An Open Letter to PA College Students

Edward Theodore Compton [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I understand that it is not common for you, the reader, to be addressed directly. Nevertheless, I intend to do exactly that. Don’t worry; it’s for a very good reason. I need you to understand how Governor Tom Corbett is cutting your legs out from under you. I need you to understand how he’s not only doing that to you, but to students in high schools and elementary schools all over this state. I need you to understand why, if we don’t do something, we’re all screwed. You, me, those kids in school now, even generations not yet born. I’m making a few presumptions, reader. You’re a college student, like me, or at least that’s my first presumption. You’re living in Pennsylvania. And, most important of all, you want to be successful. If any of my presumptions are incorrect, that’s alright. Read on and you’ll see that it matters just the same. We’re all in the same society after all.

Edward Theodore Compton [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsImagine our society as a tall mountain. No one’s ever been to the top and we can’t even see the top from down here. We can’t even be sure how high the mountain rises into the sky. But we feel the need to climb it. And we have climbed it. Down at the base of the mountain are stones we carefully laid to make the journey safer and easier. A little higher than that, we carved steps into the stone itself. There are wooden ladders and great marble staircases with non-slip pads on them, there are ropes and pulleys, and escalators and elevators and they each lead to new leveled areas of the mountain. Now understand, each of those stones, every one of those stairs and ladders and elevators, they are the achievements we’ve made because of education.

We didn’t just climb up that mountain alone and without help. Past generations figured things out, wrote them down, and taught them to their children. Those children figured out new ways of doing things and taught them to their children. And the achievements are many. We have a better understanding today of literature, of art, of science, of medicine, of technology, of ourselves than we have ever had before in all of history. How did we manage this? Well, how do you think we did it? We learned, we taught, and we repeated the process. The driving force that led us up that mountain has been our desire to give our future generations a better view from higher on the mountain, but the way we did it was with education.

Now, you and me, we’re climbing that mountain. We’re students in college right now. Up above us we can see some of our professors (many of them are climbing too). Above them on the mountain we see a privileged group of people. Some of them have worked hard to climb that mountain, some of them have ridden exclusive, family-owned aircraft that put them down on a giant ledge way up there that we’ll probably never reach. It’s alright though, because down below us we can see folks struggling a lot harder than us. Some of them don’t even have the urge to climb anymore.

When education is no longer considered our primary tool for advancing up the mountain, we don’t just stop building new stairs…we start moving back down the mountain. The elevators fall into ruin. Soon we aren’t just sliding down the mountain: we’re falling down it, all of us. All of us, perhaps, except those privileged few up there on that glittering ledge. That’s what is happening right now. It’s what we’re seeing when Governor Corbett slashed the state budget for higher education a few weeks ago. By cutting over $330 million from the budget of the PA State System of Higher Education and over $395 million from financial assistance to college students (that’s you and me) through the PA Higher Education Assistance Agency, and additional cuts to major colleges like Penn State and Temple, Corbett’s making an attack on higher education. And attacks on higher education are more than just a bad idea; they’re a crippling blow to our society.

Higher education provides citizens with opportunities to learn a career. These people become the leaders of a new world. If we reduce the number of people who have the opportunity to participate in higher education, we reduce the number of educated people who will be able to serve as future leaders. We essentially reduce the pool of successful, smart, and able citizens and relegate many of them to a lower class in a nation that’s not even supposed to have a class system in place. Make no mistake, higher education and future leadership roles will still be available to some… but they will be the ones who can afford increased tuitions at state colleges or more exclusive (and more expensive) private schools. Those citizens without the financial means to attend either of those kinds of schools will simply not go to college, and are very likely to stay at the lowest levels of our society… at the bottom of the mountain.

Governor Tom Corbett is working hard to dismantle Pennsylvania’s future. To be clear, that’s not some vague, abstract future; that’s tomorrow. Your ability to attend college next semester is affected by these cuts. Tuitions will be raised, maybe your tuition. Entire majors will be cut from schools, maybe your major. Professors will be let go. Class sizes will grow. Even if you can continue to go to college, the quality of your education will be affected by these cuts. The quality of our shared future will be affected, too. We’ll start sliding back down that mountain, instead of climbing it like our parents did. The time to act is now. We have to stand our ground. We have to fight to even stay where we are.

Don’t wait to act. In a few sentences, you and I will part ways. Go and write a letter to the Governor, call his office, email your friends and family and have them do the same. Let our government know how important education is to our future. Pay attention and get involved, join protests locally and at the Capitol, to make sure our voices are heard. Don’t wait, or it will be too late.

Dave Kalis is a Secondary Education-English student at Kutztown University


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