We have been hearing on local newscasts and reading in newspapers in recent weeks about the increased tuition levels approved by local community colleges, private universities and state universities around Michigan. The numbers border on staggering. Just today, Wayne State University announced an increase of 13%. Welcome to the world of higher education (think Ward Churchill - eeeckk)!
WWW.rightmichigan.com has posted a number of articles in recent weeks about the current increases that young college first timers, returning undergraduate students and older returning graduate students can expect in the fall of 07’. Articles such as “Statewide, Universities Jack Up Tuition Rates. U-Mich Repeats Lie First Exposed by ZR years ago” by Chetly posted on 7/21/07 and “Tuition Increases Amidst GVSU Building Palooza” by Amanda posted on 7/17/07. Each article provided details on a breakdown of room & board along with the actual amount of the increase a full time student could expect in final dollars and cents. One of the articles expressed frustration over the continued escalation of costs. One of the articles discussed supposed costs reductions at one school while the same school complained state aid was simply not enough to make up the difference in reforms and current fees. While there was ample irritation and disappointment, few ideas were put forth as what to do to counter this constant pattern of tuition going up each and every year.
I couldn’t help but relate to these articles as I am a graduate of The University of Detroit-Mercy and also Eastern Michigan University. I moaned and groaned in the years of 1985-1991 when I was in both schools obtaining my degrees. I thought costs were growing wildly back then, but the numbers these days border on astronomical. By the time I hit my third year in college, all aid less student loans dried up. I remember vividly being told that since I made 10K a year working two part time jobs and my parents made 25-30K a year combined, we were considered “well off” so, I wasn’t eligible for aid any longer. Citibank was kind enough to offer me a small student loan of $2,500 at 10% interest and then they welcomed me doing a cash advance on my credit card for an additional $5,000 at 18% interest for the rest of my bill that year. I appreciated their flexibility and generosity in robbing me blind when no one else would. It took me over a decade to pay back over $35,000 in debt. I did it, every last rotten, stinking dime (along with employing a personal therapist to help me get over my bitterness of the whole experience :-). 35K seemed like a large amount of money back then, but appears to be nothing compared to the numbers I have been hearing for this generation of students in school now.
I feel that we have all fallen prey to the false belief that becoming a college graduate is a must. No bachelors degree, you are nothing! No masters degree, you are nothing! No PhD, no zoup for you! The real deal is you simply go in debt and have no security or guaranty for the journey you feel pressured to take. What other choices do we make in life at such an early age where we are told;
1) soon as you graduate from high school make a major life career decision,
2) fork out $50,000 or more to pay for school (via student aid, scholarships, cash advances on credit cards, family assistance if you can get it, student loans and in between jobs),
3) spend 4 to 6 years in an isolated classroom being taught only specific information that certain professors with set agendas want you to learn (so much for well rounded learning),
4) graduate on time if you are dedicated, smart and organized,
5) and then walk out into a world that has not prepared you for an empty piece of paper, enormous debt and no guaranteed job or career. It appears congratulations are in order college grad!
As one of the articles on www.rightmichigan.com noted, most institutions of higher learning are dealing with increased student entry and graduation numbers not reduced enrollment. So, what gives? How angry are all these students – both undergraduate and graduate - if all they do is get upset, yet they still fork over the dough? Or worse, has everyone bought the concept that success in the modern world is available to only those with a college education? Sure, there are some fields that continuing education is a must. You simply cannot walk into the work world and become a doctor, lawyer, engineer, etc, without some form of higher education. The reality is most other fields, on the job training could prove wonders. But, that isn’t done much any longer. Employers no longer want to train someone who might leave in a short amount of time or not work out altogether and thus, they have wasted money, time and benefits for nothing. Workers don’t want traditional blue collar style jobs anymore as they’re simply not “the ones to brag about”.
Frankly, the whole "business" of college and university education is a bit distasteful these days. They deny they run themselves like a business. They say they are not there to increase professor profiles. They are not there to build monster alumni programs for the status of the college. They are not there to create national athletic buildings, teams and fan followings. They are not there to make money. They are simply there to educate the kids of today to be the brilliant workers of tomorrow. Hmmm…right.
