Sunday, July 20, 2008

Tradition, tradition! Tradition! --- Tuition, tuition! Tuition!

We at San Elijo College intend our college to be tuition free. We would like to have this done by the time we begin offering classes in the fall of 2010.

There are four reasons for this.

First, we want to free the College from the commoditization of education. If education is something valuable for its own sake, then it is not the kind of thing that can be bought and sold, let alone publicly traded. Students who are treated as customers soon begin to treat success in their education as both a positive right and something deserved because they have paid their tuition. A tuition based education becomes something like what happens at a drive through hamburger stand: one orders (declares one's major) at the menu stand, pays (tuition) for their food at the first window, and picks up their burger (diploma) at the second window. Somewhere between the first and second window education occurs, but is something the student knows not what.

Second, tuition driven institutions are driven to get more bodies in the door to pay for the mostly bureaucratic functions of the institution. Thus, as a college grows it needs more money for growth, and ends up sacrificing student quality and instructional quality, usually in terms of large class sizes. A college that depends on tuition for its survival is a college that will often sacrifice its core principles in order to keep its doors open. This is especially applicable to the stability of faculty appointments and to the long term relationships between faculty and the college. At San Elijo College, we intend each faculty position to be fully endowed such that each faculty member's salary will be fully funded regardless of whether enrollment dips in any given year.

Third, federal and state governments now contribute a great deal to the possibility of higher education for many students across the country. Federally subsidized student loans make possible funds that enable students to pay for the increasingly exorbitant costs of tuition at private universities and colleges. Federal and state funding bring with it restrictions or attached strings on which a truly free, independent and liberal institution should not depend. This is especially true for a college which has specific religious and philosophical commitments which may run counter to the whims of ever changing government and bureaucratic administrations and regulations.

Fourth, a classical liberal arts education in the great books tradition at San Elijo College should be open to the poor who merit admission to the College. This applies most to the best and brightest students who come from limited financial means. It provides a way for them to attain the best that can be offered educationally without having to send their parents or themselves tens of thousands of dollars into debt.

San Elijo College will thus seek a full endowment for each faculty position from private benefactors who believe in the mission and purpose of the institution. This will be an easy task to accomplish. Our culture is one of the wealthiest in human history. It is also one in the throes of great educational crises. There are many in our culture who have the means and the desire to participate in this renaissance of our national intellectual life, and through San Elijo College now have the opportunity.

Does this mean that the college will not cost the student anything? No. We recognize that one’s investment in one’s education, both in terms of time and money, breed a commitment to it on the part of a student. While tuition might be free, each student at the college will be responsible for providing their own support to cover room, board, and all other expenses. The College is planning to work with local businesses to provide a work/study program to offset these costs as well.

A liberal arts education sets the soul free. Doing so should not bring with it financial enslavement upon graduation. A tuition free college with fully endowed faculty positions will provide a truly liberating education.

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