Letter from the Editor

Thursday, August 7, 2008

College planning on a budget

You have probably heard a lot of yammering of late about the high cost of education. In fact, education is a flipping steal. It's such a sweet deal that I'm considering going back for a degree in - well, whatever... ballroom dance, turf management, gynecology, spin the wheel, it doesn't matter.

At my alma mater, Iowa State for example, tuition for an in-state dude or dude-ette will cost you roughly 3,000 samoleans for the fall semester. For $3 grand you receive all the wisdom of the ages, the key to the intersteller gym locker of lifetime economic achievement and the mystic combo to the Masterlock on the grand foot locker of universal awareness, bro. At those prices, you should tip the prof a couple of bucks after every good class. "Here you go, sport, buy youself something nice."

Three thousand dollars doesn't go as far as it used to. What else are you gonna buy with that dough - a medium high-end bicycle perhaps. A really good suit. Quite a lot of beer. A hunk of Paris Hilton's used bubble gum on e-Bay.

So, Dana, you ask, what exactly is the catch here?

It's about time you asked, pal. I'm on a schedule here.

Let's again take as an example our completely random, fully fictious in-state student whose parent insists on sending to their alma mater Iowa State. We will call this random example, "MY DAUGHTER THE MONEY PIT."

If you are of the parental persuasion, your colon will tighten up and climb into your esophagus the moment you read this next bit. You may wish to send your child to pre med in order to find an explanation for that phenomenon.

I don't know when this came to be or if it is true elsewhere, but here it is: the cruddy dorm room may cost more than the education. The crappy food may cost more, too.

At ISU, you would write a check in blood for $2,762 plus a handful of goofy things like a "health fee" to put your little meathead into classes. But the dormroom will cost you somewhere from $3,600 for a double-occupancy dump to $5,400 for the taj mahal suite. If you want health insurance, it'll lay the smackdown on you to the tune of $5,500. And the meals - almost $4,000 if you want them to get three squares every day. Junior, you better come home with a buddah belly for that cabbage.

Frankly, I'd sublet the dorm room, and scalp cheeseburgers on the corner. I'd wear a jacket full of pizza slices and pimp garden salads to pay my way through Organic Chem 301.

Sadly, your "cheap education" will end up costing Mom and Dad exactly the equivalent of the annual NASA space program budget. And the munchkin will come out utterly confused and owing a loan for sixty-five bazilliontrilzillion dollars and 32 cents, which they couldn't pay off if they worked for 800 years.

My daughter is somewhat reluctant to commit.

A lot could come up between now and graduation, she says.

Like what? Exactly what kind of career doesn't need a college degree these days? Panhandling? Piracy? Member of Congress?

Out of the latter two there, I'd choose Piracy. It's a tad more resectable.

You have to go to college. Even if it's only to be able to correctly formulate the sentence, "Hey, youse want fries with dat or what?"

I read somewhere that Baby Reagan, a Carroll infant, was awarded a $1,000 College Savings Iowa account, courtesy of the State Treasurers nifty Iowa Baby 529 Plan Giveaway.

I will resist a Reaganomics joke here. Apparently, once a month a random baby born at a participating Iowa hospital is chosen to win the Benjamins.

My first question is, how the heck does one find this "random" baby? Do you put them all into a big rotating drum and pull one out by the big toe?

My second question is, hey Michael Fitzgerald, why don't you cowboy up? To be serious for a moment, the same day, I read about an Iowa baby abandoned on a stoop. If we're giving away the taxpayer's dough, why not give a college account to those poor little ones getting dumped off by parents who don't want them? If anybody on earth is due a break, it's them.

As college costs escalate, the real fear is that higher education may soon lose the perception of being something all can aspire to if they work hard enough. And that would be a tragic socioeconomic splintering for our society. There's a reason kids at Storm Lake High School are flocking to the charter school program - it is a way to grasp those precious college credits when their families might not otherwise see college as possible.

I note too that the Regent colleges in Iowa charge aroud $8,700 for out-of-state student tuition - nearly triple the normal amount. Of course, classroom spaces must be available for Iowa residents first, but is it wise to so discourage bright young people from other states and countries from studying in Iowa?

California's tech explosion was built on full-ride scholarships to lure young people from all over, a generation ago. In Iowa, we whine about a graying society and brain drain, but we sure don't throw up much of a welcome sign at our state U's for the leaders of tomorrow. Maybe we should be building up those colleges to house more top students recruited from around the country and world, instead of paying football coaches ten times what the president of the United States gets, for mediocre seasons. (I know, I know football makes money, don't write in...)

No matter how you look at it, though, education is cheap at any price. But just like buying a car, read the fine print... it's those extras that'll have Dad dining in a dumpster.