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Publisher's Letter

Publisher's Letter: The True Cost Of Education

When it came time for college, we were broke as usual, but we got a summer job that enabled us to save enough for our first year. After that we got a job at night at a bank (the twilight shift was 5 p.m. to midnight) typing delinquent notices to the fathers of college girls we dated. They were late on $25 a month payments on their refrigerators. By junior year, ROTC helped out with an enormous monthly stipend of $30. And the promise of a job and paratrooper boots after graduation.

This wasn’t unusual. In the 1950s, many of the men in our class (it was all men then) were Korean War vets going to college on the G.I. bill. A lot of them were married with young families. They either worked day jobs and went to night school, or the other way around. They did not live on campus. We did not even have dorms until our senior year. So there was no room and board expense. A handful of out-of-town students rented apartments near the school. We could walk to school, and usually did.

All this to cover a tuition that was about $500 a semester. La Salle was (still is) a private Catholic college, whose reputation as a national basketball power obscured the reality that its campus (at the time) shared with a high school and including a football field, barely exceeded two square city blocks; and its day school was fewer than 2,000. There were no state supported schools in Philadelphia in those days. The nearest things were what we called “state teachers colleges” in nearby small towns. The term “community college” had not yet been invented.

We throw out this history for perspective. Today, in situations close to our family, one college freshman is paying $70,000 a year to board at a prestigious northern school. Another pays $6,000 to commute to Florida Atlantic in Boca Raton. Florida Atlantic has a better football team.

This is by way of introducing Eric Barton’s piece on the current legislative fight between Florida’s community colleges, which have assumed the name “state” colleges, and the 12 established universities. It is a curious situation, for the community schools are regarded among the best of that genre in the country, and not all the big universities can say the same.

As Barton points out, the local schools fill a real need, helping disadvantaged students ease into higher education with remedial courses. That reminds us of the 1950s when those Korean War vets had been out of high school for several years. Our college offered frosh what seemed like remedial courses. We had come out of one of Philadelphis’s best high schools, and some of those freshman classes were baby talk. We were dean’s list that first semester, but things got a lot harder as the vets adjusted, and by graduation day we were barely in the middle of the class.

The man leading the charge to take money from the community schools and give it to the bigs is the powerful Senate President Joe Negron, who lives in Stuart. Barton could not reach him for comment on his role in this situation. That’s not surprising. We tried to interview him without success when we wrote about the Everglades/Indian River pollution situation in his home town several years ago. That was a story in which his history of enormous campaign contributions, much of it from the sugar industry, was suspected of putting him in bed with the sugar industry, which was reluctant to sell the land that scientists said was necessary to allow the natural flow of water south from Lake Okeechobee and stop the discharges of polluted water from the lake to waterways both east and west. The east portion affects the Stuart area where fishing and boating are key industries.

Negron is now being credited for solving that problem with a proposed reservoir south of the lake, but our wildlife experts in Stuart say it provides only a fraction of the necessary land, and will not do the job. They suspect Negron of still catering to Big Surgar rather than his own neighbors. They have a phrase for it. It’s not very original, but it’s apt.

Follow the money.