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Featured Article"Guess who didn't save for college ?"

Paying the price for prudence
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Alas, we've been outed by the New York Times. In a recent article in the Money and Business section (Pamela Kruger, 3/8/98), all the news that was fit to print included the accusatory question, "Guess Who Didn't Save for College?" Is it mere coincidence that prescriptions for Prozac are increasing geometrically as children of the Boomers accrue tuition bills of $130,000.00? Are we, middle class denizens of the generation who liberated class and race from its Victorian confines, about to fight for financial aid with the truly needy? Are there parents among us who don't remember the astonishing impact of our college years? The Times implies that Generation Xers open tuition accounts for their children before conception. Of baby boomers, however, they suggest that we are not only financially ill-prepared, but also indifferent. "They (the afore-maligned boomers) have grossly underestimated the price tag --", they accuse, "or deliberately ignored it."

I can understand that some might consider me financially ill-prepared. But just because I needed CPR when my daughter's first tuition bill arrived doesn't mean that I chose to ignore it. I have little sympathy for the mother who drives an Acura Legend and travels to Europe with her children and then complains that she had to destroy all of her credit cards because of tuition pressures. Helping our children get a college education is a privilege, not a punishment. I am thrilled to see every student flourish in the fine tradition of the liberal arts. And even those of us who can't put our money where our mouths are should not be accused of preparations so haphazard, contends the Times, that they are easily reversed by "unexpected expenses," such as, and I quote in astonishment, "... medical bills for an elderly parent." I hope they didn't put that article in the large-print edition. The pearls would be popping!

When I finished my undergraduate degree in 1969, four years of tuition, room and board at a private eastern college came to $20,000, more than the average annual income of a middle class American. But I knew that I had been given a gift of even greater value. During, after, and even thirty years down the road, my college years give me great pleasure, irrefutable skills, irrepressible opinions, and a savory appreciation of life, love, lox, and other luxuries.

I could list hundreds of earthshaking experiences that make college a bargain at any price, but some might make my relatives gambol in their graves, and others might be actionable when the great non-inhaler leaves office. So that we won't be reading until retirement, I'll limit myself to ten. Attention, college shoppers, these are the blue light specials of academia. They are acquired through initiative, not indifference.

  • I learned the lyrics to four Gilbert and Sullivan operettas ("'Twas a first-rate opportunity...").
  • I learned that people who collect New Jersey phone books are usually peculiar, if not pathological.
  • I met a coal-miner's son from Pennsylvania, the prince of an African tribe, and a woman who was actually born and raised in New York City. (New York City?!)
  • I learned that people from California are not all blond alfalfa addicts. (Some prefer sprouts.)
  • I had dinner with John Updike and a flock of fawning freshmen. (His "Couples" could never match my fantasies.)
  • I learned how to calculate the distance to the center of the earth from Walden Pond. (More important, I learned that I don't care how far it is to the center of the earth from Walden Pond.)
  • I learned what a squinch is. (Support your interior corners with one.)
  • I discovered that foreign countries are not so foreign when you live and learn in them.
  • I learned what a friend is.
  • I learned how to think. (Well, anyway, I think I...)

Through the paradigm of the sixties, I watched the world change on the positive poles of empowerment, knowledge and hope. Mea culpa; I didn't save ahead for my sons' and daughter's tuitions. Nevertheless, I would bounce on the boardwalk like an organ-grinder's monkey to make sure they have every educational opportunity. Recently, I read an advertisement for the Platinum MasterCard which pitted specific expense against inherent value. $40 was spent for foot reflexology, $65 for an herbal facial, and $125 for a one and a half hour Swedish massage. Then they calculated the value for "a day where all you have to do is breathe" -- "priceless." Don't be indifferent. A day where all you have to do is learn is equally priceless. Dig deep and delight!

Written by Marcia Brown Rubinstien
March 26, 1998

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