Something is off kilter in higher education

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 21, 2014

When I was a kid, my dad hired me to work at the newspaper office.

I was a fourth grader. My job was to go with him to town early on Saturday mornings, to answer the phone and to write receipts for customers between 8 a.m. and noon.

Sometimes he was in the office with me; sometimes he walked to the square and had coffee at the Whitman’s Drug Store and left me to mind the shop. For my effort, I received the huge sum of $4. I was thrilled; $4 a week was plenty for a kid to spend in the 1970s.

My responsibilities grew, and sometimes I worked after school, too. My dad made some rules: Half of what my younger brother and I earned, we had to deposit in our savings accounts.

Our savings grew, and we learned about CDs in an eight-track era. Jimmy Carter was elected, the economy went South, and two relatively young kinds earned a good deal of interest.

I smiled at the memory this week as I read calls to forgive student loans. All of that savings Daddy taught us to accumulate, we banked for college days. Because we saved, and because my parents saved for us, we were among the lucky ones who were able to get through college debt-free.

Of course, college tuition is far more expensive now than it was then, in part because the bonuses paid to college officials, and we’re not just talking national championship coaches, here. The top executives for the University of Alabama System and Auburn University have received more than $3.5 million in bonuses over the past five years while student tuition has increased about 40 percent, reported this past week.

Auburn’s Jay Gogue got $1.8 million in 2012 for fulfilling the first five years of his contract; both the UA system chancellor and the three presidents received bonuses that topped $100,000. Former University of Alabama at Birmingham President Carol Garrison, who served as president for 10 years, stepped down in 2012. She’s still on the payroll, and has received more than $1.1 million since that time. Garrison’s post UAB pay would cover 127 years of college tuition, or four-year degrees for 32 students.

The columnist John Archibald pointed out this week that it would take the average Alabama family 26 years to earn that much money.

At the rate tuition is increasing, it is almost impossible for most families to get a kid educated without incurring debt. I think it’s OK for students to have to work for a degree; and I personally favor work-study programs over free rides.

Even so, something is out of balance in this system, don’t you think?