Academic Expenses

Rich people don’t need to worry about the cost of college educations. The rest of us do (or, at least, we should). C.S. Lewis could not rely on family wealth to pursue his academic dreams, and we can learn from his example.

My wife and I were the first members of our respective families to attend college. Without assistance from our parents, we did chose the most fiscally responsible path. We opted for a public university (in my own case, via “community college”) and worked as many hours a week as we could while maintaining our grades.

Even this would have been far more difficult without receiving student loans, which we diligently repaid following our graduations.

Years later, we were in a position to help our own children pursue their higher educational aspirations. Still, graduate degrees are not inexpensive, and all three of them received government-backed loans to get them to the finish line.

They have been diligently repaying that borrowed money since graduation and never complained about the debt, since no one coerced them to accept it.

Our daughter, in fact, made significant sacrifices to pay off her student loans as quickly as possible, and accomplished that goal far earlier than we imagined she would.

Here at Mere Inkling, we go to great lengths to avoid political partisanship. In addition to that, I’ve made it quite clear I have no illusions about understanding economics.

Nevertheless, it requires no genius intellect to imagine how people who sacrificed to pay off their personal debts feel about now having to (thorough their taxes) also pay off the sometimes-delinquent debts of their peers. Our middle class family is only one of presumably millions who are experiencing this personally today.

Who Paid for C.S. Lewis’ Collegiate Studies?

The world has changed much since C.S. Lewis left home for boarding school and ultimately, for the university. It was unsurprising that when his father was widowed while his sons were young, he entrusted them to schools where he assumed they would be safe, and well prepared for their future professions.

Once the boys were old enough to choose career paths, Warnie (1895-1973) pursued a military profession. Following graduation from the U.K.’s Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, he served in both World Wars. However, as one writer accurately notes, “perhaps Warnie could have accomplished far more, but his lifelong struggles with alcoholism kept him from doing so. Some have speculated Warnie’s alcoholism resulted in an earlier retirement from the military than he would have wished.”

As for the younger Lewis scion, Clive would eventually make major contributions on the faculties of both Oxford and Cambridge Universities.

Getting there took some time, and was interrupted by the First World War. After his recuperation as a seriously wounded veteran of the trenches, Lewis renewed his academic studies. Discovery Institute has an excellent article describing “C.S. Lewis and the Ceremonies at Oxford University (1917-1925).” I particularly enjoy Kathryn Lindskoog’s understatement that “Oxford University, in Lewis’s time and since, is not the best place to learn Christian humility . . .”

As a student, Lewis was reliant on continuing support from his father. Only after graduating and beginning to receive a stipend as a Fellow of Magdalen College in 1925, did Lewis consider himself financially independent. (The year prior he had received a modest salary from the college, as an employee of the College, but it was inadequate to meet his needs.)

During his college studies, despite a scholarship, he relied on his father’s generosity. His opening in a 1919 letter to his father illustrates this relationship.

Many thanks for your letter and also for the enclosed cheque for £19.12.8. That amount includes all the charges both for tuition and college expenses and may serve as a base for future calculation, tho’ of course there may be slight differences from term to term.

Still, even in the best of families, financial considerations may become a matter of concern. Five years later, as he was at the end of his life as a student, his father was wondering when he would become satisfactorily employed. (That’s a conversation replayed around the globe on a daily basis.) The first two paragraphs illustrate the theme, but you won’t be disappointed if you have the time to read the entire passage.

And now to business. The Univ. Fellowship has not been filled up. You may have read in the papers that a new ‘Chaplain Fellow’ has been elected, but that of course is a different job. If I don’t mention it, it is because there is nothing new to say about it. Just at present a new and very good vacancy at Trinity (I mean Trinity, Oxford of course) has appeared, for which an election is to be held in the summer, and I shall certainly go in for it.

As to money: I had rather you had explained in detail what you ‘don’t follow’ in my arithmetic, but I trust there is nothing seriously wrong with the figures I gave you and will proceed accordingly. What is more serious is your reference to £30 extras last year. The only part of this which I can at present identify are the extra tuition and the book bill. The former of course was purely abnormal and will not occur again. The book bill was naturally increased by my turning to a new subject.

I try to use the libraries as much as possible: but when one is reading for a particular exam there are over a hundred other people taking the same books out of the libraries – and of course there are some things one must have at command. My expenditure on books will be less in future. I have a book bill due to be paid some time soon which is under five pounds: if you will pay that I think I can undertake to find myself for books in the future – tho’ since you tell me to be frank, I will say that this may not always be easy.

The rest of the £30 you mention is, I suppose, made up by items of clothing. I presume it does not include my two suits? As to clothing, I’m afraid that even if you increase my allowance as you suggest, I cannot undertake to find myself.

I mean that my loss of the scholarship and my outlay on clothes would not be balanced by an addition of £40 or £50. I cannot see how to cut down my expenses on clothing. You know I think that it does not go to fancy waistcoats or kid gloves. And I have some ties that date from before the war!

Flannel trousers are an item that I have to repeat pretty often: they ARE ill wearing things, but if I didn’t wear them I should need suits more often than I do. On shoes I admit that I am hard and have to get a good deal of ‘soling’ done: but I am afraid this reads rather as if I were defending myself against a charge of extravagance, which you will justly reply you never made: but you must not think that. I am only trying to put down the facts of the question as they actually occur to me from day to day in order to make my conclusion more reasonable and intelligible to you.

