Remember meForgot password?
    Log in with Twitter

article imageOp-Ed: Berea College raises questions about U.S. college costs

By Paul Wallis     Jul 22, 2008 in World
If there’s a hot topic on Earth, it’s the cost of education. The almost unbelievable stupidity of crippling, not to say insane, costs is generating a lot of anger, with good reason. Berea College is an exception that’s created a new paradigm.
From The New York Times, which deserves credit for this very revealing piece:
BEREA, Ky. — Berea College, founded 150 years ago to educate freed slaves and “poor white mountaineers,” accepts only applicants from low-income families, and it charges no tuition.
“You can literally come to Berea with nothing but what you can carry, and graduate debt free,” said Joseph P. Bagnoli Jr., the associate provost for enrollment management. “We call it the best education money can’t buy.”
Actually, what buys that education is Berea’s $1.1 billion endowment, which puts the college among the nation’s wealthiest. But unlike most well-endowed colleges, Berea has no football team, coed dorms, hot tubs or climbing walls. Instead, it has a no-frills budget, with food from the college farm, handmade furniture from the college crafts workshops, and 10-hour-a-week campus jobs for every student.
To put this in perspective, that $1.1 billion is big money, but it’s how it’s being used that’s the issue. Berea is an educational institution, not a five star hotel.
I don’t doubt for a minute you could learn a lot from a hot tub. Whether you’d get a PhD or an MD from it is however debatable, unless you found some really interesting diseases in the process.
Colleges do have big money. To say they all have to put it mildly eclectic views on every aspect of costs would be a massive understatement.
This is an education environment where “fees” are a four letter word like no other could hope to become. In a society which can’t function without a generational supply of trained people, costs are a real problem.
At this point the various forms of thinking in the NYT article start getting bizarre, in terms of the need for education, the relationship between income and fees, tax exemptions, and what appears to be a “scramble” for low income students.
The economic argument isn’t much more clear:
Although this year’s market drop is taking its toll, the growth in university endowments in recent years has been spectacular. Harvard’s $35 billion endowment, Yale’s $23 billion, Stanford’s $17 billion and Princeton’s $16 billion put them among the world’s richest institutions.
Such endowments have helped make higher education one of the nation’s crown jewels. As Harvard’s president, Drew Gilpin Faust, said in her spring commencement speech this year, endowments at Harvard and other research universities help fuel scientific advances as government support is eroding, and help drive economic growth and expansion in a difficult economy.
Excuse me, O scribes of the mighty, if I interject:
You have a society where only about 10% of the population has the income to afford this level of education, without assistance.
You have 300 million people, requiring the services of trained doctors, engineers, educators, architects, IT, trades and the rest of the major functions of a modern society.
Not hot tubs.
Most of those 10% don’t graduate in socially applicable sciences. Unless you want to fight diseases with lawyers and do your scientific research with corporate finance executives, that argument doesn’t look too strong.
In practice, scientific advances in the last 10 years have come despite government opposition, and staggering education costs. Harvard and the others have definitely done their share and more in scientific advances, but it’s hardly the whole story, is it?
Nearly all of those 300 million people could be trained to do vital work, if they could find anyone prepared to train them.
The endowments aren’t really the issue. Management of resources is the issue.
The Senate is looking at that, and has somehow come up with a percentile formula theory relative to endowments, not a demand for education of large numbers of people. The IRS has come up with a percentage of tax to ensure appropriate use of endowments.
So the next phase in what could only be called a very odd bit of extended logic has been a form of outreach program:
The mounting scrutiny by lawmakers has already prompted some action. Dozens of wealthy colleges have increased their aid to low- and middle-income students, many substituting grants for loans. Many have announced plans to expand their student bodies, and some are doing broader outreach and working with nearby K-12 schools to improve academic preparation.
May I say, in passing, what a load of garbage.
This is charity, when you need planning and structure.
If you have a look at the Users Manual for the United States of America, (2008 edition), Page 1, you’ll find that you need so many trained people to operate the thing. You will need more, in the future. That's not even theoretically debatable.
If you keep producing fees out of a hat, based on the students’ parents’ income, or the zip code, or because you can’t play Sudoku very well, you’ll find that you’re pouring billions into a training system which is operating at a very low level of efficiency.
You will also find that the percentage of that 300 million people who can’t get that education are performing at an extremely low percentile of what they could be doing, economically, if they were making more than that princely $7 an hour, or whatever it is.
Do that for a few generations, and the result, according to some recent testing, is one hell of a mess. A society going backwards, and falling apart in the process, because it’s not designed to go backwards.
I really don’t see any point in adding quotes from the NYT article. The time for nitpicking is long past. Have a look at the logic. These guys have never heard of the same page, let alone been on it for any notable length of time.
Berea’s got the right idea: Teach.
If they want hot tubs, they can go and buy them.
There is no longer a choice.
Educate, or die.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about Berea, College fees, United States