Troubles in the private college sector

You know about all the budget cuts that have hit USC and other state institutions, but I was just talking to Caroline Whitson, president of Columbia College, and trying to operation a private college is no bed of roses these days, either. She had called me earlier in the day, and I got her back on her cell while she was walking the dog…

Most of the college's funds come from tuition (I had guessed it was from gifts, but I guessed wrong), and that's not exactly the most dependable funding stream at the moment. With so many families hurting, and student loans harder than ever to get, she said she's "not sure what enrollment is going to look like in the fall." So the college is looking at all sorts of contingencies.

As for gifts, well… whether your name is Pastides or Whitson, you tend to hear from a lot of people that their portfolios are down, and this just isn't the best time…

Me, I find it hard to imagine being in that situation, because I've never had a flippin' portfolio.

Real life anecdote follows:
As I was getting off the phone with Caroline, my wife called on my cell to remind me that she'll be home late, so I might want to stop at the grocery on my way home if I want to eat. And I should remember that there is $15 in the checking account until I get paid, so don't go over that. Of course, as I recall she told me the day after I got paid LAST time — after she'd paid the bills — that there was only $11 in the account. I guess the additional $4 is all that's left from her pay after we paid some MORE bills.

You know how they say you should always have two months salary in an accessible account in case you lose your job? That always makes me laugh maniacally, because the only time I ever have two WEEKS pay is for about five seconds after I get paid every two weeks (and of course I never have two weeks gross, just net). And no, I'm not complaining. I know I'm well off. All I have to do is look around me — at work, in the community, among friends and family — to see how well off we are. But how other people build up portfolios, I don't know. Somehow, the world always knows EXACTLY how much is in my paycheck, and all the bills add up to that amount — give or take $15. I don't know how they coordinate it. Actually, I don't think they do. You know what I really think it is?
God doesn't want me to have money — he knows me too well, and doesn't trust me with it or something. I'm not being facetious. I'll explain my theological view on that another time.

Oh, and when they call from our alma mater — Memphis State, which has changed its name — seeking contributions, I do not laugh maniacally, but only because I'm polite.

If you want to be a hero, then just follow me

14 thoughts on “Troubles in the private college sector

  1. p.m.

    Reading the comments on Working Class Hero makes me wonder how there could still be any private colleges left.
    Of course, I was already wondering why they continue to bother with Grammy awards.

  2. Doug Ross

    If you want to know where you money is going, look at your paystub for the lines:
    Federal Tax
    State Tax
    The FICA and Medicare are going to pay for other people’s retirement and healthcare. All the money you contributed is gone. There is no balance in your name. All you have is a bunch of IOU’s written with your kids and your grandkids names as the debtor.

  3. Brad Warthen

    Grammies? Don’t talk Grammies to me! The other day I heard somebody talking (on public radio, I think) about the Grammies, and what a great show it was going to be, and how much higher the ratings would be, because THIS year, unlike in recent years, they were going to have a lot of NAME acts that everybody would want to tune in to see and hear.

    So I waited, and finally this enthusiastic guy got specific, and named some of these gods of popular music. And I haven’t heard of any of them. Maybe I had read their names somewhere, but just didn’t know how they were pronounced or something, but I hit a blank on every one.

    I thought maybe it would help if they’d play a few bars of music from each of them. But it didn’t. They DID play some selections, and none rang any bells.

    This actually surprised me, because I do hear SOME contemporary music, on 99.3. But apparently the “independent alternative” acts aren’t boffo box office.

    One more thought, just to cement my rep as an old fogie: Not only had I not heard any of these acts, not one of the clips they played made me WANT to know them. They were stunningly ordinary-sounding; no originality at all. I like to think that if I’d heard “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” for the first time on the radio at age 55, I would have at least have noted it’s originality. It was unlike anything heard before. But these big acts today sound like so much wallpaper. The music industry really is moribund, just as everyone says.

  4. KP

    “Please Read the Letter,” Alison Krauss and Robert Plant. I don’t know, I just heard a blurb, but it made me want to buy it.

  5. Lee Muller

    The term, “budget cuts”, is intended to mislead us into thinking management is spending less than last year, when they are only saying they might have spend less than they wanted to.
    Public officials and school administrators always want to spend more, to grow their empires.
    The true questions to ask are:
    * Is this year’s actual spending less than last year’s actual spending?
    * How much has spending grown in the prior 20 years?
    * If your spending has grown faster than prices and incomes, why were unable to control the costs?
    * Why shouldn’t you freeze your costs for however many years it takes for incomes to catch up with your overspending?

  6. Brad Warthen

    Lee seems to have missed the point that this post is about the PRIVATE sector, which — guess what? — is having the same problem funding education that the public sector is having. Which sort of argues against the idea that their woes result from the inherent evils of gummint…
    But then, after what we’ve seen on Wall Street in the past year — what anyone who is not blind can see all around him in the private sector — private business has no monopoly on wisdom. Just to engage in classic understatement.

  7. Bill C.

    Brad, do you think you’d have more money if you weren’t wasting it at the Capitol City Club every morning buying breakfast? It’s hard to feel sorry for people who complain about never having money when they eat out everyday. Excuse me if I have about as much sympathy for you as I do for those who have the same complaint as they walk out of the convenience store everyday with a six pack and a pack of cigarettes.

  8. Lee Muller

    Brad, if you have some facts showing that private colleges have controlled costs better than public ones, please share it with us.
    Private colleges are not run like private businesses. They still depend on government funding, Pell Grants, student loans, FAFSA, etc, the same as public colleges. In fact, many private research colleges and universities receive as much as 40% of the budgets from federal grants.
    The administrators and faculty circulate back and forth among public and private colleges and universities, in search of tenure and a higher spot on the salary and prestige ladder.

  9. p.m.

    KP, Krauss and Plant (oh, is that what KP is? Krauss Plant?) performed more than once on the Grammy show, I think, then won album of the year. Of what I heard them sing, I just thought, “What’s all the fuss about?”
    Of course, it has always amazed me how poor the sound quality of Grammy performances are compared to how spot-on performances usually are at country music awards shows. Maybe the CD has nuances their live performance lost.
    Still, modern music seems remarkably mundane to me.

  10. Doug Ross

    From the Columbia College website:
    $22,580.00 tuition**
    +$450 required fees
    +$6,450.00 room & board*
    -$21,641.00 average award package
    to be covered by student and/or family through parent loans, private loans, interest free monthly payment plan, or other means.
    Seems kind of odd to say that most of the funding comes from tuition when the school is giving awards that cover 95% of it.
    This is the free market at work. There are plenty of colleges with more applicants than they can handle. The question is why can’t Columbia College attract more students willing to pay for an education there?

  11. Doug Ross

    And the other key point is that if you have to go into significant debt to finance a liberal arts education, you may want to do some serious soul searching over what jobs you expect to get after you graduate to help pay off the debt.
    My nephew financed nearly $100K to get a journalism degree. He just graduated and is working as a waiter.
    Student loans are fine as long as you: a) work hard in school and b) pick a field where a degree increases your earning potential significantly.

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