Dear college my daughter attends

Before I get to the crux of this letter, my daughter had a great first year of college. She acclimated well. You challenged her academically. She felt safe on campus. For all of that, her mother and I are grateful.

Now, about the letter you sent us—the one asking us to give to the Parents Fund, which, among other things, you say provides scholarships for other students. Look, I’m all for giving every kid an opportunity to go to a fine university like yours. But we’re a little tied up right now helping support our daughter’s education. Three years from now, we’ll have another daughter hitting college age, so it will be awhile before we’re in a position to contribute.

Don’t worry. I offer an immediate alternative. You don’t have to look far to find it.



Voilà. Problem solved.

I’m not trying to pick on you, because nearly every college does the same thing. But hey, you sent us the letter, so…

College tuition has become like the MSRP for a new car. Everybody knows you’ll drop the price faster than a hipster caught holding an Air Supply album. The only question is how much. It makes no sense to expect your current customers to help support discounts for future customers.

n_Audi012Continuing the new-car analogy, let’s say I want to buy a 2015 Audi A6 (which I will… in 2021). It has an unholy sticker price of $56 thousand. I would be a fool to pay that.

“How much would you really take for it?”I ask the saleswoman.

She pretends to give it some serious thought.

“Fifity-five,” she says.

At this point, I can agree to the small “discount,” because I don’t enjoy haggling. Or I can continue the little dance.

“I won’t give a penny over fifty,” I say.

“The lowest we can go is fifty-two,” the saleswoman says.

With a grumble, I nod my acceptance.

Now let’s say the dealership calls me two weeks later and says, “Ron, we have a nice couple in here looking at the same car you bought, but they can’t afford sticker. If you would contribute a little money to the dealership, we can cut them a deal.”*


It sounds silly, but that’s what you’re doing when you request our help with scholarships.

Before you say that is not a fair comparison, I present you Exhibit A:

According to an article in the New York Times late last year, Converse College in South Carolina cut its tuition 43%, eliminating discounts, and did not lose revenue. A handful of other colleges are trying the same approach. I suspect you’ve already read the article, but let me quote a bit of it:

For decades, most private college pricing has reflected the Chivas Regal effect — the notion that whether in a Scotch or a school, a higher price indicates higher quality.

“Schools wanted a high tuition on the assumption that families would say that if they’re charging that high tuition, they must be right up there with the Ivies,” said David L. Warren, president of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. “So schools would set a high tuition, then discount it. But when the schools in your peer group all have discounts, it becomes an untenable competition for students, with everyone having to increase their discounts.”

Colleges have become like car dealerships, each one trying to out-discount the other and not helping their bottom lines in the process. If there is any hang-up with the car analogy, it’s that you have to discount your product a lot more than a car dealership to remain competitive.

The problem is, the cost of college still remains too high after you discount it. Exhibit B: A recent article in Rolling Stone magazine, which reports how ridiculous the cost of college has become at the same time the value of a four-year degree is decreasing:

“Tuition costs at public and private colleges were, are and have been rising faster than just about anything in American society – health care, energy, even housing. Between 1950 and 1970, sending a kid to a public university cost about four percent of an American family’s annual income. Forty years later, in 2010, it accounted for 11 percent. Moody’s released statistics showing tuition and fees rising 300 percent versus the Consumer Price Index between 1990 and 2011.

Read the full article.

As I was drafting this letter, I came across an opinion piece on Al-Jazeera’s web site entitled College is a Promise the Economy Does Not Keep.**  Here’s a snippet:

College does not offer a better future, but a less worse one. College is not a cure for economic insecurity, but a symptom of the broader plague of credentialism.

 Read the full piece.

Again from the Rolling Stone article:

The average student now leaves school owing $27,000 – by entering an economy sluggishly jogging uphill at a fraction of the speed of climbing education costs.

Yikes. So, our kids are going into debt and for something that may not pay off for them. College loans are bad juju. When my daughter applied to eleventy-three colleges last year, she received some “aid” offers in the form of unsubsidized loans. If my daughter has to pay back more than she gets, particularly if she is still paying it back when she’s in her thirties and beyond, that’s not aid. That’s a cast-iron yoke around her future.

