Clearly, I’m in the Wrong Line of Work

No Telling

For the past week, I’ve heard nothing but horror stories from my students. While these were often about parking tickets – which is their own fault – most of the terror had to do with buying textbooks.

Everyone had a story and the register-tape to prove it.

There’s the one about the poor science major whose Intro to Chemistry book was $270 – used. There’s another involving a Psychology textbook that rung up at just over $110. “I was relieved,” the poor child said, “it was the cheapest book I had to buy.” My own daughter threw down $140 for a used Spanish I book. Thank God she found it, because a new one would have set her back over $200.

Keep in mind that these folks have four, five, sometimes six classes to buy books for, as well as other pesky things like tuition, room and board, and “fees.” They’re all taking out loans.

So I began thinking about my first semester in school. My folks doled out right at $1,000 for the whole Spring 1980 semester. That covered everything, including my books. For two grand a year, you bought a kid’s college education, at least at the state university here in Arkansas. No, I didn’t walk to class in four feet of snow, but I did have a job and a car – one paid for the other. I’m walking around with an $8,000 undergraduate degree right now. For now, let’s forget about grad school.

Students attending school this year at the same university pay approximately $13,000 a year, give or take a science book or two. I realize it’s been a few years, but that’s an astronomical increase. The average four-year jaunt through the ivory towers will cost 52k – not that many of these fine students will have an average jaunt. Many programs now have five-year plans and there’s no getting around it.

Let’s forget about their grad school too, because none of them will be able to afford it.

Here’s where I got tangled up. After class, I pulled out the Granny Calculator with the Big Buttons and started figuring. If the 79’/80′ school year was two grand, and the 09’/10′ school year is thirteen grand, and school costs keep rising exactly as they have thus far…

…the unborn children of my students will pay approximately $78,000 a year to receive a state college education. That will be (clickclickclick) around $312,000 for the whole undergraduate rodeo. Feel free to check my math. I was an English major.

Ladies and gentlemen, I may very well be teaching the last generation to earn a college degree. We like to talk about Generation Y (or Millennials) as the tech generation, but history may prove them to be the Last of the Educated. All these texting, Facebooking masses will be intellectual gods.

Tonight I look at the sleeping Perfect Grandson, and even though several generations of family are socking away money for his college, it may take more than this village to educate the child. Even here in Arkansas where such a thing is relatively cheap.

I predict in the future there will be a rash of bank robberies and petty thieveries committed by women in orthopedic shoes and brandishing canes. Legions of Grammies out there trying to raise a little tuition spare-change for their Perfect Grandkids. There won’t be jails enough to hold us all.

In the meantime, I’m thinking of going into the textbook business.

50 thoughts on “Clearly, I’m in the Wrong Line of Work

  1. I like you ma'am…
    I so enjoy your dry wit, it makes me smile everytime you throw those barbs of yours…

    i'm a 24 year old Civil Engineer from the Philippines. I don't have “the Perfect Grandson” yet, but I do have” the Perfect Nephew”…and he is Two years old..whenever I'm with him I think I'm babysitting a whole preschool class!!!But i love him though!

    Keep up the good work!

  2. I can relate to your poor students.

    They didn't offer housing at the college I attended last year, and the cheapest place I could find was $700 a month, so I had no choice but to get a full-time job. And if I didn't enroll as a full-time student, the college wouldn't be able to grant me student aid. With partial student aid, I still had to take out a $4000 loan, which didn't even cover all of my books or a laptop that was basically required for one of my classes. FOR ONE SEMESTER.

    I had to drop out unfortunately. It was too expensive and I decided paying my rent and eating required my job, which was about to let me go.

    I fear for my nieces and nephew. I think you may be right about this being the last educated generation.

  3. Makes me sick to think how expensive everything is nowadays.. It´s ridiculous that education which should be possible for everyone no matter your financial status, is so damn expensive. I´m so glad that I live in Finland where we still have quite good situation with education, basic health care etc.. I personally had to take a student loan because I didn´t have a job while I studied and so far I´ve been in such a good situation that I´ve been able to pay some of it back.. But in a couple of days I´ll be unemployed.. Just hope I get new job soon..

  4. I've experienced what you are talking about firsthand. As an Architecture major at a private school in NY I was paying 40k a year (tuition,room, and board) to go to school. Nevermind books and supplies. Knowledge should be free, yet here in America we make a business out of it. Hence the reason I joined the Army. Education. Even with tuition assistance I could no longer afford the NY private school. So, for now, I am going to a Community College back home. And while on deployment in Iraq I am taking college level courses. But yes, I am a casualty of the financial aid war.

