Want to shock a college student? Tell him how much tuition cost in the '60s
In June of 1965, I graduated from high school in Knoxville, left my job as a bagboy at the A&P, and became a salesman at Sears, making $1.25 an hour.
I worked full-time that summer and part-time after starting at the University of Tennessee in late September.
I have enjoyed shocking students at U.T. in recent years by telling them it was $90 a quarter my freshman year — $270 for the school year.
Telling students about my tuition has allowed me to then tell them a simple but important lesson that they have seemingly never been taught: that costs simply explode on anything the federal government subsidizes.
This is because most of the pressures or incentives to hold down costs that are constantly present in the private sector are not there when the federal government takes over.
Over the last few weeks, I have heard both Senator Elizabeth Warren and Congresswoman Maxine Waters crying crocodile tears about outstanding student loan debt being an astounding $1.5 trillion. What they do not seem to realize or would probably never admit is that it is their own federal government that has turned millions of young people into student loan slaves.
Big government always ends up helping a few at the top while hurting or giving a few crumbs to everyone else. The federal student loan program has been great for college and university administrators and some tenured professors but harmful to a great many students and their families.
Before the government and the higher education lobby started really pushing the student loan program mainly in the '70s and '80s, college tuition was cheap all over the country.
I once heard House majority leader Steny Hoyer say tuition at the University of Maryland was $87 a semester when he started there in the '60s.
A few years ago, I read a column in the Washington Post that said college tuition had gone up four and a half times the rate of inflation since 1985. In other words, tuition would be 450% cheaper if we had simply left things alone.
Many years ago, people used to jokingly say, "Be careful when a bureaucrat or politician tells you, 'I am from the government, and I'm here to help you.'" Now that is no joke, or at least it should not be.
When I went to the University of Tennessee and then law school at George Washington, students could work part-time and maybe full-time during holidays or in the summer and pay all their tuition and fees. No one got out of school with a debt, unless he bought a car or ran up other bills. Now it seems that almost all students are starting their careers in debt.
For many years, universities have in effect been saying, "Don't worry about these tuition increases. We will just help you get a loan."
When I was in Congress, several times I wrote and spoke about this problem and discussed it with other members. I did not serve on the committee that dealt with higher education.
I still hope, though, that someday a majority in Congress will vote to stop giving so much federal money and underwriting so many student loans to colleges and universities that keep raising their tuition above the rate of inflation. On the other side of the coin, Congress should reward the schools that lower or hold their tuition steady by giving them priority in federal grants or possibly in the student loan process.
The best solution would be for the federal government to phase out the student loan program altogether. However, with all the demands by presidential candidates and brainwashed students to make college "free," it is more likely that we will head in the opposite direction.
Mark Cuban, one of the stars of Shark Tank, said a couple of years ago that if you want to make college really expensive, make it free.
Unfortunately, not many people really understand this.
John J. "Jimmy" Duncan, Jr. is a former congressman representing the Second District of Tennessee.