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June 8, 2004

Another Opportunity on the Horizon

Alan Imhoff

It is that time of year again when another class of high school graduates goes through their rite of passage. Leaving the comfortable folds of being a "child" and now, all of a sudden, they become "adults," granted young adults, but adults never the less.

For many the choice is to move on to that next level of learning, college, whether a two-year or four-year school (and in some cases a five-year program) that will soon occupy their attention - hopefully.

By now those that are moving on know where they have been accepted and made their choices, to stay close to home or get away as far as possible. Some have garnered scholarships, other are still filling out form after form in hopes of offsetting some of the ever-climbing costs.

My family is no exception. Like millions of families that preceded us, the process has been a combination of time consuming forms and applications, anxious waits for responses, and the proverbial wringing of hands to the litany that almost every family must utter - "can we afford it?"

Filing out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form in January started the process with the wait to see how much in scholarships individual schools would be willing to offer to attract our daughter to their school.

Recently another process with the Federal PLUS Loan Master Promissory Note program administered by the Student Loan Marketing Association, otherwise known as "Sallie Mae" was initiated to be ready to take on even more financial burdens. The good part is that you do not have to start paying until 60 days after the last installment has been made to the college.

For some, refinancing their mortgage - at least the rates are low - or, for others, trying out this new gambit with financial institutions - a revolving line of credit against your equity in your home. All of this to be prepared for the unexpected "additional" costs to keep our young adults focused on the prize - a college education.

For one who did not have this opportunity afforded him many, many years ago, I have found it interesting and at times amusing. My college career was taken in the evenings over nine years, at first oversees, then, upon return to civilian status, the two degrees earned were courtesy of the G.I. Bill.

Now I look over the course of study my daughter will take over the next five years - yes, she is one who has chosen a major that will take longer because she will also have three "co-op" opportunities to learn "on the job." Co-op is something that was not even in the college lexicon those many years ago.

That is what I find so interesting, the opportunity to put academic theory to the test in a real-world environment. It is also amusing to me because, as an evening student, I had the good fortune to experience a "co-op" program without even knowing it.

Many of the areas of study within her major did not exist when I was attending college. Still more are in the early stages of research that can only broaden our knowledge and provide new business opportunities for the future.

It is in this tremendous explosion of learning opportunities that I see the financial investment a community can make that is similar to what we and the university are about to make in our daughter.

In a larger sense, these new frontiers in so many disciplines are where we, as a community, should be making a similar investment. To take full advantage of these emerging technologies, disciplines and information, Frederick County needs to take a closer look at our public school system and how we can best prepare the next generation of high-school graduates for the businesses of tomorrow.

I never did achieve my first dream to become an architect, but, along the way, I had a great career being involved in the birth of the Internet - although I did not know it at the time. We need to have a public school system that can help each individual student achieve their dream or, at the very least, provide them with the skills to realize the next "internet."

Yes, it will cost us at tax time, but like the personal sacrifice most families make to see that their young adult can succeed, we, as a community, can borrow from our own "Sallie Mae," or we can refinance our priorities to see that our children have an opportunity to return home to the jobs of the future.

With a wise investment in our public school system, a solid economic strategy to attract the newer businesses brought on by advances in knowledge and technology, Frederick County can be the beneficiary of the next generation in learning and in economic development.

I cannot wait to start this process all over again in another two years and see where my next daughter will be headed, what new things I'll find out then, what new horizons our community can build on.



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