For this erstwhile column, Ive decided to continue my one-man crusade against the health care act. I know, those of you who read the column last week (and I mean you, Brenda) are waiting with baited breath for my take on how the health care act may, indeed, crush higher education in this country.
I know, on first blush, this provocative statement appears to be far-fetched; but I assure you, its not.
I have several friends who went to medical school. Like me, they are all in their 40s. Unlike me, they all have approximately $300,000 in student loan debt. Why, you might ask? BECAUSE MEDICAL SCHOOL IS REALLY, REALLY, REALLY EXPENSIVE. Heck, I only have about $70,000 worth of student loans, and I went to law school. Law school, of course, is light years away from medical school.
There are, of course, a number of reasons for this. Becoming a doctor requires much more and expensive equipment and training than becoming an attorney. There are machines that need to be used, research to be done, and hands-on training that needs to be completed for the inchoate doctor to become a real doctor. Sure the price is a little steep, but I would have to imagine that most of the money is spent fairly responsibly, and plowed back into capital improvements and equipment and attracting outstanding practitioners to the school for teaching, conducting research or both.
As a result of the extremely high cost of medical school, and the sliding salaries of doctors that will likely occur after the implementation of the health care act, how can an institution justify charging their students almost half a million dollars for an education that they will have absolutely no chance of repaying during their lifetimes? Both responses to this question are equally unpalatable.
First, the government could subsidize tuition for those that want to practice medicine. Good for the putative doctor, very bad, yet again, for the taxpayer.
Second, medical schools will end up slashing salaries, laying off people and eliminating expensive programs, as well as their teaching hospitals and research facilities. No more research at medical schools? That means no more in-depth study of diseases and cures. No more teaching hospitals? No more on-the-job training for residents. Finally, deletion of the more expensive equipment and training? That just cannot be good.
Now that medical schools are a burning, twisted wreck, my thoughts and attention turn to colleges and universities.
In my opinion, the outrageous prices most institutions of higher learning charge are nothing short of highway robbery.
Yes, there are still research components, and some areas of study require a number of very costly machines for students to either repair, practice on, destroy, whatever. But lets for a minute take a look at online schools. They appear to keep a low overhead, and the tuition is not completely out of control. However, if I had a choice between a brick-and-mortar institution, or a virtual school, Id pick the bricks any day of the week.
Regardless of my little diversion, colleges are expensive. And they can afford to be, because a great many students are conditioned to think that the only way to a high-paying job is by getting that old sheepskin.
These days, though, a majority of the high-paying jobs have invisible salaries. See, you get paid a certain amount, and then theres another amount your employer is partially responsible for in terms of health insurance. That responsibility is going to be a lot less hidden, thereby pushing actual salaries down.
Oh, youre married and have five kids? Your insurance costs, per the government, will be $19,000 per year. We have your position budgeted at $40,000 per year. As a result of the increase in insurance, we can only offer you twenty thousand a year. Who in their right mind, in this day and age would spend almost $120,000 for a $20,000 a year job?
Pretty soon, people just wont go to college; it will be too expensive, and the rewards at the end will be ephemeral at best (like, you may know what the word ephemeral means in a little-read column on a website somewhere. What a bargain.)
See, med schools will reduce their research, their teaching and their tuition (or, it will be picked up by the taxpayers), thus reducing the quality of medical candidates, one would have to assume. Colleges and universities will no longer be able to charge high tuition, as there will be precious little return on investment.
The world is looking like a much better place already. Why am I not excited?
Chris Markham writes a regular column for fredericknewspost.com.