The Crazy Costs of College, and a Great Weekend at Colorado School of Mines

He’s a little taller, and his sense of humor has gotten even better. Of course, that’s coming from me, a dad who feels threatened that both of his sons will be taller than he, and a humorist of whom my friend Merlin says, “Mike, you know not everyone gets your sense of humor.” Disirregardless*, it’s true – he is taller and funnier. And we were thrilled to get to see him at Family and Friends Weekend at the Colorado School of Mines.

On the 34-degree morning we left Golden, Colorado to head back to Malibu, the friendly, talkative, cowboy-hat-wearing-self-described-gypsy-souled clerk at the front desk of the Golden Hotel said, “Pretty nice morning, actually. The cold stuff will hit us soon.” It was clearly time for us to leave. We have loved our time in Golden, and like we do when we go on all trips, we discussed what it would be like to live here. The answer – really nice! That being said, we were happy to leave 34 degrees and come home to 70 degrees.

Golden’s one-street downtown is perfect. The old brick buildings make it feel like a mining town, and other than Starbucks, it’s all local owners in the small shops on both sides of the street. The trail that goes up Clear Creek is one of the most beautiful five-mile walks on the planet. And the weather – if you like four real seasons – is fantastic. We have it rough on the coast in southern California. The monotony of seventy or eighty-degree weather can be mind-numbing! Sure, we have the occasional apocalyptic wind, fires, earthquakes, and mud-slide-causing rain. But our weather, except for the apocalypses, is so predictable. Do we want spring, summer, fall, and winter, or do we want to be able to wear shorts 90% of the time? It makes for a great conversation on every trip Jill and I take, and we always decide to stay right where we are.

Jill and I walking up Clear Creek in Golden

We continue to fall more and more in love with the Colorado School of Mines. The school, which is a little more than 6,000 undergraduate engineers and entrepreneurs, is everything a great college should be. Mines students work hard. The school wants every student to have a scientific background that will hold up in the real world, and it shows. Job recruiters are all over this campus, seeking out students who are truly ready to start contributing immediately.  

The party scene, something that defines many colleges, is not a thing here. It’s a far cry from the Delta House of Faber College so perfectly portrayed in Animal House. If you’ve ever spent time in small towns in the Rockies or the Pacific Northwest, you know that beer drinking is less likely to be a prequel to barfing in the bushes; it’s a just way to chill after spending your day doing some really cool activities like rock climbing, bike riding, hiking, coding, or building something awesome. All of these chill towns have their own microbreweries too. Golden has that, plus that former microbrewery turned behemoth – Coors. It’s not work hard play hard at Mines – it’s a work hard, kick back for a few hours, then get back to business place.

It makes me reflect on all that is being written now about the questionable future of college. When I grew up, college was considered the no questions asked key element to any young person’s future. But since 1980, when I started college, inflation has increased prices by over 200%, and post-high school costs have increased by over 500%. College debt is crushing students and their families, and high-paying jobs for a bachelor’s degree are not as prevalent as they used to be. To attend a UC school to earn a teaching credential will costs close to $200K for the five years, and that’s if you can get all of the classes you need to graduate. If you surrendered 1/3 of your after-tax teacher’s salary (which isn’t that high to begin with) to pay off that debt, it would take a teacher over ten years to pay off that debt in full. And that’s with no interest.

The costs for college are out of hand, and we are at a tipping point. Prospective families and their parents are weighing options, and I hope that fewer and fewer students will leave college with a mountain of debt that is almost impossible to repay. Online universities, which offer programs and degrees at a fraction of the cost of in person campuses, are becoming highly popular. The experience with COVID is only making online programs better. And just ask any kid, you can learn anything on your own on YouTube. At the very least, now there are viable alternatives to paying $120,000 to $350,000 for a bachelor’s degree, and whoever is paying for it needs to examine whether or not the cost is worth it.

While online and local options may be less expensive alternatives, there are also other factors to consider. When we were helping Dawson with the college application process, we encouraged him to apply to schools where the level of teaching was regarded as very good. Most college professors are not hired to teach, but there are wonderful professors out there. Dawson was blessed to have mostly outstanding teachers in high school, and he feels the same way about Mines so far.

I also know that, however difficult it is to do, going away to college can be a wonderful, life-altering experience. Separating students from their parents forces them to learn not just academically, but socially as well. And at Mines, there is a good amount of fun for the students, even though the work load is epic.

