“Higher education” is becoming a double entendre. So high in cost that parentage is now peonage.
The latest figures out last week indicate that four years of college in a “public school” — state land-grant college or the like — will run from $100,000 to $125,000 per pupil. A “private school” — Harvard or Yale — will cost $200,000. None of this takes into account how much private pre-college education may be involved.
In other words, parents who educate four children in “private” Ivy settings will spend at least $800,000 and will be approaching 50 when the task is done. Parents and children will be “finished” at about the same time. With the market diving, al Qaeda rising, and even President Bush suggesting it’s getting hot in here, isn’t it time to take stock (the other kind)? What are the limits of parental obligation, anyway? Four years of college has become a warrant of childhood, dating back to the post-war years when the G.I. Bill put thousands into college at taxpayer expense and changed the landscape of the nation. But Mom and Dad paid only indirectly for that and for the most part kept grinding away at their self-financed retirement plan, knowing the other thing, Social Security, wouldn’t amount to a fiddler’s dam. There were two dire possibilities in those days: the poor house east of the Mississippi and the poor farm west of it. Thousands of young people “worked their way through school,” a phrase that died with jitterbugging. Maybe some help from the folks, but only if they were able.
No one has explained how a college education has become equated with diapering as a solemn obligation of begetting. But it has. Society is regaled with statistics demarking the income differences between those with a college degree and those without. What parent could possibly assign children to the lower rung? Besides, the corporate door-keeper always asks, “Where have you gone?” not “What do you know?” and “How badly do you want it?” The entree is all, like the sauce in that other Frenchy phrase. Who cares what character Mom and Dad instilled, how tight and tough the family remained in rough times, and who bothers to point out that skills are obtained by doing, even the work of physicians and lawyers.
Society is digging an even deeper oubliette: the debt owed the grandchild. How many grandparents do you know who are fretting away their remaining time trying to set up trusts for grandkids? Obviously not entirely trusting those over-educated children to take care of their own children.
Half a million. Eight hundred thousand. While the federal government spends tens of billions on “education”? Education of whom? It wasn’t until the mid-Sixties that the federal government even dared venture into the field of funding education. Once the civil right to an equal educational opportunity was secured, it was a parent thing, a local matter. And it was better, because at that level education did what its primary job has always been — it made citizens.
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