 2007 at 1:06 pm

Realist -- Just FYI: Stanford is now free for students from families under a certain income threshold.

Posted by Kat, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 16, 2007 at 10:14 am

Realist - Students are not choosing, as you say, between a college education and horrendous debt. They are choosing between a college education paid for by everyone else but them or a college education paid for by them, after they graduate and locate a full-time job. I prefer the later.

My brother-in-law is from Denmark. Unlike the wonderful picture you paint of European life with socialist medicine and education, he ran as fast as he could, as soon as he could, from a government that only takes from the productive citizens, at confiscatory tax rates, to give to whomever the politicians of the day deem worthy (and beneficial to his or her re-election). His son tried attending university in Denmark and found the quality of education lacking. He came to the U.S. and happily attended, and paid for, college in Pennsylvania. Yes, he is now employed and paying back his student loan. He says there is no comparison to the quality of education in the two countries. He would rather get a good education and pay for it after graduation, instead of a mediocre education that's "free". He knew that once he graduated and began working in Denmark, he would more than pay back his "free college education" in taxes.

His grandmother, who suffered a stroke, was taken to an assisted living facility in Denmark, paid for by the government. It was horrible. All of the taxes that she paid throughout her lifetime and she ended up in a government run facility that did not provide her with the care she needed.

I like our current system.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 16, 2007 at 10:27 am

Someone I know, spent a year after leaving school working for a company that guaranteed to support him through his college degree provided that he worked for them for 12 weeks each year during his college breaks and for 2 years after that. He did not have much money and his family would rather he got a proper job and earned some money to help support his family rather than wasting his time at college. After more than two years working with his sponsoring company he moved on in his career and eventually moved to the US. He worked for a well known high tech company for many years and then started a company on his own. He is now earning a six figure salary and owner of a very successful start up.

Why can't kids be sponsored in similar ways here?

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 16, 2007 at 12:10 pm


You're comparing our senior care to that of Denmark's and saying it's better here? You've got to be kidding. Here you get to go through your assets and get poor care. My father had a stroke--and let me tell you, the care in this country isn't some amazing thing. Well, actually, there's some good stroke treatment at the VA--but my father, despite being a veteran, couldn't get into the VA system. Why? Well, because the VA's underfunded and overwhelmed, thanks to Iraq.

Being able to get into a government-paid elder-care facility is a luxury around here. My father was legally entitled to VA care and still couldn't get it. He ran through his assets and never did get adequate treatment. And, yes, he had insurance and he had assets.
Even so, we couldn't get him into the better assisted-living facilities--those require that you pay half a million upfront to move into their apartment complexes--*before* you need assistance. You can't move in when you already need help.

If you like our system, it's only because you haven't used it.

Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 16, 2007 at 5:18 pm

OP, sorry you had a bad experience with your father. But that doesn't mean that Denmark's government run, taxpayer funded system would be better; it could, as Kat suggested, in fact be even worse. In fact, the VA system that deprived your father was already in the government run and taxpayer funded sector, and it seems that it served your father poorly.

On Kat's point about US colleges, though, it does seem like many are willing to come here and pay vs. get a lower cost education for free or cheap back home. Just as many US students turn to private colleges vs. state-funded schools. It seems like the customers see value in our current private (though largely non-profit of course) system.

Posted by BYB, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 16, 2007 at 7:11 pm

Kat and Terry,

It's true that tax rates are higher in Denmark than here, but in recompense they have free health care, free education, and a society that is much less torn by inequity than ours.

Sorry to burst your parochial bubble, but the education system in Denmark is top quality. It seems unlikely that your nephew left because of the "low quality" of higher education. More probably, he couldn't get into university there, which is more competitive than here because there are fewer spots. (The fewer number of spots in university does seem like a downside to their system.) Students come here for a variety of reasons, but no one is leaving Denmark or Western Europe because of the "low quality" of the education offered by their universities.

I've used the health care system in Denmark (and several other European countries), and it was wonderful. This does not mean that you get a beautiful room to yourself in the hospital, but the care is streamlined, quick and professional. No paperwork. Compare that to our system, which rations out care to the wealthy.

Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 16, 2007 at 7:42 pm

I don't know nothing about Denmark, BYB, so thanks for the observations.

