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Why do I seem to be the only person in America bellyaching about the soaring cost of education? I don’t even have a kid in school, and I still get steamed every time I hear how much it’s bleeding friends and relatives to send their progeny off to college.
Everyone takes pot shots at the health industry, but nobody even looks askance at the notion of mortgaging the old homestead just so an ungrateful upstart can gallivant off on a four-year holiday.
And, frankly, I’d like an explanation. We know that the cost of medical care has gotten out of hand partly because of all the modern-day advances in technology, and partly because endless litigation has driven malpractice insurance through the roof.
Factor in the billions of dollars it costs to create and test new pharmaceuticals and you can readily understand why those expenses have skyrocketed. But, education? There hasn’t been a major advance in that arena since Gutenberg invented the printing press.
But I came upon a clue not too long ago when the so-called poet laureate of California resigned the gig once it became known he’d lied on his resume. For me, the truly shocking part of the story wasn’t that he’d fibbed about a degree or two, but that this poet none of us had ever heard of was being paid approximately $130,000 a year to teach poetry at some San Diego college. When you realize how infrequently professors actually conduct a class, that is one heck of an hourly wage. And this was San Diego. Imagine what they must be paying the faculty at places like Harvard, Yale and Princeton.
If they’re going to shell out that kind of money to an unknown writer to teach poetry to a handful of kids, one can begin to see where the cost of sending your sprout off to the halls of ivy for four years could easily bleed you dry.
While we’re on the subject, who was it who came up with the idea of tenure? How is it that the only salaried people in America who have lifetime job security are Supreme Court justices and college professors? In the case of the former, it’s intended to prevent undue pressure and influence from outside forces. The nine judges may be foolish and power-mad, the thinking goes, but at least they’re independent. But why should professors, most of whom are as egotistical and arrogant as rock stars and as shiftless as snails, be granted sinecures and treated like royalty?
Quite honestly, unless I had a teenager at home who was serious about becoming a doctor, a lawyer or a scientist, I’d see no sensible reason to blow my life savings treating him to four years of beer, sex and pedantry.
Which is why, when I hear parents tell me that they’re subsidizing a liberal arts education, I invariably feel the urge to throttle them. Why on earth would anybody wish to blow a hundred grand so that their youngster can major in philosophy, French history or lesbian studies, for crying out loud?
If a kid of mine ever came to me and announced it was his ambition to study, oh let us say, 18th-century English literature, I’d get him a library card and wish him all the luck in the world.