Friday, January 23, 2009

Putting the Cost of Education into Perspective

As the Assistant Chair of my college department, I think a lot about education, both in its present state, and its possible future states. I'm astonished at how much higher education costs the student these days. I wonder if this state of education is sustainable.

I'm not alone in thinking these things. In a recent New York Times article, Stanley Fish references a book, The Last Professor (go here to read his thoughts on the subject and the book), which I've added to my reading list.

It's easy for me to slip into doom and gloom mode. I think back to my graduate education. If we had a teaching assistantship, then our tuition cost only several hundred dollars a semester. We could take all the classes we could manage, and we were paid a small stipend. A very small stipend. Recently, I found a notebook with my graduate school budget inside. How did I live on so little? We were paid around $7,000 a year, which even in 1987-1992 terms (when I was in school), wasn't very much--but tuition was cheap!.

One of my friends even took 18 graduate hours in a different field. I wish I had done that, especially when I research graduate school today.

Why would someone with a PhD in English, like me, go back to school? All sorts of reasons. I miss school. I miss being in a class, which means that I'm not the only one reading a book; I've got an instant discussion group (book groups just don't do the same thing for me). I miss having that kind of life of the mind. Some day, I might like to teach new subjects, although the ones that interest me, like Theology and Religion or History, have even more dismal job prospects.

It's hard for me to get around that price tag. But on Kelli's blog, I found a great entry that puts it into perspective. She talks about the MFA this way: "They are pricey little diplomas. By the time this poet is done, there will be $20K to $30K+ spent. Of course, someone once pointed out to me that it is the same price of a mid-sized Sedan. They told me to: Just consider your education is one less Camry you'll own in your lifetime. And honestly, I'd rather have had the experience of my program than a Camry, so I feel I came out ahead."


Joannie said...

I, too, appreciated Kelli's comparison--but I also discovered this summer that I don't want to be in school. I love reading, but I don't like studying and tests. And the class was on wine-tasting! I figure if I struggle with that, I had better not even consider any graduate work.

Kristin said...

Good point. I often think about going back to school, but then I realize I'm signing up for years of not being able to read what I want to read.

I wish I could say that everything I read in grad school was worth all the things I didn't get to read--hard to know.