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Tuesday, October 06, 2009

What You Get

One of the cornerstones of American culture is the view that You Get What You Pay For. In 2008, I wrote Free Lunch about free activities in New York City that defy aphorisms such as There's No Free Lunch or You Get What You Pay For. I do empathize with those who use price as a measuring device. It does simplify life to sort by cost and thereby arrive at what must be best and worst in everything that has a price tag, be it medical care, electronics, food, clothing, homes, or education.

So, where does the quality of college education stand in regards to cost?
For most, this question is irrelevant. Something as important as a college education is not the time to be testing popular adages. Who wants to when the I Told You So refrain will be waiting to haunt for a lifetime those who have gambled and lost?

A good test of the price-to-value hypothesis is Hunter, a senior college of the City University of New York (CUNY). Tuition in 2009 runs $9000 (New York State residents) against, say, NYU's $42,000. These are very significant differences. College tuition today is a very serious matter. It has outstripped inflation and appears to be immune to economic laws - up appears to be the only way it goes. Many graduates of a liberal arts school will find themselves saddled with enormous outstanding debt and face employment at basic living wages.

If you look at surveys, articles, and reviews on American colleges/universities, you will find Hunter College in many lists such as: Best Value Colleges for 2009, America's Best Colleges, Best Universities-Master's, Best Northeastern Colleges, etc. Reviews by students range the gamut, as might be expected. One constant I found interesting, however - all appeared to think highly of the faculty. The criticisms were typically about some of the physical maintenance and particularly the bureaucracy, registration, and other administrative horrors.

Hunter College, founded in 1870 as Normal College, is located at 68th Street and Lexington Avenue on the Upper East Side. The urban college occupies 4 buildings all interconnected by skywalks - a very unique feature, providing not only some campus character for a school located in the heart of Manhattan but also sheltered travel between buildings. 
One of the four buildings, Thomas Hunter Hall, is a remarkable structure. This is the turreted structure in today's photo. You can read about it here in an article by Christopher Gray of the New York Times.

It is possible to get a good education at Hunter. Graduates have been admitted to the best grad schools in the USA. Many graduate programs are highly regarded. The alumni roster also has numerous notable individuals, including two women Noble Laureates in medicine. In the end, I see Hunter College as a good example that it's not so much "you get what you pay for" as "you get what you put into it"...


Ken Frazza said...

Brian, Amen to your post. Paying for a college education is way out of hand and the interest rates that apply to loans can run as high as 10%. When I went to college in the late 70's my interest rate was under 1% and the interest didn't start until after I graduated.

Going to college has become a status thing and many parents and students would rather be strapped with absorbent payments rather than having them go to what is deemed a lessor school. (etc: NYU instead of Hunter).

In the end I agree with your ending that you get what you put into it, no matter where you attend.


Thérèse said...


Brian Dubé said...

Ken - When I went to college, it was possible to earn your way through NYU with a part scholarship and have at best a small loan outstanding. Today, the loans left are a major debt that the grad will face for quite some time.

Thérese - thanks.

Naomid said...

Hunter graduate program is a real happening place full of nyc best talent during this recession and time of high unemployment.

Its much nicer inside, than say the New School (where I got my BFA), whose dated, crumbling classrooms and studios barely provide the minimum habitable environment. New School undergrad segress are $30,000 plus. Go to Hunter!

Amanda said...

I wouldn't change my education for anything, but I do not make much money despite having ridiculous loan payments because I went the liberal arts route. There has to be a better way. Good article.

james said...

good article. education is getting very expensive these days.