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Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Value & Cost of Higher Education

I just returned from a trip to my birth place. On the last leg of this journey, I overheard a conversation between a grandmother of a high school student and a gentleman attending a highly-ranked private elite university at our flight's destination. Below I recount this exchange to the best of my recollection.

Lady: “You are attending college?”

Gentleman: “Yeah, I am a senior at ... University.”

Lady: “Oh, how exciting! What great place to go to college. We hope that our grandson will be able to attend a school like this. Do you like it?”

Gentleman: “Yes! It has been a great experience. My dad is a doctor, which is not for me. I am majoring in business and accounting to keep my options open. I do not yet exactly know what I want to do. Perhaps, I go on to Business School after I graduate.”

This gentleman's reflections are commonplace. Choices about future directions have preoccupied the minds of students of all ages. Only few know precisely what goals they wish to pursue at the age of twenty. However, this uncertainty starkly contrasts with the stiff price tag attached to education at private institutions of higher learning these days. Undergraduate studies at the college the above gentleman is attending cost about $50,000.- annually with living expenses. At graduation time, the gentleman's family will have spent a minimum of $200,000.-.

In the face of such substantial investment, clear academic goals seem highly commendable. Even the best institutions cannot hand careers to their students. Their reputation may be of limited help. It is only prudent that the prospective student and all parties involved reach a realistic understanding of the expectations and hopes that can be reasonably placed in such investment. Sometimes, more may be achieved with less.




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