  5. I've just realized that I was TEACHING at UALR when you were in college. It was my first year post-Ph.D, but still. Ouch.

    I live in Belgium now, where university is free (as it used to be in California). I had no idea that textbooks cost that much in the US. How do peeps do it? That's appalling.

  6. I'm one of the first set of people who had to pay for a university education in the UK. It's 10 years since I was a fresher. I owe about £15,000 to the student loans company but have never earned enough (working for charities and now at-home mothering) to begin to pay it back… I may just have worked out how to get free education after all!

    There's just SO much wrong with having to be rich in order to be educated!

  7. It is appalling how much a college education costs these days. It wasn't that long ago that I was an undergraduate (U of Minnesota, class of 86), but I was already the only student I knew who actually worked her way through college. My parents let me live at home the first two years, but the hour+ commute each way was eventually too much time lost. Everything else I paid for by working. My dad's line was – if you can't afford it, you're not working hard enough – and his solution was for me to cut down my class load to increase my work hours.
    These days, working your way through college is a pipe dream! Who can possibly make 13,000 a year plus living expenses while going to school full- or even half-time?
    The USA used to have the best higher education system in the world, but it's all going to disappear if ordinary people can't afford to go.
    A crying shame!

  8. I can't even imagine being in college now. My daughters graduated 10 years ago with their bachelor's degrees on our dime, which wasn't too horrible bad. Unfortunately, when they got their masters, it put them in debt with student loans. It is all paying off, finally, with good jobs. But I agree with the Last of the Educated generation. It is going to be very tough for our grandchildren. 🙂 M

    PS I love your articles. I invariably end up reading portions to my husband!

  9. As you say, at some point a basic state run university will become too expensive for many people. I don't know how some families put their kids through school today.

    Of course, most of these schools are not “basic” anymore. The apartment style dorm that my daughter lives in at the University of Alabama is as nice as any hotel that I stay in while travelling for work. She has a three level parking deck under the dorm. They have very nice dining halls and state-of-the-art rec center. All attractive amenities for the college student. And my daughter loves school and we are very glad for this.

    If she were to go through school on a student loan, she would make loan payments afterwards that would equal the cost of a really fine luxury car. Not something we wanted her to be saddled with.

  10. My husband's last semester of his undergrad at U of A in Fay. in 1978 cost him approximately $450 for 15 hours and fees; it was $45 a credit hour and once you went over 10 hours, the cost did not increase. I remember finding used books for $30. I was working for minimum wage then, which was $2.65 an hour.
    Mike has just paid $832 for a three hour grad course at UALR. Minimum wage has just been raised to $7.25. The disparity here is a little mind-boggling.

  11. I am putting off grad school until the student loans from my undergrad (B.A. in English, is it any wonder I LOVE your blog?) and I only borrowed for two of my four years. I usually worked two part-time jobs and had scholarships, as well. There were no fancy cars or big apartments in my college days, and I didn't just take the max amount, but now I've got a mortgage and a husband and the student loan kind of gets pushed to the back burner. Just curiuos… anything you can do with an English degree besides teach or be a secretary? I'm straight English, not certified to teach without another semester, which won't happen until I put a dent in that loan… ugh.

  12. I managed to get my undergrad completed -here in Arkansas in 2003-with only 2K in loans (I was one of the 5-year people). Then I managed to finish my grad degree in 2006 and was relatively unscathed with another 7K in loans. Hold on to your britches, my MALL job paid for half of my MBA.
    The books were expensive, but I managed, with no help from the parents. It can be done, but it's not easy.
    BTW, congrats on Blog of Note, it's nice to see a fellow Arkie get some blog props!

  13. Thanks, Wall, and keep chasing that nephew.

    GirlMeetsGun, I know your story. See it happen around me every single semester. I can't tell you how it breaks my heart that those who want college find it often impossible to stay because of finances.

    I hope the job situation in Finland is better than what's going on over here, Lindiz. I wish you all the good fortunate you can stand.

    Nathanael, I've heard rumblings about better educational opportunities for veterans. They'd better make good on it. A casualty of the financial aid war? They should hand you a degree on a gold platter, mister. And then some. Don't get me started.

    Kate! I was just up the road at UCA when you were teaching an UALR, neighbor.

    I don't know the exchange rate, Alice (I'd need a better calculator anyway) but that seems fairly close to what students dole out over here. The idea that soon only the rich will be educated is horrifying.

    Ordinary folk should have every opportunity and the funds to boot, NanU. Everyone is up in arms about the National Debt, but these students will be to busy paying back astronomical student loans to do much else with their money.

