Guest Columnist Bernie Long writes –
Three stories led me to write this piece.
1. Harvard or Heaven
At a Malvern Retreat I met a man who told me he had a son who went to Harvard. His son had gone to high school at St. Josephs Prep in Philadelphia and then he was accepted at Harvard. He said he and his wife were thrilled. Neither of them went to college and they felt deeply that they wanted their children to get something that they never had – a great education. That is why they sacrificed to send their son to a private Catholic preparatory school. He told me that his son went on to Harvard Medical School and is now a distinguished surgeon. Wow I said you must be so proud!
He had tears in his eyes. He said that he and his wife could hardly imagine that their son could go on to Harvard. We are talking Harvard for God sake. He said – we thought it was an answer to our prayers. I could tell he was in distress. I said I don’t understand you seem to be in pain. He responded the problem is – “ I don’t like my son anymore, my wife does not like him either”. He is very successful but we don’t like our own son. He no longer believes in God and has abandoned the main principles he and his wife hold dearly namely their Catholic/Christian faith.
He said they (Harvard) changed him. He left it as if his boy was brain washed into dropping all that he had been taught as a child and now adopted a so called progressive liberal philosophy that rendered his uneducated parents as ill-informed and unenlightened.
2. It is one thing they can never take away from you
I have a friend I have known just about all my life. We went to all eight years of Catholic grade school and four years at Catholic High School together. He was always the best student in the class. His whole family, he and his two brothers, were wonderful students. His parents stressed education and getting very good grades. He was valedictorian of our huge high school class and went on to major in mathematics at the Ivy League school the University of Pennsylvania.
He and his wife had two boys. When both boys were very young he called me about advice on how to save for their college education. He told me he was determined to provide his boys, “An Ivy League Education”. To him that was the most loving thing you could do for you kids. I said you really feel strongly about the Ivy League education don’t you? He responded “that is one thing they can never take from you”.
Fast forward about 30 years later. His oldest son was a very good student. When it was time for college he had a list of prestigious colleges he wanted to attend. He was turned down at several schools but eventually decided on attending Tufts University. While not an Ivy League school, it is a prestigious and highly regarded university. His mother worked at Villanova University and as such he could have gone to Villanova for free. The boy wanted no parts of going to Villanova. My friend and his wife decided that even though the cost of a college education even at that time approached $130,000 they felt they had saved and that they would do the loving unselfish thing and allow him to go to the college of his choice.
The young man went on to pursue his doctorate in Psychology from the University of Oregon. Sadly he never finished as he had an emotional breakdown and has been diagnosed as being bipolar. I remember when my friend told me this he broke into tears. His son, now over 30 years old, is single and still lives in Oregon. He works at a grocery store. His youngest son never went to college at all.
3. Beg Borrow Steal
A Jewish tax attorney who I had dealings with through my work was the loving father of twins. When they were young he often spoke about his intense desire that they go to prestigious colleges. He said it just opens up so many doors. I said wow it is really important to you? You bet – “beg borrow or steal” you have to find a way – it is just that important. Well the last time I saw this man he told me a poignant story about attending a funeral of one of his partners at the law firm. He said his two sons gave the eulogy. Both sons spoke about what a wonderful lawyer their father was, how he lived for the law – being a lawyer defined him. This man said he sat there and thought I wonder if my kids would get up and say – my dad was a great lawyer. He said the sons never talked about their father’s love and how that love affected their lives. They spoke of only his occupation.
My guess is the dad and the mom of the son who went to Harvard eventually came to accept their son and love him and be proud of him. Children are not our possessions and if they choose to go in a different path we need to continue to love them, have a relationship with them, pray for them and hope through God’s grace and maybe some gentle conversations with his parents that this doctor can find the Lord in his life. Harvard does not deserve all the blame as his son freely chose his path and he may change his views.
As to my friend who said that graduating from a prestigious university is something “they cannot take from you”, he and his wife have accepted their sons choices and they have a loving relationship with both of them.
As to the lawyer dad, his beg borrow and steal philosophy is something that I thought of with the recent bribery scandal with rich celebrities bribing college officials to get their son or daughter into prestigious colleges. Clearly they thought it to be a loving thing to do.
