Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Cost of Higher Education

This morning after my walk on the Swamp Rabbit Trail, I decided to try and find a set of scales I could use on the Furman University campus. I don’t want a set of scales in my own house for the same reason I don’t check the value of my stock holdings on a daily basis.

I thought a logical place to start this process would be the gym; at least it used to be the gym. Even though there are more parking spaces and the same number of students, there are fewer useable parking places. I also note there are a great many more buildings on campus than there were 40 years ago, but let me reiterate, the number of students has remained more or less constant. I had to park more than ¼ mile from the building only to be turned away by a woman behind a glass enclosure who informed me the gym is now the Sports Medicine Center. No one without a pass or an appointment can use their scales. She told me the general public was allowed in the new gym and, gave me a rather useless map I couldn’t decipher, and sent me on my way.

On the way back to the parking lot, I asked a maintenance man how to get to the new gym. He started to explain, and then thought better of it. He let me ride in his electric cart back to my car, and then guided me to a hidden legal parking lot near the new building. May he be blessed.

Inside, I was once again confronted with officials and gates that required an electronic pass card. It isn’t exactly open to the general public. I was given an application for membership. It isn’t cheap even for seniors or alumni (I’m both). However, given the hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of new state of the art exercise equipment housed in this magnificent edifice, I expect the price is more than reasonable.

Back in the day, the gym was a pretty Spartan affair. We had a weight machine, chinning bars, and gymnastic equipment, but that was about it. There were no guards, pass cards, or fees. As I recall there were a set of scales in the Men’s restroom/locker room. Anytime I was in the mood, I or anyone else could just walk over and use them. No more.

I guess all those new parking spaces are for administrative personnel, since the number of students and the class size hasn’t changed very much over the last 40 years. I have seen studies that indicate the number of administrative personnel per student at universities has roughly doubled over the last 30 years. Somebody has to pay those salaries. Do students need a palatial health club to further the quest for an education? One of my friends so enjoyed his free visitors’ pass to the health club at his son’s college, he informed all his coworkers that he never wanted to leave the place. I think he particularly enjoyed sharing the hot tub with the coeds. Unfortunately, his son had the same attitude about this school. A line had to be drawn in the sand before the lad turned his attention away from beer and women, to return to his studies.

We ask why the cost of higher education has increased by 5 times the rate of inflation. I think I now know at least a few of the reasons my first alma mater now costs $54,448 a year.

$217,792 for a BA in English Literature?

My friend mentioned above was fond of saying when presented with such absurdities, “And they ask me why I drink.”

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