The Cost of College: Beating the System

On Oct. 14 last year at Steyn Online, Mr. Steyn ran a diverting little article on the 20-year-old flick “Good Will Hunting.” Not having screened the film, I probably wouldn’t have read the piece were it not for a tip from a reader; in this case a young stock trader who sent me the following quote, (the quote is so tasty I’ll plug the kid’s videos). Good Will Hunting, which I still haven’t screened, deals with the travails of a super-smart young man who is a janitor at M.I.T.:

The loathing that the college maintenance staff feel for the professors is also well done, and there's a sharp scene where Will and a Harvard boy spar over Minnie Driver:

"You just paid $150,000 for an education you could have got for a dollar fifty in late charges at the library."

"True, but at the end of it I'll have a degree and you'll be serving my kids fries in the drive-thru on the way to our ski vacation."

(Two decades on, a 150-grand degree is no obstacle to a rewarding career at the drive-thru window.)

Several things jump out from this brief quote. First, a four-year degree from Harvard will now set you back something on the order of $270K in today’s dollars. According the university’s website, the “total 2018-2019 cost of attending Harvard College without financial aid is $46,340 for tuition and $67,580 for tuition, room, board, and fees combined,” or $270,320 for four years, assuming no inflation.

Second, I don’t know how many late-book return days could be settled in 1998 for $1.50, but I’d be surprised if the inflation in late fees since is anything like the inflation at Harvard. (I refuse to research inflation in library late fees; you can do that.)

Third, apropos of Steyn’s parenthetical joke, even though the economy under President Trump is affording Americans more opportunities, there has been a lot of under-employment in the last twenty years; people with credentials who must settle for jobs that are “beneath them,” i.e. grunt work. During the last two decades one could see a goodly number of adults working as baristas and burger flippers.

In my last article on the escalating cost of higher education, I urged that the feds end their backstopping of student loans. Such guarantees, as well as all the other taxpayer money pouring into higher education, account for some of the inflation in attending college. If college students are finding it difficult to get loans to pay for college, they should assume that situation is going to get worse.

On June 14 at Inside Higher Ed, Andrew Kreighbaum reported on a bill called the PROSPER Act, which stands for “Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity through Education Reform.” Here’s the text of the Act, and here’s a webpage of the House committee in charge. The Act is aimed at overhauling the Higher Education Act. One of the provisions of the Act is to end loan forgiveness for student debt; the ABA chimed in against the change on June 12.

Although the PROSPER Act is having a hard time getting support, that may change as the crunch of federal indebtedness (which I believe will begin on Oct. 1) becomes ever more acute.

At Harvard, undergraduate courses pro-rate out to about $2,112 per credit hour based on the 128 hours required to graduate. It doesn’t make much sense to pay $6,336 for a 3-hour course like, say, introductory Spanish at exclusive institutions such as Harvard. Isn’t there some way students can “beat the system”? One way kids can cut down on the cost of higher education is to test out of general education courses. Consider the next paragraph a PSA.

For those who are strapped for cash or who are just offended by the cost of higher education, I’ve assembled a few links on testing out of courses. Start by reading this short entry for College Level Examination Program, which tells us that it costs $85 to quiz out of a college-level course. In “How to Test Out of College General Education Requirements,” there’s a video that might be of help. After you check out the links here, here, here, here, here, and here, you might even decide to register to take exams. But know that some institutions, such as Harvard, may not accept such credits. The prospective student must also consider the transferability of all college credits, regardless of whether earned through testing out of courses or earned at lesser institutions, such as junior or community colleges. If one is intent on Harvard, here’s its webpage for transfer students.  Also, might be useful.

One last point re Good Will Hunting, if one is truly motivated, one can indeed educate oneself at the library. Those who really succeed “take ownership” of their educations; they don’t just present themselves to their professors thinking, "Make of me what you will." The truly motivated are self-starters, risk takers and think for themselves. They’re not part of some “hive mind.”

And self-education is much easier now than it was in 1998 when the World Wide Web was in its infancy. Nowadays, if one is in the dark about something, one Googles it. Or, if you’re lazy, you ask Siri or Alexa. With the 'net, there’s no longer any excuse for being a dummy. If you know where the “hot spots” around town are, i.e. the places with free Wi-Fi, a $200 laptop from Walmart can be your “keys to the kingdom.”

In the old days, college kids told each other to “question authority.” But today’s student “snowflakes” accept the pabulum ladled out to them by their leftist professors without question. Let’s hope that before it’s too late, today’s precious students learn to distrust their professors just a little. You see, some ideas are so irredeemably stupid it takes an academic to really believe them.

As Matt Damon mopped the floors of M.I.T., an alternate solution to Fermat’s Last Theorem popped into his teeming cortex. But he didn’t have time to jot it down as there was much more floor to be mopped, and Matt wanted to finish up early as he had a hot date with Minnie Driver.

Jon N. Hall of ULTRACON OPINION is a programmer from Kansas City.

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