Entitlement programs vs Motorcycle Laws

by Sandy L on September 19, 2011

Over Labor Day weekend, I decided to take a drive down to Connecticut  to do some much needed clothes shopping. It precipitated out of finally getting a bedroom set, which then led to the purchase of a full length mirror as my set didn’t come with any mirror.  The mirror was eye opening.  My 3 years of super thrift had taken a real toll on my wardrobe.  Looking in the full length mirror was proof that I looked like a real raggamuffin in most of my casual clothes.  If you saw me outside of work, I’m sure you’d have no idea I was a professional anything…professional hobo maybe.

Motorcycle Helmet Law

Since it was a beautiful weekend, there were tons of motorcycle groups cruising the rolling hills of New England.  I live in MA where there is a mandatory helmet law for all motorcyclists.   Once you cross over into CT however, wearing a helmet on a motorcycle is optional.  In CT, I saw about 30 motorcyclists.  Do you know how many were wearing a helmet?  Only one person cruising out of all those people chose to wear a helmet.  If you know any bikers you also know that it’s only a matter of time before someone doesn’t see you and you get into an accident.   I know 2 people who have died in motorcycle accidents and countless others who have had a serious injury and were in the hospital for months.   The seriously injured people would have been dead for sure without a helmet.

Now despite the fact that helmets save lives and most people are well aware of that fact, if given the option, the great majority of riders opt out of wearing them…even on a nice day when it wasn’t super humid or hot.  I’m certainly not one to try to ban things that are dangerous, but if there’s a small bit of law that someone can write to protect the public safety, then I’m all for it.  I also like the seatbelt law for that same reason.

Personal Finance Protection Laws

This got me thinking that this is why I don’t really agree with many libertarian views.  Although I think that there are people out there that are smart enough to make their own decisions to protect themselves and their future, there are even a bigger percentage of people who don’t make the right choices for one reason or another.

It makes me realize that I’m okay with paying taxes for things like Social Security, Unemployment, the EPA, the FDA, law enforcement, educators, and the other agencies that help protect tomorrow’s future as well as our public safety today.   I’m glad that Congress passed new credit laws last year, because I think the easy credit is a big part of what caused much of the bankruptcy issues during this last downturn.  People were living on the edge and all it took was one false move to lose everything.  Heck, anyone with a pulse and a social security number could qualify for thousands of dollars of unsecured credit. It just amazed me how cavalier the banks got towards the end.

Although in the past I’ve written about entitlement programs getting too big and being too cushy and convenient of a safety net for some to resist, I still think we need some government to keep us from harming ourselves.   I also wonder how much higher the crime rate would be if unemployed people didn’t have access to food stamps and housing assistance.   I really didn’t think watching a bunch of guys riding around without their helmets would lead to such a change of heart but it did.  Now figuring out how to do this efficiently is the real challenge.  Part of me would love to take a government job and clean house. (I used to be referred to as “the cleaner” at work back when I worked in Quality).  I’m sure there is plenty of low hanging fruit all over the place.

A Jobs Program I’d Really Like

What about you.  What parts of government do you think is expendable or can be vastly cut.  What parts do you think we shouldn’t touch or grow?   My 2 cents, when my husband and I were talking about Obama’s job’s speech (both of us not having seen it and both of us agreeing that we didn’t miss anything of substance), we started chatting about gaps.  What we landed on is this.  There is a huge shortage of engineers right now.  Every company I talk to who has technical openings says it takes forever to fill open positions.   I’d like to see an incentive to forgive a portion of loans to get more people trained in the fields that they are needed most.  Technology is where the “good jobs” are at.  You think we can make another Google or Apple without engineers?  This country needs more innovators.   We have the universities to create them, we just need to plant the seed to students to go after those careers through programs like STEM, and then help make it possible to get an education once the interest is piqued.  Coincidentally STEM funding has been drastically cut in recent years which just boggles my mind.  The one place where there are jobs but no people to fill them and they cut the funding to the program that can help fill the gap.    Wow.  I didn’t think this would turn into a bit of a political rant as I’m not that political in general, but there you go.

What do you think? If you’re in a technical career, do you agree with my assessment?  Are there openings people are having a hard time to fill? I know in my little world, there is not an unemployment problem, there is a recruiting problem.

 

 

{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

Nicole September 19, 2011 at 7:19 AM

The NSF is consistently offering grants for groups trying to figure out how to stem the current STEM shortage (I applied for one myself this time last year, but we didn’t get it). There are scholarships available as well, especially for underrepresented groups (my husband was the recipient of one of these).

