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The price of a good education - and its logic

Imagine you had a product, with 1,000 units available each year for a four-year lease. It is a business device, picture it as a sort of custom and exclusive iPad, available only to 18-19 year olds, and if they do not get it at that age, its availability will drop dramatically, because that is simply who you want as a customer. You accept applications from all over the country (and the world) for this device, and carefully select only the most qualified applicants to receive one. If they cannot maintain it properly or continue to afford its lease you can simply reclaim it, at no cost to you, and their benefits from its use will be revoked.

Your customers are taught (not by you, but by career advisors and industry professionals) that this product, your little handheld device, is the most important investment they can make in their future, and as an investment they must expect to pay for it for years into the future. They are thrilled that you’ve selected them for a four-year lease. Their parents brag to their friends, their classmates are impressed. They even begin to imagine the immediate social opportunities they will have with other bearers of this device, since there is an instant camaraderie among all its users, one that may even exist for several years after its use.

What would you charge for such a device? $1,000 per year? 

Why not $100,000 per year? After all, you have to keep your product at or near the top of the market, and we’re talking about someone’s life here. It can’t look cheap, either, or your customers will question its value, so it must be made of platinum, with intricate handmade detailing, assistants hired to keep it clean, and a staff dedicated to its function and maintenance. That costs a lot of money. You can only lease it to the most qualified individuals or its cachet will drop. You’ll need to pay your top company managers banking-level pay, otherwise their own knowledge and career will be questioned by applicants. How could a potential customer’s career flourish if this device isn’t doing the same for the managers of the company? Your staff must be seen as elite, even if they are not, and must be compensated as such.

That’s college today. And until the cost/benefit can be dramatically reassessed, tuition isn’t coming down. It’s only going to keep going up.

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