Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Cost of Higher Education

The New York Times is running a very funny, biting satire about the realities of education in America today. The name of the fictional university is Laudable. Here is a bittersweet taste of the longer article.

A Little Learning Is an Expensive Thing
by WILLIAM M. CHACE, New York Times

Laudable could be cheaper, but you wouldn’t like it. You and your parents have made it clear that you want the best. That means more spacious and comfortable student residences (“dormitories,” we used to call them), gyms with professional exercise equipment, better food of all kinds, more counselors to attend to your growing emotional needs, more high-tech classrooms and campuses that are spectacularly handsome.

Our competitors provide such things, so we do too. We compete for everything: faculty, students, research dollars and prestige. The more you want us to give to you, the more we will be asking you to give to us. We aim to please, and that will cost you. It’s been a long time since scholarship and teaching were carried on in monastic surroundings.

Laudable’s surroundings, by the way, will remind you of where you came from. That’s because your financial circumstances are pretty much the same as those of your classmates. More expensive schools have students from wealthier parents; less expensive schools draw students from families with fewer financial resources. More than half of the freshmen at selective colleges, public and private, come from the highest-earning quarter of households. Tell me the ZIP code and I’ll tell you what kind of college a high-school graduate most likely attends.

After paying (and receiving) all this money, please finish up and get out. Colleges like Laudable are escalators; even if you stand still, they will move you upward toward greater economic opportunity. Once you leave us, you’ll have a better chance for a good job and a way to pay off your debt and to give us more money when we call on you as alumni.

So don’t flunk out; you’ve got too much invested in us, and we have too much invested in you.

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