Friday, September 12, 2008

Buying College

The LumpenProf's oldest lumpkin has just started college this Fall. She's attending a SLAC (that stands for a Snowy Liberal Arts College). And I'm ridiculously proud of her.

The process of searching for, and applying to, colleges has been extraordinarily stressful -- both on her, and on her poor family. So stressful, in fact, that I haven't even been able to bring myself to blog about the process until now when things have, more or less, been successfully negotiated.

She is now moved into her dorm halfway across the country, has a very cool schedule of classes, and is currently just dealing with the parts of first-year student angst and stress that I'm more familiar with. This is the part I see in my own students. I'm even one the folks that inflicts some of that anguish in the form of impossibly hard readings, incomprehensible lectures, and soul-crushing exams -- the staples of academic life.

But despite the fact that I'm fairly knowledgeable and savvy about academic institutions, being on this end of the transaction has been eye opening.

Let's start with paying for college. OMFG.

First off, forget about that quaint notion of "saving for college." This is just a bizarre idea. I can not imagine any scenario where saving even a fraction of the enormous sums involved would have been possible on a professor's pay. But even if by some super-human feat of scrimping and saving we had amassed such wealth, we would have been screwed. Any money families manage to "save" for college is taken first. Then, they look at the rest of your income to see how much how you can pay. Anything beyond this is your "financial need" and is the basis for any need-based financial aid awarded. That is, saving for college actually reduces the total financial aid award. You will have to pay just as much as before -- up to the bleeding edge of what can be squeezed out of your income. And you will pay that amount for four years. The rest will be covered by the college's financial aid award. The money you "saved" for college will simply be a gift you pass on to the college that first year, which they will happily accept and then deduct from the total amount of financial aid awarded to you. You will have succeeded in saving the college money, but not yourself. "Saving" will actually cost you. Fortunately for our family, we were already mortgaged up to our ears with no real savings, so our financial aid packet was great!

So here's the LumpenProf's advice if you have a kid about to go to college. Do not save. In fact, buy a new Lexus instead. That increased debt will actually increase the financial aid you are awarded. Plus you get a Lexus.


  1. In this day-and-age when all Americans are expected to attend university, when all Americans are encouraged to attend University, the extreme expenses of University tend to enslave young people. To payoff their education debits, young people are forced to work in oppressive, hierarchical institutions that maintain the status quo of a nation state that exploits and oppresses millions of people around the world. It's a shame that the liberatory potential of education, is in the end, negated during the process that transforms education into a commodity.

  2. True enough. However, in this case she should come out of four years of college more or less debt-free. It's her parents' debt that will skyrocket. Fortunately, though, I already work for an "oppressive, hierarchical" institution that maintains "the status quo" -- my university. So that all works out fine.