Category: Education

The Koch Brothers: Friends or Foes of Black Americans?

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Most black folks have no clue as to the identity of David and Charles Koch. The few that do are leery of this duo. Heirs to an oil business that they inherited from their father, the Koch brothers (as they are affectionately known), worked hard to transform it into a massive multi-business enterprise with gross profits in excess of $115 billion a year. Consistent with their strong Tea Partyish and quasi-libertarian leanings, the brothers have doled out millions of their own money in promoting conservative causes, leading to a spot on Time Magazine’s ‘Most Influential’ list.

The Kochs have been criticized in some circles as being racist, particularly for their role in championing laws that some critics believe have hindered the ability of black Americans to vote. Arguably, they’ve been a thorn in the side of President Obama; ankle biters who have challenged him every step of the way on issues ranging from health care reform to climate change. Liberals are generally repulsed by the brothers’ conservative ways and willingness to utilize their wealth by contributing millions to right-leaning causes. But because of their wealth and the pervasive impact their funding has on the everyday lives of all Americans, their influence must be accounted for.

Trick or Treat?

In 2014, these two billionaires sent shock waves through the world of higher education by donating $25 million to the United Negro College Fund in support of America’s struggling black colleges and universities. Many African-American leaders harshly criticized the move as nothing more than influence peddling. Yet the question still remained as to whether this offer of generosity would be accepted by the black higher education community in the context of the steady migration of black students to better funded and predominantly white institutions of higher education which decline federal government support, while some conservative lawmakers are trying to close under-performing and financially-strapped black colleges and universities.

My father worked at an HSBC, as they were known during the latter part of his career as a university administrator. For that reason, I paid attention to the Koch announcement, curious as to whether those United Negro College Fund leaders would view the financial offer as a trick or treat. As to be expected, many immediately questioned the intent of the contribution in light of their understanding of the Koch brothers. Others took a more thoughtful stance due to the perilous scenario facing many of these higher ed institutions. “

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The College Funding Dance-Advice from a Leading Expert

imageIt goes without saying that a college education has become an expensive proposition. As many families and their kids wrestle with ultra competitive admission requirements as well as soaring tuition costs, advisors like California-based Ron Adams are highly sought after for their advice and wisdom.

As an ambitious journalist in Sacramento, I had the pleasure of meeting Ron over 10 years ago, and I found him to be a fountain of knowledge on the college admissions process. As one of the nations leading experts in college funding, he has assisted hundred of parents and students in significantly lowering their out-of-pocket expenses for four year college terms. His book, “How To Give Your Kid A 4-Year College Education Without Going Broke,” provides to those engaged in the admissions process practical strategies and tips on how to maximize financial aid. Ron also reveals little-known tools that college financial aid offices often don’t and won’t share with you.

Below is an excerpt from my recent interview with Ron, regarding recent developments in the college funding arena:

Ron, what sort of trends are you seeing in terms of tuition costs?

On a national basis, the cost of attendance for a public university is rising at about a 6.5% clip per year; for a private school, it’s in the neighborhood of about 7.4%. So if you do the math, that means that the University of Nebraska – my alma mater, which is currently right around $22,000 per year – will soar to around $44,000 in ten years. And if you look at a private university like Stanford, which last year was just slightly above $60,000 per year, it will rise to $120,000 over that same time period.

Why are we continuing to see such massive increases?

Frankly, it stems from a willingness on the part of banks to loan students pretty much any amount of money they need up to $20,000 per year. Colleges and universities know this, so they feel they can raise rates whenever they desire.

It sounds like lenders and the higher education institutions are colluding together

That’s true. Sallie Mae is an example of a college lender that willingly engages in this practice because they know that students can never declare bankruptcy on those loans. So 30 years from now, at whatever interest rate they are charging, they know that they will eventually be able to recover that money.

What a frustrating scenario for those seeking to go to college!

Michael, what I continue to see – which is the fault of the parents and, in some cases, the student also – is that they wait too long to get serious about the college funding process. Tragically, many become concerned about planning for this around the second semester of their junior year or even the summer of their senior year. That’s way too late. This process should ideally occur during their freshman year, in order to ensure the best possible access to these monies.

How does standardized testing play into all of this?

Students take the PSAT test during October of their sophomore year. A prep course for this is vital because when you get a good score, a couple of things happen. First, you become eligible for a National Merit Scholarship, which is a highly regarded source of money. Secondly, once schools are alerted to these scores, they send out letters inviting students to apply. They’ll often waive the application fee, extend an invitation to visit their campus for a tour and arrange for the student to meet with a professor in the desired field of study. So my message here is that those who wait until second semester of junior year or (heaven forbid) the fall of the senior year to begin their planning, are going to miss out on a ton of funding opportunities. Starting this process late makes it hard to recover. “

Medicating and Educating – Does it Matter How Much it Costs?