    Nikgee, right now the university systems feel like the students will keep coming no matter what. i don't know.

    Thanks, Amuse Me! Your daughters went through the system at a good time. Now, not so much. I hope one of us wins the lottery between now and the time our grand-children hit the campus.

    You're right about the “amenities,” Jeff. I remember a much more spartan dorm-life. It keeps them in school, but boyohboy is someone (you!) paying for it. Bless your heart.

    Excellent suggestion, Isabella. I've used myself. It's a lifesaver.

    Anonymous (and I know who you are), to add insult to injury, here in Arkansas the state is not required to abide by the minimum wage guidelines for it's won workers. What this means is that a state-run university can actually pay some of it's workers BELOW minimum wage. It's more than mind-boggling, it's shameful.

  14. I have long been convinced that the textbook industry was run secretly by the mafia. My favorite part is how the books cost $130.00 a piece or more and then when you go to sell them back at the end of one semester and you took perfect care of them and didn't write in them, they give you a whopping $1.50 for them. I finally got fed up and started selling all my old books on I tell my students to try to buy the books for my class on Half or Amazon and to always get them used. I also make a point, when at all possible, of choosing inexpensive books and choosing sparingly. I've had teachers that required as many as 15 books per semester for once class and that's not practical. At my new school, which I'm now calling Miracle College, they let the students use the books for free in the library and – get this – they have Kindles in the library and the librarians will load up as many of a student's required texts as are available, onto the Kindles and then the students can check them out and use them for free. I think it's wonderful.

    (And also my word verification is wooly, which makes me happy.)

  15. Wide Lawns, I love the idea of Kindles that the students can check out. The private college I work for has discussed using Kindles for the completely on-line students to cut down on the cost of textbooks. My college, though, “libraries” the textbooks, which means that we check them in and out to the students – there are no textbooks that the students need to buy seperately. The tuition is all-inclusive (books, fees, etc), so when students go “school shopping” we inititally look very expensive – until we tell them to go price textbooks and course fees at the schools around us. Suddenly, our tuition looks a whole lot more managable.

    When I was in school (Colo State University), I paid *on average* $1200 a semester in textbooks alone, plus another $200-300 dollars per lab class in fees. My student loan payments are slightly more than half of what I pay in rent. Was it worth it? Yes, I'll be paying my student loans off the rest of my life it seems, but my education has allowed me to work into my position as Associate Dean of Education and I'll be able to pursue my Master's degree – for free – through the college I work for.

  16. 'm a freshman at a private university in Florida – $50K/yr. And that's just room, board and tuition. My first semester books were $560 out of my own pocket earlier this week. There goes my pizza money for all four years. Thank God I'm here on scholarship or I'd be stuck at the local community college back in PA…

    I'm curious about the title for this post, however. I'm majoring in English/Writing (and hoping to have a professor like you!) but regardless, tuition is the same price for everyone. Were you referring to the fact that you would not be able to afford tuition at your very own workplace? Or just noting that teachers feel the students' pain, even though they'd prefer not to?

  17. You know my plans for college. All of this sucks, doesn't it?

    I don't want to have kids, cuz if they want to be lawyers or something I won't be able to pay for it. Good luck to you and Em for the sprog's future.

  18. UCA! I had a friend who taught there–I think Math. David Petersen. I don't even know if he's still there, but he and his whole family were wonderful musicians and dancers. I loved Arkansas.

  19. Like you, I'm an English major. (Well, I'm currently one, anyway.) However, it is scary enough to think of my costs to attend college–and that is without a five-year plan. (Granted, I'll be a super senior because I keep transferring.) It's frightening to think of the costs of schools–I have friends who are around $90,000 in debt–just from being an undergraduate. I, too, will be in debt…because it doesn't seem to matter whether or not I attend an out-of-state university or stay and get in-state; it's expensive all around.

  20. I was an English major and it took me five years to finish my courses (emphasis in writing takes a while apparently). Then I went on to law school. I am now $270,000 in debt.

    Do I regret it? No. But it sure does piss me off. Funny how the only way to ensure a life where I can afford to live comfortably has to start by digging myself into a ginormous hole of debt…

  21. The biggest mistake I have made was not finishing my degree. The price of college is so expensive that I can't afford to send myself back without getting a school loan! I love my career as is, so I wonder if its worth it?? In the past 10 years, the price has risen dramatically in my area!

