TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Sunday, July 2, 2017

NY Times:  Does God Want You To Spend $300,000 To Go To Notre Dame?

Notre DameNew York Times, Does God Want You to Spend $300,000 for College?:

In the remarks he prepared for his parting address to the University of Notre Dame class of 2017, Rev. John I. Jenkins urged the graduating seniors to turn and applaud their families.

Father Jenkins, the Notre Dame president, did not end up delivering those words, though. Earlier on, the featured commencement speaker, Vice President Mike Pence, stole his thunder by issuing a similar order. And Mr. Pence did Father Jenkins one better by explicitly noting how many checks most of their loved ones had written to the university.

Anyone contemplating the full cost of attendance at what is arguably the nation’s most prominent Catholic undergraduate institution probably wonders just how big those checks are for four years here. Families with teenagers starting this fall can expect to pay close to $300,000 over four years, assuming costs increase 3 percent or so each year. Even families with incomes over $100,000 who qualify for financial aid will still probably pay a whole lot more than they would at their flagship state university — easily $50,000, $100,000 or $150,000 more.

All of which invites an obvious question: In what holy book is it written that we owe anything like this kind of expenditure to each of our children? ...

I asked Father Jenkins to point to some of his favorite religious readings and teachings that might shed light on the question of just how much hustle, sweat and sacrifice families should expect of themselves.

We spent the most time talking about a part of the Catholic Catechism that discusses the family in God’s plan. “Marriage and the family are ordered to the good of the spouses and to the procreation and education of children,” it reads.

One question that bedevils most families with children who can afford to save something is whether they should prioritize retirement savings or college savings. The passage here seemed to echo that line of inquiry and answer it squarely: Providing for the financial security of a surviving spouse in old age is on an equal plane with shoveling money away for tuition payments. ...

Father Jenkins said it was humbling for him to see the financial sacrifices people make to afford a Notre Dame education. But as I pressed him in his book-filled office under the iconic Golden Dome, he could not quite bring himself to advocate trading retirement security for tuition savings.

“What do I want to say?” he said, putting his head in his hands, pausing and closing his eyes for a moment. “I guess if it’s a comfortable second home in Florida,” he continued, a smile creeping over his face, “versus education, I’d encourage them to think about the value of education in that person’s life. But if it’s my wife who is going to be left alone and penniless should I die if I don’t do more, that should be taken into account.” ...

Alas, we found no writings that addressed a related question head on: How can one justify spending (or borrowing) $10,000, $20,000 or $40,000 more per year at Notre Dame than one might at a flagship state university? ...

[T]o ... families who are likely to face similar questions of value in the coming years, Father Jenkins suggested that they ask themselves whether a school has the potential to be transformative. Here, he is stacking the deck a bit, given the edge he might have at a faith-based institution to effect such wholesale personal changes. Still, the gauzy possibility that a place may turn teenagers’ brains inside out and help them connect with a tribe, a spouse, a lifelong mentor or all of the above has caused many parents to dig deeper and feel really good about it.

But if you’re looking for an absolute edict one way or the other in the Catechism or a guarantee in Notre Dame’s institutional data on student outcomes, Father Jenkins cannot help you. “There are dimensions to this that transcend this sort of analysis, and parents raising children have to make those decisions all the time,” he said. “Obviously, there is no instruction book that comes with your kid.”

Come on, I protested. Not even the Bible?

“Not even the Bible,” he said.

http://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2017/07/does-god-want-you-to-spend-300000-to-go-to-notre-dame.html

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Comments

"Consider how the lilies of the field grow: They do not labor or spin [or attend an expensive university]. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his glory was adorned like one of these."

There are many ways to become educated. Just ask Peter Thiel. Or ask Bill Gates, a famous college drop-out.

Posted by: AMTbuff | Jul 2, 2017 3:14:01 PM

Heh. Peter Thiel is a double Stanford graduate and made his money in one of the most pedigree-conscious industries on Earth, venture capital. Gates came from a quite wealthy family, attended one of the first computer-equipped prep schools, then onto Harvard, and later into business dealings with IBM - whose CEO sat on the board of directors of the United Way alongside Bill Gates's mother.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Jul 3, 2017 11:14:02 AM

If the law school had decayed pari passu with the rest of the University, one suspects the answer would be no.

Posted by: Art Deco | Jul 3, 2017 1:08:24 PM

I don't know about Catholics, but Jews are religiously obligated to teach their children a trade. Many Jewish parent interpret this as an obligation to pay for a high quality college and advanced degree such as a law degree or medical degree, and look down on anyone who spends on luxuries for themselves while failing to provide high quality education for their children. If you're not willing to sacrifice to educate your kids, then maybe you just shouldn't have kids.

Talmud: Kiddushin 29a

"Our Rabbis taught:

A father has the following obligations towards his son . . . to teach him Torah, to find him a wife, and to teach him a craft or a trade. . . . And there are some who say that he must also teach him how to swim."

Posted by: Obligation to educate one's children | Jul 4, 2017 12:59:14 PM

Many asian immigrants barely scraping by will put more money and effort into their children's education than comfortably middle class white families, who'd rather spend their money on nice big cars, houses, and televisions. A decade or two later, the Asians children grow into successful adults and the white children grow into bitter Trump supporters griping about how the Asians "cheated" and immigrants "stole" their jobs.

It's a question of values. The kinds of people who read this New York Times article and nod their heads have the wrong ones for being successful.

Posted by: valuing education | Jul 4, 2017 1:22:42 PM