Any school that advises, encourages or otherwise eases the way for students to assume loan debt is doing a disservice to the student. Yet, thousands of students go deep in debt every year because they have been inculcated with the notion it’s unavoidable.***

Six bits of disclosure your college admissions counselors should share with prospective students:

  1. No correlation exists between the size of the tuition and the quality of the education or the ability to get a good job after graduation.
  2. College rankings are a joke, often based on loosey-goosey criteria that, again, have little if any connection to learning and job prospects.
  3. Choose a college for reasons other than rankings. For example, a particular academic program, the campus atmosphere, college town vs. city, region of the country, enrollment size, furriness of the mascot, etc.
  4. Choose a college that will challenge you, even if it’s ranked 256th among southwest northern regional universities with at least six letters in their name.
  5. Go to college for the right reasons. Unlike previous generations, a four-year degree doesn’t guarantee a long career or even a job.
  6. If you will assume huge loans to attend here, pick somewhere less expensive.

That is all. Have a good summer.






*I would still be a fool to pay $52 thousand for a car, but I would also be a fool to pay $52 thousand for a year of college.

** “The New York Times? Rolling Stone? And now Al-Jazeera? What’s next? The Communist Manifesto?”

***I have a cheap state university education, yet I can still wield words like “inculcate.” Amazing.


21 thoughts on “Dear college my daughter attends

    1. Yoke: a piece of wood fastened over the necks of two animals and attatched to the cart they are to pull.
      What mistake?


  1. I’d like to see the correlation between college/university sports programs and the increase in tuition costs. I work in public finance. Even at the public K-12 level, the construction of facilities (especially those related solely to sports) are prohibitive, usually financed over the long-term with bond issues. Same at college/university level. My point is this: Just exactly who are the beneficiaries of the scholarship programs? Athletes? As a nation, our emphasis has been increasingly towards sports and there are many beneficiaries of this largesse ->namely, the athletes who are given full-rides, the colleges & universities & the NCAA. So when your kid’s institute of higher learning hits you up, it’s not just so some poorer kid can get an education. Think about it.


  2. Also, let’s consider that student loans are bundled, like other forms of consumer debt, into bond issues which are then sold to investors. To me, this is a huge component to the hidden driving cause of tuition increases. SallieMae, anyone? There are middle men on top of more middle men, who all take a cut from this activity, which translates eventually into driving up the cost of the bottom line ->the financing of student loan debt. A recipe for enslavement. We don’t necessarily know or see the slavemasters. Add to it that so many businesses -both blue & white collar- have outsourced during the same period (40 yrs) and the negative ripple-effect emerges. Why are we enriching China & India at the expense of our own countrymen & women’s futures? A consumerist society that was once a thriving manufacturing & producing society eventually cannibalizes itself -the snake eats its own tail. These same businesses who’ve outsourced are parking their profits in offshore accounts, refusing to pay taxes to the American Govt, the country where they seek to sell some of their wares, and we have a recipe for financial disaster. What they’ve done to graduating college/university students (created such a slim job market) is what they’ve done to our country (refused to provide revenue which we can then use to fund our country’s progress)! There is a need to demystify the entire process, so people become keenly aware of exactly how this whole system works & how it’s worked against them. Those who bought up SallieMae bonds were salivating at the prospect of student loan interest rates going up. It’s the same with any unsecured debt and it should stop. However, considering who really runs America (hint: starts with a “b” and ends with “ankers”) we have been at their mercy for more than 40 yrs. It’s just that since Reagan deregulated, it’s gotten worse, the avarice is now above-board for all of us to see. Pay attention & remember to get involved. It’s your pocket, mine, and millions of other’s & they won’t stop until they’ve ransacked our nation & enslaved us to perpetual debt. They succeeded handily in tipping the scales in their favor in 2008 and ever since the bailouts, the abuses have gotten worse.


  3. There is a slight difference from the Audi, because the prestige of your daughter’s university (and hence her standing in future pecking orders) depends some on the people it attracts after her. Well, MAYBE your Audi’s resale value does, too. But essentially colleges sop up every cent available to them. So making student loans available only makes them hungry for more. Furthermore, where did the myth come from that every bright, motivated high school graduate gets to go to college? I went mainly because my state then charged almost nothing for residents to go to a top (OK, really good) state university. (The football team was 2x national champions back then – the sign of a really good school.) I leveraged that into full scholarships for another 5 years. Those days are past. But today I CAN construct a complete sentence in which the subject and verb agree. Judging by what I hear on TV and radio, schools stopped teaching that. Perhaps to allocate more tuition to health centers.


