Friday, January 05, 2007

Tuition Bites

I am currently a proud parent of two, nearly three, college students. All through their lives my husband and I have harped on the importance of a college education. We made sure that they had goals, made their grades and made plans. And we followed through by investing in our kids as much as we could reasonably afford through a state tuition plan. Imagine our dismay when as my daughter's senior year in college, the money simply ran out. The tuition that we thought we were paying for only lasted three years thanks to a system that seems to think everyone has access to amply financial aid. According to FAFSA, the governing body that assesses income for colleges, my husband and I are "rich". Not rich like The Donald, but rich in the same terms that Democrats talk about when they want to raise taxes.

I have looked at my kids' tuition bills. There are several curious entries. There is the per hour tuition of course, but then there are a plethora of tacked on fees that are added with little fanfare and less information. There's the "building use" fee. I know they use buildings. This isn't Plato's Republic with the balding elder sounding forth on the village square, but then again, it would seem that most colleges have used buildings to conduct classes for quite a long while. Shouldn't this charge be part of the tuition already? Then there's the student activity fee. This is a fee based on the assumption that students use all of the facilities, including all gyms, all programs and all perq's on campus. It also assumes that the student will attend all athletic events. In short, it's welfare for the already rich-the athletic programs. And please, spare me the arguements that "they pay their own way" and "they bring recognition and money to the school" because while that may occasionally happen, there are very few T. Boone Pickensian millionaires out there throwing money around. And then again, he only gave money for the stadium. How much good is that going to do a Chemistry major? Our state supposedly enacted a program where public schools had to offer transparent budgets that not only listed, but itemized their expenditures. While that kind of action can't be pressed on private colleges, as a taxpayer I certainly have the right to know what the heck they are doing in Austin or College Station or Lubbock or El Paso with the dollars that flood their way.

Since my daughter entered college in Fall 2003, tuition has gone up twice. Fees have been added and the money has little meaning because for the average student, the quality of campus life has not improved. She previously worked for her university in Housing as an RA. As such she was paid in room and board and for that they commanded 24/7 work hours. The excuse that the college has given is that they are paying higher wages, but the question I have is to whom? Students on work/study are certainly not making any more and programs such as job placement or assistance have been scaled back. Add to that advisors that don't know what they are doing when they sign off on kids enrollment forms and colleges that change their direction and eliminate entire programs without warning, and you have a frustrating recipe for failure. And it costs money, which doesn't matter if you are there on a free ride, but matters quite a bit if you personally have to write the check.

Personally here are some of the things that I have witnessed as a parent:
-Selection of students based on who they knew over students listed as eligible for work/study in jobs that were meant for work/study students only.
-Students having to fight to get their diploma after spending five years completing the requirements for a degree, only to have the program closed.(One girl completely dropped out and is working at Home Depot)
-Precipitous and unexplained degree plan changes, such as requiring Dance majors to take Calculus in order to get warm bodies in the seats to provide jobs for grad students.(Actually happened to my daughter, who has a 4.0 and is double majoring in Psychology)
-Student grants not appearing in accounts for days or weeks after they were issued. (When this circumstance was called to the President of the University's attention, they avoided their usual two week delay and emailed me that day.)

I could go on, but it's all just too depressing. The basic problem is that colleges have overloaded their curriculum with cutsey, unnecessary programs and classes that look good in the newspaper, but don't provide much for the average student. I know students at our Flagship University that as seniors are looking at payback for loans in the area of $100000. That's a house. And it's ridiculous that we are talking about bailing out a system that is so slanted towards political correctness that it often subsidizes grants for students that in previous days would have never been allowed in college due to their dismal high school perfomances. Sure, some of them will succeed, but in the meantime taxpayers are supporting kids who have no will and no intention of ever doing anything to get their degree. It's party time. And somehow it feels like they are dancing on my financial grave. I often wonder how things would have been different if my kids had been star athletes, or if we had been of the Minority Persuasion of the Week. And please, don't get me wrong, any kid of any color who makes high grades and hits 1600 on the SAT's deserves to be in school. What bothers me is this broad based assumption that everyone is ENTITLED to be in school. And that, although colleges won't admit it, it the problem. In their liberal mindset to change the world one kid at a time, the colleges will do whatever it takes to get a kid from a bad background and marginal academic skills into college. Wouldn't it be refreshing to see them look at the academic middle of the class kids who are evidently wanted by no one, and boost them up with support and classes and mentors? Instead this group flounders around on their own, with quite a few ending up on academic probation due to the need to work in order to stay in school.

And don't get me started on this idea that college is four years. It may have been in the past, although I took four and a half due to the cycle of classes not being offered when I was ready for them. My kid who is a junior has tried since last year to get into a foreign language class, which is required for his major. They only start the cycle in the fall. So if you miss fall of sophomore year AND fall of junior year getting into a class, then you end up hanging around for year another year waiting for a slot. And the irony of this is that underclassmen and freshmen who are seen as "at risk" for failure, are permitted to enroll first, taking up most of the spots in the class. So let's put our hands together and clap for the kids with all the support, because they may end up the only ones that will graduate under a system that is so slanted and so bureaucratic that getting a response from the registrar is like getting caviar in the Kremlin. In other words "all things are possible, but not for YOU."

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