Finances Determine Even Educational Choices

by Nathan Hershey

While growing up in the 1930s, it was the goal of many young people to have the opportunity to attend college. Before I started college, my mother started attending college at night in 1940, in her 40s. Higher education became a much more important step in personal development and was considered increasingly necessary to enhance career opportunities.

The idea of college being the target of most young people did not come about, as far as I recall, until after World War II with the returning military personnel, many of whom qualified for higher education financial assistance because of the GI bill. The veterans were reentering civilian life, with the opportunity to have money to support college schooling and some attending living expenses. I was not in that category because I was too young to have served during WWII. By the time World War II ended in 1945, I was fairly advanced in high school.

After high school, my parents had sufficient funds to allow me to attend New York University without having to find full work opportunities (although I did work two summers during my college career). Tuition at NYU was $150 per year. The public colleges, such as Brooklyn, City, Queens and Hunter, were very inexpensive. These were institutions without dormitories – nuts and bolts colleges. They were good colleges with libraries, etc, but most of their students lived in the city.

There were some private religious colleges, such as St. John’s and Fordham, as well as some non-religious private colleges, such as NYU, which were also affordable for many lower-middle-class families.  The religious colleges were more likely to have dorms connected to and administered by the school.

Queens College, created in the late 1930s, was located in an attractive area in the borough of Queens. For young people who lived in Queens or others who could access decent transportation to Queens, it was considered a choice opportunity. Residents of Queens were wealthier, so the girls really wanted to go there. Tuition was the same level as the other city colleges in NYC.

While the amounts of tuition I’m describing may seem very small, the purchasing power of a dollar was almost unimaginable to people today. Bus and subway fare was a nickel, and there was uproar when fare was raised to a dime.

One of the questions that I have is: What is the range of education opportunities that young people have in the 21st century, particularly at this time? My sense is that, because of the high cost of higher education, unlike the situation that I had when I was of college age, many young people must borrow substantial amounts in order to support their college education. Many have more than five-figure debt by the time they leave college. For most parents, the understanding is that they will not be able to fully, or even substantially, finance their childrens’ education because of the cost and their middle-class income limitations.

It should also be noted that college education is not necessarily the end of formal education; therefore we now find young people creating further debt for graduate school and the cost of personal needs while attending school. I received a full tuition scholarship from Harvard for my second year of law school. It was $600. Sixty years later, in 2011, one year’s tuition at Harvard Law School is $45,450. I would like to better understand how many young people confront these potential costs that they would incur if they decide to further their education to the extent that I have mentioned.

Perhaps is it also possible for a young person to delay or avoid following the step-by-step approach of higher education by working to the extent possible, using and developing skills in the work force, instead of in additional school.

Alicia chose to end her college education, partly to avoid incurring massive debt. I wonder, if Alicia had had the finances necessary to continue attending college, whether she would have developed differently in terms of skills, interests and the decision of how to spend her available time. If she was a member of a family that could provide her with a considerable amount of financial assistance, without any obligations to return it at some future time, she may have continued attending college, and she may not have developed the capabilities she now possesses.

– Nathan Hershey

20th Century Man


11 Comments to “Finances Determine Even Educational Choices”

  1. Nathan, that photo of you and the young lady looks terrific! You don’t look a day over 45–and had you toned your hair, you could pass for an undergraduate perhaps coming back to NYU on the G.I. Bill.

    When I went to NYU, the tuition was $50/credit. In the engineering school with 20 credits a term, that was 2K a year and it WAS a lot of money back then. We were incessantly reminded, though, that our tuition payments covered only half their costs. Of course, we didn’t really believe them–that is, until the school went under a few years after I’d graduated, and NYU sold the entire campus–Arts & Sciences, Engineering, The Hall of Fame, and The Gould Memorial Library (designed by Stanford White who was murdered by a jealous husband and played in the movies by Norman Mailer, but only after he stabbed one of his own wives) to the Bronx Community College, though the Engineering faculty members, at least, were shipped off to Brooklyn Polytech, but not, I understand, in boxcars.

    My son graduated from a two-year college with an associates degree in video game design and isn’t interested in getting a four-year degree. Go figure. At least he’s very happy in what he’s doing and now pays for his own health and auto insurance.

    BTW, Nathan, I was just going through my computer list of birthdays this very day and found that I don’t have yours. I’d very much appreciate it were you able to send it to me.

    Take good care of your self, old buddy, and we’ll sing,

    “O grim grey palisades thy shadow
    Upon the rippling Hudson falls…”

    You know something, Nathan, in the beginning, as a freshman, every time they forced me to sing that song, I used to wonder to myself, “Hudson Falls? I’ve lived here all my life and never knew the Hudson River had a waterfall.”

    Steven Ager

  2. You don’t know me very well, Nathan. I don’t say anything I don’t mean.
    I mean what I say and I try to say what I mean. Period.

  3. It strikes me that your parents were pretty well-off in that period, as were mine. I don’t think we were hampered very much by financial concerns. Perspective determines whether something is expensive or not.

  4. Hi Nat – Just catching up. Good post. With a soon to be 16-year-old at home, Sarah and I are now wrestling with college costs. Looking forward to the next post.

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