Getting your money’s worth


My college announced the tuition rate for next year today: $21,150. That’s pretty typical for small, private liberal arts colleges. Today also happens to be the Friday before Spring Break, which is traditionally the most-skipped day of the year by students everywhere. Putting these two facts together yields some pretty interesting (sobering) results.

The tuition rate is fixed for any amount of academic credit taken past 12 hours (which is full-time status here). Let’s assume a student carries 16 hours of courses each semester, which is pretty much the median here and elsewhere. And let’s also assume that each semester is 14 weeks long, which is the case here. Then here’s how the numbers work out:

  • $21,150 per year divided by 28 weeks of courses = $755.36 per week.
  • 16 hours of credit = 16 hours of class meetings per week. (Here, an “hour” is actually 50 minutes, and it’s not always the case that an hour of credit means an “hour” of class time, but that’s usually the case.)
  • Therefore, each class meeting costs 755.36/16 = $47.21.

So when a student skips a single class, s/he is forfeiting about $50 which has already been pre-paid to the college. If the student is paying his/her own way, then that’s $50 out of his/her pocket for gaining an additional hour of sleep, playtime, or whatever. That’s an expensive nap! Of course, most students don’t pay even a majority of their tuition costs thanks to scholarships and grants — but that makes it even worse, since now the student is not only throwing away some of their own money but also a lot of money that was given to them by somebody else so that they can have the chance to learn.

Similarly, when a faculty member cancels a class and doesn’t make it up, that faculty member is forcing the student to give up that money that should go toward a quality classroom experience designed and led by that instructor. Sometimes class cancellations have to be made because of illness, weather, etc. but when it happens for frivolous reasons, faculty are essentially robbing students and the others who are helping them pay for college.

Somebody once said that higher education is the only consumer product where the consumers attempt to get as little as possible out of their investment. The next time a student is tempted to skip for no good reason, or a faculty member is tempted to cancel class for no good reason, hopefully that person will stop and think about the many investments that are being made to have the chance to learn.

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