Is so-called “higher” education worth the price?


By: Bob Grafe, Columnist  

Published September 17, 2009

For those senior citizens who lived through the “Great” Depression of the 1930s, the consensus of opinion is that it really was “not” so great — unless, perhaps, you were living on a productive farm in rural America.

Mrs. Rumbleheart, my 1950’s fifth-grade teacher at Lincoln Elementary School, was one of those who survived the depression while somehow managing to complete her teacher’s college education at the same time. She would occasionally comment quietly something to the effect that “Maybe I should have stayed working on my father’s dairy farm.”

It would be interesting today, during our current difficult economic times, to hear what Mrs. Rumbleheart would counsel prospective young college students in the throes of evaluating their options of attending college or going directly into the workforce instead.

One rainy day, Mrs. Rumbleheart described how difficult it was for her to leave her parent’s farm to attend college — at great expense to her parents.

“My mother had always told me that I needed to go to college and my father always told me that it was a total waste of both time and money — especially during the Depression.” she told our class.

While in college during the 1930s, she estimated that the cost was about $2,300 per year for tuition, books, room and board — and even dances, she noted. That was for nine months of study. A tidy sum of money for that time.

During her summer break, Mrs. Rumbleheart would return to the farm to help her family. After graduation, as a beginning teacher, and being a female teacher (at the time, paid much less than her male colleagues), her annual income was about $2,000 per year.

Her father and others would remind Mrs. Rumbleheart frequently that it would take “forever” to recoup the out-of-pocket cost for college as well as her loss of income (had she chosen to join the workforce) during her four years of college — “shenanigans,” as her father would refer to them as.

Fast forward to today when senior citizens throughout the country are dealing with tough economic decisions as costs for “higher” education continue to skyrocket while senior citizens’ expendable income continues to dwindle.

Grandparents especially want to be of assistance to their grandchildren when and how they can. So, when it comes to helping out the grandchildren with “college” choices, what do you advise your grandchildren?

You probably neead to share both pros and cons with them. During the 2000 census, average lifetime earnings for high school graduates was $1.2 million compared to $2.1 million for those with a bachelor’s degree — double that for professional degrees.

But, that was in the year 2000. Will that stand the test of time during our current and future economic roller coaster ride?

And, can your grandchildren actually afford (even with your help) to attend college? Today’s “in-state” annual tuition at Texas A&M University in College Station is $8,336. A&M’s “out-of-state” annual tuition at College Station is $22,886.

If your grandchild prefers to attend Texas Lutheran University, a small liberal arts college, the current annual tuition and fees are about $22,000 per year. At Texas State University in San Marcos the “in-state” tuition and fees are $7,482 while the “out-of-state” cost is $15,792.

Perhaps your grandchild is Harvard, Princeton or Yale bound. There the annual tuition and fees “begin” at over $35,000.

None of those tuition and fees estimates includes the “extra” costs for room, board, books, transportation, etc.

Compare those costs with the cost of a four-week commercial truck driver’s school (or other schooling where skilled “trades” are taught) where the tuition and fees typically run less than $4,500 for the truck driving school — and way-above minimum wage paychecks begin almost immediately after completion of the course.

Mrs. Rumbleheart never talked about Mary R. Beard, co-author of “The Rise of American Civilization.” Perhaps she was not aware of the author. But, I’m sure that my former school teacher would be giving sage advise to those young potential college students of today based, at least in part, on what Beard wrote: “The most helpless people in the world are the formally educated and there is a great deal of evidence that college education is not only negative but is a liability in the business world.”

Individuals who made the conscious choice to proceed with their lives without the disruption and cost of a college education degree include Bill Gates, Harry S. Truman, Abraham Lincoln, Peter Jennings, Charlton Heston, Walt Disney, Steve Jobs, Michael Dell, Orville and Wilbur Wright, William Faulkner, Michael Moore, Lance Armstrong, Chuck Yeager, Eleanor Roosevelt, Ernest Hemingway, Frank Lloyd Wright, Walter Cronkite and countless others.

When it comes to providing both loving advice and costly financial assistance to grandchildren, senior citizens have some tough choices to make when the topic of a college education is discussed.

Regardless of whether the counsel is for or against attending a college or university, the end result will probably not guarantee either financial or other determining factors of the young person’s realization of “success” in life.

Most senior citizens have experienced the reality that “education” is where the individual finds it — not necessarily where the academic and governmental numbers crunchers suggest that it be found.

Mrs. Rumbleheart would have made a very well educated and successful truck driver.

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Radio show host, news director, critic ... California/Alaska/Texas; VISTA Volunteer-Philly, PA; Ft. Benning Infantry School for Boys-Retired USA; ME for Texas Daily Newspaper; Nat'l Bank Chief Appraiser; TX County Chief Probation Officer; Retired x 3 or 4 ... whose counting?? Oh, yeh ... music - Great listener! OK humming ... shower singer ... I can pluck and plunk at a Hammond A-100 ... too old for a roady ... front "kid" for Louie and Pearl (RIP); I know who Mrs. Calabash is/was ... JD told me ... personally!! And, most importantly ... dah-dah!! ... I actually get paid occasionally to write reviews. Note for Web guy: The website above belongs to someone ... ?? Not me!!

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