College Tuition Is a Math Test Everyone Fails

St. Thomas of Villanova Church, Villanova University

Hello, John DiFelice here. I recently “celebrated” my 49th birthday, which makes me old.

There are many things old people like to do. A young wippersnapper like you might think we “play Bingo” or “play Parcheesi” or “talk about the war”. Really? You’re in the wrong century, my friend. My generation was the first to play video games as children and own personal computers. We play Bingo on the Xbox now, thank you very much.

But the activity old people enjoy most is comparing the prices of things now to what they were in our youth. When things seem much more expensive today, we say things like, “Oh, that darn inflation.” Yes, there is inflation, but for certain things the adjustment for inflation is a fraction of the price difference.

Let’s pick an example for a price comparison. It could be anything. Let’s see…you know, I’ve read that a lot of people are crying about the price of college tuition, so let’s look at that. Let’s see what “inflation” has done to the price of college and getting a degree. I’ll use myself as an example.

I graduated from Villanova University in 1993 with a degree in chemical engineering. The photo above is of the Villanova Chapel where every alumni wants to get married. Even people who aren’t dating anyone get their names on the list — you know, just in case. Villanova’s Chapel and campus are beautiful, and they didn’t get that way by accident. Villanova has spent a fortune on landscaping, hardscaping, and building more dormitories and parking lots. Villanova is an official arboretum with tagged trees that line the walkways throughout campus.

Villanova was pricey even back in the late eighties with a tuition of $10,000 per year, not including room and board. The school increased tuition each year I was there, so by the time I graduated my degree had cost me $45,000. That was lot of money to spend on school, but my degree could get me an entry level job making $45,000. In other words:

The cost of a college degree = the annual starting salary of a job

It was a one to one ratio of what you paid to the salary you earned.

How about now? The average starting salary for a person holding a bachelor’s of chemical engineering degree today is $73,528. That’s a lot more than $45,000. But how much does the degree cost?

The price of tuition (no R&B) at Villanova for 4 years = $226,920

Using my superior math skills, me thinks something is out of balance. Whereas in 1993 the ratio of tuition to salary was 1.0, it is now 3.0.

During my college days, I read an article (I wish I could remember the periodical) that called chemical engineering a moribund discipline. In other words, not much new was going on in the field. A look at the chem E department’s syllabus reads like the one I followed when I was a student.

Required and elective courses offered by Villanova’s chemical engineering department

At least 80% of these courses were offered by the department when I was a student 28 years ago. So what justifies the stupefying increase in cost?

Nothing does.

My son will enter high school later this year, and it is clear to me that going to college is no longer worth the cost. Sure, there’s the college experience, but that’s a very expensive beer tab. If I gave my son the $226,920 to start a business or travel the world to get some actual meaningful experiences, it would be better spent and much more educational. Unfortunately, most hiring companies won’t look at you unless you have a bachelor’s degree. It’s a trap, and it is unfortunate. A college degree has become like a toll you pay on the interstate. Everyone has to pay it, no one can change the fare, and the money spent, which is supposed to be used to maintain the roads, is something you can’t quantify. You can feel it, though, when you are stuck in monster traffic from highway construction.

So, you want to go to college? First, you have to take a simple math test. Don’t worry. Everybody fails it.

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