The high cost of college tuition…

My wife recently showed me an article by Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat in which he tells about “the glory days” of when a student could go to university for $687 dollars in tuition. Deriding his generation, he stated “How we milked the public university system in this state and then starved it will go down as the great badge of shame of my generation and the one before mine, the baby boomers. Affordable college made us. Once made, we wouldn’t pay even a two-cent per can soda-pop tax to give that same gift to anybody else.”

While I can certainly agree with what he was stating (college is too freaking expensive), I heartily disagree with his conclusion on why things are this way, as he comes to the simplistic conclusion that college is too expensive because “taxpayers back then picked up 90 percent of the tab. We weren’t Horatio Algers. We were socialists. Today, the public picks up only 30 percent of UW tuition, and dropping.”

Of course. It’s public funding! If the public was paying more for college, college debts wouldn’t be an issue!

Except his point puts the blame so lopsidedly on his generation, he never really addresses any other issues – are we paying a lower percentage because we’re a bunch of insensitive Darwinist capitalists trying to weed out the weak, or because costs have gone up?

His column fails to address inflation, for one thing – $687.00 in 1981 dollars would be approximately $1760.54 in 2013 dollars. Sure, that doesn’t explain everything, but if you’re not taking that into account, what else aren’t you considering?

How about administration costs? Washington Monthly’s Benjamin Ginsberg raised the point that “Forty years ago, America’s colleges employed more professors than administrators. The efforts of 446,830 professors were supported by 268,952 administrators and staffers,” while “In 2005, colleges and universities employed more than 675,000 fulltime faculty members or full-time equivalents. In the same year, America’s colleges and universities employed more than 190,000 individuals classified by the federal government as “executive, administrative and managerial employees.” Another 566,405 college and university employees were classified as “other professional.” This category includes IT specialists, counselors, auditors, accountants, admissions officers, development officers, alumni relations officials, human resources staffers, editors and writers for school publications, attorneys, and a slew of others.”

Let’s reflect on the numbers a moment. We went from a mixture of 62% professors 38% administrators, to a 40% professors and 60% administrators. If we are so concerned with the quality of education, we might want to start by directing less money to middle management and more towards quality educators. It’s easy to say college is too expensive, but to try and pin everything simply on the percentage of what taxpayers cover overlooks some serious issues with the system. To blatantly ignore the bloating of college administration costs as a factor in the increase in tuition is foolish, at best, and mind-numbingly ignorant, at worst.

And frankly, Mr. Westneat, stop trying to give my generation an excuse. If there’s something we already got from your generation that we didn’t need, it’s our capacity to blame the generation before us for all of our issues.

I did the “normal” thing right out of high school and started college, with the intent of becoming a journalism major. After three years in college, I dropped out in favor of a job in retail, while racking up over $15,000 in credit card debt. After five years as an low-paid retailer, I jumped careers into insurance underwriting. My wife, before we got married, picked up $17,000 in student loan debt at a private university. She took two years off to work, then she got her master’s degree in music education without taking an additional loan on top of what was left from her undergraduate loans. At the time that we were married, we came into our marriage with $25,000 in total debt.

And you know what? In two years we got out of debt, and I’m back in school. I’m taking advantage of employer tuition reimbursement (which, while not as common of a benefit, is out there if you look for it), and will be attending a private university for $8,000 out of pocket when it’s all said and done.

Easy? Heck no. I had to take a math placement test this week, it has been a decade since I took a math class. I have no idea how I remembered factoring quadratic equations, but I did.

But I take offense to the notion that my generation can’t work hard and pay for college without having to spend the rest of their lives to pay it off. Mr. Westneat’s assertion that the cost increase is simply because taxpayers aren’t paying enough fails to even scratch the surface of a decidedly more complex issue – waste in the education system. And without addressing that, I fear we’ll never get anywhere beyond crotchety old men telling tales of the good old days of cheap tuition or my generation whining about how expensive college is.

We’ve come a long way from the “four years in college and on to a good paying job” ideal that our parents had. I’m proof of that. I’m 30 years old and won’t be graduating from college until 2015. I have a cousin who finished college when he was almost 40. I don’t think the’s any shame in taking your time, finishing in a non-traditional timeline. Find a good employer who offers tuition aid. Work hard, hustle, bust your tail working and going to school. When you’re young, you’re a lot better equipped to work full time while attending class than you are when you’re my age.

Just don’t tell me it can’t be done. I’m already doing it.

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