What is a college education really worth?

The last time I checked, the price of a four-year bachelor's degree at the state college that I once graduated from was "slightly less than $325,000."  The apparently now routine "lab cost" of a required engineering lab that meets for one hour two times a week is now, according to the website, $8,500.

I demand we call a halt.  In the place of this utter nonsense, I simply ask for a fair evaluation: "What does 'a college' physically consist of, and therefore, how much does it cost to run one?"  The price that a student is required to pay for a service should be directly linked to the cost of providing that service.

So let's face it: the physical plant of "a college" is basically identical to that of any high school.  It is a collection of classrooms, staffed by one instructor per room, none of whom is driving a Lamborghini.  Incidental expenses include the snack machines and the janitors.  Otherwise, that's about it.

Let the record show that in 1980, my total out-of-pocket expense for the same degree was $13,000, and it would have been a third of that had I lived "in state."  (Fortunately for me, the entire expense was paid by a benevolent candy company.)

It is very unpleasant now to confront the true motivation for "student loan debt," but finally we must.  The whole thing started when Wall Street securities speculators finally realized that they could no longer "securitize" worthless "sub-prime" home mortgages.  They needed a brand-new "tranche" of debt to securitize, and Messrs. Dodd and Frank were all too happy to oblige.  Thus was created the SLAB (Student Loan Asset-Backed) security.  As icing on the cake, Messrs. Dodd and Frank said these stupendous debts could not be discharged through bankruptcy.

Therefore, today, hundreds of thousands of students are buried in debt before they reach the age of twenty-one.  They cannot throw this yoke off their shoulders.  Yet this "enormous debt" has nothing to do with the actual cost of providing the thing that they supposedly bought...which, across the expanse of four years, is "much less than 200 hours of actual instructor time."

Education, like every other thing that you may choose to buy, ought to be fair.  You should only be expected to pay a fair and justifiable price for anything that you buy.  You should never find yourself in the clutches of securities speculators for whom "debt, the more the merrier," is a product.  As a society, we should not support these speculators. 

In reality, the costs of running "a college" are no greater than the costs of running any "lower" public school.  The payments that we require of our students should more or less exactly match the costs that we incur to give them what they seek — as was the case in the 1980s, when I thought no more about it.

Image via Pixabay.

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