College is Not a Yard Sale

There’s no way around it: going to college costs. But who said you have to pay out of pocket? Almost NO ONE can afford to do that these days. Ever heard of loans, work study, grants, and scholarships? Millions of dollars in grants and scholarships go unclaimed every year because we are too lazy or too ignorant to search and apply for them. People act like going in debt for college is a terrible thing. It breaks my heart to hear high school students (especially those of color) use finances as the reason for not even trying to go to college. Who is teaching our children there’s a price cap on their futures?

In this country, we love to rank everything. We feel that if we are paying more for something, it is of better quality. In general, I question that logic. But when it comes to higher education, it’s usually true (discounting for-profit schools).

So let’s talk about what constitutes a quality education:

  • Qualified instructors. This means professors with PhDs because in fact, they are experts in their areas. Masters programs are generally 9 months to 2 years. PhD programs average 7 years across disciplines. Simple math assures us that spending 7 years studying something allows you more time to become knowledgeable than does 2 years.
  • Small class sizes. Top ranked schools boast about their classes with a 1:10 teacher-student ratio. This matters because with smaller classes, professors are better able to differentiate the curriculum to meet the unique needs of the students (here is that equity vs equality issue). We are also better able to incorporate small group activities, projects, creative assessments, field trips, and other instructional methods beyond lecture and multiple choice tests. Research consistently shows the benefits of multimodal teaching on long term learning outcomes.
  • Unlimited resources. We require our students to do tons of research these days. The days of Encarta and encyclopedias are over. Everything is online. Colleges/Universities must pay for access to databases. If your school doesn’t have the resources to pay those high fees, then you are effectively cut off from those databases. This extends to all sources of media/technology and resources, including qualified personnel in campus libraries (yes, the library staff should have advanced degrees in Library Science or similar fields).
  • Student diversity. I’m not just talking about ethnic and cultural diversity. Students spend more time with their friends in college than they do in class. This means that many learning opportunities arise in the dorms, cafeteria, sports arena, and definitely at parties. Students need to be exposed to others from different socioeconomic, religious, political, geographical, and linguistic backgrounds. College is not just about content knowledge; it’s about knowing when and how to effectively apply it. You learn that from others.
  • Extracurriculars. Part of the college experience is trying things for the first time. Joining an outing club, a dance group, student government, a club sport, or engaging in any novel activity enhances students’ overall college experience. Why? Because they’ve learned to challenge themselves. To step outside the box. To work with people with whom they would never have had cause to interact otherwise. These are things we can’t teach in the classroom.

This list could go on, but I want to make my major point: Quality costs. PhDs earn higher salaries than Masters. Smaller classes mean more classrooms and more professors. Access to up to date technology is pricy. Recruiting globally requires staff and the funds to send them around the world. Extracurricular activities require constant funds, equipment, coaches/advisors.

We like to complain about schools that cost $50,000 a year, but we don’t complain nearly as much when a car, which depreciates in value with each passing day, costs that amount. Yes, *$200,000 is a lot to spend. But education is the only investment you can never lose.

Let’s teach our children to invest in themselves because no matter the cost, they are worth it.

*Note. Schools that cost a lot are often the schools with endowments large enough to offer in-house financial aid. What that means is that just because the price tag is larger, doesn’t mean you pay more. In many cases, you pay less because the school itself can afford to award you grants and scholarships, whereas most public colleges/universities cannot. In public schools, you rely solely on external funds. Example: Many of the Ivy League institutions have policies in place wherein if your family income is less than $75,000 a year, you attend tuition free.

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5 comments on “College is Not a Yard Sale

  1. nerdmalarkey says:

    So this entire post is to justify your salary, right? I’m protesting.

    Seriously, I’m sure you and I have covered this topic before. It saddens me to hears people our age (!) say ridiculous things like, “I couldn’t afford college.” Since when did Stafford loans require a credit check. Unless you are Bill Gates or Steve Jobs (people who were just destined to be great), an investment in college (any college really, but hopefully at least tier 1), is an investment in your future.

    Unfortunately, I think high school aged kids (the ones you’re speaking of anyway) are misinformed. And it really starts with the parents. If parents aren’t actively informing children and making them aware of resources then we have a problem. Of course there is personal responsibility as you age, but parents have to apply pressure.

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