The Danes, like some other countries, make a tradeoff - high taxes in exchange for government supplied services. It's a valid choice. Probably more appropriate for a more homogenous population with more shared history, values, and culture than ours. Not "torn by inequality" but not especially the land of opportunity either. I'm not interested in a trade personally and I don't see the world beating a path to their door (and perhaps they don't welcome immigrants, not sure).

In terms of universities - the web has everything, so why not world university rankings ;-) Here is a link: Web Link I cannot vouch for the methdology or biases; but the US comes off very well (about 42 of the top 50 if I counted right), while Denmark not so well (top school coming in at 99). U Oslo and U Helsinki both cracked the top 50 btw - Nordic pride!

Posted by Parent, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 16, 2007 at 7:54 pm

Interesting observations, Terry. I hadn't realised that the US universities were that highly rated in those sort of numbers. What is interesting, and I can't really see from these tables, is the number of top class universities (or university places) per population. I mean, if the US has the biggest population then it would make sense that we should have the biggest number of excellent universities (or places). But for a small country, like Denmark for example, an excellent university may be able to cater for a larger percentage of the population than say the sum total of the top 50 universities here.

The excellence of the university system is one thing. The availability for the best students to get into one is another. Here in Palo Alto we have two of the best high schools in the state, but we are not able to get all of our excellent students into Stanford and Berkeley. It doesn't work that way. If we could, we would be populating these two universities at a bigger percentage of our high school graduates. Unfortunately, due to the wisdom of those more wise than I, that is not the case. Therefore, a large number of our PAUSD students who by other cities' standards are excellent students, just do not get into the best. That may not be the case for our Danish counterparts. Just an interesting way at looking at the situation.

Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 16, 2007 at 8:15 pm

Some good points, Parent, and I agree, I wouldn't read those tables as an overall assessment of any nation's educational system. It does seem on point though for BYB's claim that no-one comes to the US from Europe for educational quality - by these rankings, they might well choose to come (check out France, btw - very low rankings, esp for a country of their size).

Building on BYB's point, our higher ed system probably has less nationalization and more "inequality" than most others. There are pros and cons to that choice, but a pro is that we have some real kick ass schools (per those tables), including some right in our back yard. A con, perhaps, is that learners need to pay their own way, at least to get some of the best schools (though numerous states schools in the top 50, btw). But the system seems to be working pretty well to me.

Posted by PA Dad, a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 16, 2007 at 10:40 pm

Terry -- those rankings you quote seem to be mostly concerned with ranking universities by how accessible their faculty's research is online.

As the site states: "The original aim of the Ranking was to promote Web publication, not to rank institutions. Supporting Open Access initiatives, electronic access to scientific publications and to other academic material are our primary targets."

No surprise then, perhaps, that the US (which paid for the orginal Internet) ranks so well. I've seen other world rankings where the US does very well but doesn't dominate even the top ten let alone the top fifty.

And that, I'd argue, belies your point to BYB about US universities being magnets because they are simply head and shoulders above the rest of the world. As a graduate of both one of the better European universities and a top tier American university, I have to say I was surprised at how much less rigorous were the academic standards of the American institution.

There are lots of other good reasons to study in the US, besides, that still make it a magnet. For anyone looking to study for a graduate degree and interested in being an academic or staying in research, for example, the US is simply a much larger market for jobs (there might be twenty decent jobs for which to apply in your field of specialization in any one year in the US verses one or none in a smaller country like Denmark or England).

As for the world beating a path to the door of universities in other countries, my impression is that the rates of foreign students in many European countries are pretty comparable with US universities. Foreign students tend to pay full tuition which makes them more attractive than domestic students in situations where domestic students are government subsidized at rates that don't always cover the full cost of tuition.

Immigration policies do have an impact. But they do here, too. Coming to the US as a
student and then staying on to gain citizenship -- as opposed to gaining it as a family member of an existing citizen -- is actually pretty tricky (unless you get one of those precious tenure-track jobs where the university can argue that there is no-one else in the world better able to fill the job than you!).

Posted by OhlonePar, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 16, 2007 at 11:25 pm


Let me clarify--treatment in the private sector for a long-term disability was worse in the private sector than in the public sector--that's why we bothered with the VA. The VA has far better options for long-term treatment than the private sector.

