Land of the Fees

The Times has an article today talking about growing college fees at state colleges. For those of you who are blissfully unaware of what college fees are, let me quickly break down how the state college system works.

Essentially, at some point in American history, someone thought it might be a nice idea to make higher education tokenly available. Er…not for free or anything like that, because only communists would do something so audacious, but through a state college system with fixed tuition which would be kept low so that college would be affordable. For people who don’t feel up to going to private schools which cost obscene amounts of money, there are lots of really awesome and reputable state colleges and universities.

Tuition at state schools is set by a board of governors, and it’s a lengthy process to get tuition raised. However, fees are set on a college by college basis, by school administrators. Now, when I went to [famous university], fees were a couple grand a semester. Combine that with tuition and you’re still coming off much better than [prestigious east coast college] which was a cool $40,000 a year. Yes, for the price of a house in Pittsburgh, you can buy a year of college.

At any rate, many state colleges started to realize that within the fee system was hidden a clever loophole; they could essentially raise tuition as much as they wanted, or needed. With a growing budget shortfall…many schools are having to do just that, and some of these fees are insane. I’m glad to see the Times drawing attention to this issue, because I think it’s really important. Education is important, and I wish that it was going to be a bigger issue in the upcoming election.

I was talking with a friend the other day about his plans next year, and he was saying that he wanted to go Berkeley, but he couldn’t afford it.

“That’s poppycock,” I said, alarming the over-60 crowd in the laundrymat. “You can go to any damn college you want to,” I added ferociously. “Anyone who says you can’t afford it is…is…full of SHIT.”

“Oh,” he said.

But seriously. It really does bother me that intelligent, excellent people are turning away from their schools of choice because they think they can’t afford it. What the fuck is wrong with this country when people are letting money dictate their educational decisions? When state schools are forced to raise extra money through college fees, rather than through something logical like state grants to support education?

I never let a little thing like money stop me when I was looking into colleges. I went where the wind took me, and damn the consequences. I’m still glad that I did, even though I will be paying my student loans off for some time. To me, every penny was worth it. I also, of course, benefited from grants and scholarships, thanks to hard work, and my father kicked down what he could to assist as well. People who are not as driven, however, may find themselves choosing colleges on the basis of how much they cost, or dropping out because they think they can’t afford it.

This makes me so incredibly sad that I almost have difficulty describing it. I know so many spoiled little rich brats who have dicked off all through college while people who are much more intelligent and worthy have worked three jobs and still barely been able to pull it together. We should all have the right to dick off all through college, should we so choose.

Normally, I’m all for growing up, and forcing people to be independent. But this is one case where I actually think that a small amount of relief from the financial pressure and misery of grown up life is a good thing. If you want to go to college, you should be able to do so without being stressed about money, so that you can focus on more important things like deciding what you want to be when you grow up, or constructing the perfect gravity bong.

It makes me want to set aside a small amount of cash next month for my very young friends, in the hopes that when they grow up in 17 or 18 years, they can apply to colleges on the basis of things like which programs they have, rather than how much they cost. So that they can graduate without crippling debt, go to medical school if they want to or volunteer as veterinarians in developing countries. Or become evil corporate lawyers, if that’s what they want. I just want them to have choices, and options, unlike so many Americans in this “land of the free.”

It’s so easy to make the wrong choice, and it takes only a minute to make a choice which will change the course of the rest of your life. Why should we allow money to predicate such a crucial moment in our lives?