Tuition dollars are precious

November 4, 2009


Even if the current economic downturn begins to ease this year, millions of American high school seniors are just now beginning the process by which they will be admitted to a college or university. Once the joy of admission passes, however, the reality of the financial burden which they — and their families — will assume will take away much of that earlier joy.

American higher education has become one of the most expensive products for sale in this country. The double-digit increases in tuition over the past several decades have now created a situation in which public education, once intended for every qualified citizen is now financially out of reach for vast numbers of those young men and women who would most profit from the experience. But those who are in the final stages of choosing a college or university are being asked to take on amounts of debt which can literally cripple their post-university lives for decades.

I have been teaching in universities, mostly public, for the past 30 years. In that time I have come to believe several things about college and university admissions that would, in my opinion, be of assistance to would-be students and their families in deciding where to attend.

I offer those to you now:

  1. Seriously consider spending your first two college years at a good junior college. In many cases the instructional program will be equal or superior to a four-year college. The first two years of college are years of massive discovery and learning. Doing this in a comfortable environment in which the instructors are primarily teachers has major benefits. The transition from high school to junior college is often much less stressful than from high school to a huge four-year university. Just as important, junior college is far less expensive than a four-year university. Tuition and fees are substantially lower. Further, if you attend a junior college you can often live at home, which can be a real savings.

  2. Recognize that when you are living on borrowed dollars, as most students will be, every expenditure made costs far more than the price you pay. Every dollar you spend of borrowed money will need to be repaid later with interest. You must ask yourself what you really need. Do you really need an expensive television or stereo system? Can you make your own morning coffee rather than pay several dollars at a fancy coffeehouse? Do you really need a car on campus? Students who realize that they are spending borrowed money and that they will eventually have to repay that money with interest in the future, are more likely to be frugal.

  3. Remember that what you are paying for is a education. Everything beside that is unnecessary. And education is a two-way street. If you do not prepare for class, read the assigned materials or attend class, then you might as well not pay all that tuition. When you don’t do the work needed to learn what you have signed up to learn, the only person you’re cheating is yourself. There will come a day when that knowledge you should have learned will come in handy; unfortunately, you won’t possess it.

The era of good times at universities, of partying, playing around and generally just having a grand old time for four years, is over for most people. Higher education is very likely to be the most expensive asset most Kansans acquire in their lifetimes. Thus, extensive thought and planning should be put into the task and the educational process should be taken seriously to gain the best value for the many dollars it will cost.


just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 8 years, 3 months ago

"Remember that what you are paying for is a education."

Maybe you and the JW should pay for a(n) editor.

SettingTheRecordStraight 8 years, 3 months ago

The tuition students pay to attend Regent universities is 1/3 of the actual cost of their education. Of course, that's possible because of massive taxpayer subsidies - even for those students who earn worthless degrees, drop out before graduating, get kicked out, or regularly earn C's, D's and F's.

And don't forget that rich Johnson County families that can actually afford to pay the full cost of their kids' education enjoy "welfare for the rich" because of the taxes forfeited by tens of thousands of childless families.

George Lippencott 8 years, 3 months ago

How long can we continue to increase the cost of a college education leading to ever-larger debts for our students? Perhaps we should be looking at ways to make that education considerably less expensive. Must every department be world class? Must we hire faculty from our coasts where the cost of doing so is higher? Must our emphasis on research to the detriment of teaching be such that no meaningful test of ROI is applied? How long will it be before many of our students and their families realize that the statistics suggesting higher income for college graduates conceal the reality that many soft degree recipients make very little more than many with a two-year certificate? Have the inmates once again taken over the asylum with the bill passed on to the rest of us?

MyName 8 years, 3 months ago

It's funny how you're complaining about the "bill being passed onto the rest of us" when the most expensive institutions (and the ones with the most potential for crippling debt) are the private universities.

The reality is that more people are feeling the need to go to college in order to make a decent living than ever before. Higher demand -> Higher prices.

That being said, I think the double digit increases in higher education costs will have to end at some point.

labmonkey 8 years, 3 months ago

Or Americans can look at the label when they purchase something and buy American. There would actually be good paying jobs that you do not need a four-year education for. A college degree today is only as good as a high school diploma was 30 years ago.

George Lippencott 8 years, 3 months ago

MyName (Anonymous) says…

What I had in mind is the students and their familes paying every more-and more-and more. Not all college degrees result in a meaningful higher income. When debt to earn the degree is factored in some just do not have a positive ROI

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