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What's an artium baccalaureus worth?

News that Middlebury College's annual per-pupil cost will soon rise past the $50,000 mark isn't an unexpected shocker-after all, it was within easy striking distance last year at $49,210, so getting to $50,780 is merely a walking-around-money increase.

But a nice round number like $50K is a benchmark of sorts, and raises once again all the time-honored questions about the purpose, value, and cost of a college education.

Typically, it's called an "investment" with further elaboration directed at either the (supposed) resulting broadening of knowledge, outlook, and understanding, or the first step toward professional skill, recognition, and reward in some vocational endeavor. Frequently the two are rhetorically mixed together, presumably so the listener won't know whether there's supposed to be a return on the investment and what form that return should take.

Maybe that's because there used to be a measurable social distance between those who entered the halls of ivy to take their rightful places as gentlemen even more fully conversant with the five-foot shelf of Western Civilization, and those of us who were, unforgiveably, mixing some professional-vocation (dare I say trade-school) education in with our purely liberal arts exposures to historical verities. I'm told there still is, which perhaps explains why the public-relations experts in higher education describe their course offerings with oblique phrases like enabling students to "enhance their professional potential" or the slightly more direct "prepare for government...or private-sector careers".

In today's halls of ivy, Western Civ doesn't have the cachet it once had. Now-retired-from-Wellesley Classics educator Mary Lefkowitz was prominently ostracized and even sued for daring to object to the politically correct Afro-centric notion that everything the ancient Greeks supposedly invented or wrote or designed had been stolen from advanced sub-Saharan civilizations. Thus, fifth-century B.C. (we happily shun the P.C. use of BCE) Greeks presumably sneaked peeks inside the fourth-century B.C. Library at Alexandria which, unfortunately for the Afro-centrists' comprehension of chronology, hadn't even been built when Socrates supposedly removed archival documents, Sandy-Berger-style, from it.

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