We often see financial articles about saving for the college education as soon as your child is born. The projection of college cost 17-18 years in the future are astronomical. Well if you love your child start saving now. Of course you want them to get a wonderful education at a prestigious school- right? What loving parent would say that education is not important?
Having said that, maybe we need to look at our view of higher education. Maybe we need to think about where our treasure lies.
“Where your treasure is so there will your heart be also” – Matthew 6:21
People of faith need to make clear that our treasure is in the Lord and placing an over reliance on a fancy/prestigious education is a mistake. Clearly there is nothing wrong or bad about wanting our children to get a good education but I believe our nation’s obsession with higher education needs to be examined.
Let’s take a look at some statistics. As of 2018 outstanding student loan debt totals 1.5 trillion. Tuition alone at Harvard is $47,045. In fairness that does not reflect that most students receive aide but it also does not reflect the cost of room and board, books, computers, etc. It also does not reflect that kids often do not graduate in four years and often go on to graduate school. Here is some other schools tuition – University of Pennsylvania $51,464, Tufts $52,430, Notre Dame $50,998, Villanova $49,280. These tuition amounts are rising each year.
We have a political debate raging right now about what should we do about the student loan crisis. Most democratic candidates for president have made proposals to address the crisis. Some talk about free college for all and the government would pay off some of the outstanding debt by taxing the rich. It is said that these loans are stifling a whole generation of young people from moving out of their parent’s house and getting married, having children buying homes, etc.
I saw on TV a town hall meeting of a Democratic presidential candidate where a young man who was a college senior at a well known university asked- I am a senior political science major who is (I don’t remember the exact amount) thousands of dollars in student loan debt. Why should I vote for you when other Democratic candidates have a much more generous plan to relieve student loan debt? Wow he had not even graduated and he was already acknowledging that he would not be able to pay off his loans.
Here are some other statistics to contemplate. Harvard’s endowment fund – $38.3 billion! Yale $29.4 billion, University of Pennsylvania $12 billion., University of Notre Dame $9.6 billion. Here are some more statistics. Harvard acceptance rate 5.4%. Notre Dame acceptance rate is 18%.
A recent tax reporting discloses salaries paid at Notre Dame for a fiscal year. One might guess that the football coach is the highest paid employee. Well the truth is he is very well paid but not close to the highest paid employee. A man who is the chief investment officer (endowment fund) made $10.1 million dollars; next is managing director of investments $4.4 million. The football coach makes $1.6 million and the order of Catholic priests at Notre Dame, the Holy Cross Order, received $1 million. In case you think this was a one year blip the two financial people last year they received $6.1 and $2.7 million, respectively.
So what is the point of all this?
- Colleges are big business and money is a primary driver and don’t let the tax exempt status fool you.
- We need to stop worshiping at the altar of education. Parents need to change their paradigm that what I want most for my child is a prestigious education.
- In the book The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas J. Stanley was s study of millionaires in America. It found that most millionaires, while college graduates, did not go to prestigious colleges. Many went to state schools and that very often they did not graduate at the top of their class.
- Colleges are often bastions of liberalism so parents should be aware of that. Many parents are very happy that is the case but for others they should not be caught off guard.
- Colleges and liberalism seem to go together. Well I don’t believe they practice what they preach. The top schools are elitist accepting only the best and the brightest students. Their campuses are opulent hardly reflective of their concern for the have not’s of the world. They keep on raising tuition, constructing new buildings, have insatiable desire and are always asking for more money. Often they receive large donations from donors. These large donations do not result in lowering tuition (some money does go to scholarships) but often it goes to new departments, new buildings, and more opulence. Our government, parents and students enable the schools to keep on doing it. If we stood up and said Enough – things would change.
- Colleges claim to honor academic freedom – the contrary seems to be the case. They will not tolerate anything but liberal thinking and students will likely protest any conservative talk as hate speech. Let’s see how well a pro life speaker will be accepted on campuses or God forbid a person who speaks about traditional marriage or the breakdown of the family. That statement applies to Catholic colleges also. Recently Gonzaga University (a Catholic Jesuit School in Washington State) cancelled the appearance of a pro-life conservative speaker on campus citing the need for peace due to the student protests.
- Often students don’t make enough money to pay off their student loans but the colleges are not on the hook; only the students and their parents, the government and maybe the lenders. The colleges got their money upfront.
Are Catholic colleges any different?