I’m ambivalent on motorcycle helmet laws, but pro-seatbelt laws. When someone dies in a motorcycle crash it’s harder to argue that other people are directly affected (sure, some people loved the motorcyclist, but should that outweigh the motorcyclist’s deathwish?) With seatbelt laws, the primary concern is children– they need to be wearing seatbelts. There’s also an argument that a car can do more damage than a motorcycle so the driver needs to be buckled in to maintain control of the car. Those arguments are less clear with motorcycles.

Right now the gov’t could do a lot of good giving another grant (or even a loan whose repayment is triggered by the state unemployment rate decreasing to a certain amount as Robert Reich suggests) to the states to rehire all the teachers, police officers etc. that have been laid off and are unemployed.

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Sandy L September 19, 2011 at 8:21 PM

Nicole – my friend’s parents are both PhD scientists and a good chunk of their career was spent working off grants. I see the value of NSF grants and certainly they were high caliber and hard working individuals who contributed a lot to society. Not all government spending is bad even though I’m going against the tide saying it.

I still think we don’t have to be digging ourselves deeper into a hole with unlimited and crazy spending but there is a time and a place for the right kind of spending.

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Little House September 19, 2011 at 9:43 AM

First, I completely agree with the helmet law. Here in CA, we have such a law. But in AZ, where my in-laws live, there isn’t one. The majority of their bikers ride around without a helmet. Every time I see one of those guys or gals, I just shake my head.

As for encouraging more people to go into engineering, it needs to start before reaching college. Students need to find science interesting. That’s hard to do considering science is getting pushed out with reading and math being the all-day curriculum in elementary school. But what’s funny is the kids love participating in science projects when they get a chance. Now, we just have to start talking more about careers in science. I’m trying to make an effort on my end in the classroom. Hopefully in 15 years we’ll have more scientists. ;)

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Sandy L September 19, 2011 at 8:19 PM

Little House – I completely agree. Some of the volunteer stuff I do is related to getting kids interested in science early so that they are more likely to choose science careers later in life. What I hear is that 6th grade is the magic year that the sorting begins and kids either embrace or reject those type of subjects.

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Well Heeled Blog September 23, 2011 at 5:53 PM

I hope the recruiting in engineering continues as my SO is going to pursue a career switch into engineering from his current IT position. One thing I think is that there should be some type of post-bac program that will help people make a career switch – not everyone realizes at 17 that they’d like to become an engineer. Why not offer support / programs that will help a 25-yo or 35-yo become an engineer if they are interested and capable?

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Jacq September 19, 2011 at 9:47 AM

My niece was wearing a helmet when she fell skiing a couple of years ago but still got a head fracture and brain injury. I shudder to think what would have happened had she not been wearing a helmet. (She’s ok now but it took over a year to heal). I believe now that all children should be required to wear helmets skiing, although it wasn’t something I was concerned with before since I didn’t know how common it was. Anyway, that’s what can happen when skiing – imagine what can happen driving 100 mph? I’m one of those people who has literally not seen a motorbike coming up behind me – way over the speed limit – and almost killed them by cutting them off. Yikes. But we have helmet laws everywhere in the country, even for bicycles.

Doctors. We need more doctors. Or a revamp of the structure of the current system to allow medical professionals with reduced professional qualifications to take care of more of the minor issues. Do we really need someone with 7 years of education to take up their time prescribing antibiotics for a sinus infection? This probably isn’t possible in a country like the US where the government doesn’t directly pay for the health care of the people, but they could do it here in Canada.

Just throwing more people into some of these professions isn’t always the answer though if the system itself is broken. I’m just thinking of all the regulations around SOX requirements that have taken up billions of dollars in costs and I’m not sure what’s really come out of it all besides a lot of make-work documentation projects. You won’t see an inefficient system problem in a profession like engineering – because it’s full of all those INTJ’s I think. :-)

The lack of engineers here in the past led to a ton of recruitment and immigration from overseas. I’m surprised that isn’t happening there?

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Sandy L September 19, 2011 at 8:15 PM

Jacq – yes some of our new hires required visas. Although companies don’t always want to go through the hassle of sponsoring visas, they have no choice these days as immigrants are the only qualified option in some cases.

Interesting take on doctors. I think the medical profession in general is a mess. So much room for improvement there. I once had the opportunity to take a job that just looked at reducing hospital overhead costs. I didn’t end up going for it because of personal circumstances but I thought it would be a fascinating job. The examples I was given by a friend in that profession were just mind boggling. But in general people in those fields care about treating patients. Their area of expertise isn’t administration or project management.

