Monday, January 12, 2009

Choosing a college

How does our desire to live wartime lifestyles influence college selection? Everyone who has a chance to influence teenagers, whether in their families or churches, should think about this issue.

I have worked for a few different universities, private and public. And now I work with high school students as they are deciding where they want to attend college. My general advice to them (all of whom want gradate degrees*) is to choose an inexpensive undergraduate school and then choose the best graduate school; no one cares where their physician earned his or her bachelor's degree.

I also advise them to choose colleges (undergraduate and graduate) that fit their own goals, personalities, etc; for example, some people benefit from small schools while others relish large schools.

But, that advice is geared toward students in general rather than Christian hedonists. What about Christian hedonism and college selection?

What weight should cost have in selection when college loans are widely available? Is it more important to not spend enough to buy a small house, or is it more important to attend a Christian college? I'm a Southern Baptist, and there's actually a mandate for Christian colleges in our Faith & Message (statement of beliefs). But, Palm Beach Atlantic University (a Baptist school) is about 600% more expensive than the nearby Florida Atlantic University (a state school).

Tim Keller encourages Christians to move to urban areas so we can shape culture. Should Christian hedonists strive to attend top schools--even the extravagantly expensive schools--because that's where we'll interact with the future leaders of the world? Incidentally, Columbia University, in NYC, is about 1,200% more expensive than Florida Atlantic.

If we're looking for bang for the buck, it might seem 2 years at a community college and 2 years at a state university are the way to go. But, is there more to wartime living than bang for the buck?

Financial issues are always more complex than they appear. I once calculated, for a project in a doctoral class, that attending a public university could cost graduates more than $250,000 over their lifetimes. The reason was simple: on average, it takes public university students more than a year longer to graduate than private school students. That extra year in school has costs well beyond graduation. For example, the person will presumably work one year less in his or her career, and that will mean one year less for retirement savings. While that might seem insignificant, the person actually loses many thousands of dollars because he or she is losing the last--and most profitable--year of compound interest.**

Yet, the question remains: What role should cost play in the college decisions of young Christian hedonists?

* I teach at a magnet high school.
** For example, someone who placed $20,000 in a 401K for 35 years at 7% interest (compounded quarterly) would end up with $226,907. But, if that same person had 36 years, instead of 35, he or she would end up with $243,213--a difference greater than $16,000.

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We intend this blog to be a discussion about wartime living, so we always welcome your thoughts.