  22. This blog really hit home. I dropped out of community college after a year when my parents moved us to another county. I'd failed half of my classes because I had no real direction at that point, but I should have gone back – back then, the student aid & grants I qualified for paid for nearly everything (even my books). Instead, I signed up for a technical school to become a Medical Assistant. I completed the program, only to find that few places were hiring, and none of them wanted to hire someone that could only list baby sitting in their work history. I stayed unemployed for the next year or so (deferring my student loans all the while), before finally getting some temp work as a data entry clerk. To make a long story short, now that I am married, 27, and have actually realized what I want to be (a paid writer), I no longer have the financial means to achieve the degree I want, and even if I did, there is no job market for it. I'm still paying off the $8,000 loan the technical school cost me 7 years ago. I have $5,000 more to go. My future kids may attend college before I do, at this rate.

  23. It's like this some places in Canada, too. We can get loans through the college or university of our choice but most people opt to go for Student Assistance Programs through the government. Some of them give you a grant, so you can get a maximum loan but only pay off 2/3 of it. My books in my first year ran me about 500 dollars and for the most part lasted me the entire year. Tuition for two semesters was about 5000 dollars give or take.

    The college I went to didn't offer student housing but I was able to find an apartment. My student loan from the Ontario government covered most of my costs. I guess things up here are a little better than they are in the states, but it's not cheap by any means.

    Here's hoping that people start standing up to these astronomical prices and that something is done about them. Education should be about knowledge, not a cash cow.

  24. Thanks Steven! I love that you pop in.

    Wide Lawns, normally I'm not a big Kindle fan, but it looks like they may actually have a use here. Hell, even a flash drive would be better. Something. Certainly less to lug around. I wonder how much less a textbook would be? I'll check this out and get back to everyone.

    GunDiva, I worry that the loans will soon hit critical mass and students will never, ever, no matter what they do, be able to pay them back before they're dead. They can't repo your education, though.

    Dance, welcome to college! I'm thrilled with your major choice (of course) and hope you enjoy all the delicious scribbling and reading you'll do. The title? I just figured I should have gone in the book-selling business if I wanted to make money. I didn't, though, and here I am teaching students just like you – loving every minute of it.

    Julia's a published author. Did I mention that already?

    Hoo boy indeed, Brian. I hope you've chosen a field that will help pay back all that education. Yowza.

  25. Kate, Dave Petersen retired recently. Check the link!

    Well hello there, Super Senior! Dawn, I know quite a few people in the 90k+ bracket. Lord but that's a lot of money.

    Themis, I think a lot of folks are in the no-regrets-but-so-pissed-off category. It's hard to hate your education – too much is earned through difficult coursework. Keep diggin…

    It's damned if you do and damned if you don't, Lisa. I told my daughter that waiting wouldn't make it any cheaper, but once you're out and living your life, it's hard. I know.

    Munky, sometimes I think it takes a bit of time to figure out what you want to do. I didn't know when I was 18, and I wonder how many students at my university are going simply because it's the logical next step. Direction is a funny thing – it changes.

    Why is Canada always so on top of things? I was lucky enough to attend college when knowledge was a pursuit rather than a business. But I'm a writing teacher, so there's that.

    Oh, and I checked on the text I use in my Comp I classes – The Writers Way (love it) is not sold electronically, so the Kindle is out. I've just requested an online version.

  26. I'm from Arkansas, too. Graduated from UofA. Got my masters in '06. Prices then were ridiculous. They are worse now. Poor kids. I'm thinking of my one-year-old grandson, too. What in the world will he do? I need to start a savings account for him ASAP!

  27. Might as well start now, Janie, or you'll end up in the same cell with me.

    And Jmberrygirl, I didn't forget you. That was an important question you asked about job prospects for English majors. First of all, there's nontraditional licensure. This allows you to teach AND become certified simultaneously. Check your state's dept of education website and they'll tell you all about it. In addition, there are scads of opportunities in advertising, writing, research, and publishing – depending on where you live. Although everyone who visits this blog is exquisitely articulate, out in the world this skill is unusual. Everyone is looking for someone who can write.

    I wish you luck and good fortune, gal!

  28. Your predictions leave me with lots to think about. Here's my prediction: specialized training programs will gain popularity and people who attend these programs will be able to finish school in way less than 5 years because they'll only be taking courses related to their careers paths. Traditional college education, in other words, may be on its way toward obsolescence. But we may still have to fork over arms and legs to get degrees and certificates for our children and grandchildren. I see many peg-legged grammies in the future.

  29. I understand the plight of your students very well seeing as I am one myself. I actually am unable to attend my school this semester because I was about 4,000 dollars short. I work full time as well and made about 13,000 dollars last year. Because of that fact the Federal Government deemed that I'm not worth investing their aid and I am left wanting. Sorry, just a little bitter.

