I dropped out of college in the late 1960s. Dropped out three times, in fact. Looking back on it, this was a stupid move, but it was the Sixties, and I had other things on my mind.

I’d love to go back to college today. Not because I care much about having a degree, but because I would enjoy studying all sorts of fascinating subjects and being part of a community of bright, talented people. The difficulty is seeing how to get there from here.

Thirty years ago, California had a decent, low-cost public university system. Today, due to draconian budget-slashing (for which we can thank the Republican Party), the picture is decidedly more bleak. The good news is, when you’re over 60 you can attend a California State University (though not into UC) on a fee waiver program: You can be a full-time student for something like $4 per semester. But here’s the kicker: Under the fee waiver program, you can’t register for classes until the first day of classes. You can’t pre-register. Given the extensive cutbacks, many of the classes you might want to take (or might need to take as degree requirements) will be full. If you want a better shot at getting into the classes, you have to pay the tuition and fees.

The nearest CSU to where I live is CSUEB, formerly known as Cal State Hayward and lately re-christened Cal State East Bay, or “EBay” if you’re feeling cynical. It’s about a 28-mile drive (each way) on one of the most congested freeways in California. And to be honest, it’s not the jewel of the CSU crown. If I can say this without offending the instructors, many of whom are, I’m sure, very capable, it has less in common with a jewel than with an armpit. CSUEB is like a great big high school with older kids and more labyrinthine academic requirements and bureaucratic procedures.

For me, a big part of the point of going back to school would be to be part of an academic community. Driving 30 miles through heavy traffic in order to hang out in an armpit — let me think about that and get back to you.

Slightly more distant are San Jose State and UC Berkeley. A longer drive and bad parking (Cal State EBay has swell parking) make their communities of bright, talented people less accessible to me. The Conservatory at University of the Pacific is slightly less than an hour away on the freeway, and the drive is not usually congested, but it’s a private school, and thus hideously expensive.

I’ve considered moving out of state. The University of Oregon at Eugene has a vibrant community, and once I established residence the tuition would not be ruinous. [Edit: Actually, it would still be ruinous. The very sensible UO policy is that if you’re a full-time student during your first year of residence, you’re presumed to be in Oregon for the purpose of getting an education, so they continue to classify you as a non-resident for purposes of calculating your tuition.] But my health insurance plan has no coverage in Eugene, so I’d have to apply for new insurance, and good luck with that. Even though I’m very healthy for my age group, a new private insurance plan, if I could qualify for one at all, might cost as much per year as tuition at University of the Pacific. Well, maybe not quite that much, but it wouldn’t be pretty. And if I move anywhere, even to Berkeley, my income from teaching cello, already meager, would drop to zero.

It’s a dilemma. Getting a degree online has been suggested to me more than once, but (a) there’s no academic community to interact with if you’re studying online, (b) nobody offers online degrees in music, because music is about face-to-face interaction, not passing exams, and (c) I don’t much care about getting a degree. What I want is to be attending a university.

If anybody knows of a good music scholarship to the University of Utrecht that’s available for 62-year-old cellists who have no professional aspirations, do get in touch. I’d have to learn to speak Dutch, but that would be fun too.

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5 thoughts on “Back 2 School

  1. Is the issue how much other people should kick in for your education, or what is driving the cost up such that you/everyone can’t afford it? (or both)

    Similar with health care.

  2. Ken, I’m going to read between the lines here. Your comment offers me two options, both of which seem to arise from a very conservative viewpoint. You make it sound as if those were the only options.

    In fact, this post was strictly about a personal dilemma. It had, in my mind as I wrote it, nothing to do with politics. I threw in the aside about the Republican party because, well, that’s a fact. You don’t seem to be disagreeing with the fact. On the contrary — you seem to think it’s a GOOD thing that the Republican Party has destroyed affordable higher education in California.

    Your attitude seems, if I understand it, to arise from the notion that you personally are paying too high taxes. That’s the first problem — your attitude is entirely selfish. You’re ignoring the benefits to society as a whole (including you) from the uses to which your tax money is put. Do you like having freeways that are free of potholes? Do you like having a fire department on call in case a grease fire starts in your kitchen? Do you like having the government monitor the activities of suspected terrorists? All of these undertakings cost money. Tax money. Your tax money.

    With respect to publicly funded education, the reason why it’s a good idea is this: Society as a whole (including you) benefits from having a well-educated citizenry. Underprivileged youths who are able to get into college are more likely to become productive members of society and less likely to engage in crime. Is this too difficult for you to understand? A pharmacist who is not struggling to pay off a $100,000 student loan will be under less stress and will therefore be less likely to screw up and fill your prescription wrong, thus giving you a heart attack. (I knew a man once who died from a pharmacist’s slip.)

    Better educated citizens also vote more intelligently. Of course, what that means in practice is, they more often vote for liberal candidates. So I can certainly understand why Republicans want to avoid educating people.

    1. The fee waiver program is available, just not convenient. Courses online… not the right experience. But, both are available and that is awesome!

      I’m not sure Republicans are trying to avoid educating people- that’s like the right-wing saying Democrats want more people to become poor.

      I agree we should have a well-educated society.

      1. I agree that both the fee waiver program and online courses are terrific resources for many people. They’re not right for me. The assumption behind fee waivers seems to be that the oldies are just going to college to amuse themselves because they’re retired. In many cases, I’m sure, this is a good assumption. You could even say it applies to me, though I would certainly be aiming at a specific degree with a specific major, not just taking a class or two.

        My vague impression is that the Democrats are trying to help the poor. At least, from time to time they use that rhetoric. Both parties tend, in their rhetoric, to talk more often about “the middle class,” because that’s where the swing demographic is perceived to lie — among people who think of themselves as middle class. The Republicans try to scare the middle class by fulminating against higher taxes, which seems to be the context of your comment.

        All I can say is, you might want to read up on how things are going in Sweden right now. Very high taxes — and a burgeoning, prosperous middle class. Explain this by conservative principles if you can. I myself feel convinced it’s a dandy example of how well socialism works.

  3. If you do well on standardized tests you should go ahead and take which ever one you’ll need, get the high score, apply right now as a degree seeking student (to public and private universities) and see what happens. College entrance is a bit of a numbers game and if you bring up their averages they will load you with money. They are also looking for diversity and credentials and you have both. Though private schools are more expensive, they sometimes also have the larger endowments which enable them to give out the bigger scholarships.
    Good luck!

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