Tuition 7/13/22

Thoughts by Richard Bleil

Today, as of the writing of this post, has been an interesting day with regards to tuition.  It started with a meme comparing 1980 tuition (I started in college in 1981) to 2020.  And, it may surprise you to learn, that tuition has increased.

The interesting thing is that, having been in academia, I can tell you from experience that it’s more than just tuition.  See, I’ve sat through administration meetings where the higher administrators (presidents, vice presidents and so on) would brag about how, for the fifth year in a row (or however long it has been), the tuition is not going to increase.  But, the fees, such as activity fees, have increased, and room and board required by all students in their first and second year has increased, and now there’s a new lab fee, and course fee depending on the courses and on and on and on.  This is worth keeping in mind as you hear about steady tuition. 

I don’t remember the exact statistics, but while minimum wage was slightly more than twice what it was in 1980, tuition has increased by over a factor of five.  The number of years required to pay off student loans increased dramatically and are pushing nearly an entire career, and so on.  When I went to college, an in-state university, my parents (yes, I was fortunate in that my parents planned ahead) paid tuition, room and board for four years what my private graduate school charged for tuition alone for one semester. 

Now, I didn’t pay for graduate school either.  In essence, I went through college, all the way to my doctorate, with no cost to me, but the graduate school was a little bit different then.  See, nobody paid for graduate school, at least in my profession.  I can’t speak for other majors, but in exchange for teaching labs and doing research, I had full tuition remission, and the college paid me a small stipend to live on.  You couldn’t get wealthy on it, but you could support yourself and get a doctorate for better than free. 

Today, the smart educational consumer shops around.  When I was in high school, college was just the assumed next step, but the anticipated increased salary would pay for the education in, oh, maybe ten years.  These days, you might never make enough of a salary to pay off all of your student loans, so students are considering technical colleges, certificates, and simply going into work (or starting their own company) instead.  This means fewer students going to college, and increased tuition.  And fees.

Biden just signed an order to help combat increased cost of higher education.  In his order, he is looiking for ways to have loan forgiveness for those who go into civil service (which was standard in my days), and capping interest rates for student loans (which also was standard). 

The question, then, becomes how we came to the point where the president has to act to bring back standard practices from my era.  Personally, I think that part of the problem is corporate greed.  See, when I went to college, education was considered to be an investment.  When students went to college, they would get higher salaries on graduating, which would result in higher taxes bringing the money back.  It also better prepared students for contributing to innovations to keep America strong. 

Then banks realized that if THEY took over student loans, then THEY could get the interest as the loans were being paid off.  This shifted the view of education from an investment to a business.  The colleges and universities began adding more services for students to attract more students and causing the inclusion of fees to pay for these features.  The business of education was established with a focus on profit over education.

The more cynical among us (myself included) will also point out that the suppression of education is also a way to manipulate and control the general population.  If this is indeed a conspiracy, it is for the conservatives and studies have shown that higher educated people tend to lean liberal, so much so that now there are conservatives complaining about “indoctrination” of college students, when, in fact, no indoctrination is necessary.  Higher education trains minds to think more globally (thinking about others), and more critically, so as conspiracy theories come around, the educated are less likely to fall for them.  For example, Fox “News” has been demonstrated to be the least reliable news source on the market, and yet it’s the highest rated news program today.  It continues to this day to perpetuate conspiracy theories including that the last presidential ele4ction was rigged (it has been demonstrated to have been the most secure in history).  The typical viewer of this show are uneducated.  This is the most obvious conduit of controlling the thoughts of undereducation people of which I am aware. 

I’m glad that Biden is taking these steps, but I fear these actions may fall into the “too little too late” category.

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