The Mines sports teams are really good! We went to the football game, where over 4,000 highly encouraging fans watched the #9 nationally-ranked Division II Mines Orediggers win yet another game. I loved that the vibe felt more like a great high school game than a big business Division I college game. We lucked out when we used our general admission tickets to randomly sit down next to the offensive coordinator’s wife, Abby, who is the epicenter of all things Orediggers. I think every person in the stadium came up to hug her at some point during the game. Because she knows everyone, she of course knew my niece’s husband, who used to coach here, and she made us feel beyond welcome.

But the most enjoyable part of the atmosphere had to be seeing the school’s two awesome mascots, Miner the Oredigger and Blaster the Burro, in person. After every touchdown (Mines won 63-0), students would run out with Blaster, who would trot from the end zone to the 50-yard line and back. Two students took turns following Blaster with a shit shovel, picking up after Blaster. I’m telling you, they were busy after all nine touchdowns! Sometime too busy. Blaster is one well-fed Burro with no digestion issues. I saw Miner the Oredigger in the stands, but shouldn’t he have been helping those hard-working students with their shovels? The fans cheered the shit-shoveling student heroes for their efforts, even when the game had to be held up because they had so many different piles to address. You can’t beat that for entertainment! And we enjoyed the flannel-shirt-and-hard-hat-wearing Mines Marching Band. Imagine an irreverent Stanford band that performs John Phillips Sousa pieces in a flag formation and you have a good picture of what the Mines band stands for.

Our son is happy – he’s in a spectacular place, he has made good friends, he is confident that his degree will lead to a job that he will love, and he’s keeping up with the demanding classes in his schedule. Yes, the costs are high, but we believe this is an investment that he is making the most of. We loved every minute we had with him, and we’ll see him soon when he comes home for Thanksgiving.

Have a good day, y’all,

Mike

* As I wrote back in my blog post on 9/20/21, “I know “disirregardless” is not a word, but it’s a word we use in our family as a way of criticizing those who choose the word irregardless, instead of the proper regardless. If you read my blogs, you know that I’m a bit of a grammar snob. Sorry – not sorry. Of course, the English language adapts to misuse, and now if you look in the dictionary under irregardless, you will find that it means the same thing as regardless. As Miriam-Webster states, “Remember that a definition is not an endorsement of a word’s use.” Whatever, Miriam-Webster. If you won’t criticize the misuse, we will, disirregardless of your unwillingness to take a stand!”

6 thoughts on “The Crazy Costs of College, and a Great Weekend at Colorado School of Mines

  1. Another great blog, Dr. M. CO is a pretty spectacular place. Mines sounds like the perfect spot for Dawson. I am so happy he is there and doing well. A good fit for college is the key to success. His smile tells it all, doesn’t it? Also, I am so happy for you and Jill. Will he be home for Thanksgiving? Many of my favorite Turkey days were at your home with all of you. ❤️❤️❤️

    1. Thanks, Pat. I hope to feast together on Thanksgiving one day in the relatively near future. Thanks for the comment and love.

      1. I need more information on this Holiday Tree please. Do you actually redecorate for Halloween, Thanksgiving and at last Christmas? And disregardless of your timing issues I think it’s time you released the angst around sitting down to Thanksgiving punctually. This year I made it within 10 minutes of plan and thought that an incredible win. Then again my pre-decorated, artificial Christmas tree is still stored in our basement too…

        1. Why yes, Ellen, I do actually redecorate it for all three holidays. Each one is special and the house is festive for three full months! I’m taking down the Thanksgiving Tree decorations this weekend and putting up the Christmas stuff. Congratulations on being within 10 minutes this year – that is a win. I did give myself permission this year to release some of the angst – as our power was out for 60 hours. I prepared (with lots of family help) the entire meal, with a loud generator keeping our fridges cold, on the stovetop and the Big Green Egg. I was (gasp) 15 minutes late, and the best part is, the power came back on right as the last person went through the buffet line. That’s life.

  2. Great blog. For the first time while reading one of your blogs I was laughing out loud. Keep the good times rolling and have a great Thanksgiving.

    1. You’ve read all of my blogs and that’s the first time you’ve laughed out loud. Wow. Typical hard-to-please father. I’ll work harder.

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