On a recent trip to visit my professor son at the University of Arkansas, he pointed out a very interesting trend which is the influxes of the very rich from the oil patch to their south.
In every direction, one saw beautiful duplexes being built. These were often being constructed by the wealthy parents of the students, or by investors who were building them to give students a luxurious place to live while going to college. The rents for these units were very expensive, especially compared to when I paid $97 a month for room and board in 1968 in Singular dorm at Kansas State Teachers’ College. Back then tuition was also only $97 a semester.
There were also many brand new, grand fraternities and sororities going up around the edges of the university. These grand structures would put most any other structures to shame. And they are rumored to serve only the finest of foods to their elite members.
The extent of the riches to be found simply went on and on. The parking lots of these retreats confirmed their affluence. When one drove through the parking lots in the night club areas or past the Greek houses, it was a rare site to see a beat up Chevy or Ford. Nothing, not one beater, such as the 1952 Chevy Deluxe that I drove while in school in 1968. No way. These lots were filled with vehicles in the $60,000 range and above.
In addition, inside the academic buildings they were completely carpeted, had glistening fixtures and even had huge screen TVs in hallways where no one was watching. One cannot but be amazed at the extent of the expenses that were undertaken to get a higher education in America.
My son and I then compared this to what we both had seen in mainland China. My son had a wonderful experience when he had the opportunity to teach in one of their quite adequate Normal Schools. Keep in mind that Emporia use to be a Normal School that produced great teachers in six months; it was set up for working class families. So this was a legitimate way to compare the evolution of these two systems.
Today’s Chinese facilitates reminded me of the 1950s in Kansas. No wall to wall carpets. Air conditioning was rare even though we were in the warm and humid Southern China. Students were in four- or five-person dormitory rooms very similar to how students were once housed in Northeast and Novum Halls (South and Southeast Morse halls). A great surprise was the fact that smart cell phones were generally put away during class, since they were a detraction from one’s ability to study and learn.
What produced such differences? The Chinese have a great respect for genuine education and the fact that their children are their main social security net in their old age. Chinese therefore have a lot of “skin in the game.”
One should compare the Chinese to the American systems in the present day. It is increasingly becoming clear that one of the primary concerns of the American system is the satisfaction of the American students’ super egos. This competition to provide the fanciest and most expensive campus has generated student debt in the tens of thousands, if not more, per student. In addition, American higher education has experienced one of the fastest growing inflation rates in America.
Has this huge student debt caused our system to be the best? Far from it as we witness grade inflation along with a decrease in overall efficiency. In contrast, China is recruiting the brightest and best professors from all over the world and they are willing to pay them properly.
So what do I mean about “Bernie’s Rolls Royce.” While keeping in mind that Sen. Sanders has become a multi-millionaire with multiple houses, his idea of free higher education may benefit the super wealthy that I described above. After all, if we all have free higher education, then wealthy American students can really feed their super egos and buy a really expensive car like a Rolls or a Lamborghini truck (they really exist).
PS: I remain grateful for the affordable education that I received at Kansas State Teachers’ College (aka: Emporia Kansas State College and Emporia State University.) It remains one of the best values in the nation.