So the other night, I was sitting down for my once-every-sixteen-years viewing of the Richard Grieco film (If Looks Could Kill) when the telephone rang.
It was a student at Marquette University, calling to check my phone number, address, and whatnot and to see if I’d simply overlooked sending them a check.
She asked for my current address, having established logically that my phone number was still correct. Then she asked me the best part of the Marquette experience for my lo those 20 years ago. I’m sure I said something curtly. I was a commuter, essentially, since I lived in my father’s basement for the duration, so my job was way off campus on the Northwest Side and most of my friends where on the Northwest side (either people who worked in the grocery store where I plied my trade at the time or a guy who lived two doors down from my father, whom I’d gotten to know during summertime visits to Milwaukee).
My distance from Marquette as well as my upbringing that differed from the suburban put a lot of distance between me and the school as An Experience. By the time I had spent enough time with any of them to make anything like friends, I was a senior and off to live the life of a wage slave in Missouri while the rest of them prepared for a life in the Academy and the gossamer feel-good shawl of Progressivist thought.
The best part of Marquette University, I realized after the phone call, was the library. In those slightly pre-Internet days, the Memorial Library had books on everything I wanted to read. I spent a lot of time as a freshman blowing off Biology and Sociology to read Black Like Me, then a collection of Langston Hughes to see what the title of Black Like Me was from, then serious scholarly studies of Ed McBain, and some Existentialism for fun. That, coupled with the big Swedish mechanic who lived next door, had a library in his basement, and asked me if I’d read this or read that and how could I be an English major without reading them? made me who I am educationally today more than the Marquette University community and its $11,000 a year ticket ever did.
So I cut short the connect-and-make-them-feel-a-part questions with a declaration that I wasn’t going to contribute. She said okay, and then I asked how much Marquette cost.
$30,000 a year, she said. Without emphasis, because this is the milieu in which she swims.
“It sucks to be you,” I said.
She giggled and said, yeah, but that’s why scholarships are so important and that the tuition was only 3/4 the cost of educating a student.
“Someone’s getting overpaid. You could get a couple tutors and have them spend 40 hours a week with you for that,” I said. And I rang off shortly thereafter. Ringing off happens when you read a lot of British literature, and by British literature I mean “Agatha Christie” and “Alistair MacLean.” See, Marquette wasn’t influential in making me sound like the hoity-toity affected Anglophile.
After I did, I kind of felt bad for her. She was a junior, working the phones to work off part of her $30,000 a year. At some point, $120,000 is too much for what a college degree buys you. It took me fifty hours a week of working while I was going to college and ten years’ worth of student loan repayment (coupled with a good marriage which allowed me to be DINK to pay those loans off in only 10 years). And I left school only $20,000 in the hole with an English/Philosophy degree. For the first couple of years after I graduated, I made somewhere in the middle teens in income, sometimes working two jobs for that amount. I cannot in my mind justify spending what amounts to a middle manager’s salary to go to school. I cannot imagine coming out of school with $60,000 in debt and stacking produce, if I was lucky to have any job in 2010.
Instapundit talks a lot about the higher education bubble about to burst. It’s going to happen, and I feel really bad for the last people in the scheme like this poor kid, calling hard-hearted Hannahs like me for a pittance against her pitiable annual costs.
Oh, and without segue, I’d like to point out I’m a little miffed what college costs have done to my personal puff narrative. Working fifty hours a week while in school to cover the shortfall between my remaining grants and loans, begging the bursar to let me register for the next semester when I was a couple hundred behind in my monthly schedule (he laughed even then, commenting about how much other students owed), and paying off $20,000 in debt. Kids these days are going to look at my hardships and say, “You pansy, you had it easy.” And then they’ll get into grad school to get the Master’s Degree they’ll need to work in outcalling sales in 2020.