As you can imagine, much of my attention is focused on the progress of the hurricane that is now swamping the coastal regions of North Carolina. We should be in no danger here, but the rain will be very heavy, and I am hoping I can fly out next Tuesday to teach my Columbia class.
At the start of my last lecture, before launching into my discussion of Marx’s analysis of the mystifications of capitalism, which involved, among other things, an extended contrast between a Catholic church and a supermarket, I suggested to the students that for their mid-semester essay, they might consider attempting a demystification of their experiences as Columbia undergraduates.
I have gathered some data that I shall present to them next Tuesday, by way of assistance, should they choose that topic to write on. [Yes, I realize some of them may be reading this blog. Such is life.]
Here are the facts I gathered.
This is the fiftieth anniversary of the great Columbia student uprising, which occurred while I was teaching there. In 1968, Columbia tuition was $1900 a year. Using an online Consumer Price Index calculator, which I shall introduce them to, I find that $1900 in 1968 is the equivalent of $13,650 in 2018.
In 1968, the minimum wage was $1.60/hr. If a student worked all summer, for 16 weeks, 40 hours a week at a minimum wage job, he [there were no female Columbia undergraduates then] could earn $1024. With a term time part-time job, fifteen hours a week, he could make another $768. In short, it was possible in 1968, albeit hard, to work your way through Columbia and graduate without a burden of student debt.
But Columbia tuition is not currently $13,650. It was, last year, $57,208. If a student were to find a $10/hr job, above minimum wage, he or she [big improvement] would have to work 5,720 hours to earn tuition for the year, or 110 hours a week year round, clearly impossible.
Two important data points: First, the Columbia education in 1968 was quite as good as the Columbia education in 2018. Second, faculty salaries have risen only slightly faster than inflation – in 1968, I was a senior professor making $19,000/yr, which in 2018 dollars is $136,500, and although that is probably low for a senior professor’s salary today, it is not very low.
So: Here are three facts to demystify:
1. You could work your way through Columbia without student debt in 1968, but not in 2018.
2. The education has not gotten noticeably better in fifty years.
3. The professors are not paid dramatically more in constant dollars.
Question: How come?
Hint: In 1968, the students seized the administration building. In 2018, 30% of graduating seniors go into investment banking.