And the conclusion is this. You ask me where £85 a term to ‘cover everything’ would be sufficient. If by ‘covering everything’ you mean covering my books, shoes, shirts, socks and other items that I have hitherto sent you, I am afraid it would not. As I said, if you wish it, I will try to undertake my own books in the future, and, at any rate to cut them down.

I will also abandon the new dinner jacket suit that was mooted, and you must not imagine that I would feel that sort of curtailment as any hardship. As for a new overcoat, the one you gave me when I left home suits and fits me so well that the question need not be considered. But I do not think that I can manage to keep myself in minor articles of clothing.

I’m afraid this may seem to you but a charter of indefinite expenses for the future. Well then, to say all, if it is too much, you must tell me so. You have done all and more than all I can expect of you, and if you tell me that these extra years are too heavy, I assure you that I shall never, even in my secret thought, criticise such a decision.

If on the other hand, you see fit to lodge £85 a year and to pay for such extras in the way of clothing, etc. as may occur, I will try to make them as little as I can. I must point out however that it is much easier to save on the big items I have mentioned – the dress suit and overcoat – than on those necessary articles which have so often to be replaced.

If you will give me a dress suit when I get a job, I ought to be able to tide over these years without any more ‘suitings’ from you at all. If, till they are over, you can lodge £85 a term and make it retrospective for the present year, while paying for my smaller articles of clothing, I think I can manage. And whether you can do this or not, I have nothing but deepest gratitude for the past.

So, once again we see that C.S. Lewis’ experiences were not all that different from our own. Most people who have accepted their parents’ financial aid during their adulthood, can identify with Lewis’ mixture of sincere gratitude and muted frustration.

Perhaps it is a very good thing that today we have so many different assistance programs for potential students. Good things, I believe, as long as they are not abused – and borrowers pay them back, as they promised.

Degrees of Importance

swiss horn

Not all college degrees are created equal. Some are “marketable,” and lead to well compensated careers. Others do not necessarily make one “employable,” but offer intrinsic satisfaction.

Engineering degrees would probably be in the first category. Creative writing degrees typically fall into the latter.

If I had the good fortune to study at Oxford when C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien taught there, I would have savored the opportunity to sit in their presence and explore the wonders of Medieval Literature or Old English. (In America, at least, both of those degrees would fall into the second category identified above.)

As it was, my initial degree was in journalism. It seemed that every quarter our professors at the University of Washington would remind us that five years after graduation, no more than five percent of us would be working in that particular field. (I referred to those sessions as de-motivational chats.)

Still, learning how to write is a skill that serves one well in nearly any field.

Learning to yodel, on the other hand, probably possesses far fewer applications.

This year the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts will introduce a course on alpine “singing.” The University has expressed hope they will inspire enough Swiss yodelers to establish a degree program. If their efforts really pay off, they dream of offering a graduate degree in the rarified field.

The BBC reports “Yodelling is enjoying something of a resurgence in Switzerland, even featuring on successful chart albums last year.” I guess that answers the question about what the Swiss do beyond banking and making confectioneries.

If you have led a life so sheltered that you are uncertain exactly what yodeling is, the BBC describes it as “a form of singing which involves wobbling the voice up and down in a rapid change of pitch.”

An online dictionary defines yodel as a verb meaning “to sing with frequent changes from the ordinary voice to falsetto and back again, in the manner of Swiss and Tyrolean mountaineers.”

While most of us prefer our falsetto music in small doses, yodeling capitalizes on the full range of the human larynx, and then some.

The course will be taught by a famous yodeler, Nadja Räss. I’ve linked to one of her performances below.

I was curious as to what Lewis and Tolkien would have thought about this subject’s suitability for academic study. I suspect it would have provided the Inklings a chuckle, but they would affirm the value of studying one’s unique cultural heritage.

I did find one curious encounter Lewis had with a Swiss traveler in 1927. It has nothing to do with yodeling, and only tangentially touches on the university, but it is rather interesting. In a letter to his brother he mentions that Minto (Janie Moore) who lived with him, was being visited by an acquaintance.

You will be surprised to hear that while I write this, Minto is out to dinner. This results from the chief event since you left—the arrival of ‘un ami’ of Florence de Forest—not staying here, thank heavens.

He is a little Swiss commercial traveller, ‘Villie Goût,’ as smart as a bandbox, and very polite. Beyond making horrible noises in clearing his ‘pipes . . .’ and being intensely ugly, he is really quite harmless, tho’ of course very vulgar. He and Florence absolutely insisted on Minto’s dining with them at the Eastgate tonight, and won the day.

They know how to move their monde, as you will see from this fact and also when I tell you that they made me take them up Magdalen Tower this morning—as well as round the College. When I showed them the deer he made one of those extremely simple French jokes with which Maurice and M. Zée have familiarised us.

I had explained that these deer were descendants of a herd wh. had been there before the College was founded (that is quite true by the by, or as true as a College tradition need be), and I added ‘So you may say they are the oldest members of the College’.

‘And ze most intelligent?’ returned M. Goût.

I am confident that Mr. Goût and his companion enjoyed their visit to Oxford. Perhaps he returned home to Switzerland hoping that someday their universities would rival those of Britain.

Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts was not founded until 1997, but their bold academic vision would have made Goût proud.

_____

You can enjoy a sample of Nadja Räss’ singing here.