You Paid HOW MUCH For That Degree?

NPR’s “Day to Day” had a story today about parents’ struggles to pay the rising cost of tuition at private colleges and universities.  Average annual tuition at those institutions is now $23,000.  I heard a story a little while ago about the top schools charging more than $50,000 per year.  I certainly feel for parents who enrolled their children at these schools and are now struggling to pay increasing costs in a slumping economy, but I have to wonder: why did they do it in the first place?

I’ve certainly been tempted to enroll my kids in private school before, but as someone who constantly worries about what I’d do if I were to lose my job, I’m not willing to get on board without being able to say for sure that I won’t have to pull them out of school at some point in time in order to put food on the table.  My husband went to the hoitiest of hoity-toity private schools, and I went to public school.  We have the exact same job.  I begged and pleaded for my parents to send me to Smith College, and they said they couldn’t afford it, but hey – how about the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, where tuition is just $700 per semester?  Y’all?  I did as I was told, and it turned out just fine.  In fact, it turned out so well that I was able to ace the LSAT and get into the University of Pennsylvania’s law school, which is – braggart alert! – kind of a big deal.  But you know what?  I chose not to go to school there, in part because I was marrying a Southern boy who didn’t want to move to Yankee territory, but also because I didn’t want to end up with $100,000 in law school loans.  Instead, I went to the perfectly respectable University of Tennessee College of Law, which cost me about $4000 per year.  These days, my student loans are paid off, I have a good job, and life is presumably as good or better as it would have been had I gone the fancy pants route.

So you will excuse me if I’m not fretting over the outrageous cost of private university tuition, because at my house we are in firm agreement that unless we’re talking Harvard or Yale, it just ain’t worth it nohow.

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22 Responses to “You Paid HOW MUCH For That Degree?”

  1. dorothyzbornak Says:

    I am right there with ya! Instead of going to a fancy schmancy school, I went to good ol’ NC State. I have a good job in my chosen field, plus as much freelance work as I can handle, and my student loans are almost paid off. I learned a lot and had a fucking ball, to boot.

  2. cate3710 Says:

    My college was ridiculously expensive; I was lucky enough that my parents could pay for it. Was it worth it? Well, if I was mired down with student loans I might not think so (though the school does have a pretty good financial aid program), but for me, yeah, it was. I can’t imagine going to a large university just due to the sheer size of it. It wouldn’t have worked for me in terms of learning style or personality. I would’ve managed, but I doubt I would have been happy.

  3. myrtlebeachbum Says:

    Good point, Cate. I agree that it’s all about the best fit for the student as long as she and her parents can truly afford the education. I also went to a small-ish school (about 7,000, but only 2,000 of those lived on campus), and I would not have been happy at a huge school, either.

  4. cate3710 Says:

    7,000 is smallish? Ha! My school was 1,500. Woo itty bitty liberal arts college!

  5. myrtlebeachbum Says:

    Cate, I did spend one year at Salem College, which I think had maybe 400 students, so I know where you’re coming from. It was quite heavenly (until I had to start driving over to Wake Forest to take accounting classes that weren’t offered at my school).

  6. AGreenEyeDevil Says:

    I had a mix of private and public undergrad experience. I wasn’t much of a “social creature” at that point so “atmosphere” was wasted on me in either setting! But the education was solid in both venues. My graduate experiences have also been of 2 varieties – state university and military/prestigious. I’m glad to have come across the more prestigious opportunity when my career was mid-cycle…I’m far more appreciative of the relevance and opportunity! I also believe any educational experience is in large part what you make of it – public or private!

  7. SPARKLE Says:

    Oh man, how I longed to go to a Seven Sisters school! My parents said if I could come up with the money I could go wherever I wanted to go. Needless to say I think I did just fine at my State U. Now I’m in Grad school and one semester costs as much as two years at my undergrad.

  8. lalaland13 Says:

    You got it right, Myrtle. I went to a state school but because it was all my mom and me (dad wasn’t really too keen on paying for school, long story) I have loans out the ass. It’s a pain, but sigh. I’m glad I went where I did. And in Texas, people love to go to U of Texas and seem to think they’re failures if they don’t. But UT is getting to the point where there will be no room to let someone in by actually examining their record, because Texas law requires anyone in the top 10 percent of their class to automatically get into any state school. I would really hate that if I was wanting to go to UT but was in the top 15 percent instead of top 10 percent. I think about 70 or 80 percent of UT freshman get in on that, and UT is like, “Help us! We’re overwhelmed! We have 50k students and more want in!”

    Whoa, I just went off. But I really hated how some kids were like “If I do not get into this school, I will die and the universe will explode and I’ll work at Subway forever!” I want to say, “No. Shut up. And if you’re a liberal arts major, Subway is good money, you ingrate.”

  9. myrtlebeachbum Says:

    Sparkle, I cried my eyes out when I got in to Smith and couldn’t go. In hindsight, my parents made the right choice. They couldn’t afford it, and they didn’t want me to have to pay for it for years after I got the degree. It was a bitter pill to swallow at age 17, though.

