The Fleecing of American College Students
by Shadra Bruce
When I was in high school in the late 80s, it was just beginning to be expected that college was more of a norm than getting a job straight away. The promise was tangible – get your degree, and you’ll definitely get a high paying job and be able to jump right in to living the American Dream.
The college recruiters came into the high schools and pedaled their wares like snake oil salesman:
“College graduates make 62% more than their uneducated counterparts.”
“No need to worry about how to pay for college. Our financial aid department can help you get all the money you need to pay for college.”
“You get a six month grace period while you find a job!”
“Our career center places 90% of our graduates after graduation.”
So we swallowed the bait; a lot of us did. And if we started having kids, we have probably been feeding them the same line of crap we heard, grooming our kids to be prepared for college, not for life.
Our oldest joined the Army (a story for another day), but our second child headed straight to college, first to a community college, and now to a state university. She is attending Buffalo State College. It’s part of the SUNY system, what we feel is representative of a typical college. For each semester she attends, she pays
Athletic Fee – $133
Activity – $75
College Fee – $12.50
Health Fee – $130
Technology Fee – $160
Transportation Fee – $31
Books, which average $500 a semester
Meal plan $1,510
Her total semester cost: $8555.50
Yes, that’s right: in order to get $2600 worth of education, she has to pay almost $9000.
You see, colleges figured out (and perhaps drove) the fabulous racket that is student loans:
- Loans cover the cost of tuition, books and related expenses, as well as room and board.
- Poor people (the 99% of us who can’t make $10,000 casual bets) have been conditioned to see a college education as a way up and out.
- Colleges profit by requiring students to live on campus and eat in dining halls
Our daughter pays far more for room and board ($4879) than for tuition and books ($3135).
What does she get for it? Her housing cost of $3,369 pays for a walk-in closet-sized room that she is required to share with another human being, often a stranger, in such close quarters that their feet nearly touch when they’re stretched out on their beds, in pods that house six students who all must share a bathroom with little to no control over who or how many house guests they have, how late or loud they are, or how much drinking or drug use happens.
Her housing cost includes her being kicked out of the dorm for five days over Thanksgiving (no choice) and being required to vacate for the six weeks of Christmas break (within 24 hours of the last final).
She is on campus a total of 106 days for the semester, so her housing costs her $31.78 per day – which would be $950 a month in the real world. And her closet-sized $950 a month room doesn’t even include the cost of Internet or a gym, as most thousand-dollar-a-month apartments with three times the space would.
She is required to also pay (whether she uses them or not) an athletic fee of $133 and a technology fee of $160.
But the real kicker is the food plan, which all on-campus college students except seniors are required to have. She has to pay $1,510 per semester to eat. That averages out to $14 per day, or $98 per week, for one person.
It’s downright criminal. For $98 a week, she could feed a family of four at the grocery store!!
You would think it would be enough to get her through the semester, but the food plan only works at the college-provided dining hall. The average meal costs around $10; a small cup of oatmeal costs $1. Choices are limited, prices are high, quality is low…and the dining hall knows the kids are going to run out of money before the semester is over, pushing Mom and Dad to spend even more by adding money to their spending cards.
The students are locked into these meal plans and housing arrangements because they are a huge boon to the profits of the college or university, whose contracts with the vendors include kickbacks to the school or restrict the student’s spending to college-sanctioned locations.
It is so profitable for the colleges that many of them have gone from requiring just freshmen to live on campus to requiring all underclassmen to live on campus, locked into their private-world profit centers. And it’s all funded by student loans, which kids willingly take with the promise of a brighter future.
To add insult to injury, the Federal government will not let you file bankruptcy on student loans, no matter how bad things get, and when you cannot afford to pay your loans (even for reasons such as no income or receiving public assistance), the student loan lenders have their own capitalized interest profit center going.
And as the latest unemployment numbers indicate, there are few jobs for all these kids the universities are pushing out the doors, yet the snake oil salesman are still coming to the high schools from the college campuses, promising a brighter future, while dumbing down education standards and admitting anyone with a pulse in order to fatten their coffers.
So as our own kids move through the public school system (we can’t afford anything else), we counter the brainwashing the school and society provides them about how important it is to go to college with our own advice:
don’t go to college, don’t borrow from the government, don’t do anything but
make it on your own merit, and don’t get yourself trapped in a college-bound,
corporate track pursuit of this non-existent American dream.
Instead, we encourage them to be individuals and critical thinkers who are politically active and aware. They can build their own dreams.