My Alma Mater USC (South Carolinan’s can relax this is not you), is back in the news again today with an article in the NY Times What’s Life Like as a Student at U.S.C.? Depends on the Size of the Bank Account.
The past few years have demonstrated that there are many endemic problems at USC. A new President Carol Falk from UNC Chapel Hill is set to take over in part due to several scandals involving university administrators and employees. There’s a great deal that needs to be fixed at USC.
But the article in the NY Times strikes me as going back to the whipping post to portray everything about USC as overdone, overpaid, and over-the-top. The article described that tuition alone was $57,000 per year. For the record that’s 4x what it cost when I went there. Even for those students that receive financial aid there’s no way they can keep up with the Joneses or the Loughlins for that matter. They don’t even try nor should they.
Yet I venture to guess that USC is not any different than many ‘prestigious’ four-year universities. I’ve been on a number of college campuses around the county and from what I see overall they are MUCH nicer than back in my day. Not all that long ago, upscale living conditions (yes pricey), really didn’t exist to any degree. Campus food did not include major brands being right in the middle of campus. Affluent parents want to come visit their collegian children but they want nice hotels and nice restaurants. The changes I saw at Florida State in four years during the time my daughter attended were emblematic – and impressive. And of course, everything is more expensive.
The idea of going to college to continue one’s education means very different things than what it meant even before the Internet became ubiquitous. Today, a motivated student with an online connection and basic computer (Chromebook for instance), has the ability to look for and learn about almost any subject imaginable. U.S. based college students are competing with kids around the world that don’t go to college but are VERY motivated and now have more access to the tools to help them compete. There’s still much work to be done to put Internet based technology in the hands of every child that wants to learn this way. But it’s inevitable.
The idea that as a 17 or 18 year-old you can go to a nice campus for four years (ok for some if could be five or more), meet friends for life, learn a few things, come home and have a summer job before going back to school, is an old idea from another age. It’s become a luxury that fewer and fewer people can afford – or even need to do. When I went to USC my father – who went to City College of NY (he told me it was $1/year and it kept him off the streets), would continually advance that the time spent with my classmates BS-ing was the most valuable thing about college. I understood both then and now what he meant.
Who would want to willingly sign up for almost $240,000 in tuition over four years PLUS living expenses? Foreign and domestic students that can afford to pay full tuition are not benefitting anyone else but themselves. The big ruse is that if you do NOT go to college, no self-respecting baby boomer is going to give a non-collegian a fair shake. Or a shake at all.
USC is far from being unique in providing a luxury experience for its students – and parents. I am certainly embarrassed by the spate of bad news surrounding USC. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad place and that the students are all snot-nosed snobs that don’t learn anything or do anything of value. The entire university system in the United States is a giant mess. From not paying larger program student-athletes who are really university employees to allowing tuition to reach stratospheric levels, well-intentioned universities are degrading into serving themselves and their endowments.
Is a four-year university education still relevant and necessary to succeed? Isn’t what people do today with college based on dogma? Everything is changing at an increasingly rapid pace. There are so many other ways to gain knowledge and wisdom. Apprenticeships used to be quite normal until they were not. The luxury of a being a college student for four or more years is something that’s ripe for big time change.