Wait, State College AND Money?!

In response to an OTB post (originally about work-life balance, but turning towards decision points and regrets), Rob in CT wrote:

I will admit to some second-guessing over an offer my father once made to me: 1) go to one of the expensive little liberal arts colleges that accepted me, or 2) go to UCONN, and he puts the difference in tuition + room/board directly in the bank for me. Totally awesome either way, no doubt (ahh, privilege. How does it rock? Let me count the ways). I picked door #1. The results have been a-ok. Not least b/c I met my wife in college. But the frugal side of me always wants to pick at that one.

This is just one of those bizarre things. What kind of choice is that? That’s not a choice. That’s “I’m going to UConn.”

I don’t know how much of that is because of how I was raised, and how much of it is regional. The people for whom this is a tough decision, or who would make the choice that Rob made, tend to live in the northeast.

Last year I was informed of a possible job opportunity for Clancy in New England (the region, not necessarily the Trumanverse state). We talked about New England and what we might like about it and what we might really dislike. In the latter column was the attitude I hear about public universities out there.

Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.


  1. I would argue a little bit about your last point. Sure, there’s some snobbery about attending a public school, but I don’t perceive it as being overwhelmingly greater than in other areas where I’ve lived. Certainly in the area where I used to live, lots of kids went to the pubic universities with no suggestion that they were making the “lesser” choice or were second-rate.

    I did once, when I lived in New York City, encounter one person who was a snob about public schools, and made an off-hand comment to a group of friends about the kind of state school student types she’d encountered somewhere. It was almost worth hearing it for the opportunity to say “Um, [friend], you know I went to a state school, right?”

    • I’m happy to hear that, Russell. It’s something I hear from east-coasters to a degree I don’t hear elsewhere. I’m glad if it’s not as widespread a thing as it appears.

  2. It’s interesting that those attitudes might exist when the Northeast has some of the best public universities in the country. Even the community colleges are pretty well -respected.

    • I know, right? When I’m watching a TV show and they mention UMass, it’s usually in a negative context (the two examples that come to mind are, anyway), and UMass is a good school!

  3. What kind of choice is that? That’s not a choice. That’s “I’m going to UConn.”

    For you, not for everyone. Some people hate big schools–not public, big. I teach at a small college; I know an awful lot of those type of people. Some would go exactly the way Rob went, some would choose the state school and trade off the flush bank account with greatly diminished satisfaction.

    • James, I prefer big schools over small, but if I were given a choice between a small school and tens of thousands of dollars or a large school and nothing, I’d go to the small school.

  4. I’m with Will. If those had been my choics, well, one is financially superior to the other and no one I know sneezes at a UConn degree. And I’m confident that there would have been plenty of marriage-quality women to meet at UConn too.

    • There are some schools I would take a pass on even if it meant getting some money, but definitely not the likes of UConn.

  5. I think the (self-identified by the person being quoted) disconnect is that we’re talking about the kind of person whose parents have the dough to offer those two choices up front in the first place. They *really* don’t experience money or crave financial security in the same way as those of us coming from somewhere other than “my parents have 200,000 just sitting around for my college education”.

    That said, while I did choose to finish my McGill degree at the University of Colorado rather than Colorado College (and thus finish debt-free instead of debt-loaded), and I didn’t *really* see it as a choice – it still bothered me. I would’ve liked to be in a financial situation where I went to the school that was most interesting and not the one that was most affordable. In Canada in the 90s, McGill was actually the most interesting AND the cheapest option for me, and there were a lot of schools in that same position…

    • Hey Maribou! Sorry I missed this one.

      They *really* don’t experience money or crave financial security in the same way as those of us coming from somewhere other than “my parents have 200,000 just sitting around for my college education”.

      I think that’s exactly right. It’s still alien to me, but it’s exactly right. I remember back at a family gathering with the in-laws, a significant number of them fell into the category of not worrying about financial security the same way that my wife and I do (and were raised to). In that case, though, it was more about outlook than it was about actual material wealth. I’m a bit at a loss on how ones psychologically gets from here to there.

      At the time, I thought of it more in terms of major than college. We majored in computers or medicine or finance, they measured in the liberal arts, graduated, and had to say “Now what?” (law school, or marrying well – every last one of them). It’s notable that they almost all went to private schools while the Truman boys went to public and the Himmelreich girls went to Red State University out-of-state because that’s the school that offered them a free ride.

      Back when I was 14 or so, my brother got a software program to match him to the most appropriate university (ahhh, the days of CD ROM programs before the Internet). Anyhow, the three or four schools it selected for me were all private schools. They sounded great! My parents had to sit me down and have a talk with me. They actually could have afforded to send me there, but that was just the sort of thing that our family wouldn’t consider. It’s not in our blood.

  6. I remain firmly in the Two College Camp. Freshman and sophomore years in some fun school of your own choosing, make loads of friends, horse around, enjoy life, take all sorts of classes. The first two years are mostly weeding out the options you don’t want to pursue.

    But when you finally get around to a major, revisit your priorities. Choose a school where your choice will be supported in depth. Often that level of support can only be found in a big state school.

    Every university is composed of its colleges. Unless you’re looking for a Par Teh Skul, in which case just buy a copy of Playboy and look at their rankings, it’s pointless trying to judge a university in toto.

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