They’re Making Cheaper Cars; How About Cheaper Colleges and Universities?

Posted on September 12, 2011

Common area in student quarters in my home - living in a fully furnished bed and breakfast atmosphere here is far less costly than living on campus.

When I went to buy my new Jetta, I wondered how it could be less expensive than last year’s model.  I was told that the entire car had been revamped including the assembly line to produce it thus producing economies.  Further, the base car is more like the original aim of the WWII company – to make cars for the people.

Now I learn that the US Jetta and Passat are not produced in Europe but configured especially for the North American customer and made in Tennessee and Mexico. The Jetta is among many brands that are being built for prices beginning at about $16,000.  They are really proliferating.  Both US and foreign manufacturers are coming out with cars for this amount.

OK, so when do we realize that in addition to automobiles, the average American can no longer afford the cost of higher education?  The state and community colleges while less expensive are not at a level for many families to be able to afford.

I live in a state university town and rent rooms to students from the campus.  They rent off campus to save the cost of dorms and cafeterias that are pushing  up the cost of their education.  Board at the university can run $200 or more ahead of my rate.

It is amazing for me, a child of college in the ’60s, to watch the daily lives of  US students close at hand.  I see what their own parents don’t see:  Studying long hours, cooking their own meals, holding a part-time job and not having many off  hours for friends and fun.  The students I see are hard-working and dedicated.  While there are drugs and alcohol out there to ensnare many, most are too busy trying to get through school and out into the work force to earn a living. Their spartan lives as students today will prepare them for the even more spartan lives of working people in 2012.

So why can’t we do what the auto manufacturers have done – retool?  My Jetta doesn’t have all the bells and whistles one could want but it is one of the safest and I think the most comfortable cars on the road.  US higher education could try to be that – effective and family friendly.

Student boarders last spring try to catch some sun while studying. Imp of course has to be with them as well as a friend's pooch. However, finance is a greater impediment to their studies.

Making our colleges and universities cost-effective and quality-based would also keep us competitive in the international business of education.  Already with  the student visa red tape and fear of terrorist attack, the students of many countries that used to come here are going elsewhere to English-speaking schools from Australia to England.

Education is one of our last great industries.  It deserves our support but also our determination to force educators and administrators to revamp the higher education system at least in public schools.  As citizens we have to become proactive in many ways to demand a change.  We cannot continue to sit at our computers reading the news, chin dropping at the cost figures for 2011-2012. We need to act before market forces take even more business to other countries and leave few choices for students at home.

Too little attention has been paid to education.  It is as important as health care for the future of our nation.  Thomas Jefferson noted that democracy flourishes with an educated citizenry.  How much longer can we claim to have that in any grade, in any school?