University degrees in America are among the most expensive in the world.

Today, should someone want to be an advanced professional, they need to invest in two degrees and sometimes even three. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average cost of attending a single year of university is $36,589. According to Peterson's higher-ed consulting, annual tuition and fees for graduate degrees exceed $30,000 per year, all the more so if at private schools.

How much do those degrees cost? Assuming these average figures, a bachelor's degree would cost $146,356 and a 3-year masters would cost $90,000. A PhD is tens of thousands on top. At $236,000, that's equivalent to a brand new Italian sportscar. As most Americans don't have hundreds of thousands of dollars lying around, they must borrow money to earn their degrees. Today, the total student loan debt held in the hands of Americans is $1.3 trillion.

That $1.3 trillion is absorbed into every area of society. The price of labor, goods, services, materials and products are all inflated by the cost of degrees that have no business being so expensive - because it is only in our society that they are.

Most every other Western society has found ways to invest in the education of their citizens because they discovered that an educated society is a healthy society, and not burdening graduates with tens of thousands of dollars in debt makes it easier for them to invest in things like buying houses and starting small businesses. But in our society, our government would rather spend trillions on military equipment than ensure we have the same educational opportunities as the people we'll one day be competing against in a globalized economy.

The Alliance Party believes this is wrong. We should be encouraging students of all ages to attend university, and we don't believe it should cost anywhere near as much as it does today. We intend to solve this problem through several measures, which alongside approaches to improve our K-12 education programs nationwide include the following:

Affordable Degrees

Affordable Degrees

We plan to devote greater shares of public revenue towards subsidizing university education, making it dramatically less expensive to earn degrees than it costs today. However, this will come with setting a few new standards:

  • Tightened Admissions. We believe in publicly funded degrees, but only for those who have proven themselves worthy to receive them. In our model, only a B average or higher would be eligible for tuition-free education. If a prospective student didn't take their studies seriously and fell below that grade average, they would need to work at a full-time job or in public service for several years with a letter of recommendation from their employer to attend university at a subsidized rate.
  • Focus on Specific Fields. There is no such thing as an “invalid” degree. But not all educational tracks have the same impact to our economy and society, and the Alliance Party's education model only intends to focus on the ones that present the greatest benefit. This includes careers in science, math, medicine, engineering and information technology. It also includes architecture, design, art and creative services, as well as studies in humanities, English (or a foreign language), history, political science, international relations and business. We encourage all students to learn new information of all forms, but only educational pursuits that directly improve our economy and society would be eligible for subsidy in our model.
  • Encouraging pre-university employment or service. Today, a university education is often viewed as an extension of high school, simply the next step up with more life freedom (and often an accompanying lifestyle of excess alcohol consumption). That's not what our universities should be geared for. They should be geared for people who wish to learn advanced skills to improve their position in life or their society at large.

    For this reason, unless a student has demonstrated exceptional aptitude in their desired field of study, our plan to offer tuition-free university degrees would come with an expectation that a student has worked a full-time job either in private or public service for at least one year, or has significant experience in volunteer nonprofit work. This helps demonstrate that a student is both serious about their degree and is also aware of the nature of the industry they're looking to enter.

  • Universal Accreditation and Fast-Track Programs A common problem with universities today is they don't always accept courses from other schools to satisfy certain degree requirements. If you took a writing and math course at one school, they may not be accepted for credit if you transfer schools - forcing you to take the class again, wasting time and money. For this reason, our plan would establish a national accreditation program, meaning that any class taken for credit at one university would be valid for another.

    Additionally, we would also seek publicly funded universities to establish fast-track programs for certain degree fields. If you're seeking to become an electrical engineer or a physician, you shouldn't have to take several courses in sculpture or art history. Bachelor's degrees today are often extensions of high school with significant general education requirements. For dedicated careers that require a separate degree, we'd seek to build programs through federal education services to fact-track that degree, allowing students to learn the skills they need to learn without unnecessary overhead.

