Is College Necessary?

Is going to college for four years still worth the investment? Let’s see what it cost forty years ago (yikes!) when I went to school compared to what it costs now to go to the same college and its relationship to the cost of living.

Northeastern Illinois University

1970 Two trimesters – a total of $195
2012 Freshman Fall 2011, Spring and Summer- $5255.80*

* see

In all fairness of reporting, the last time I set foot on campus at Northeastern Illinois University was the Spring of 1974. In those days, the school was on a trimester schedule. If you were full time, you took at least two trimesters. If you were looking to graduate a little early, like I did, you accelerated the process by going during the summer as well.

During the Spring of 1970 while in the last throes of high school, I already knew I was going to NEIU. In those days, it was still called Northeastern Illinois State College. The name change came around the end of my sophomore year along with expansion of the campus physical structure and course options.

I knew by the very beginning of that first summer of freedom from going to mandatory schooling where you were treated like a baby (deservedly, of course) two important facts that blended together:
1) My parents (led by Dad) were not going to pay for any more schooling. They had spent hard earned money putting me through private education from kindergarten to graduating high school.
2) The first year’s tuition at Northeastern was $97.50 per trimester.

The dollar amount was a lot to me. I had done a couple of odd jobs while a senior in high school that allowed me to put away a couple of hundred dollars for spending money but it was not enough because I needed to also buy text books and take the bus daily to school.

Ma’s brother was a labor lawyer and was kind enough to convince a client to hire me at their factory for the summer. In those days this country still had manufacturers that hired American born eager-to-work laborers. The company made notebooks and I was assigned to the heat seal department where the company logo was stamped on the inside of each notebook. The machines had to be kept hot. There was no air conditioning allowed in the area. One day I had to take five salt tablets when it got close to 95 degrees. The salt helped me retain the tremendous amount of water I was sweating off.

I unhappily got used to getting up early to make sure I punched in on time. I also got used to watching the clock and taking a lot of harassment from the veterans who thought I had no business working there. It was supposed to be an eight week summer opportunity but I quit after seven of them. I had to join a union so that my pay rate after one month jumped from 1.60 (the minimum) to 1.80 an hour. I probably put away about $300 to be used towards tuition and other school-related expense.

I knew that this was not enough to carry me over for an extended time. Luckily, I was able to get a part time job that gave me $25 a week. This may seem like a pittance now but it went a long way then for a guy who was living at home and did not as of yet drive a car. Bus fare was probably 25 to 35 cents each way and I did not have classes scheduled for all five days a week. As a sophomore and junior in college I was lucky to work at a department store for as much as fifteen hours a week and more during the summer. So, I managed college expenses without a problem.

A neighbor across the street- who incidentally more than 40 years later still lives across from Ma- told her about something called an Illinois State Scholarship Grant and that I should apply for it. I kind of shrugged and said that there was no way I would get it. At the time, I was still under the naive notion that scholarships were only based on academic achievement. I soon found out that it didn’t matter if you were an Einstein or not. The point was did you need assistance? Of course I did. So, I applied and was accepted but not to begin until the following year. Each subsequent year I had very little paperwork to fill out to keep extending the largesse.

The one fly in the ointment would be whether Dad would cooperate and provide his financial information to the State of Illinois in order to be judged if our family was deserving of this assistance. Usually he was loathe to share private information. He had begged off from providing me assistance as he still had three other kids to put through private school as well as an oldest child going to Roosevelt College who had earned an academic scholarship. But, he knew instinctively that the State of Illinois would come through and he gave the info.

I never saw any of Dad’s tax returns but in his later years when I had to help Ma file the 1040’s while he was in a nursing home, I learned how much he earned. I can only surmise that in the early 1970’s, he was making about $20,000 a year from the main source and other side work he did.

The point of all this is that depending on how you want to interpret what a full time course load costs
now at NEIU, it is at least twenty-five times as much as it was in 1970. Dad would have to be making about a half million dollars to compare to what he made then. Clearly, the average breadwinner does not make this amount. In 1970, going to a reasonably priced state college would have been 1% of Dad’s yearly income.

The question is what has happened in the past forty or more years that a state college education needs to cost on an annual basis 5 to 10% of income? Was tuition too cheap back then? Was the education being delivered not as good as now? Does spending more than $30,000 on four years of college result in a person getting a good job or help him figure out how to make a good living?

