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More beating on baby boomers

Post by Kim Bradford on Nov. 30, 2006 at 7:29 am with No Comments »
November 30, 2006 7:29 am

A column I wrote a week ago (“Pass it on: The baby boomers blew it”) continues to get sharp reactions from readers. The subject: my generation’s failure (in my view) to provide younger Americans with the same college opportunity we were given. I’ll post some of the more interesting ones here:

State Sen. Debbie Regala was somewhat skeptical, though it turned out she and I may have been focusing on somewhat different issues:


I read your commentary in today’s paper with great interest. I have always been interested in ensuring that young people have access to higher education.

I am sensitive to this issue because, I was extremely fortunate to have a neighbor who believed in me so much that he helped pay for my college education. My parents simply could not afford it; and although I worked to earn as much as possible – that did not cover the cost either. Without the generosity of that neighbor – I doubt I would have gotten a college education.

So while I do not serve on the higher education committees, I do support the efforts to increase access to higher education. I found the statement you quoted from Washington Learns to be incredible. Your commentary cites the U.S. Census Bureau as the source of the information. Are you aware of any other sources that would support this assertion?

My own observations about my generation (60-plus) and my children’s generation (27-37) is that more of them have a college degree. And our colleges and universities are also educating many more students from foreign countries – so slots are available. I realize that is my own anecdotal perception; not based on any rigorous survey.

And I realize that the statistics you cite compare the 35- to 64-year-olds with the 25- to 34-year-olds. So maybe there is something special about the 35-to 64-year-olds. I do believe that generation had more access to higher education than those of my 60-plus generation and combining that with the number of people who go to college later in life (not right out of high school) would provide a high percentage of college educated folks in that wider age range. I wonder if there are statistics about the age at which people obtained their higher education? Could that account for the apparent disproportionality?

Again, I’m very supportive of providing access to higher education. And my anecdotal observations are that we are doing better. Yes, it is expensive – but it always has been. And compared to my generation (again, my observations), more middle class families are managing to afford higher education for their children.

So, I’m troubled by the statement – not the goal. I’ll keep working toward more access despite what the statistics may be, but I simply found the statement to not “ring true” and I’d like more back-up facts before I cite it.

Thanks for any help you can provide in enlightening me.

Debbie Regala

My response:


Thanks. I talked to Jim Sultan and Ann Daley before writing the piece. Daley, who as you know directed Washington Learns, said the steering committee itself was surprised by the disparity when it was pointed out by a consultant in May.

The same figures turned up in a later report given to the higher education committee. On the Washington Learns Website, go to Steering Committee, then to meeting materials, then to the Aims C. McGuinness report to the May 15 meeting. See pages 5-10. Then go to the higher education committee’s section and check out "Making the Grade" under that committee’s June 28 meeting. Some of the comparisons involve the 45-54 age cohort, but the same point applies.

In my column, I was voicing my own dismay broadly about intergenerational equity, not commenting on policy and funding as they stand right now. I think the Legislature has made a serious effort to catch up since the mid-1990s, but that didn’t undo damage already done. Nor does the Legislature (or the public) seem particularly interested in affordability; tuition just keeps going up, adjusted for inflation, relative to what I paid in the 1970s. Students without other resources are now forced to incur major debts even for degrees, such as social work, that don’t promise high incomes; I have known many young people who were scared by high debts and felt they simply couldn’t afford public universities.

My own perception is that my parents’ generation was much more willing to sacrifice for the public good than my generation, a phenomenon that I think is reflected in everything from lack of investment in transportation infrastructure, support for anti-tax initiatives and a relative decline in higher education opportunity. "Do your own thing" to some extent has translated into "Keep your hands off my pocketbook."

Washington still ranks very low among the 50 states in terms of participation in baccalaureate programs (Washington Learns, I think, cited a ranking of 45th, though I’ve seen rankings slightly higher and lower), though it does fairly well on two-year college access. For many students, I believe, the two-years are Potemkin opportunities. Sultan told me there is a serious continuing problem with lack of seats for them when they try to transfer into baccalaureate programs from community colleges.

I’m glad you’re interested in the issue.

Pat O’C

Regala replied:

Thanks, Pat.

I certainly agree that there seems to be much more of a “I’ve got mine – and you get your own – but don’t ask for my help” mentality these days.

I had an interesting conversation with a constituent who was angry that his tax dollars were going to educate someone else’s kids. I pointed out all the ways that society as a whole benefits from an educated public. And after much discussion, he conceded that maybe it was okay to use public dollars to educate two kids in a family – but if parents wanted to have more than two – they would have to pay for those kids! And we were talking K-12, not higher education.