Your university rankings are, frankly, meaningless. There are better rankings--I mean, do you really think Berkeley is *better* than Harvard? That the University of Wisconsin is better than Oxford and Yale? I mean, you seem to have linked to a listing that measures Web presence--in which case, of course, American institutions have a greater presence.

In this one--from China--U. of Copenhagen comes in 46 worldwide--not bad, given that there's limited overseas recruitment--Danish is not widely spoken, unlike English.

Web Link

Looking at Google, I think, perhaps, that was the listing you thought you had.

Yes, we have well-endowed highly successful universities. At the same time, you'll find countries such as Denmark have lower infant mortality, greater longevity, higher literacy rates and a much better standard of living for the overall population (6th in per capita income). There are only around 5 million denizens in Denmark--so, one top 50 university is hardly a bad showing.

And we do have a history of taxing for the greater good--public schools, libraries, interstate highway system--in fact, the U.S. greatest boom period took place after we instituted higher tax levels. We all benefit from the public infrastructure created over the past 80 years.

I've always found the libertarian streak in Silicon Valley deeply ironic, given its roots in defense spending--ARPANET, anyone?

Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 17, 2007 at 2:19 pm

Thanks OP. I just pulled the first rankings I found listed on Google, so no pride of authorship on my part.

If Denmark is #46, and spots are limited, I can still see why kids might come here ;-)

I'm not a libertarian btw, which I think is an somewhat extremist position. But I do think that national monopolies tend not to work as well as a mix of public and private alternatives. That the government funds some very basic R&D is great - DARPA, NIH, etc. - there are lots of examples. But that's funding research that private industry largely would not fund vs. creating a national monopoly on large sectors.

That said, I'd be fine with single payer health care system, seems sensible - so long as there were private care options for those who wanted to pay more, either through insurance or out of their own pocket. Our health care system is nothing to write home about; and I don't really know anything about Denmark's (nor could I find much data online).

Were the private sector alternatives you saw worse because of their cost? Or other reasons?

Posted by Kat, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 17, 2007 at 2:25 pm

Ohlone Par - I do have first hand experience with elder care outside of the home. My brother-in-law also has experience with both systems, since his mom was placed in a Denmark facility and my mom was placed here in the U.S. According to him, there is no comparison. It is better here.

Posted by Kat, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 17, 2007 at 2:28 pm

BYB - My nephew spent a year in university in Denmark. He left because of the quality of the education he was receiving there. I know you don't want to believe it, but it's true.

Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 17, 2007 at 4:51 pm

In terms of US universities drawing foreign students - from the Christian Science Monitor: "More than 564,000 foreign students are enrolled at US universities – more than twice the number in Britain, the second-largest host." They didn't name the source.

I think the absolute number coming is probably a more important measure of school desirability vs. the % of foreigners vs. domestics enrolled. My guess is that most students choose the US first, the school second (vs. choosing between, say, U Copenhagen vs. U Texas). These numbers may reflect desire to study in English (relevant data point for FLES consideration) and the potential interest in getting a job in US.

Posted by realist, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 18, 2007 at 3:12 pm

Everyone still seems stuck on the idea that our universities are great because of private funding and debt that students incur to go to school.

Which would mean our universities were a backwater until after Reagan, which is just not true. Our universities became great decades earlier mainly because of land grants and government money, in an era when people pretty much didn't have to pay for college because of the GI bill. And scholarships - in my dad's era, it seemed they were awash in merit scholarships. By the time I went to school, they were rare and frankly most didn't cover much.

I think a tantalizing idea would have been asking students to commit to public service (in the military or civilian sector through Americore) to pay for college. Whatever happened to Americore?

My best friend died in a bay area nursing home, supposedly one of the best. Comparing that to my grandfather's nursing home in Europe is like comparing a run down Motel 6 to the Four Seasons Hotel. My friend had excellent insurance and died a pauper (and much too soon, because of poor care).

Fine, if everyone agrees that all must pay their way, then let corporations and those who benefit disproportionately from our taxpayer funded roads, infrastructure and other resources (even our legal system) pay their fair share. End corporate welfare. Use the money instead to invest in our population for the future.

I'm not saying we should go back to the level of taxes in the Eisenhower era (remember Republican Ike? but then, Ike was a real conservative, not a faux/neo-conservative), but something close to, where corporations and the wealthy paid more of their fair share.

