"and if people are sticking folks with time in grade requirements just to get more money out of them? Then that bites!"
I think that clubs get more money out of people when they test more frequently -- test and belt fees on top of regular fees.
I totally agree when you say "Pretty easy to get a learners permit and start driving---but how long does it take to REALLY be a good and safe driver???"
To take that further, do belts mean "mastery" or just "permission to start learning the next stage"? I'd lean towards the latter, but maybe some students see it as the former. Students rely on feedback to know whether they're progressing and what they need to work on. Belts are visible feedback, but because of all the issues around them, I wonder if the results of testing would be better communicated privately and not visible to others (except when they happen to notice that a student is working on a more advanced kata).
God grant me a good sword and no use for it. -- Polish proverb