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The year was 2003. My former wife and I were living in Nevada and expecting a child. Problem was, we were without health insurance and were faced with paying for the baby’s delivery and a subsequent hospital stay.

As a former health care senior administrator responsible for several medical centers in the Midwest, I figured I could exert influence to ensure that our bill was manageable. So a few days before my wife was admitted while in the throes of labor, I took the initiative and asked a Nurse Manager whether he could provide an itemized estimate of our hospital bill. Open-mouthed in disbelief at my question, he was clearly lost for words.

As an advocate for free market competition in the healthcare industry, I am astounded that a price list is not provided prior to medical services being rendered. Pricing is something that every consumer deserves to know in light of the fact that more than one-sixth of the U.S. economy is devoted to healthcare spending, a percentage that continues to rise every year. The ramifications of this are severe: higher costs for health insurance (even under the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a Obamacare), the perilous state of our nation’s flimsy safety net and our long-term fiscal woes.

Rand Paul, Republican Senator from Kentucky and a Presidential Candidate, says in his new book ‘Taking A Stand: Moving Beyond Partisan Politics to Unite America’, the problem with Obamacare, and even the old system, is that when insurance or government pays for the first dollar of healthcare, the consumer doesn’t care about the price and neither does the physician; without a market, the price keeps going up.

Paul, who is a board-certified Ophthalmologist, believes that consumer choice is the key to transforming today’s broken healthcare system into one that truly places the patient first. He bristles at the lack of thoughtful consideration on the part of political leaders with respect to a solution. He advocates a model that combines tax-free health savings for routine visits with a catastrophic insurance plan for serious health issues. Doing this, he says, would force healthcare providers to compete on price and quality care: two fundamental elements in a high-quality healthcare system. “

5 Ways to Create an Extra $500 a Month

Piggy BankIt’s becoming increasingly popular for Millennials to save their money instead of increasing their debt. This generation, while engendering the start-up boom, is simultaneously spending and saving wisely. This powerful shift in financial consciousness is partly a response to the devastating burden of student loans. With projected retirement at 65 becoming increasingly unattainable for Baby Boomers, Millenials understand this caution and know that a key factor here is one’s early creation of a meaningful personal savings account. I know, because I’m a Millennial myself and my entire financial strategy revolves around how much I can save each month.

I read about a younger couple who have cut their spending down so they can put away 71% of their income each month. I’m proud to say I’ve created a savings plan of about 55% a month, and it’s VERY do-able. Can you imagine saving an extra $500 a month? What would that mean for your overall savings plan? Here are a handful of ways to save/earn an extra $500 a month – or more – and increase your overall savings.

1. Don’t buy a drink at dinner. I won’t tell you to not go out to eat, although I can advise that getting food delivered or ordering take-out can save 15-20% off the price of a sit-down restaurant bill. Buying a drink at dinner can cost you close to the price of your meal. Most sit-down restaurants offer a cocktail menu ranging from $7-12 a drink, except during Happy Hour. So after two beers or two glasses of wine, you have run up a $14 pre-tax beverage bill, yet you hardly even have a buzz on

Land of the Free, Home of the Idiot

testscoresForgive the suggestion, but it seems we may have reached an era in history where finding the village idiot may not be so difficult. Bloomberg reported that this year’s SAT scores were lower than they’ve been in some years. The SAT is a globally recognized collegiate admissions exam that tests a student’s critical reading, mathematics and writing abilities. This year’s students earned an average score of 1,490 out of the possible 2,400 points that the exam has to offer (800 per section). 

The two traditional sections, critical reading and mathematics, averaged 495 and 511 respectively. The writing section was an addition to the test in 2005 in an effort to assess a student’s ability to read and respond to a prompt in an analytical fashion. This section received the lowest average score since its conception: 484. The ACT, which is another (more popular) collegiate admissions exam, had average scores that remained relatively stable when compared to previous years. While the ACT exam tests what a student has learned in high school, or their ability to recall information, the SAT is more of a test of reasoning, logic and verbal skills. 

These statistics reveal much about the current nature of education in the United States. Regardless of beliefs regarding traditional education versus common core, American students are not learning. They are not learning to think critically, logically or rationally, and it doesn’t take any explanation to understand how this is becoming a dangerous phenomenon. A student, in order to learn, must be open to the learning process. It may not be a matter of which educational tactic is best, but rather teaching a student who is attentive and willing to put in the necessary hours to truly learn. As a biology student with aspirations of attending medical school, I know that for every hour spent in class, I require two hours studying outside of class. It’s not always enjoyable and it is certainly detrimental to an exciting social life, but it is what’s necessary for greatness. There seems to be a problem with high school students where academic mediocrity is not only acceptable but even encouraged among one’s peers.