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Think education is expensive?
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About 10 years ago, I was on a road trip. As I cruised down the Interstate, I changed lanes to pass a car. This particular automobile was wearing a bumper sticker, which caught my eye. There, in big bold letters was the phrase, "Think Education is Expensive? Try Ignorance."

Even though I was just out of high school and still a raging adolescent, I chuckled at the author's wittiness. On the surface it seemed totally true. Anyone can gripe about the cost of college tuition, but do we really know the hidden costs of intellect-sapping travesties like Jersey Shore?

Fast forward, to 2010. Every month I balance my checkbook. Every month I receive bills, process them, and then send out a heap of expenditures. Among those, is approximately $300 worth of student loan payments. Even though I have been out of college for three years, my education is still costing me $300 every month, as it will for the next five years.

I should be grateful. I earned a four-year Bachelor of Business degree, and it only cost me about $25,000 (which included a semester in Australia). I have friends, even relatives, who have spent more than that on a single year of college. Likewise, in the grand scheme of operating my own business, $300 is not an exceptionally large monthly expenditure. However, I have to tell you, those $300 worth of payments are the most difficult checks to sign.

"Think Education is Expensive? Try Ignorance." The problem I have, is that the more I spent on my education, the worse it became. I can narrow down my entire four-year college experience to four worthwhile, truly relevant classes. So, a true pessimist would now argue, that four years and $25,000 could have been narrowed down to a single semester, diploma stamped, adios. Want to know something even more depressing? Every one of those classes was an elective.

So, what happened? At the time I saw the bumper sticker I was just out of high school, taking a semester of general education credits at Monroe's Blackhawk Technical College. At that point in my life, I thought the bumper sticker was laugh-out-loud brilliant. Just one Business Degree and $300 per month later, whenever I think about the bumper sticker it makes me want to drink scotch. What happened?

There was once a time when I thought that everyone had a high school education like mine. And, this is a premise that must be established: I got an exceptional education from Monroe High School. When I graduated in 2000, I could write English coherently enough to be published (of course, this was before Facebook and Twitter, which are doing their level best to turn the English language into a series of monosyllabic grunts). I could work out algebraic equations longhand, without the use of a calculator. I had read classics like Beowulf and Macbeth. Thanks to Mr. Guth, I also read the news.

As for electives, thanks to John Emmons' Agriculture classes I knew how to efficiently track and document financial records, a skill that would pay dividends in the real world. I could weld, build things out of wood, and even got an introduction to radio broadcasting. Thanks to Construction Trades Capstone I knew the basics of home building and repairs. I could even (gasp!) grab a pen and paper and write legibly in cursive, a skill that goes way back to Mrs. Stalder's fifth-grade English class.

Most impressively, I took four years of high school German with Karen Fowdy. After just four years I could speak it so well, that in 2002 when I went to Switzerland, both German and Swiss natives did not believe I was American.

Not bad for an 18-year-old kid. "Think education is expensive? Try ignorance." Well, upon graduating from Monroe High, my education had thus far not cost me anything. Then, I began to look toward college.

A few years after graduating from high school, I enrolled at Monroe's Blackhawk Technical College. My plan was, to take a semester of General Education credits, which would then transfer to whatever four-year college I decided to attend, ultimately saving me money. Pretty smart, huh?

Here's the thing - I took an entire semester of college-level classes at Blackhawk Tech, and paid for it in cash. Let me repeat - cash. At the time I was also paying off a brand new pickup truck, and only working part-time. You may want to reread this paragraph, but I assure you of its authenticity.

Again, I received an exceptional education. I took a class on Sociology, Economics, Professional Writing, and Speech. The instructors at Blackhawk Tech would literally start a class by saying, "This is what the textbook says, and here is how you apply it to real life." Holy cow - you mean I am learning things here, in a way that can efficiently be applied in the outside world? An education that is applicable? What a concept! Oh, and did I mention that these classes were paid for in cash?

"Think Education is Expensive? Try Ignorance." So, let us recap this week's article, which will be continued next Monday. When I saw that bumper sticker, I was enrolled at Blackhawk Tech. Up until this point, all of my education had either been provided to me by society, or paid directly out-of-pocket. So far, my education was pretty darn cheap, but relevant beyond belief, especially in retrospect.

And then, I went to college. See you next week!

- Dan Wegmueller of Monroe writes a weeklycolumn for the Times. He can be reached at