What are rights?
By definition, a right is something a person is entitled to legally or morally.
A privilege, on the other hand, is a special prerogative afforded to a particular person or group of people, particularly if it is earned.
As I have returned to the University of Minnesota to finish my undergraduate degree, it is a privilege for me to gain a higher education degree contingent on how hard I work for it.
This is an understanding that is important for college students to make. Although the issue of higher education is complicated by social and economic factors, one thing is certain: a university education is something that needs to be earned through hard work, not simply given.
The traditional American university system grants everyone equal opportunity to gain the privilege of a higher education through nothing other than that person’s merit and value of his or her labor.
During his presidential run, Senator Bernie Sanders went to great lengths outlining policy enabling free college for all.
He argued that if some of Europe has free education. Why can’t the United States?
However seductive this comparison was for many, I have learned enough to know that it is a fabrication of reality.
Let us deconstruct some of the myths around free European college.
In Germany, for example, students begin to be segregated by fourth grade.
Depending on the score of a single test and social status of their parents, a child will either be allowed to attend the esteemed Gymnasium or will go to one of the other, lower-tier schools.
You can still attend university without attending the Gymnasium, but the odds have now been artificially stacked against you.
Purposefully programming such a system of social stratification into education is something that I was shocked to learn of in my university courses.
For its many flaws, the modern American university system is set up in a way that the individual matters, not the desire to maintain social classes. A person can fail, but there is a second chance to succeed.
However, I think many millennials would agree the main reason higher education is salient is simply cost.
We could go the Bernie Sanders route, blaming the wealthy and tax people until every person is guaranteed a free four-year degree.
But what would this accomplish?
The problem would only be exacerbated. Taxes would rapidly increase to support a college degree that is ever-decreasing in value. The irony would be millennials paying higher and higher taxes to artificially decrease the value of the college degree they just received.
Or we can go the way of Germany and many other European and Asian countries by simply socially stratifying people — effectively killing the American dream for those born into the wrong social class.
This is wholly antithetical to traditional American values of equality and individualism.
The real culprit is fiscal mismanagement of higher education by the government and administrations. Why, for example, do multimillion-dollar government research grants go to “gender studies” when we could put that toward cancer research or lowing the cost of education for all students?
We enjoy many rights as Americans, yet we still seem to choose to whine and demand more rather than prepare ourselves to toil for what we want.
The real solution lies in our fundamental principles of higher education.
No one deserves or is entitled to go to a university just because he or she wants it. You earn the privilege of a higher education degree through work, and if it is something you truly want, then you should be willing to put all of your ability into gaining it.
This is where the value of a higher education degree comes from. It is meant to be a quantifiable measure of the true grit of a person; giving it away for free would be simply un-American.
Erick Werner is a junior at the University of Minnesota, a West Ranch Alumni, and a lifelong Santa Clarita resident.