Many moons ago, I graduated from college with a degree that couldn’t get me a “real” job. My one and only skill was that I could type faster than most mere mortals. So, I got a job as a receptionist and word processor at a private law school. And a year or so later I was promoted to an Executive Assistant position, working with an Assistant Dean and a handful of professors.
Meanwhile, knowing that I really didn’t want to do that the rest of my life, after a year out of college, I enrolled in a Masters program at the local university — International Relations. And dropped out a mere month later because it was far too much work to be able to do while working full-time, which I had to do to be able to pay the bills of living on my own.
I looked around then and thought that if all the yahoos I saw at the law school could do it, so could I. So, I applied for admission and was accepted. Unfortunately, the law school did not give a tuition break to its employees who might one day wish to become an attorney. So, I paid full freight. That first year, the tuition was $9,000. For the evening program, which was “part-time” and took four years to complete instead of the standard three.
My goal was only borrow enough money to pay tuition and to keep working full-time to cover my living expenses. That plan didn’t quite work and I ended up with student loans approaching $60,000. For various reasons, for which the law school is responsible, 22 years after I graduated I am still paying on those loans. Let’s just say that I never aspired to make gobs of money, so I haven’t ever worked at a place where my salary could result in paying those loans off quickly. And, then there were various decisions we made that caused me to defer payments at various times. And, then there is of course, the fact that in 1993 when I graduated, the interest rates were 9%. So, yeah, I’m still paying on that. And will be for a few years more.
That hasn’t prevented my law school from peppering me for the last 22 years with requests for money, with profiles in their newsletters, and pitches in their alumni magazine. Because the next generation of lawyers need my help.
To date, I haven’t given my law school one penny. I remember back when I was completing my law school studies, there was a group of students who had this kind of informal organization that was referred to as the One Red Cent Club. Or something like that. Their mission was that they would never give back to the law school. I don’t know why they had that position. I certainly don’t hold the law school responsible for my debt or the costs associated with my attendance. Nobody forced me to attend. I exercised my free will and took it on myself.
But I still don’t get why people donate to private law schools such as mine. There are people who have donated over $1,000,000 to this private law school. Others who have donated over $500,000. There is a cavalcade of donors in every issue of the alumni magazine who have donated hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of dollars to this private law school and I simply don’t get it.
This private law school now charges somewhere in the neighborhood of $50,000 per year. For tuition. Only. That doesn’t include room and board or books or anything else. Just tuition. And it aint USC and it aint Stanford and it aint Harvard and it aint Yale. And I just don’t get why people believe that donations to this law school are a worthwhile cause.
My son asked me tonight if I had $1,000,000 and could give it to any one organization or individual who would I give it to. It’s a good question and one I’m still noodling on. I told him I’d provide him an answer but that he needs to think about it too. I know this, however, although I’m not and never was a member of the One Red Cent Club, it certainly isn’t the law school I graduated from. It isn’t any institution of higher education, particularly one that thinks it is acceptable to charge that much for tuition.
So, I’m left with two conundrums. First, why do people see giving money to such an organization as a worthwhile cause? Second, how to answer my son’s question?
If you had a million dollars to give away to one organization or individual, who would you donate it to?