There I was, sitting in the financial aid office of a college where everything looked very well kept up.
I don't like that in a school. I like to see things looking run down. I want a clear indication that there is someone in a position of authority saying, "No, let's let that slide another few years. We've got one of the Olson kids coming here and we don't want to have to charge them any more than is strictly necessary." I want to see worn carpet and torn upholstery. I want to see professors mowing the lawns to make some extra money. I want to peek in the president's office and see that his desk is an old cardboard box and his socks have holes in them.
We're going to have three kids in college this year. Yeah, go ahead, send money. And I don't want change, I want folding money with the pictures of unfamiliar presidents on the front.
We've been doing this for a few years, and from my point of view, places of higher education have a flawed technique when it comes to showing off their campuses. For one thing, I hate the tours. You walk around as your guide points out big new buildings and says stuff like, "Look at that. Imported marble walls, floor tiles handmade by Sicilian monks, stained glass windows in the lunchroom and that's just the faculty lounge. You should see the gymnasium. Boy, that cost a ton of money and every dime came from people just like you." Then they brag about the dorm rooms. Geez, I don't care about the dorm rooms. It's not like I'm going to be sleeping there. Have my kid sleep standing up in a closet and knock twenty bucks a month off the bill, and I'd be happy.
They even boast about the food. Come on -- my kid hasn't eaten a nutritious meal in ten years. And breakfast? What kind of idiot thinks that an eighteen year old heading off to college is going to get up to eat a hearty breakfast? If the cafeteria just filled a trough with macaroni and cheese twice a day and threw a case of Twinkies on a table by the door, most teenagers I know would be more or less content.
Where was I? Oh, yeah, the financial aid office. The financial aid person shuffled a few papers and said, "The funniest thing happened. We can't seem to find your student's file."
"That is funny." I said. "Does that mean we don't have to pay?" I chuckled, a little.
"You are quite the jokester," the financial aid person said and then she laughed, but it wasn't a friendly, humorous laugh like mine. It was more of a sneaky, I-know-something you-don't-know, kind of laugh. "No, really," she said, wiping her eyes, "it just means that we don't know what kind of a scholarship packet we can put together."
"So, does that mean you can't tell me how much this year is going to cost?"
"No, no, no, not at all," the financial aid person said. "It's going to cost a lot, really a lot. We just need you to fill out all the forms again so we can decide if the final bill will be ruinous or merely shocking."