The education bubble: why are we here?

By: Andrew Del Bene

“You dropped a hundred and fifty grand on a $#!?@% education you coulda got for a dollar fifty in late charges at the public library.” – Will Hunting, “Good Will Hunting” (1997).

While beyond genius-level intellects like that of Will Hunting, the character from the movie that bears his name, have existed in reality and arise once every dynasty (if you’ll forgive the “Mulan” reference), I think it’s safe to declare that intelligence on that level is not the norm. However, I think there is significant truth in his quotation concerning the value of a formal higher education. I will be the first to admit that I would not have a snowball’s chance in hell of understanding most, if not all, of the subjects covered in both my core and major classes at Xavier without the tutelage of my professors. But my concern is not being able to independently understand the full meaning and significance behind Plato’s “Republic” but the value of the instruction to begin with. Point being: is higher education really necessary as the key to success we have been lead to believe it is?

I say no. Gasp. Pause for effect. Permit me to elaborate. I don’t need to show those reading this article graphs and data to demonstrate the fact that in the last two to three decades, American universities have exploded in physical plants, enrollment and tuition costs.

Temples of Learning. Just take a look at the ongoing construction and buildings dedicated post-1990 that have sprung up on college campuses across the country. I remember three years ago: most of my college visits were chances for universities to advertise all their new construction and growth. Our own Xavier University just leased a multimillion-dollar plot of land to a development corporation for God knows how much money to essentially double the size of our school. In the last three years, Xavier has also taken on unspeakable debt after building Bishop Fenwick Place, Smith Hall and the Conaton Learning Commons. I don’t even think the Federal Reserve is in as much of a financial quagmire as we are.

Sardines. It feels like every incoming freshman class that enters Xavier is the “biggest we’ve ever seen!” We keep hearing about triples in Kuhlman and Husman just to make space for all these eager young scholars, and Xavier is damn proud of it. It’s not like we’re a university that advertises itself as a smaller institution with an abundance of professor attention and small class sizes. Our growing class sizes and decreasing living spaces surely place us on the level with large prestigious institutions like the University of Cincinnati.

Money Talks. My own parents remind me constantly that they supported themselves through college and that I should be grateful that I don’t have to do the same. In reality I would need a full-time professional career (which requires a college education) in order to make enough money to even try to support my tuition costs. The cyclical process is comforting, no?

Take a quick look at these numbers: Fordham University: $59,802 (with room and board), New York University: $61,977 (with room and board), and Xavier U n i v e r s i t y : $32,070 (without room and board). While Xavier does appear to be more cost-reasonable than two of the top schools in my home state, one year at Xavier costs about the same as an Audi A4 with all the bells and whistles. And two years at NYU costs almost as much as the Audi R8 (the one Tony Stark drives).

I know it seems silly to compare college tuition costs to sports cars, but I think it’s important to understand that if our parents aren’t driving around in brand new Audis after working two years at their jobs, isn’t there something wrong with how much we’re paying for an education that today no longer guarantees post-graduation success?

My purpose here was not to make anyone feel guilty about their presence at Xavier but to give pause. I think it is important for us as students to step back and consider not only what it’s costing us to be at Xavier but also what we’ve been told about college in general. Ultimately, Will Hunting exposes a horrifying truth to the higher education system: at the end of the day, you’re spending a lot of money to be exposed to information that’s already out there and available for free.

Andrew Del Bene is a junior from Yonkers, New York. He majors in economics and is in the Honors Bachelor of Arts (HAB) program with a minor in philosophy.

Part one of two: at a later date, the second half of this extended piece will question the idea of how necessary a college education is to begin with and the unfortunate canyon that now lies between the costs and benefits.