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Learning How to Cash In

Here’s some encouraging news for parents across the country. The latest American Freshman Survey has found that new college students are beginning to realize what life is all about: money.

A popular image of college students depicts fresh, idealistic faces and minds focused on justice and equality. But nearly three-quarters of the 267,449 students surveyed last fall on 413 campuses said a prime interest in their life was being “very well off financially.” That’s the largest number in 13 years. A record low 39% still don’t get it: They said, get this, developing “a meaningful philosophy of life” was of primary concern.

Don’t laugh. They’re freshmen, and freshmen are, well, fresh to the realities of life outside a cloistered home bedroom full of mess, music and pounds of unidentifiable crumbs from a food grouping known as chips.

These idealistic youngsters should come around in another semester or two. All it takes is patient tutoring by responsible parents showing them a few more tuition bills that teach a different lesson about college than the glossy brochures touting old buildings and something called higher learning.

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The only thing higher than the learning at these places in recent years are the numbers being added to the aforementioned tuition bills. A College Board study last fall revealed that tuitions at four-year colleges jumped nearly 50% in 10 years at state schools and 42% at private schools, a good deal larger increase in income than that experienced by the average family asked to pay it.

Tuition, in fact, is growing faster than inflation, faster even than medical bills from doctors who, not coincidentally, also attended these institutions of higher learning.

The annual student survey also found growing political interest and conservatism among starting college students and declining drinking, partying and smoking, more encouraging news for parents.

The puzzle remains, however: Where in the world could so many college freshmen, whose parents pay so much money to expensive universities for them to earn a degree to get more money in a future job and maybe someday afford a house, a car and a doctor’s visit, get the idea that money is such an important part of modern life? It’s really inexplicable.

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