    And I strongly agree that grad school is a better place to spend the big bucks, if you’re going to.

  10. myrtlebeachbum Says:

    And you are fantastic at your job, lala, and that is because of YOU and what you made of your education, not because of where you went to school. That’s my girl.

  11. AGreenEyeDevil Says:

    MBB…without a doubt, I’m glad the highend opportunity came for me at the grad level!

  12. lalaland13 Says:

    Myrtle, thanks so much. Did you meet Mr. Myrtle in undergrad school, by chance? Just wondering.

    Yes, it is what you do with it that matters a heckuva lot more. You can go to a small crap school and be lovely and successful, and go to big Harvard and make Cs and…well, be president in the latter scenario. Anyway.

  13. myrtlebeachbum Says:

    I did, in fact, meet Mr. Myrtle in undergrad. I probably wouldn’t have met him at Smith.

  14. nadarine Says:

    Sadly, my PUBLIC SCHOOL University tuition is topped $20k/yr in both my undergrad and grad programs. Yup. PUBLIC UNIVERSITIES. The first being a land-grant university, even!
    And despite my perfect GPA, I got $0 for undergrad scholarships. Which I decided to top off with a dual-degree grad program, just for fun! Yay, more debt! Thank god grad school comes with some financial aid.
    I think longingly of a time where a year of undergrad came in at four digits for students. And then I think about my loans and I begin to dive under the covers and murmur “la la la la not happening not real”.

  15. angiesyounglover Says:

    hey, i just wanted to apologize if i offended you last night with the snarky palin-mother comments on the live blog last night. i read your comment, and i realized i should know that every mother does it differently, as my mother was totally unconvential in raising all of us, and she is not a bad woman and we are not messed up kids. i guess i got all wrapped up in the palin hate, but i should’ve stuck to the plenty of valid reasons for hating her and left alone the mommy hate. so, i’m sorry. 🙂

  16. myrtlebeachbum Says:

    Oh no, not at all, AYL! I have my own insane issues with the treatment of Palin by the press and the Dem blogosphere (a lot of it is wrapped up in the way HRC was treated, which doesn’t completely make sense, but then again I don’t always make sense), and I’d do well just to keep my Palin opinions here instead of venturing out into the blogosphere. Anyway, everyone was just having harmless fun, and I’m the one who should’ve held my tongue.

    Thanks, though, love, and be sure to kiss Miss New New Yorker for me.

  17. angiesyounglover Says:

    nah, opinions should be shared, tongues not held. and your comment instigated some perspective on my part, so thanks.

    i am seeing miss new new yorker later, i will certainly pass on the love!

  18. amazonredheadedubervixen Says:

    When it came time for me to go to college, step-monster told me, “You get 4 years at a state school.” So off to the University of Illinois I went, and it was the best 4 years of my life. My program there was ranked very highly (3rd? in the country), but I ended up never going into that profession, so I’m ultra glad I had only about $5k in loans after graduation (Dad paid the rest. Thanks, Dad!)

    Had I to do it over again, I would have put more effort into getting into a state school for law school, though, because those loan payments are KILLING me.

  19. badenbaden Says:

    Oh, college. Yeah, we four kids paid our own way through school – every penny, including books, rent, etc – which meant we had to be thrifty in terms of choosing schools. My top choice let me in early admission, but didn’t give enough financial aid. So I ended up going to a school I didn’t want, but THEY were paying ME to go there. I transferred after one semester, to a top public school, and ended up paying modestly (I’m trying to remember…I prob only paid about $3k a semester on tuition).

    The price of school is obscene. and totally arbitrary (some of the best schools, education-wise, are significantly cheaper than some of the more popular, expensive ones). I have a loan I’m paying off, but it’s manageable. And I have a dream job that pays well. So, yeah. “Shut up, college!” as Gawker would say 🙂

  20. notaclevername Says:

    My parents both wanted to go to fancy private schools but their parents couldn’t pay for them, so they went to their local state school (where they met). But the resentment never went away, so they started saving for my and my brother’s college education as soon as they got back from the honeymoon. So I’m lucky in that respect. I’d probably feel very differently if I were paying my loans myself (long story).

    My private university was the right option for me. It was small enough that I didn’t get lost, large enough that I had access to the resources I needed and there wasn’t a party scene for me to fall into (a huge reason my parents wanted to keep me away from big public universities, especially in my home state). Like anything, you get what you put in. I had access and opportunities that I took advantage of and I work that name brand for all it’s worth.

    Also, sometimes financial aid makes a huge difference. My brother went to the state school on the other side of town from my private school, but because my private school has a rather large endowment, my parents actually paid less for my four years than they did for him.

  21. BAngieB Says:

    Y’all? Tuition per semester when I was at Arkansas State University: $360.
    If only it was still that inexpensive.

  22. nadarine Says:

    You’re making me cry bitter tears, B. My books per quarter (quarter! so they can jack up the number of times per year we must buy shit!) come to just under $350.

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