Wednesday, May 13, 2009

I don't get it...

Dear College, thanks for the invite to the alumni event and your kind offer to take me to lunch to talk about the College at which the subject of my contributing to the alumni fund will doubtless be discussed.

Here's the thing - I totally get your need for money and I have absolutely every confidence that you are still a good place for nice kids with nice ideas who maybe are a little off beat but very smart and I believe the world would be a better place if it saw education in ways that I think you do. That said, private colleges can (I think) without stretching, be described as related to, or even directly themselves, elite. That is, despite the financial aid and other assistance they provide, private college "customers" are (economically) in the top one tenth of one percent of the world's population (even the poorest students). Even if that were not reason enough not to give money - why give it to private colleges? How about to new and interesting charter schools in low income urban areas? How about to promote the growth of community colleges? How about to support early childhood education because if you cannot read by the third grade - you are probably lost in this world. In the hierarchy of education need around the world, fancy pants colleges do not seem to rank as needy or even worthy of "charity". This does not make them unworthy- just unworthy of charity.

By the time kids walk through your doors they are basically already fully baked (in terms of who they are as humans). I know some kids who went to college and are new grads - same great kids they were before they went to college. They have some new friends and they had a lot of fun and they learned stuff - yup - that's life - it goes on, here or there or this way or that, elite and privileged by world and other standards or not - life goes on.

And you should be given more money why exactly? I know your standard answer - financial aid - I do not believe that argument - I think its a ginned up rationale for growing your endowment and keeping you on par with your competition. Colleges should all give their endowments to a centralized fund that makes low interest loans and grants to students of need regardless of which school they go to. Colleges should live on tuition (paid by students of means and by the central fund) and manage your costs. This competition thing over money among colleges is total bullshit and its driving people nuts and is idiotic and makes no sense and you know it. Oh and by the way - the education colleges provide is OK at best - not really very good or original - ask anyone who has gone to Harvard - if they are honest.

And here's another thing. I know not all colleges have the biggest endowments on the block but the notion of giving college endowments more money to invest in private equity and hedge funds is nuts to me. I am always amazed when rich people give money to other rich people. Yet people do it - that leads me to wonder why? They have fond memories? They liked the school? What is that all about? First of all - my parents paid tuition, the college charged a fee for service and they paid it. I mean I like my plumber, Rich C, a lot but all I do is pay what he charges. I do not give him more money to support his "mission". And speaking of tuition - the amount that colleges charge in tuition is nuts and the out distancing of the CPI that tuition has risen borders on scandalous.

I hope this does not offend you, I get all the reasons why some people would feel differently than I do and think its a worthy cause to support . But believe me my not agreeing does not at all reflect any lack of respect for you and what you do or for the college and what it does or for the faculty and staff and students there. All really nice people doing good stuff. I wish the college all the best. - Your former student and graduate.

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