Consider the cost of canceled class

Joseph Farrell
Guest Columnist

I showed up to class this week and saw a sign posted on the door: “Class canceled this week.”

Initially, I was pleased, as I had a lot of work I needed to do and now had three hours or so of time I could devote to catching up. These pleasant thoughts followed me out of the building, and only dissipated once I paid for a soda using my ATM card. As has been the case for the past year, I got a sinking feeling upon using my debit card, as I know that the majority of funds come from student loans.

My thoughts and feelings about this missed class shifted at this point because I realized the obvious: I’m paying to learn, but most of my learning is in class and missed class is missed value on my money.

But how much?

As I agonized over numbers and struggled to keep my mind focused, I realized what really irked me was those first days of class each semester and how I’ve suffered from distorted thoughts by considering them a blessing. I had considered the freed time wonderful and had always been so pleased to walk out of class early after some menial ice breakers and reading the syllabus as a group. Until that day, I considered the mindless use of 45 minutes before leaving early a blessing, but now I realized how costly these classes were.

My task started with tuition expenses. For my graduate social work program, I pay about $4,990 a semester in tuition, plus an additional $1,220 in fees as of fall 2013. Summing these together gave me the cost of tuition, in total, for a semester. That number is around $6,215. Let’s also keep in mind that tuition costs are rising steadily, and that last year the 3 percent increase was a 30-year low.

I have five classes, but one is a field placement ‘class’ that requires no course instruction. So I get four courses of instruction this semester, with 15 class sessions per course, which when multiplied amounts to 60 class sessions per semester. If I divide my total tuition ($6,216.23) by the amount of classes I get per semester (60), what I end up with is the total value per class session in dollar terms: $103.60.

Now that I had calculated that number, I could go back to my initial problem: the first day of class. Without exception, each class has involved either reading the syllabus as a group, performing some silly ice breaker, or a combination of the two. I have four “first classes” each semester, and will have completed four semesters by the time my graduate degree is attained. That means I can do some simple math to see what these classes cost me. By multiplying my four graduate classes (12 credit hours being typical for a graduate student) per semester by my four completed semesters by the cost per class (about $100), I got about $1,650.

I was dumbfounded. I’m seriously paying $1,650 to read a damned syllabus out loud? To stand up and say my name and favorite hobby? To tell people my pet’s name?

Give me a break.

But then I realized something worse: $1,650, being paid for by student loans, is borrowed money and that borrowed money will accrue interest for 30 years.

I determined that my FAFSA loan has an interest rate of 5.4 percent and that it’s scheduled to be paid off in approximately 30 years, so what I needed to do was figure out how much $1,650 in wasted class costs would end up costing me to pay back with interest over the allotted time. By multiplying the cost of these classes by the annual interest rate (0.54 percent) and the amount of years (30) until it would be paid off, I found that the interest earned on the cost of these classes is roughly $2,685.

Wow. As my head spun, I realized I needed to sum this interest amount with the initial cost of these classes to determine how much, in total, I would end up paying out of pocket to group read a syllabus or share an interesting fact about myself with the class. The initial cost of these classes added to the interest earned on the cost of these classes comes out to just over $4,340.

The moral of this story is, the next time you show up for your first day of class and your teacher predictably instructs you to either talk about yourself for 20 seconds or help read the syllabus as a group, before you opt to smile gleefully about how easy this class will be and how grateful you are for these gentle beginnings to the semester, remember that these classes will cost you a couple thousand dollars.

How many months of rent is that? What kind of car could you buy with around $4,000 as a down payment? How crazy a shopping spree could you go on at Macy’s with a $4,000 gift card? How many years of Christmas presents for family and friends would that amount cover?

These are just some sobering thoughts that are worthy of more attention by a student body strapped for cash as it is.

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