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Mutant Supermodel September 19, 2011 at 11:22 AM

Jacq beat me to it. Technology is a great field but the medical field is vastly under-staffed as well and pays very well. We need more doctors, nurses, pa’s, etc. A lot of the problems with health care in this country come from the field being critically under-staffed. As a matter of fact, this is very important if we are to move to a universal model of health insurance (yes, I’m for it– for the reasons you’re for helmet and credit card laws).

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Sandy L September 19, 2011 at 8:10 PM

Mutant – yes I think the medical profession is another great example. There are definitely professions where the need outnumbers the qualified people out there.

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The Biz of Life September 19, 2011 at 11:25 AM

I am a libertarian, and think it is up to the individual as to whether they wear a motorcycle helmet or not. Me, I probably wouldn’t ride a motorcycle in the first place, and if I did I’d damn sure have a helmet on and be dressed all in leather. But to each his own.

As for the Obama jobs program….. how many trillions of dollars does it take before we figure out the government is incapable of creating long-term jobs? And that government “investment” is just a euphemism for crony capitalism, and paying off friends and supporters.

Where do we get our engineers and scientists from today? A good many of them are imported from overseas as legal immigrants and green card holders. Our education system is more concerned about self-esteem and feelings than teaching hard-core math and science, and throwing money at the problem has only made the situation worse. If only we could return to the test scores and achievement levels of the 1950s, before education budgets skyrocketed.

Google and Apple are great examples of the market-place choosing winners rather than the government picking losers (think Solyndra) and putting the taxpayers on the hook, which it has a propensity to do.

I don’t think any parts of government should be grown, especially not the EPA, Department of Education and Department of Energy. In fact, the economy would be more robust if we gave government a pretty good trim across the board, all departments.

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Sandy L September 19, 2011 at 8:09 PM

Biz of Life – I agree that there’s lots of room for improvement in government, but NSF grants have funded a lot of great research in elite hospitals and science labs. I am actually okay with funding those types of things. I have a bigger issue with the execution of the plans vs the ideas themselves.

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Money Beagle September 19, 2011 at 12:05 PM

They’re actually talking about repealing the helmet laws here in Michigan, something that enrages me. The bikers say that they will take the burden on themselves of covering their health costs, but come on, if you get in a major accident, and happen to survive, you’ll probably be out of money quite soon due to the lack of income and health care costs, at what point, who gets to foot the bill of pretty much everything for the rest of your life? That’s right, all the other taxpayers as we pay your disability, your Medicaid and everything else. It’s not as simple as individuals getting to make their own choice, not when the potential costs for *everybody* is at stake.

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Sandy L September 19, 2011 at 7:56 PM

Money Beagle – That’s definitely a good example of taxpayers being burdened by disabled people that could have been prevented with personal safety protection laws.

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Invest It Wisely October 8, 2011 at 9:19 PM

Yes, if you accept public money then you also accept that the public can tell you what to do via laws and in that context a helmet law can make sense. At the same time people don’t really have a choice in paying into those funds, so there is no other option. Maybe I don’t like the way Apple does business, but I can buy another phone. I can’t switch governments.

I think government should protect people from each other and not from themselves. Sometimes people do stupid things to themselves and I am not exempt, but the things people do to each other are far worse. We need to revisit the ideas present in the original constitution and think about a limited government as an alternative to the special interest and corporate controlled crony capitalism of today.

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101 Centavos September 19, 2011 at 8:39 PM

Hard to completely, absolutely protect people from their own stupidity.

As for minors, aren’t there already child neglect laws on the books?

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Ted A. September 19, 2011 at 9:05 PM

“There is a huge shortage of engineers right now. Every company I talk to who has technical openings says it takes forever to fill open positions.”

I’m sorry, but as an engineer who was unemployed for two years, and had to finally find employment outside of engineering, I gotta call a HUGE B.S. on this “shortage of engineers” thing (fyi – this is a generalized rant, and not directed at my favorite blogger). IMO, there’s not a shortage of engineers, just low-hanging fruit for companies to pick.

I’m willing to bet these companies your talking to all want people that come from their specific industry, and have done that specific job, and overlook engineers that clearly have translatable techincal skills (and are adaptable and can come up to speed quickly; that’s what engineers do). These companies all get lazy, or they are spread too thin, and revert to stealing people away from the competion… It’s more like a shortage of companies actually willing to invest any money or time into training (or relo). In all that time they’ve been waiting for “Mr. Right”, they could’ve hired a good engineer and industry trained them… I wonder how many companies have solid leadership training programs anymore? To be impactful, I’m thinking the money needs to go to specific industry training (wherever the growth is, or the supposed shortage is), for companies to use on new grad or newly hired engineers.

