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.

Altar Ego

You know the guy I’m talking about. The one who is the first to get up and implore, cajole and nudge others to give to a worthy cause. He doesn’t give much himself but agrees to use his good name as an endorsement. I say that this type of hornswaggler has an Altar Ego.

A non-profit organization gets desperate to make ends meet. They use the Altar Egotist who employs a catchphrase such as ”Give until it hurts!” to ring your emotional chime. Except that I can quote economic scripture, too, and my favorite verse is “Charity begins at home”. I’m not saying that all these fundraisers are dirty rotten scoundrels. What I am saying is that it is not right to put people into a tough money-spending decision-making quandary. I’ve noticed that well-intentioned souls leave millions of dollars for medical research or for a new study program at a university. That’s very nice, indeed. But how many people would have been clothed and fed if the donor had given a million less for their name on a building or wall and to soup kitchens instead?

Some people are quick to give big bucks for a new fancy place of worship rather than make do with a lesser facility. Sure, everyone wants to pray in a nice place and to brag to their friends, relatives and acquaintances how they helped make it so. But, at what price glory?

My feeling is that Mr. Altar Ego should put up his own money AND shut up. The rest of us can measure guilt feelings on our own and act accordingly.
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