Seniors offer wisdom on education and long-term budget goals

In a blog posted February 2 at The Educated Guess, journalist John Fensterwald of the Silicon Valley Education Foundation posits that baby boomers need to be convinced that spending money on higher education is in their own best interest. 

Why? 

Fensterwald answers that seniors will benefit from “more workers with college degrees, if they want to make money selling their homes in the next 20 years.”  The writer may not be senior enough (or have enough boomer buddies) to comprehend the mindset of people aged 60 and above about what they value.  The seniors I interviewed were concerned about the future for their grandchildren, as well as their safety and security, far ahead of future appreciation on their homes. With the wisdom of age, these seniors have learned to consider their homes a place to live – not an investment to be parlayed into future profits.

Here’s what a random sampling of what 60 and over Californians told me about cuts to education:

“You’re cutting the future and spiting yourself.  Education is what moves us forward.”

“California’s university system was a big incentive for us to come to the state in the first place.  It would be very sad to see the ratings of the UCs and CSUs go down.”

“I could care less about home prices.  I’m planning to be buried out back.”

“Proposed cuts in vocational education will put more kids on the streets, and into gangs and drugs.  That’s much worse for me than a loss of home equity.”

These reactions point out that seniors need little if any incentive to oppose cuts to education, although they do recognize that targeted reductions make sense all around.  And they certainly aren’t worried about the 20-year appreciation potential of their homes.

“I’ll be 80 by then,” said one respondent.  “Where do they think I plan to spend extra cash?” One 72 year-old Californian told me, “While I want more – not less – state money spent on education, I do believe in correcting the disparities between upper level administrators and teaching professionals.”  He said he has become deeply concerned about six and seven figure salaries paid UC board members when teaching staff take the major hit (in either salaries, hours or classroom support) for budget reductions.

Boomers and seniors also question the efficacy of spending so much money on prisons and prisoners while taking money from education.  Said one, “That’s just the wrong direction for our future.”  Meanwhile, another told me, “Fundamentally, I believe we should be providing the opportunity for higher education to as many as possible.” Another summed up his reaction to the Fensterwald article directly, “That’s not my point of view, and I question whether it’s the point of view of many seniors or Californians.”

It’s easy to lump groups such as boomers or seniors into monolithic thought patterns, but it’s also wrong and dangerous.  Telling seniors that there’s a need to protect higher education in California may just be preaching to the choir.  It’s a bit more daunting to convince state politicians of the need to make rational decisions that are truly focused on the future.

But putting emphasis on the end budget result rather than the end condition of our state is an easy route to governing.  Perhaps our legislative and executive branches need to start talking more to the demographic group that is growing in power and influence on a day-by-day basis:  the seniors.  They might be surprised to find that older people often take a longer-term view of what’s right for our state and don’t worry so much about quick profits and real-estate booms.