… And there are so many types of engineering (electrical, mechanical, chemical, civil, industrial, manufacturing, computer, etc.), I really hate when the government generalizes about a shortage of ‘engineers’. As a Mechanical Engineer, it really “grinds my gears”.

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101 Centavos September 20, 2011 at 6:36 AM

Adding a postscript to this comment…. Being a qualified and marketable engineer also depends on the career path. I know of several sales engineers that haven’t done “pure” engineering in years and years. Over time, their skills have degraded. But a few data points do not a trend make.

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Sandy L September 21, 2011 at 7:01 AM

Ted – Thanks for your comments. I always thought of you as an exception to my general observations because you geographically constrained your search for part of your job hunt. I think you’re observation on having very specific industry knowledge is spot on though. The one other engineer friend who took a while with his job hunt (and also geographically constrained his search), signed a 1 year non-compete agreement for part of his severance. That ended up being a big mistake on his part because as you say, people want you to have industry specific knowledge if you’re not a fresh out of school engineer. Generally you’re getting paid more than a new grad so they expect something in return for that.

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Ted A. September 22, 2011 at 11:24 PM

Thanks. There were a lot of contributing factors. Geography was part of it, both on our end and that of prospective companies who had to hire local themselves. However, the fact that the wife has a solid career and we are frugal ‘savers’ (…like most of your readers, woohoo for us!) we didn’t have to settle.

I definitely can understand companies investing any training into new grads, than the more expensive mid-career folk… I just hope that training is even happening at all. I think many companies would rather someone else took the risk. The corporate world these days trends more toward “instant gratification”, and less on talent development…

Oh, and I’ve got a metaphor for you… The company stood before the open door of a stocked refrigerator, and declared “There’s nothing to eat.”

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frugalscholar September 20, 2011 at 4:16 PM

Please correct me–I’ve been under the impression that the doctor shortage is a function of keeping the numbers in med schools down. This keeps the salaries of doctors up.

i do hope I’m incorrect on this one!

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Sandy L September 21, 2011 at 7:03 AM

Frugal Scholar – I’m not sure of that, but certainly that’s not the case for nurses, nurse practitioners and things like medical technicians (like xray techs, etc).

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Barb Friedberg September 21, 2011 at 11:22 AM

I am apalled at those motorcycle riders who don’t wear helmets. I don’t know what I think about the laws, though. WRT casual clothes, when I’m in the house, old old t shirts and sweats are de rigeur. When I’m out, I step it up a bit! Kohl’s has amazing sales and Target and H & M, all with great style.

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Sandy L October 10, 2011 at 6:25 AM

Barb – I wish I had a Kohl’s near me. My mother in law used to work at one, so I’d benefit from the sales, but the nearest one is > hr away.

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retirebyforty September 21, 2011 at 1:59 PM

We should create more scholarships for engineering students. I think more kids would be encouraged to study Engineering if the education is cheap/free. I agree with Ted above somewhat. The companies want to hire low level engineers and there maybe a shortage of those. I assume most experienced engineers don’t want an entry level job (salary) and get retrained to a new job and culture.

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Sandy L October 10, 2011 at 6:27 AM

RB40 – I think you’re partially right. A lot of companies are bargain hunting right now. Offering experienced people entry level salaries and seeing if they will take, but that’s just foolish if you ask me because as soon as the economy improves, the retention risk becomes an issue.

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The Happy Homeowner September 21, 2011 at 4:39 PM

I’m with Little House on all of this–as someone to bikes to/from work on a daily basis, I can’t fathom not wearing a helmet. I’ve definitely been frustrated enough by this type of blatant disregard for safety that I politely yell out, “You need a helmet!”

And with regards to the tech funding, it must come from the ground up, ie. interest in science & technology in elementary schools. Ironically, this is where a lot of the budget gets cut from public schools and it’s exactly where we should be spending the most (along with curriculum for reading, writing, and math of course). Technology and science can be built into ANY lesson and should be done in a way that instills excitement and curiosity in our students. Then it’s up to the parents and educators to help children channel that interest & excitement into future opportunities.

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Sandy L October 10, 2011 at 6:29 AM

Happy – I volunteer and this is where I focus, science. I’m still wrestling my way through what will and will not help. Simply throwing technology at a school is not enough. Teachers need to want to do things differently as well, otherwise the “stuff” just sits in people’s supply closets. There is a lot of pressure from no child left behind.

