A little over a year ago, after 27 years as a career counselor, I retired from Linn-Benton Community College. I have felt proud of spending so much of my life helping others find a better life for themselves, as part of the system of higher education. But now I live in fear. Fear for our graduates and fear for the future of higher education. The reason is the devastating effects on the world of employment being brought by the rising cost of health care.

In higher ed we tout our work as giving students a better life in the world of work, as well as making them stronger and better citizens. But the world of work is being destroyed, and we must react.

Many Americans were bemused when newspaper headlines told us that corporations like Walmart and McDonald’s were hiring primarily 17 hour a week employees, to avoid having to pay for their health insurance. And the truth is that many other corporations, and most public institutions, are doing the same. This includes hospitals and other health care groups. And it includes institutions of higher education, the very people purporting to prepare young Americans for their future.

But can we blame these businesses and institutions? When the cost of health insurance goes up 10-20 percent almost every year? When this cost doubles every 10 years? There isn’t anyone who can keep up with these costs and stay afloat, financially.

My own former employer, LBCC, a small college, spends over $7 million a year on health insurance (not including the portion the employees pay). LBCC could lower tuition rates and create more programs (and jobs) if it could use that money.

The United States appears to be the only country left in the world that ties health insurance to employment for most of its people. And thereby saddles every employer with an impossible hole in their budgets.

We must change our system. If we don’t, every college graduate can look forward to having two or three 17 hour-a-week jobs, and nothing more.

Fortunately, there are role models. At last count, 21 countries have gone to a “single payer," universal system of health care — cutting out the middle man, the insurance companies, with their heavy CEO salaries and their huge profit margins. With just one “payer” of the money, there is just one CEO, one set of rules, one set of forms, and all of a sudden, every doctor’s office can stop spending time and resources on fighting with insurance companies, and the amount of money saved could increase health care services and lower costs.

A recent Google search found researchers estimating a single-payer system would save the United States anywhere from $285 billion to $590 billion dollars per year. Imagine what that would do to the American economy.

Richard Master, CEO and founder of MCS Industries, has an exceptional video on what the cost of health insurance is doing to every business in America. It’s called “Fix It: Health Care At The Tipping Point.” It is free to be viewed on youtube. Please watch it.

If college and university leaders care for the future of their students, they will begin working for a single risk pool-single payer-universal health care program. Without it, one of the main reasons for the existence of higher education will be eliminated: better employment.

If this motivates you to help, you can join Mid-Valley Health Care Advocates. Just Google that name and you will find them. There are branches in both Albany and Corvallis.

Mark Weiss lives in Philomath.