Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Cost of College

I’ve been living a lie.

Took me over forty years to realize it.

What was once very much a sense of pride is now gone.

But there’s a longer story involved, which I’ll relate before getting to the punch line.

I started college in 1974. My plan had been to follow my older brother’s lead and attend General Motors Institute in Flint, Michigan. That was a co-op program where you went to school half time and worked at GM the rest, working to pay for college. But I was not successful at being accepted at GMI, which led me to Wright State University, which I’ve been forever grateful. I worked twenty hours a week when in school and forty hours a week when not. I made enough to pay my tuition, buy my books and have a little left over for a pizza or a movie with my girlfriend. I didn’t do drugs, didn’t drink and party, and never had a fake driver’s license. Why waste these years self-destructing and not taking full advantage of learning cool stuff. That all seemed very natural to me.

My son considered college in the 1990’s, so I ran the math again. The twenty/forty work and tuition equation still worked. He could pay his way through if he wanted. It wasn’t his lack of work ethic that led him away from college. He’s one of the hardest working people I know and I’m very proud of him for that. And even more proud that he’s a really good person and owns his own business.

There’s been a lot of press lately around the cost of education and the piles of student debt being accumulated by young adults. This isn’t just kids that go to Harvard or medical school. This is happening to average folks going to regular universities. So I decided to do the math once again. But this time all the 20/40 hard work doesn’t cover tuition and books, but about sixty percent, with nothing left over for pizza.

What happened? Has the cost of college in the last twenty years outstripped wage inflation that much? That’s part of the story, as universities have competed for students by offering tons of costly amenities. But the shocking part for state universities like WSU is the dropping level of state funding. In my college days, state funding accounted for about 75% of their budget, with tuitions like mine making up the remaining 25%. Restore that funding and the equation not only works again, but you can occasionally take your girlfriend to a nice restaurant, the kind with cloth napkins. Perhaps that’s how state funding should be determined. Those that work hard should be able to go through a state university debt-free. That’s not the path everyone would have to take and it would be their decision to either “work now” or “pay later”.   

I now know I didn’t pay for college. That’s the punch line. Thanks mostly to the taxpayers, I received a quality education and was not racked with debt at the end of it. Many thanks to my parents who allowed me to live at home, fed me and paid for my car insurance. And a girlfriend that liked a simple pizza.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Remembering Moses

I have only bought one pet, for myself, in my life. I was around forty years old, living in an apartment by myself and decided that a cat would be the pet for me. I travelled quite a bit back then and it was not unusual for me to be out of town for a week or more. I didn’t want fish, birds or a guinea pig, and a dog wouldn’t work. But a cat, with enough food, water and litter can easily be left alone for long periods of time. Not they that like that, but after a few minutes of admonishment when you return, they’re your friend again.
But all cats are not the same. Some are overly aloof, providing little companionship. Others are mean, some hide all day long and others get fat and lazy. Some spend their waking hours plotting to escape and feel good about leaving you despondent, or better yet, crying your eyes out. Picking your perfect cat is a combination of knowing what you want and finding a cat to match. Not an easy task.
My cat journey started at a local SICSA (Society for the Improvement of Conditions for Stray Animals). I spent forty-five minutes meeting a variety of cats, some mean, some sleeping, most not adorable. Then I spotted a black and white cat perched all by himself up on platform. I went over, he immediately let me pet him and he started purring. I found out that he was one year old, which was perfect as I didn’t want a kitten, and all those challenges. Took a while, but I had found my cat.
My daughter and I picked up the cat a couple days later to take him home. He had some kind of generic cat name that I didn’t like. So we talked about names for a bit and my daughter suggested Moses, a name from the song “Jessie” (by Joshua Kadison) that she was listening to on the radio. I was immediately smitten by this unique pet name. Very classy. I could nickname him “Mo” (although I rarely called him that), just like my middle name, Maurice, can be nicknamed “Mo”. And his black and white hair reminded me of Charlton Heston when he played Moses, as he came down the mountain with the Ten Commandments.
Moses started out as an apartment cat for the first few years. He would spend the days lounging in the sun or curled up on a couch. He always met me at the front door when I got home. But what was really special was bedtime. The routine developed where I would get in bed, Moses would hop up, I would pull the covers up, he would go in head first, turn around and snuggle on my shoulder as I tucked in the covers. He purred, rapidly at first, then gradually slowing over several minutes. On a few occasions we woke up the next morning in that exact position, but more often he would extract himself after ten or fifteen minutes and head off to whatever cats do all night.
Moses loved to explore. After we moved out of apartment living and into a rented house, Moses found a way to get into the walls. He would spend an hour or more crawling on the ceilings and ductwork, eventually finding his way back out, covered typically in gray dust, which would take him hours to lick off. On three of these explorations he came back with a dead mouse, presumably of his doing, given the number he found and killed in the backyard. But how he could do all this in the darkness of the interior of a house is the most amazing to me.
Perhaps the craziest thing I saw Moses do was be the family protector. One day my daughter was in the living room on one side of the couch. Max, a dachshund of advancing age prone to bite people, was on the other side. Moses was making his way from the kitchen to the living room when something outside caused Max to bark. Moses, obviously thinking Max might bite my daughter, flew across the room, jumped up on the couch and began to slap Max faster than the dog could see. After a flurry of punches, Moses leaped down, convinced he had saved the day. And for the next week, every time Moses and Max met, Moses would slap him a few more times for good measure.
Moses lived a long, good life and now rests under a tree in my former house in Bellbrook, where I buried him amid a stream of tears.

I still miss my “little buddy in the purring business”.