Commentaries
UNC students publish a tear-jerker on tuition increases

Book entitled "The Personal Stories Project: Faces, Not Numbers"

By Jon Sanders

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February 13, 2004

RALEIGH — The prospect of a tuition increase inspired a few students attending University of North Carolina schools to fight back. Their tack? Inundate the proposal with their tears.

Specifically, they have published 500 copies of a book entitled “The Personal Stories Project: Faces, Not Numbers,” which is a collection of some 800-odd sob stories about tuition costs.

Publishing costs of the book were paid for by the UNC Association of Student Governments, an officially recognized collection of “student leaders” (this is a euphemism for students on the student-fees gravy train in training to become “political leaders,” meaning adults on the income-taxation gravy train). The UNCASG last made headlines two years ago when they persuaded the UNC Board of Governors to approve a 6,600-percent budget increase for their group, backed by a special student fee, to pay for such projects as this book (and give themselves a few thousand bucks apiece for their “work”). So the group raised costs on students in order to fight increases in student costs.

And what a fight they put up! Reading to the book, you'll discover it requires some personal sacrifice for someone to attend college. Some students report that they actually have to work part-time jobs, eat Ramen noodles, even give up flying home. Not to denigrate anyone’s personal struggles, but where did these students get the idea that earning a college degree was supposed to be easy? These kids act as if the state owes them a degree by virtue of their being enrolled.

Let it be said that 800 students is a very, very small fraction of students in the UNC system. There are (using the most recent Statistical Abstract of Higher Education in North Carolina) about 140,000 full-time students attending UNC schools. Beyond that, there are about 40,000 students who are part-time, for whatever reason — perhaps even, heaven forbid, to balance work, costs and academic responsibilities. So it may very well be the case that an overwhelming majority of UNC students know they’re getting a bargain for higher education, are very thankful for it, and find their peers’ whimpering disgusting.

Cheap eats like Ramen noodles are almost a rite of passage for the college student. So are part-time jobs. After all, the phrase “working his way through college” didn’t enter our lexicon ages ago because students were mollycoddled and lobster-fed.

More importantly, these students apparently don’t understand the economic concept of opportunity cost. Applied to college attendance, it goes beyond sacrificing free time and restaurant fare. It involves sacrificing present earnings (full-time) for greater lifetime earnings later. It involves even sacrificing a share of those greater future earnings to finance the degree that makes them possible. (This assumes the student is financing his own way, which is not usually the case. More on that point soon.) In other words, get a loan.

Businesses do it all the time; families, too. It’s not unusual at all to finance capital in the present (and education is capital; what economists call “human capital”) on the expected, greater future earnings that capital will provide. Interestingly, the students seem to appreciate that a college degree will be financially beneficial to them; why else would they sound so offended? But they do not appear willing to sacrifice anything for this benefit. Many are currently making those sacrifices, of course, but they resent it, and they certainly resent doing any more. They’re all quite sure that’s your responsibility, o ye vast majority of working North Carolinians without a college degree.

Many of the writers, however, are the parents, who report they can barely afford the costs of sending their children to college. Also, they don’t want their children to be saddled with loans or even part-time jobs. Many cite the recent economic decline as evidence that they shouldn’t be expected to pay more — forgetting, again, all those other taxpayers also weathering the economic storm, who they’d prefer would pay Junior’s way so he doesn’t have to pay off a loan. Or work some. (And let’s not even ask if the kids have credit cards, as most college students do.)

The gist of their complaints boils down to the fact that some kids, or their parents, won’t be able to pay UNC tuition at the moment it is consumed. A college education is one of the most important purchases someone can make in his life — and these people are treating it as an indictment of the state of North Carolina that they may have to work for it a little bit, or work to pay it off later.

One wonders how they’ll react after they graduate, find a job, and then enter the housing market. A rare few people purchases houses nowadays without taking out a loan. How can the federal government allow this to happen? Look for “Personal Stories of the Spoiled and Homeless” in about 4-6 years.

 


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