Thursday, May 20, 2010
This really is the book to read if you are going through the hell of college selection and application. Well, hell might be something of an exaggeration I guess. Maybe something like pregnancy. You may want to throw up a few times, aspects of it are pretty grisly, but you can reasonably hope something good will emerge out the whole painful and expensive process. Let's hope.
As someone on the inside of the education biz, and you must remember it is a very marketing-oriented business with a product to sell, you do need to know the stuff in this book. The exceptions are, if you are so rich you can just cut a check for $50K per year per kid, no worries, whatever, just go wherever you want honey. In that case it's just a matter of whether you prefer Lexus, Mercedes or Escalade. Alternatively, if you are so poor and your kid is so smart you qualify for real live financial aid. That's actually a good place to be too, because then the rich parents will be paying to send your kid to school.
But many, many people are in the middle. And others wisely figure they want good value for their money no matter what (having perhaps earned their money in a way that makes them disinclined to waste it) and don't buy the spin that when it comes to education you should just pay whatever is asked because [cue alma mater]. At this point, it gets reasonably complicated. It is too daunting and frankly too depressing to summarize, but what this book will do is explain the key concepts and tell you where you can find some key quantitative measures to give you a handle on such things as how selective a college is, how much price discrimination you would have to endure to send your little genius there (e.g. at the Ivies, a lot), how to tell where the merit money is, etc. It's not rocket science, but it is at least as complicated as not getting screwed when buying a new car. Only in this case, it's a car whose quality is difficult to measure, where reputational markets are murky yet very important, and where emotions and those who would exploit them are all around. In other words, just plain fun.
Without passing moral judgment in any way, I will just observe it is astonishing that higher education in this country has managed to get established a system where consumers have to disclose in detail how much money they have before they are told what they must pay. I mean Ralph's has to establish a Price Club and airlines First Class and Coach and so on, but Yale and the University of the Ozarks just have you tell them in detail every last thing about your finances and precisely how desirable your offspring is. Amazing. And then they squeeze really, really hard. The producer surplus they are extracting must be simply massive. Of course, I am paid out of this surplus, so I can't complain too much. But it has got to be just hugely inefficient. And, just to make it perfect, it all gets justified as redistribution to help that most worthy of souls, the very smart but very poor kid from Hellovanotion, Nevada, who works 40 hours a week delousing donkeys and caring for his quadriplegic mother, while still getting 1600 SATs, a 4.6 and captaining his/her wind ensemble to international glory. And is President of Key Club. And yet, how much of the surplus extracted actually goes to put the poor, deserving kid through Duke? I tend to think, probably not that much, percentage-wise. Maybe about as much as my income taxes go to support the hard working but poor single mom who just needs a little help so she can get that community college degree and never be on welfare again. So big emotional but relatively small statistical impact. Just expressin' a natural curiosity here. Anyway, check out the book.