Do you know how some numbers stay with you forever? Some people are great at remembering numbers. Senior reporter Frank Esposito comes to mind. It's a talent that he uses every day in his resin price reporting. I'm always impressed when he rattles off resin capacity figures.
Bill Wood, our economics editor, is great with numbers, too, and he has a gift for sprinkling interesting anecdotes and observations when he's talking about data. It's never boring.
I'm not a great numbers guy. I remember news stories and details about companies, but not numbers. For example, I don't remember my SAT scores — I really have no idea. If I needed it — and thank goodness that I don't — I'd have to search through boxes to find the letter that came with the results back in 1978. And then I'd have to write it down, otherwise I'd forget.
But there's one obscure number I remember from college: $5,985. It sticks in my head because one day I was part of a group that went to the Rebecca Crown Center at Northwestern University to protest the obsolete technology in the journalism school.
"Fifty-nine, eighty-five for what?" we chanted. Our classrooms didn't look much like modern newsrooms. We were paying a lot but still using typewriters.
In today's world, $5,985 for a year of college tuition would be a bargain. It's up to $64,887 at Northwestern. And that's just tuition. Students also pay a fortune for room, board, books and fees.
Last week the Wall Street Journal reported that even many public universities have been on a spending spree for the past two decades, sinking money into fancy dorms, big-time athletics and lots and lots of layers of high-paid administrators. WSJ looked at financial statements since 2002 for 50 of the country's top public universities. They found that, adjusted for inflation, spending rose 38 percent in that 20-year span.
Meanwhile, state support at those universities dropped. That means those higher costs were passed along to students. The result: a $1.6 trillion federal student debt crisis.
That's a huge problem. We want a society where everyone has a chance to succeed. That includes a good education, steady work, the chance to own a home and have a family.
I know that a four-year college isn't necessary to achieve those things. Trade school, community college and apprenticeships are all great options, too. Plastics processors and toolmakers have had a chronic worker shortage for decades, and quite a few companies are willing to foot the bill to pay for training that helps workers achieve their personal and professional goals.
There's money in plastics.
But considering how many people do choose to go to college, something has to be done about out-of-control price increases. College debt is a burden on families, and that has an impact on the economy and employers. The government needs to support education, both through adequate financial aid and state support.
But the first step has to be for college administrators and trustees to get costs under control.
Don Loepp is editor of Plastics News and author of the Plastics Blog.