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Molly September 21, 2011 at 4:54 PM

I just spent the afternoon catching up on Planet Money podcasts and they were talking about job training for blue collar workers and how they don’t work. Workers would go through the programs and drop out or not follow through. Many had not been taught basics like shower before you go on an interview, show up on time. One study shows this is taught in pre-school and the economist was advocating for more programs that got the underserved into pre-school. I’m simplifying but if you’re interested it was the 7/29/11’s podcast. It would be nice to have more government programs that work.
I tend to lean toward more socialist democracy (I’ve got one to many Australian friends :) ). I’m OK with knowing there will be a few that take advantage of the system. It’s worth the risk to make sure the young, the old and the mentally ill are taken care of! The US has such a strong work ethic I can’t see everyone quitting their jobs to get on the dole.
Great article!

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Sandy L October 10, 2011 at 6:34 AM

Molly – thanks. My son went to head start. More than 1/2 of the class went there for free because of a program. The teachers told me that many of these kid’s last square meal was on Friday. Even though the children came from troubled homes, many of them were angels at school because they loved it and didn’t want to be sent home where there was nothing to do, no one to play with and nothing nutritious to eat. I totally agree that it’s a great start for these young kids to love school. I know my son couldn’t wait for school after his pre-school program. I am totally ok with some of my tax dollars going there.

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Jackie September 22, 2011 at 3:37 PM

I don’t understand why anyone would ride a motorcycle without a helmet, but I see people doing it all the time here. (Along with riding in shorts & tank tops, and bikinis in the summertime.) Clearly they do not value their life or their skin…

I hate the phrase “entitlement programs” btw. There are so many programs out there that people use everyday without even thinking about it that don’t get lumped in as entitlement, but really are. At any rate, what I’d like to see is a flat tax and a whole lot less complication in government.

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Sandy L October 10, 2011 at 6:35 AM

Jackie – I think a lot of us are supportive of a flat tax. I don’t know what politician would be gutsy enough to do it though.

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Everyday Tips September 23, 2011 at 11:45 PM

I was thinking about motorcycle helmet laws the other day, and I was going to write about it.

Regarding engineers, I guess it depends on where you are. In IT, it seems quite popular to hire people overseas where the labor is cheaper. All the work seems to be short term and project related, not long term. That is just in my little section of life though. Oh, and regarding training, the company I work at now used to invest heavily in training. They would hire a graduate of any degree and give them the training they needed for the job. That way of thinking is loooooong gone.

Regarding government, I want everything started from scratch, especially the department of education. I want the tax codes thrown out too and just give us a good old fashioned flat tax. I think we need the department of education, but not how it exists today.

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Sandy L October 10, 2011 at 6:39 AM

Everyday Tips – I think you sum it up perfectly. We need a department of Education. It’s very much the backbone of technology, innovation and growth. However, the way it is now, it’s putting up too many roadblocks to success. I live in MA and it’s supposedly one of the best states for education and I still think there’s loads of room for improvement.

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Invest It Wisely October 8, 2011 at 9:10 PM

I actually kind of agree with you regarding helmet safety laws. I think even private road owners would enact similar provisions in order to limit liability and increase their rep as a safe road. I have seen some of those photos and they are disgusting…

At the same time… two caveats. Personal finance is significantly more subjective and complex than the laws of physics, and it is very easy for regulation to actually make things worse. secondly… if someone +really+ wants to ride without a helmet… why should we force them otherwise? I would strongly encourage helmets but at the same time… It is a human right to put oneself in danger by choice… just don’t endanger others. An open solution is that perhaps the insurance company refuses to cover them unless they protect their noggin.

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Sandy L October 10, 2011 at 6:47 AM

Invest it – I agree with part of your personal finance observation. I think the government actually encouraged home ownership for all for a while..and look how that turned out. At the same time, I think they should step in to protect people from things like predatory lending. It’s definitely a delicate balance, no doubt.

I’m still not sure about helmets though. I like certain things that are unsafe to oneself or others to not be available to the general public legally. For example, I am glad that heroine is illegal. Where you draw the line between what is a recreational drug vs a life ruining one is the tricky part.

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Invest It Wisely October 8, 2011 at 9:26 PM

Not easy when it takes 10 years and a few hundred Gs. The schools also have tight caps so you better have a good GPA and impressive refs.

I looked into this but I’m already nearly into my 30s and I want to start a family too, not just study for another 10 years and go into massive debt.

We do have options. We need to look at expanding enrollment, and there are many qualified foreigners that would love to help. We should look at making it easier for them to become accredited with the skills they already have.

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