A study done by an educational research group found that in 2009-2010, 74% of students had financial aid of some type while 55% had Grants. The amount of the grant covered roughly half the tuition fee. Needless to say, back in 1970, the Grant covered the entire amount of my $97.50 per trimester tuition. By the time I graduated in 1974, the fee had gone up to $200 per trimester. The State of Illinois was still paying 100 percent of the fee.

Are there too many students going to college? 58% of the students are female which is about the average nationwide. Less men are going for higher education or is it that colleges prefer to accept women?

I have one nephew who never stepped foot in college. In fact, he never finished high school. I’m not sure he even has a G.E.D. But, he makes a living offering financial services to businesses.

Another nephew went to Law school and spent several years being the first one out the door because he was the last one hired as firms downsized. Hopefully, now he has found his niche.

College taught me to think, analyze, and communicate both verbally and in writing. What I do for a living I learned after my four year degree by taking a couple of courses in computers. I spent a few years in the minors- so to speak- going from job to job gaining experience for the right opportunity to put up my own shingle. Without college, I never would have been smart enough to process in my head all the things that happened and to gain from them.

Tell me what you think.

Should Rich People Pay More in Taxes? or It’s the Economy, Stupid!

So, how many millionaires are there in America anyway? That’s a fair question, right? Some people of a certain political persuasion believe that the solution to our economic crisis is to ask the very wealthy to cough up more dough. Repeat this mantra- “if we collect more tax revenue, the deficit will eventually disappear.”

Did you know that more than a third of the income tax returns that are filed end up in not having to pay taxes at all during the course of the year or what is paid in is refunded back 100%? This is especially true for senior citizens who rely solely on monthly social security payouts for income. That means that a little more than 60% of us are paying for everyone’s needs in America . In the interest of full disclosure, the quarterly estimates I begrudgingly pay don’t come back to me or at best are used to help reduce the estimated amount I owe for the first quarter of the next year. And I am not in a bracket that is going to put a dent in the deficit.

Continuing with this disclosure business, I am not an economist nor even a licensed accountant. In the early 1970’s, I was required to take a class in Economics at Northeastern Illinois University in order to fulfill the obligation for a more well-rounded education. A not-so-bad looking blonde lady professor was the teacher who tried to pour ideas about bell curves, trends and consumption- the consumer type, not the disease- into our minds in class. What made it a challenge- for both her and my classmates- was that she was cross-eyed, like Ben Turpin. (If you don’t know who Ben Turpin was, forget it.) She’d ask a question to elicit whether we were reading our textbook at home or wherever. If she was looking in your general direction, you were in trouble. You weren’t sure if she was calling on you to speak up or the person one row behind and to the right. Each time a bunch of hands were raised, she’d say, “you!”. And you’d hear for the next two minutes, “who, me? No, you! Who, me? No, him. Alright, then you speak up….” We learned more about diplomacy and tact in that class than how to balance a budget. Maybe that is what’s missing now.

So, how many millionaire are there in this great country of ours? I asked this question on the Internet and found several answers depending from which the year the statistics are taken. It is probably a safe bet to say that there are at least five million households with more than a million in cash in various banks. I’m excluding those who are on the bubble because their wealth is mostly in property equity.

Let’s say we ask these 5 million rich dudes to donate an extra 1,000 dollars to the tax coffers. What does that do? It brings in an extra 5 billion in cash. Wow! But that is not going to do much for closing the gap on a 4 trillion dollar deficit. What if we gave them all a free supper and raised the ante to 10,000 dollars each? No one likes to cough up so much extra like that but it still will not make a dent in their lifestyle, right? Besides,we only need to stroke them for a couple of years. Just to try to stabilize the economy and bring back confidence to our global partners that this is a great place to invest in. We gain an extra 50 billion in cash but still a mere speck of a dent.

What if we increased the pool of givers and asked those making over 250,000 dollars a year to give one thousand extra dollars to the tax coffers? You are still adding less than 100 billion dollars to federal revenue.

Some people argue that the extra revenue should come from businesses that shelter their income from taxes. Yes, there are a handful of global corporations that stiff Uncle Sam but still not enough to dent the deficit. Bottom line, any extra revenue generation is just going to go into some legislator’s pork barrel project anyway.

Unless you ask 100 million Americans to give big chunks of money the next couple of years in addition to what they are currently obligated, it is not going to do much to narrow the deficit. It seems plain simple to me that the major effort to reduce the deficit is to tackle it from the other side- cutting spending without choking those of us who need the services that are provided by the Federal Government.