My take is that until parents, students and everyone else starts making their voice truly heard, this incredible escalation of costs is going to keep going on and on and on. Regardless of how much money the state and local parties pay out to the schools, it will never be enough. The schools will always say they are in a deficit mode. Parents are actually starting to take out home equity loans to foot their kids college bills. Parents are dipping into their 401K, pension and savings accounts to pay for their kids college bills which could harm their future retirement plans. Parents are getting second and third jobs to help their kids pay their college bills. Some kids are working to help put themselves through school (like I did), but still not enough. If kids had to work to foot their entire bill themselves, things would change overnight. Guaranteed!
Don’t forget, communities like Grand Rapids keep going to the ballet box during voting season to get that all important millage increase to keep the schools piggy bank full. If they don’t get the vote they want the first time, well try, try again.
Is the sky now the limit?
When will people say no more?
Until we all start demanding more in return for our hard earned money, we aren't going to see a change. Even if someone is lucky enough to get grants and scholarships instead of forking out direct cash, credit cards or taking out direct loans…we all pay the bill in the long run one way or another. What you got as a grant or scholarship, people like I paid in direct expenses out of my own pocket. Or citizens in the community paid via increased millage rates. Nothing is free. Nothing.
I would like to suggest controversial ideas such as the following to fix the current college and university tuition increase problem:
Start boycotting schools that increase tuition beyond the cost of inflation.
Start boycotting schools that do not do needed reforms and shave off waste to their own internal administrative, building and operating programs. Start boycotting schools that do not contain costs and watch their spending - in terms of educator & administrative salaries, material costs, building booms, etc. Start boycotting schools who do not provide guaranteed job assistance and job placement at the end of a 4 or 6 year program. Start boycotting schools that do not show a top level placement record of recent graduates.
Start boycotting schools that do not do needed reforms and shave off waste to their own internal administrative, building and operating programs.
Start boycotting schools that do not contain costs and watch their spending - in terms of educator & administrative salaries, material costs, building booms, etc.
Start boycotting schools who do not provide guaranteed job assistance and job placement at the end of a 4 or 6 year program.
Start boycotting schools that do not show a top level placement record of recent graduates.
If these colleges and universities want to act like a big business, even if they deny they are, then let’s start holding them to successful business principals. That means watching the bottom line dollar (keeping costs in line with inflation and no more), making sure they meet the customers demands (quality surveys on teachers, administrators, books, class content, etc.), showing success in their product line(that students are getting jobs in their fields) and so on. Continuing to pay colleges and universities for minimal to poor production is a bad business practice and it shows. You wouldn’t reward a failing business in the real world. Why reward a failing college or university when the product they produce isn't working - you (that is assuming that a student is putting 100% of their time and effort toward their major/minor properly, graduating on time and still can't make do with the degree they have earned).
We have all bought the notion hook, line and sinker that if you don’t get a college degree these days – you are big, fat zero. You can’t possibly amount to anything. It's sad that high school counselors, teachers aids and adults themselves advise students that they must attend a college or university else they will end up unmarketable and unwanted in the work world. It’s too easy to forget or deny that some of the biggest inventors and small business people began with minor beginnings. Beginnings that DID NOT include a college degree. Who knows what you might be able to accomplish if you take hard work, determination and dedication to a discipline other than a college or university. Everyone should not have to pay these institutions the sun, moon and the stars to "help" make a dream happen. We should all consider taking our current money, time and effort and consider becoming the next great inventor, a small business owner, joining a military branch of service for the benefit of God, country and family, attending a technical or vocational school for a trade skill, putting years in a job and gaining experience on site and working our way up in a company the old fashioned way and so on. The key would be suggesting and supporting these alternatives instead of just frowning upon them.
As these simple ideas and suggestions show, it's possible to avoid breaking the bank when it comes to continuing education. We simply have forgotten how.
Editor, The Local Area Watch