  4. Ah, but it is MBA economics – they skim the demand curve. They charge full rate to those who can afford it and do not ask, then move down the revenue curve till they fill the campus and maximize revenue. Same as the Airlines – many who fly first class have so much money they do not care, or are spending someone elses’. Just be glad that some people are paying more than you. And the letter for support is a similar “see what this will bring” financial ploy.


  5. I will be going through this process this coming school year. My oldest son will be a senior. We have already begun looking but on my teacher’s salary, (unfortunately my husband is out of work) it is going to be a struggle no matter where he winds up. I might need to reread this for guidance as I muddle through it!


  6. Let me introduce you to Senator Elizabeth Warren – D/Massachusetts. Check out her solution to the student debt crisis.


  7. Reblogged this on Adventures in Learning New Skills and commented:
    This post has nothing to do with learning new skills, just learning. It talks about the cost of college is not just monetary, but social. Jack Spirko at The Survival Podcast coined a term for this, “downward class mobility”. The term means that it takes more money to get more education for more people who will end up working at McDonald’s.


  8. Unfortunately, even “cheap” in-state college educations are now extremely overpriced and expensive. I should know, as I have bachelor’s degrees from two of them. I am about to double my current student loan debt in order to pay for my first year of a master’s program at another state university because of these things called “out of state tuition” and “cost of living in a place that is not my parents’ house.” I would have chosen a cheaper school, except I chose this school for the program and the location (but not furriness of mascot). We were told we have to go to college to get a good job, and earn a living, but a BA and a BS later, I’m still making $8.43/hour at a company that will only let me work 20 hours a week so they don’t have to give me something I’ve only heard tell of from my parents’ generation – health benefits and vacation time. At this rate I will be in student loan debt until I die.

    Well written, and thank you.


  9. Have just enjoyed watching my youngest go through commencement in May, I have to say that we have about the average among our kids.

    My oldest daughter graduated owing about $14,000.00. She saved money by attending a community college the first two years, and going to a relatively inexpensive private business school (relative to her brother and sister’s college)

    My son graduated with about $23,000 in debt. He went to a small private college, but he also had a good summer job between his high graduation and sophomore years. He also had substantial college scholarships outside of the college discount.

    My youngest owes about $27,000, and I have paid around $11,000 (borrowed from my 401k) on top of that, going to the same private college as her brother. She also had substantial outside scholarships on top of the college discount. Her cost also reflected the reality that her brother and sister were no longer in college and that did affect her financial aid.

    They all saved money by living at home and commuting to school (the Kilter college taxi service). If they had lived on campus their loans would have been twice as much, or they would not have been able to attend the schools that they did.

    I told my son that his loans were about the price of a lower cost new car. And the college degree would earn him money over what he would have earned by not going to college. In two years of full time work, he has made up that differential, and is working hard to pay off his loans. My oldest daughter is having a tougher time. The youngest plans to go to grad school.

    The State school offered us virtually no financial aid or discounts for that matter. They did offer Stafford loans and parent plus loans. It cost less for our kids to go to the private schools than it would have cost them to go the public universities.


    1. We told the students who called us to ask for money for the student fund that we were broke, and to call us after everyone had graduated. Well, we’re still broke.


  10. I proudly watched my daughter graduate last year. I made my unwilling husband attend because we’d each get a free glass of champagne at the expense of the university. How sad is that!


  11. I’m a little late to this post/website. I enjoyed the humor and the colloquial style but I think the author has one gleaming error… take care in suggesting that university systems are raising their tuition for the purpose of appearance. One of the overlooked and sad truths for public eduction (especially in my state of Oklahoma) is that the state funding levels have dropped quite a bit over the last 20 years and these institutions are normally the first to take a cut. Universities are forced to raise tuition (though this measure often discourages new students when it comes to questions of value for your tuition dollar) and more often, raise fees (which isn’t usually calculated in the same metric as tuition for rankings) in order to offer staff and faculty a decent wage (and decent in my case doesn’t put me anywhere close to a 2015 Audi except for in maybe 2025 if I save every last penny).


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