Notes from the College Search

Spent Friday with the Good Wife and Sixteen visiting a private liberal arts college in Spokane, Washington—not the one with the very good Division 1 basketball team. The one with a very good Division 3 basketball team.

My main objective was not to embarrass Second Born by not saying or doing anything to bring myself attention. I was doing really well until mid-day. Early on we learned about the “Three Littles” that every student strives to accomplish. . . 1) get hit by a frisbee; 2) accidentally break a dish in the cafeteria; and 3) catch a “virgin” pine cone—meaning one that hasn’t hit the ground. In the middle of the campus tour, I faked catching a pine cone by droping to the rear, picking one up of the ground, then exclaiming to a few peeps around me, “Look, I did it. I caught a virgin pine cone.” Turned out more than a few people heard. Everyone liked my head fake except Golden Locks.

Thought one. A prediction. Higher education, like every other institution, is changing and will continue to change. However, the pace of change will be slower than the “experts” anticipate. Online “education”, or the cynic in me prefers, “internet coursework”, will continue to challenge the traditional “brick and mortar” model of schooling. Hybrid programs will become more common. But based on Friday’s sample of one, private, read pricey, residential liberal arts education is alive and well. “Spokane” University is thriving despite a relatively small endowment. It’s becoming more selective, it’s improving its already nice facilities, and it feels like there is a lot of positive momentum.

Thought two. A paradox. Many private liberal arts colleges offer financial aid packages that average 30-40% of the tuition and room and board “list price”. This coupled with Washington State’s public universities having to increase tuition 15% annually into the foreseeable future, means many families of high achieving students will find privates more affordable going forward. “Spokane” University has four merit-based scholarship tiers. The higher your grade point average and SAT or ACT score, the greater your financial aid. The second tier is a 3.7 and 1880 on the SAT if I remember correctly. That’s worth something like $15,000 each year. Any high schooler planning on going to college should think long and hard about taking any part-time job that might negatively impact their grades. You’d have to scoop ice-cream part-time at Baskin Robins for five years to make $15,000.

Thought three. Confirmation of a core belief. I believe economic anxiety explains most behavior these days. Especially, but not exclusively, middle and upper middle class parents of K-12 students. One of the day’s events was a panel discussion with four “Spokane” University students answering questions. Of the dozen or so questions asked during the hour, eleven were asked by parents. The only explanation I could think of for that was deep seated anxiety about their children’s futures. I wanted to tell the lady with red hair, who asked a few different questions, to “shut the hell up,” but I had already embarrassed TSwift once. Incredibly aggravating. Free parenting advice—at least try letting your son, who looked like a grown man to me, find his own way.

I took one picture. No, not of the beavers I saw on my run along the edge of the over flowing Spokane River, not of the baby ducklings, and not of the loquacious woman with red hair.

Dig the smart mix-use design

Finally, most importantly, make sure whatever college you decide to attend has plexiglass backboards.

2 thoughts on “Notes from the College Search

  1. “private, read pricey, residential liberal arts education is alive and well. “

    I certainly hope you’re right Ron.


    Here’s a thought of mine. Education shouldn’t be priced to discourage anyone who really wants to go and has the academic creds to be there. The wealthy 2% of course would be excluded from this consideration. Sorry, those who make over $250,000 a year can afford tuition fees as they stand now without sacrificing essentials like nutritional meals and a secure home to reside in.

    I for one have no problem being taxed to see that every kid who truly wants to go to college should get their first two years on the tax payer. Two years will tell 1) if the young adult really does have the desire to be there and 2) if they have the potential to make a success with their education (imagining that the labor market is such that could assimilate all such grads into the workforce).

    If they clearly have lost any interest in a higher education – reflected by grades and teacher evaluations – then the free ride should be over. If however they fit category #2, their remaining years should also be on the state. I think the taxpayer’s return on such an investment will be worth it.

    I realize of course that the Libertarian mind-set in this world is not going to be convinced of such value.

    • Actually, I probably overstated the state of private, liberal-arts ed based upon one school that’s doing pretty well. The big picture is bifurcated or uneven, with some schools doing well and many struggling. That’s been true for some time. I’d have to defer to someone more expert than me to guess the percentages of each. My best guess is about 10% have such large endowments they’re darn near immune from recession. Another 40% are meeting their enrollment targets and managing to balance their budgets with considerable effort. The remaining 50% are struggling to meet enrollment targets and balance their budgets. I like your Euro-like proposal, but Tea-Party resistance would be considerable. Meanwhile, the Republican nominee for President wants to increase military spending and cut taxes. Guess I’m slow. I need someone to explain that one to me.

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