A lot of tax-paying Americans- those that don’t give a penny should keep still- would be more amenable to tough compromises if we were all on the same playing field. This means that no government workers including legislators, judges and even the President should have special health care benefits and pension plans. We should all have the same. You cannot expect those with better perks to wisely make decisions that concern the Economy for the rest of us. It’s called conflict of interest, otherwise. What affects our pocketbooks have to affect theirs. And no legislator should be allowed to vote on raising his or her own salary. Any vote on salaries should not be instituted until one term of office following the one being voted on. No one has ever put a gun to the head of a legislator and forced them to run for office. When the rest of us suffer financially, no one in public service should demand or even expect to receive improved benefits.

When do I pick up my Nobel Prize in Economics? Or tell me that I am an idiot and give me concrete examples and no political talk. Thank you.

Dumb and Dumber

Recently in the news there was a story about a football player who was smitten with true and endearing love for an ex-beauty queen. So much so, that he bought an engagement ring purportedly worth $76,000 to present to her. But being a very busy athlete, he decided to wrap it up carefully, insure it, and mail it to her. Along with the said jewelry, he tape recorded a marriage proposal. That appears to have been a dumb move. Continue reading “Dumb and Dumber”

Long, Long Ago

This is not about old memories but about a song I hate.

In September, 1970, it was time for me to stop being a kid and go off to college. It meant walking three quarters of a mile in all types of weather to the CTA bus turn-around at Devon and Kedzie next to the Thillens Little Leagiue Baseball Stadium. I’d grab a bus to Northeastern Illinois University, located on the far north side of the city of Chicago at Bryn Mawr and St. Louis Avenues. I reversed the process going home so I was not only getting an education but a good physical workout.

In those days the school was still called Northeastern Illinois State College. At some point in my freshman year, it got full accreditation instead of just a factory for turning out teachers. It took great pride in offering a diverse curricula.

I did not go there with the intention of becoming a classroom babysitter, which is what I thought most teachers were. I was also clueless on what major to latch onto. I naturally chose to take as many classes that first trimester that fit into a decent schedule as well as figured to do well in. The class registration system was set up so that upperclassmen were entitled to enroll for the coming trimester first. This left the not so exciting courses as well as odd time schedules for freshmen.
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The Play’s The Thing

Now I tell you that I consider the people of the east side of New York City are the finest, the kindest, the most intelligent people in the world. People who are not afraid of no word like.. like, anarchist.” So began the opening lines to a play that debuted on Broadway in late March of 1968 and lasted about a month before closing.

In the mid 1970’s, I belonged to a community organization that decided to put on this same play for four benefit performances on two successive Saturday and Sunday evenings. Among other energetic amateurs, I volunteered to play whatever part was deemed appropriate for me. Being in my early twenties and among the youngest among the volunteers, I was given the role of Jimmy the Anarchist. It was by no means a lead part but it was significant because the character spoke the opening lines to both the first and second acts. I had to memorize about ten sentences in all plus sing background in the chorus. In both scenes my character had to interact with a street cop. The officer was to bark at me and make an effort to put me under arrest. The fellow who was given this part looked it perfectly when he put on the uniform. He was the nicest guy but he just could not remember his lines. It ended up practically each time I had to say both his and my lines to get through the exposition.

In one exchange, I was supposed to say, “I hear they’ve taken Charlie McKenna off the machines and into the hospital. Are we gonna stand for it?” The copper was then supposed to say, “hear, now! You come over here, lad.” Except when the curtain was up, lights dimmed with a live audience hovering over every word, he froze and mumbled a bit. So I said, “what’s that, copper? You want me to come over to you?” And all he could do was shake his head yes.
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In a Class by Myself

By Larry Teren

You’ve heard the expression, “boy, this guy’s in a class by himself!” In my case, it was almost true but not because I had a swelled head. It had to do with taking a course at Northeastern Illinois University on a campus of a couple thousand students where only three other dedicated underclassmen had the same crazy obscure interest.
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Philosophically Speaking

In the early 1970 ‘s I attended Northeastern Illinois University in pursuit of a well-rounded education. Part of this endeavor meant that I had to take a course in philosophy. Philosophy is supposed to be defined as the love of wisdom. Frankly, though, the philosophers I’ve met were kind of not so wise.

The professor who taught our class did her post-graduate work at the University of Chicago. That alone should tell you that she did not believe so readily in mom, apple pie, the military and capitalism, although she did wear fancy clothes. I suspect that she made a good living and justified her salary because she was doing something very important to help the American Economy. Yeah, exactly.
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