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A Dean's Sobering Perspective

by Richard B. Schwartz


Is a College Education Still Worth the Price? A Dean’s Sobering Perspective

Is a College Education Still Worth the Price?

When my parents took me off to college in 1959, my father was a recently promoted partner in a small Cincinnati law firm. One-ninth of his annual salary of $18,000 was sufficient to cover my tuition and room and board at the University of Notre Dame. If we were driving there today my father would require a salary of $475,290 in order to devote one-ninth to the university’s tuition of $41,420 and room/board fee of $11,390.

In 1959 and in my succeeding undergraduate years, tuition and room/board cost more or less the same: around $1,000 each. Today room and board is eleven times more expensive, tuition forty-one times more.

The value of a college education was an ever-present reality for my father. His father had lost his job during the depression, and my father had to bootstrap himself through prelaw and night law school by doing scut work in a Newport, Kentucky, butcher shop. With his success, I would be the first member of the family to attend college during the daytime.

The value of a college education has now changed, both in its essential terms—the nature of that education—and in the fact that one now pays for a host of goods and services that one may not desire or choose to use. Hence the value of such an education is tied to its cost, value understood in the more transcendent sense (“the importance or preciousness of something”) as well as in the simple economic sense (“the monetary worth of x”). Some find the costs of college perfectly reasonable, given their expectations; others—given their expectations—find some of the costs to be questionable, others quite unnecessary. We have moved from a more straightforward approach to education, with families paying for the schools they could afford (or that offered their children scholarships) to a system that celebrates choice, brand, service , and support , all of which come at a high cost —again, both in the more transcendent sense and in the simple economic one.

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