  • Reforming administration and athletic funding. College administration and academics are lucrative positions. At public universities, administrator pay can top $1 million annually, which is nothing compared to sports coaches who make five to ten times that. Combined with the cost of stadiums that reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars, it's clear that a lot of money is being spent at the university level that has nothing to do with university academics.

    The Alliance Party would change this by limiting the amount of money that could be paid to administration salaries, athletic salaries or the cost of athletic facilities for any school receiving federal education funds. It would also establish substantially higher standards for how much athletic revenue must be funneled back into the university for academic programs. Universities in receipt of federal funds are there to advance our society by educating our society - not paying millions to administrators, sports coaches and hundreds of millions of tax dollars on new stadiums.

  • Commercial research within universities. A component of our plan to improve higher education nationwide is the inclusion of advanced research within universities, especially pharmaceutical research. Although many technologies and medicines today are born in part from university laboratories, once discoveries are packaged into a product, the rights to that product go to the company that brought it to market. As we're capitalist by nature the Alliance Party takes no issue with this in principle, however, as universities are used to facilitate research with public money, we propose that we shift to a dedicated university research footing that allows discoveries to be placed in the public domain.

    Here's how that would work in practice: let's say that a university professor and his team of PhD candidates research a new drug that could treat medical afflictions or a new material that would improve various aspects of manufacturing (like graphene). Once discovered, the rights to that discovery would become public in this model (for U.S. citizens only under a "Citizen Patent"). In effect, that would prevent a company from buying the rights to the discovery and selling it at a huge profit.

    Now, it might be true that lobbyists might take issue with our public education systems using public money to develop products that are then given to the public domain for inexpensive use. We simply don't care. If universities have the technical capability to develop inventions for public benefit, then the Alliance Party will seek to encourage and if necessary subsidize that effort. That's what higher education is there for: to improve our society, not line the pockets of conglomerates.

  • Restructure federal student loan debt. The Alliance Party’s budget model would restructure the $1.3 trillion in student loan debt that is presently held nationwide. For federal debt, professionals with advanced degrees in STEM fields would be eligible to have most or all of their debt forgiven. Degrees in the humanities would enjoy similar eligibility if they were working in a public-sector job. For private student loan debt, students would remain able to discharge debt through bankruptcy just like any other financial obligations.

Prioritizing Primary Education

Prioritizing Primary Education

Although education funding is a frequently discussed topic, an often ignored reality is that, like healthcare, we pay more for education than most other nations. And also like healthcare, what we receive in return is of lower value. America ranks far below other Western countries in terms of math, science and humanities. School funding may be high, but it's far from uniform. Many teachers are paid far lower than they're worth and sometimes have to pay out of pocket for remedial school supplies - yet teachers unions and tenure tracks prevent adequate reform and keep less effective educators in place.

These problems have complicated origins and passionate perspectives. To solve them, we intend to look outwardly to another industry that has found ways to retain top talent with the ability to solve complicated challenges under stressful conditions: software.

Teaching is regarded as one of the most difficult occupations in the world, and as a result requires a certain type of personality and character to perform. You need to be able to solve difficult tasks under pressure, multitask and prioritize problems that are made worse by unforeseen complications. The software industry is similar in many regards, and has addressed this problem through a simple solution: high pay with high standards. We believe the same should be true with teachers.

Our education model seeks to subsidize teacher salaries to a level competitive enough that it attracts the best and brightest, which we would provisionally set at $75,000 per year. Additionally, as with doctors and first responders, we intend to extend special income tax breaks to teachers - further incentivizing employment. Education can't be some secondary consideration in public service; teachers raise our children to excel in a globalized economy and if we're not willing to make that investment than we will be eventually defeated by foreign nations that will and do.

But by paying for top talent we must expect top talent, which requires us to set universal performance standards. Some of the standards we would propose include reviews by their students, colleagues and administrators. But the most important benchmark we'd propose is a revamping of standardized testing, and using these tests to assess school performance from a different angle.