  30. I am an outcast from the world of publishing. Textbooks aren't published by organized crime unless you include the publishing industry. (Oh, and they're also published by no-royalty-paying, really-bad-printing Chinese companies.)

    I am here to tell you: RENT YOUR TEXTBOOKS. Sorry to yell, but far too many people are unaware of this uber-cheap option. No, you can't resell them at the end of the year, but life moves on.

    As for school being so expensive, remember that it was only over the past thirty years that college became available for almost everyone. For the twenty years before that, if you were a vet, you had the GI Bill.

    Perhaps not everyone should go to college. But there should be a way for the ones who want to go to see their way to it.

  31. Actually, Monda, what may bring a lot of printers & textbook publishers to their knees & into line is the electronic book & book-reader. Kindle & its cousins. I heard a story about a university started in Israel recently where all the textbooks are provided for the students as PDF's, which they can read on their laptops or PDA's or even print out the old-fashioned way a bit at a time if they want to.

    Maybe these publishers know that, and are doing all the gouging they can until there is no such thing as a printed — & pricey — textbook anymore.

    Ditto online education. There are going to be a lot of professors possibly either out of work or doing their jobs very differently in the future as online education does away with the need for lots of bricks & mortar classrooms. Not that it can, or should, replace all in-person classes. But it could make things potentially a lot less expensive by the time the Perfect Grandson graduates from high school.

  32. MJ, I'll be one of those peg-leggers. That kind of “tracking” scares me a little. It may produce a wider gap between those able to afford a traditional college education and those who can't. I have to think abut this some more.

    Oh, Bruce. We should all be ashamed that someone can make 13k and that's somehow too much for a free ride on grants. You deserve to be bitter. I'm bitter FOR you.

    Ms. Jingle, I hear you, gal. Thirty years ago not everyone needed a degree – there were plenty of well-paying manufacturing jobs that didn't require the cap and gown. Not so much now. You bring up an important point, though – should everyone go to college?

    Kathi, dahling! I suspect the publishing world is in a drop-dead tizzy over how they can still manage the gouge with or without Kindle and such. And the online classes? Those would put instructors like me in the street writing poems for spare change. I shudder. It'll happen, though. Probably sooner than we know.

    Maybelline sounds like she's been standing in line at the university bookstore. Fist in the air, gal.

  33. I very much appreciate the fact that you realize how much it costs us current college students! I'm at a state university in Michigan and it's about $7,000 a semester for in-state tuition. This does not include rent, car repairs and gas, food, books, or entertainment. I like the angle you see it from though, that my generation is the last of the educated. Never heard that theory before.

  34. Book rentals. There are several websites that offer text book rentals. What I thought was going to be $300+ turned out to be $100 to rent 3 books for a semester. I just hope I don't lose them or damage them cause then they charge you full price.

  35. I am reading some of these comments and I can't understand WHY people would opt to stay in the USA to get educated when they can make a short trip up north and get the same education for half the price in Canada. We have some fantastic universities here and after reading some of these comments it makes me cringe thinking that I ever complained about the cost of tuition and books here.

    Also, a girlfriend of mine who just graduated university has never once bought a text book. She told me that she actually gets all her text books for free off of google books. You should all check it out. It's amazing what the internet can do for you these days.

  36. MindSpeaker, I'd like to know how that rental business works out. I fear it may be a lot like a “cleaning deposit” on an apartment – you never get it back.

    Sandra, Googlebooks! I ran to the site and looked up the book I require students to buy – it's a no-go. Nothing but reviews. Maybe this works better if you have lit classes. I'll mess around on there some more and find out.

  37. buy the perfect grandson a notebook and pencil, and teach him how to sew and how to grow vegetables

    that way at least he'll be fed, clothed and entertained throughout life

    if he shows an inclination for music that might just be the icing on the cupcake


  38. OMG I was just informed today that I HAVE TO buy a text for one of my classes. The book is aprrox. 250 pages, and a PAPERBACK and they're selling it for $150 in the bookstore. SERIOUSLY! The best part is, I'm in a Hospitality Management program, we're all cooks and waiters trying to get ahead by getting a diploma for our industry so we can be managers and make a decent living. How are we supposed to afford these books on minimum wage and tips? It's disgusting!

  39. Highway robbery, 20Something. Have you checked Googlebooks yet? The chances of finding it there for free are slim, but worth a try.

    Unless your teacher wrote the book. Then you're stuck. Good luck, gal.

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