May 5, 2009

Take a tuition hike

There are two better options than the U of C: Public libraries and Chicago State.

Cheese, cereal, laundry detergent: Anyone who has ever shopped at U-Mart knows that these are basically the most expensive things in the world.

Yet every single one of them, lavish though they are, pales in comparison to the cost of higher education. This year, three quarters of undergraduate tuition at the U of C cost $36,891, placing it only a few stacks behind leading academic cash-grabber George Washington University, whose education comes with an annual price tag of $40, 437. Turning a blind eye to housing, books, food, and Natty Light, and assuming a tuition hike of 4.5 percent each year, current first-years will drop $158,000 on their U of C degrees. That’s a lot of Froot Loops.

Perhaps there’s a way to get better value out of all that cash.

In the 1997 film Good Will Hunting, Matt Damon tells a pretentious Harvard student, “There are two certainties in life: One, don’t [upset Ben Affleck]. And two, you dropped 150 grand on a fucking education you could’ve gotten for $1.50 in late charges at the public library.”

In summary: We should all drop out of school and keep this absurd amount of money for ourselves. I know losing the security blanket seems scary, but I’m here to talk you through it.

There are 79 public libraries in Chicago, the closest of which, known as Blackstone, is located on East 49th Street and South Lake Park Avenue. While it doesn’t offer all the amenities of the Regenstein Library, once you see all the money you’re saving it’ll be worth it. In the most ambitious version of my plan, you read every relevant book in the place, attain genius status, lock up a job with the NSA, and date Minnie Driver. A good result, undoubtedly, but this road to success is roundabout and impractical.

Also, it’s open to criticism on the very grounds that the pretentious Harvard student uses. “Yeah, but I will have a degree, and you’ll be serving my kids fries at a drive through on our way to a skiing trip.” Beneath the pomp academic snobbery, he has a point. It’s time for a revised plan, one where we get a degree.

So transfer to Chicago State University (CSU)—after all, nobody can tell it apart from the U of C, anyway. The difference in cost is tremendous, working out to $8,878 for Illinois residents and $15,658 for all you foreigners. Given the school’s median ACT score of 17, I’m of the opinion that most of us could pull something close to a full scholarship at Chicago’s sixth most prestigious university, especially given that the U of C’s Class of 2012 sports a mid-50-percent ACT range of 28 to 33. Our exorbitant amount of high school AP classes also works to our advantage, allowing us to place out of substantial credit hours. From here, it would be easy enough to load up our schedules and graduate one—or maybe even two—years early.

For the purpose of analysis, we’ll assume educational costs of $3,000 a year at CSU, leaving us in this scenario with an extra two years and about $152,000. That gives us a degree. But how do we get intelligence?

Instead of dumping our extra cash flow into philosophy electives at the U of C, we’ll use the University’s curriculum as a model, but do it cheaper. In this case, top-flight tutors are the cost-effective option. Assuming a full class schedule of four courses, we’ll bring a tutor in for hour-long sessions, twice a week. At a price of $50/hour, we’ll get individually tailored private instruction, all the while avoiding the kids who turned down Princeton and early morning visits to Cobb. Wholly more productive, you can get the above for a discount price of $12,000 a year, and still keep the U of C quarter system schedule we all love.

For many out there, the next step after college is graduate school. This will be an important checkpoint for us U of C dropouts, who, thanks to Chicago State, will have impossibly high GPAs but relatively weak undergrad degree prestige. This places the utmost importance on graduate school admittance tests. One summer and $5,000 of prep classes and private tutors should be enough for us to rock the MCAT, GMAT, GRE, or LSAT—gaining us admission to wherever we please.

When we add it all up, all that the lambs who stay at the U of C will have after four years is a degree and an intimate knowledge of the 171 bus route. We, on the other hand, will have a degree, a library card, two years of intense study under our belts, and an offer of admission to a top graduate school. Oh yeah, and $133,901.

That’s more than enough for a pre-law kid to pay his way through Harvard, an entrepreneur to start his own business, a TAPS major to produce his first play, a French major to see all four seasons in Paris, or an economics major to blow it all in the stock market. Where is that $40,000 per year going, again?

Steve Saltarelli is a third-year in the College majoring in Law, Letters, and Society. He is an Associate Sports Editor.