The Alliance Party was founded by Americans young enough to personally remember the surge of standardized tests within the past 25 years. Very few of us look back on them fondly. We spent all year teaching for the test, because school funding was tied to performance. So instead of learning what we should, we learned how to score well on the standardized test. As much of America reflects today, that trend has only gotten worse.

We propose stopping this by effectively reversing the function of standardized tests. In our model, federal education services would outline general benchmarks on what a student should be capable of knowing by a certain grade level, and have generic tests based on that which vary significantly from year to year to limit predictive teaching. We wouldn't tie school funding to school performance, but we would directly investigate school districts that noticeably underperformed to find out why.

That 'why' could be any number of things, but regardless of the cause it's a problem that needs to be solved. If that school district transparently lacks funds, we'll fund it. If it transparently needs new equipment, we'll buy it. If teachers are ineffective or noticeably underperforming compared to national standards, they'll be shown the door. If it's in a high-crime neighborhood and kids miss school because they're unsafe, those remedies will be provided and they will be provided effectively.

On these tests, the information we would seek verified would be transparently assembled by education professionals and issued in different formats every year. Schools aren't supposed to teach to a test, they're supposed to teach knowledge, and any standardized test proposed in our model would be there to determine the quality of knowledge taught nationwide. In doing so, the information we'd seek verified would treat established facts as such - and would tie federal education funding to their acceptance. That means evolution is not contested. The Earth is not flat. And history will not be whitewashed for ideological preferences. If state education programs seek to teach students false and contrarian information, we will not stop them, but we would work to ensure that federal funds be withheld for doing so.

Federal Academies

Federal Academies

A heartbreaking fact of our society is that its problems tend to manifest strongest towards the weakest of us, which unfortunately happens to be children. Millions of children today are homeless or live in abusive conditions that see them malnourished, neglected and abused. How many more live in loving, caring families that just so happen to live in areas without great schools or lack the financial means to send them to university?

We should strive to see that number reach zero. And we intend to achieve that goal by establishing a network of federal boarding academies that American students can attend should they choose and demonstrate the aptitude. Of this aptitude, it would center around a few different areas of importance:

  • Brilliance. Highly intelligent students might not perform as well in traditional schools if they learn concepts faster than their peers. This can lead to disinterest in academics or lead them to engage in more negative behaviors. If a student shows uncanny capabilities, allowing them to an attend an academy that has the resources to channel their brilliance will maximize their potential, allowing for a more efficient use of educational resources and translating to overall social benefit.
  • Special needs. Many schools today integrate special needs students with regular classes, but that’s not always the most efficient way to provide an effective education to either group. Kids with special needs learn differently than other students and may require more focus and specialized learning plans. Providing an academy that specializes in tailoring educational programs to help kids with special needs and has the expertise and experience to help them overcome their disabilities can pay massive social benefits, and also reduces the strain special needs programs can place on educational resources when applied in standard classroom environments.
  • Broken homes and abusive living circumstances. Millions of kids face some form of abuse outside of school, and the impact this can have is socially devastating. It’s unacceptable that our society would have no mechanism to address it outside of child protective services and law enforcement. This model affords us the opportunity to take kids out of hostile environments should they wish to leave, heal the damage they have suffered and dedicate educational resources to tailor lesson plans to them within specialized academies.

Closer proximity to advanced projects and industries

Closer proximity to advanced projects and industries

The Alliance Party’s Government 2.0 model for public service intentionally places federal education services alongside advanced research and development services. Research and development are imperative to social advancement, and Universal Energy opens up multiple new possibilities that warrant exploration through dedicated projects. Spearheaded by public and private entities, schools could be integrated into more complex projects more frequently, not only because classroom time can never truly be a substitute for real-world experience, but also because this can familiarize kids with the types of advanced work they might be undertaking as adults.

For more information on our mindset behind what this might mean, please review more details within A Future Worth Having.

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