There are approximately 197 Catholic colleges in the United States. While there are definite exceptions, I believe the answer to this question is there are differences but catholic colleges are becoming increasing similar to secular colleges.
The question is why? Why would Catholic schools seemingly diminish their Catholic identify.
Well the number one reason is money, the number two reason is money and number three reason is – money. These schools are huge businesses. They are in competition for students to keep their organization afloat. Young people no longer are drawn to what is perceived as conservative Catholic thinking. The customer is always right and young people tend to be liberal and not particularly religious. There are fewer priests, their influence has waned and they too by being on college campus no longer embrace traditional Catholic thinking. For the most part I don’t see that changing.
What is the solution to this overall problem?
- Free college? – I believe it is a bad idea. Bernie Sanders was asked could well to do children of say Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton go to the free colleges? He said yes but they would not want to go. That says it all. Free college would not be perceived as valuable. Plus kids getting to go for free would likely not be in any rush to graduate. Going longer than 4 year is already a problem. Our public school system is free and making college free would not address the problems of inner city public schools. Not everyone should go to college. Many college administrators will tell you that lowering their tuition results in fewer students as the school is no longer perceived as prestigious. How crazy is that? I do however think that most kids should go to much cheaper and good community colleges. Going all four years should be made a viable option.
- Loan forgiveness? – another bad idea. So we want to teach our kids you don’t have to pay your just debt? What do we say to parents who saved to pay for their kids’ college tuition? Or to students who have worked hard to pay off their loans only to find they would have waited and the government will bail them out. Once you do this then 5 -10 years down the road – oops we have to do it again. We did it once we have to do it again. Mean while we have not done anything to address the cause of the problem. Kids going to expensive private schools often taking courses that the under graduate level leave little in the way of job prospects. There needs to be consequences to bad judgment or we are doomed to do the same thing over and over.
- Go away to college? It is undeniable that this adds to the cost of college and contributes to the crises level debt problem. Does a young person going away to school result in more self sufficient people? Many would argue yes absolutely it is a rite of passage, it broadens your horizons it exposes you to the full college experience. I have my doubts. All you need to learn is a wiling student and good teacher and reasonable facilities. You do not necessarily need the bucolic setting that cost a fortune. Now we have a situation where students return from “the full college experience” saddled with debt and often live with their parents just to survive. Statistics show our young people are more depressed waiting longer and longer to get married and to have children.
- Should colleges get off scot free? – speaking of consequences are there any proposals that say colleges should ante up and contribute to paying student loans? If graduates do not earn enough to pay the cost of the tuition then doing a cost benefit analysis we need to look at, you either decrease the cost or produce graduates who can pay off the loans. It is funny that colleges as bastions of the liberal “progressive” thinking – tax the rich give it to help the poor. Well how about Harvard and the like putting up some of its billions in endowment to pay of student loans? How about we “tax” the wealthiest colleges to help our kids get out a debt? Good luck with that but just a thought.
- Should students pay more attention to their major? Is amazing how many students take majors that have poor job prospects struggle after they graduate and then new students do the exact same thing. Google “the worst college majors” it is a reasonable thing to do before investing all that money. As parents you cannot force your child to major in a subject for which they profess no interest. Having said that, there needs to be consequences to our decisions. If they insist on a poor job prospect major you can make it clear then they should not be going to real expensive college. The reality is that if the job prospects in your major are poor then getting yourself in huge debt makes no sense. Plus it leaves option for graduate school. If you are not real interested right now in earning high salaries then you better get used to curtailing your spending.
So this started out with three points about education:
- Harvard or Heaven
- It’s one thing they can never take away from you.
- Beg borrow or steal
Here is the scripture passage just preceding – Where you treasure is, there also will your heart be.
Do not store up for yourselves treasure on earth where moth and decay destroys, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasure in Heaven where neither moth nor decay destroy, nor thieves break in and steal.
Matthew 7: 19-20
We parents need to carefully contemplate the ethos of the child’s college education. It is the loving thing to do.
Bernie Long is a regular guest columnist to Walk By Faith To Live, a husband and father, retired IRS worker and now spends much of his time doing ministry work at City Team and in the Pro Life Movement. He is co-host of Pro Life America Radio and part of The St. Pius X Men’s faith sharing and Gospel reflection group as well as an avid golfer and all around athlete.