Boyette has come home to Aiken Standard 1

John Boyette

Colin Demarest, one of our fine young reporters, walked by my office a few weeks ago.

I casually asked, “How’s your student debt coming?” My intention was to find out what progress he was making on the latest installment of our presidential election series, which appears on 1A today.

But his answer was not what I expected.

“It’s under (blank) thousand,” was Colin’s reply. (I’m respecting his privacy and not revealing his student debt total, but he was OK with me retelling this anecdote.)

Student debt was a foreign concept to me when I attended college in the mid-1980s. I thought that was only for people who were going to fancy Ivy League colleges or who were pursuing careers in medicine or law.

Sadly, it’s become the norm for students going to almost any form of education beyond high school.

I’m in favor of young people furthering their education, but I shudder at what cost. The way my mind works, I would only go deep into student debt if there was a big payoff somewhere down the line.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to make that decision. I was a good student, not a great one, and tended to excel in the liberal arts more than math and science. During my senior year of high school, my parents and I decided that going to USC Aiken for a couple of years would probably be my best route.

It also didn’t hurt that I had received a small scholarship from USC Aiken. I’m eternally thankful that my parents never asked me to fund my college costs, but I did work while I was in college and I could use that to finance my golf hobby, a small car payment and things of that nature.

When I transferred to USC after two years in Aiken, I didn’t have to foot the cost. (An extra bonus was my grandmother lived in Columbia and I never lacked for good food or laundry service.)

During a recent conversation with a friend, he mentioned that his son was getting a full scholarship to a prestigious university. Ordinarily, he said, tuition and board would cost more than $70,000 annually.

Let that sink in for a moment.

I have no doubt that my son’s friend, a fine young man, will go on to do great things and be successful in whatever field he chooses. But, if you multiply that annual cost by four, you can buy a lot of house in Aiken.

The college admission bribery scandal that ensnared so many Hollywood stars still baffles me. Well-off parents paid tens of thousands of dollars to get their children into prestigious universities across the U.S. The kids couldn’t get in otherwise, so the parents tipped the scales for them.

I get that going to Harvard or Yale, or a private school on the West Coast, can open up doors down the road. But me? Give me the cash you spent on bribes and let’s call it a day.

When I was attending school in Columbia, the parking lots were filled with vehicles sporting license plates from New Jersey and other states from up North. In many cases, it was cheaper for those students to go out-of-state than it was to attend their universities.

There’s not an easy solution. Personally, I don’t think higher education should be free, but it also shouldn’t saddle a young person with so much debt for a four-year degree.

I don’t recall how much my college education cost, but I’m guessing the whole four years was under $25,000. And I’m eternally grateful that I didn’t come out of school in debt.

Thanks for reading.

John Boyette is executive editor of the Aiken Standard. Reach him at jboyette@aikenstandard.com or 803-644-2364.