Tuesday, November 15, 2005

My Life as a Public Works Project

We all pay taxes for such things as roads and schools, public work projects. But we invest in other things as a society as well. If you were paying taxes between 1979 and 1982 one of the things you invested in was me, or, more particularly, my education.

Ma had always encouraged me to go to college but there were no funds to pay for it. If Pa opened his wallet on my behalf after my 9th year I am unaware of it. I was a bright young woman, with lots of promise and no money. It is a common story, one that is heard every day in America.

I was fortunate to have come of age in an earlier time, when Pell Grants were still within reach and loans were only needed to fill in the gaps. It cost the taxpayers (federal and state) a total of $5,679 to pay for my college education and living expenses, plus a work study job with total wages of $3,050. One of my duties was indexing the student newspaper from the 1940’s and 1950’s. Some of the students I read about were now senior or retired professors and I had the pleasure of making friends with some of them, much to my delight. I also had $1,390 in loans which I paid back on time and in full.

Knowing that each semester in school meant more debt I finished in three years. Then I looked for full-time jobs that provided educational benefits, even if it meant less pay, and went to graduate school part-time over several years. Now I have a nice bit of alphabet soup after my name if I choose to use it.

If any readers were paying taxes during my undergraduate years, let me express my profound and sincere gratitude. I am truly grateful. All modesty aside, let me say I think it was an excellent investment on your part, as I think any investment in anyone’s education would be. To provide an example of the healthy return on your money, I pay more in state and federal taxes each and every year now than the entire amount of the grants you gave me. If my math is good (a doubtful prospect; I have failed you here), your investment will be returned at least 30-fold by the time I retire.

I have been reading lately about proposed federal budget cuts. One of the things on the chopping block is college grant money. Every time I see this I shudder. I wonder, if I were 18 today, if I’d be able to go to college. Let me encourage any elected officials who might be reading this to please remember than an investment in someone’s college or professional training is one that is likely to be repaid many times over.


albert said...

i was in school from 98-03 and as expensive as that was, tuition at the state school i finished up at [i went to private first then transferred] doubled the semester after i graduated. i couldn't imagine going to school now. it's heartbreaking to see/hear of kids who are perfectly bright enough to be in school, but are simply priced out, even at the state/public level. thanks W!

howard said...

When I trudged off to Temple in 1991, I believe the full-time tuition had just been nearly doubled, and from what I gather, it's significantly higher now than it was then.

Public universities used to be affordable to average folks, but they no longer are in most cases. When I started at Temple, I could at least afford to pay the tuition bill without going into major debt (though it did require a bit of work). I don't think the average incoming student could do that now.