Today I dropped my daughter off at her freshman dorm. Last Saturday I did the same for my son. And a few weeks ago I watched my oldest (by eleven months … same school year) also go off to college for the first time (he went earlier for soccer preseason).
Yes, your math is right: three freshmen, three colleges. And three college tuitions. And yes, it’s incredibly expensive. But then again, there are no Gatorade bottles lying around, no smelly shoes to trip over, no bickering and no late-night episodes of Tosh.0 blaring from downstairs. And now I can come home to a house that looks exactly the same as I left it four hours before. Hmm … maybe all that tuition is worth it!
That said, it probably comes as no surprise that I was paying close attention to the president’s recent ideas for making college more affordable. Very close attention. And his ideas were good. But, with all due respect, they fall very short of the goal. College is super-expensive. I should know. I’m now at an expert at paying for it. And with that knowledge, I can also suggest a few better ideas for reducing the cost.
1. Work More. So, let’s start with the basics. How about everyone who works at a college actually works a full day? And how about if the students actually attend a full day of classes? Why does my son have one class Monday morning and then not another until Tuesday afternoon? What are the professors doing all this time? Oh, that’s right: research. And why do professors get to take year long “sabbaticals” so they can do “research”? Have you seen this research? Oh, I’ll get to that. Let’s get our teachers actually teaching for 8 hours straight like high school teachers do. They’ve got plenty of grad students to help them with prep and grading the two tests they give a semester. More (gasp!) productivity from existing staff and students means more teaching can be done with fewer people. Lower payroll. Lower costs. Lower tuition. How about if we all pitch in and work a little harder … and that means you, Mr. Ancient Himalayan Language Professor.
2. End the Four-Year Degree. Why am I paying $50,000 a year so that my kids can leave for school at the end of August and return home the first week of May, and this after taking weeks off for Christmas and spring breaks too? Am I missing something? Can I get a job with four to five months vacation a year? Sign me up! How about prolonging the academic year so that more teaching can be done and a degree can be earned in three years, not four? Who said a college degree has to take four years anyway? British university degrees are only a three-year course, and they brought the world Monty Python, steak and kidney pie and Christian Bale (OK, he’s Welsh, but close enough). Saving a year of college would save me about $150K. Would my kids graduate any more stupider if there were no fourth year? Knowing my kids, that’s a physical impossibility.
3. Kill Tenure. Shall we state the obvious? Anyone know any other place of business that offers employment … for life? And what a deal! Once you get tenure you can pretty much do as you please. Your job is safe. And unless you’re caught in a four-way with two college freshman, Steven Hawking and a bottle of baby oil, there’s little recourse for a university to fire you. The tenure system adds permanent, unnecessary overhead to a cost structure that is already way too high. Here’s my suggestion: make the faculty work for their paycheck every day until they’ve (hopefully) saved enough to retire comfortably. That’s what I’m doing. That’s what all my employees are doing. That’s what … uh … everyone’s doing.
4. Get Rid of the Ice Cream Bar. Desserts in the college cafeteria cost way too much. And they’re unhealthy. Abolishing all sweet stuff on campus will not only save a college zillions in food costs, but also help keep off those added 10 to 15 pounds that seem to magically appear sometime around November.
5. Take a Hard Look at Your Research. Did you know that drunk kids have more unprotected sex? It’s true! Just ask Patricia Cavazos-Rehg of the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Here’s another shocker: Gymnastics has the highest injury rate of all girls’ sports, according to a report from Ohio State University. And how about this fascinating information: Most horses love the smell of coriander, but they apparently do not like how it tastes. For this we (actually the poor taxpayers in the U.K.) get to thank Deborah Goodwin of the University of Southampton in England. Really? How many more ridiculous research projects are happening right now at universities around the world? And look, if we’re going to fund this kind of research, why not make it more relevant to us in the real world? How about studying what exactly was going through Miley Cyrus’s head when she performed at the VMAs earlier this week? Or a research project to determine why Ryan Howard can’t hit a simple ground ball to the left side of the infield when the entire opposing team is shifted to the other side of second base? This is information we really need!
6. Change Your Approach to Parents. For starters, colleges should cut costs by abolishing those agonizing parent weekends. I don’t know a single parent (or their child for that matter) who actually enjoys spending time awkwardly having dinner and attending university rah-rah events to justify their enormous tuitions. Also, when prospective parents are taking campus college tours, don’t herd us away to discuss “financial matters” while the kids get to gossip with the tour guide — make the kids suffer through the financial discussion too. In fact, address ALL financial information, like invoices and statements, to the kids. Why is it that colleges go to great lengths to emphasize our kids’ independence to live and study what they desire but have no problem sending the bill directly to mom and dad? Let the kids see what this is costing too. Give ‘em the guilt. Make them have to come to us every semester begging for a check. Make it required that they hand-deliver the check to the Bursar’s Office. It makes us feel needed and loved. Sure, it’s superficial. But we’ll take any quality time we can get.
7. Move 20 Percent of Your Classes Online. There’s thing called the Internet. And there are places called Kahn Academy. And, according to U.S. News and World Report, there are plenty of great colleges already offering online programs. But here’s the thing: Most colleges don’t require students to take online classes. Why not? Why shouldn’t my kids be made to take a minimum of 30 credits over four years online instead of going to class? Oh, that’s right … we have to keep our faculty busy! And online education is less costly and would help lower tuition. And we can’t lower tuition, can we? We need money for our sports programs and athletic facilities and our dorms with hot and cold running toilets and our state-of-the-art classroom buildings and our cafeterias serving fresh sushi and homemade bread.
8. Take a Vig on the Professor’s Book Earnings. Ever see the cost of college textbooks? We’re averaging about $500 per kid per semester. Wow! And that’s even if you buy them used or rent them on Amazon. And wait … so many of them are written by the professor teaching the course. Why … that’s a coincidence, isn’t it? Could it be that the professors are requiring us to buy their books so that they get … gasp … a royalty from the sale? Who knew that English professor out demonstrating with those Occupy protestors was actually one of the 1% too (or at least aspires to be)? How about if the universities get a little piece of that action … and pass the savings down to us, the soon-to-be poor parents paying for all this nonsense?