Another thoughtful response:

Mr. O’Callahan:

I won’t say that I enjoyed yesterday’s column because it is not enjoyable to read the bleak truth about such a subject.

I spent 32 years in the classroom and can attest to your statements about today’s generation being more poorly educated than ours. Though I’m of several minds as to why this has occurred, it is indeed a fact.

Conspicuous consumption rather than investment in the educational process has won the battle for the hearts and minds of our generation. Perhaps, you’ve seen one of my least favorite bumper stickers, “I’m spending my childrens’ inheritance.” If only it were just a simple-minded ditty.

At this time of the year, the pathos of consumerism comes front and center. As I rifled through the ads this morning looking for the actual newspaper, I marveled at the many ways we’ve been seduced into thinking that buying things we don’t even want, let alone need, is now the principal theme of our culture. Education just takes too much work, I guess; too much work, time and money.

An optimist by nature, I’m still of the opinion that we could change and become more of a give-back nation, but I doubt it’ll be very soon. Maybe, if other columnists – and even a politician from time to time – will hammer away at this, at some point we’ll turn the corner.


Joe Novak

This from Craig Chilton of Bonney Lake:

Hello Patrick,

I am writing to you rather than writing a letter to the editor because I can identify with you so much. I am a baby boomer, vintage 1948, and experienced the same high school boredom at Roosevelt High School and then success at the UW. Some of my classmates got into the UW with a 2.7 GPA (although I think there has been grade inflation in high school and at the UW over the years). My first year, 1966, the tuition per quarter was $135. I worked part time and borrowed some money from my father which I paid back in a few years after graduation. However, I would like to make two points on affordability …

1. There are government grants for students who come from low income families. All you have to do is fill out the application and send it in by a certain date. I think January 1st. After that you can apply for low interest student loans. The average debt of an undergrad at a state school is around $20,000. To me this is not a lot of money to pay off if you start off with a college-educated entry level job. … My point is there is money available for anybody that has the grades and test scores to get accepted at the UW. One note: You can blame the Legislature for not subsidizing the tuition like when we were students.

2. If you are talking about not giving the baby boomlets the same access to college that we were given because of the GPA requirement, then I agree with you. Shame on us for not instilling not only the need for a college education but also making our kids realize that you have to have good grades to get into the UW.

The fault belongs to the baby boomers but you have let the baby boomers (to include low income ones) off the hook by saying a college education is not affordable. Besides the points I have made in #1 above, the way you pay for a college education is the same as a car or a house: You save.

I started saving for my kids right after they were born $100 per month and with the interest rates as high as 15% in the 80’s, that money was growing fast. … My point is low-income wage earners and middle-income wage earners can save for a college education for their children but they don’t. They will whine to everybody about the high tuition but they never save a nickel. I sacrificed for many years for that $100 to $400 per month for college educations, and many of them can do the same thing. You pay yourself first.

One final example: When baby boomers graduated from high school, all parents and grandparents asked us what we’re doing now. Are you going to college? Do you have a job? Are you looking for a job? If the answer was no to those 3 questions, they would ask us straight out – Why are you being so irresponsible? The baby boomers ask the same questions to boomlets and the boomlets answer “I’m going to hang out and party for awhile”. The baby boomers then say “That’s cool, you have a lot of time to grow up. Why don’t you chill out in California or backpack around the world?” I hope you get my point.

Thanks for letting me respond.

Craig Chilton

Bonney Lake

Here’s one from Hal Snodgrass:

Your column prompts my response for several reasons:

1. The G.I. bill put me through the College of Puget Sound (1946-49). Thousands more, including several of my buddies who did duty in the army of WWII also benefited.

2. My two brothers were able to earn degrees from the University of Washington by working nearly full time while taking classes. Tuition was still affordable in the 1950s.

3. More than two dozen nursing students at Pacific Lutheran University have earned their R.N. degrees because I was able to establish a scholarship as a memorial to my first wife (Naydene Snodgrass) when she died in 1996. I treasure the thank-you letters that I get every year.

In this state, we have capped taxation, which forces legislators into bad choices. When will we ever learn, as voters and taxpayers, that we get what we pay for?

Thanks…that’s my rant. Give ‘em hell…whenever you have space.

Finally, this pithy comment from a Puyallup reader:

The reason the baby bloomers blew it is that they are selfish, self-centered, and think only of themselves. Their parents did a great job of fighting WW II and post war recovery and a lousy job of raising their children. Thus started the slow descent of our nation.

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