Posted by BYB, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 19, 2007 at 12:14 pm

Kat and Terry,

Sure, kids leave Denmark (and countries in Western Europe) and get educations elsewhere, but sorry, it's just not credible that they do that because of the low quality of education at home. Your assumption is pure hubris.

Posted by good grief, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 19, 2007 at 12:55 pm

BYB please explain how it is that you used health care in several non-US countries....without paying for it? You imply it is "free" what way, exactly, is health care free in any country?

SOMEBODY is paying for it.

The US rations out its care to the rich? You haven't any clue how our health care works here. Try working in it for even one year then come back and tell us how we "ration" our health care to the rich.

Posted by good grief, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 19, 2007 at 12:59 pm

To Realist:

Unfortunately, "Europe" as I know not the almighty great thing you are portraying. Your grandfather was lucky to have a nursing home. Nowadays, because people were taught that the "government" would care for them instead of people buying insurance and saving for their own old age care, there are no nursing homes available for the middle class in Europe. My first cousin can not go to a nursing home even though she now has severe Alzeimers and is 75...because she never saved for it and they don't have insurance for long term care. She will only be able to go when she has spent down into "poverty".

So much for the "government".

People, rely on yourselves, plan for your future!

Posted by Kat, you are right on, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 19, 2007 at 1:02 pm

To Kat:

Your story of reality in Europe is dead on. The professionals who are able to do so now are getting out of Dodge as soon as possible because of the horrendous tax load and minimum benefits.

Germany and the US are looking pretty good to them as they try to escape socialist loss of freedom and responsibility.

For closer to home..look at Canada and ask why 10 times as many, per capita, Canadians migrate to America than Americans migrate to Canada.

Posted by hmm, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 19, 2007 at 1:25 pm

Could it be the weather? Retirement communities in Florida and Arizona appeal to many Canadian snowbirds and permanent transplants.

Posted by Terry, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 19, 2007 at 1:40 pm

Realist, I agree, all should pay taxes and higher end tax rates should and probably will go up when Bush II is over. I doubt it will impact higher-end support though - we'll have our hands full with social security ;-)

I don't think our schools are good because kids go into debt for them; I think the kids go into debt because the schools are good. The market made a product that people want to pay for - not sure if greater subsidies are necessary. Though they may be - where we set the dial on government subsidized student loans is a good question (just as where we set the dial on mortgage interest deductions). Maybe should be higher. But I think that is pretty far from making higher-ed "free" through providing 100% taxpayer-funded colleges (well beyond what states provide today).

I don't know a lot of the details of European countries that tax higher and pay more of the health care bill out of tax revenue. Given the demographic bubble we all face (graying population), it would seem like hard problem for them, just as social security and Medicare are hard problems for us.

Posted by PA mom, a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 19, 2007 at 2:16 pm

Dear Kat, you are right on - last time I checked, Germany was in Europe. And all the Canadians I know in the US came because of school and stayed or because of the weather.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 19, 2007 at 3:48 pm

Maybe asking what classes as a good education is a better question than which schools are best. For example, are our college graduates here better prepared for their future careers than their foreign counterparts? When a college student takes three years in Britain to graduate with a BA whereas the US colleges take four years for the same thing, does that better prepare the graduates for a job, or is it necessary to go on to graduate school to gain a qualification in say engineering to get a job in the high tech field? Why is it that local high tech companies prefer those coming out of say India, as better trained, than those coming out of Stanford or Berkeley. A company has to have a lot of faith in an individual to pay for and do all the paperwork and to pay for the removal and immigration of an Indian worker when it would be much easier if they could get a locally trained one. And don't say it is because Indian workers work for less, they have to be paid a fair market wage or their immigration visas won't be granted.

Posted by byb, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 19, 2007 at 4:37 pm


You must have mixed up my post with someone else's: I never said healthcare was free. European health care is paid for by taxes, mostly. Also, in some countries, you pay a minimal (approx $10/visit) fee to discourage casual users from using the doctors as conversation partners, etc. The point is that you get access to health care whether you are rich, middle-class, or poor.

I don't see why you take issue with the notion that health care is rationed here. It's an obvious fact that stems from the system we have.

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