Help! Higher Education is Holding My Degree for Ransom

UPDATE – Higher Education has is starting to show signs of living up to it’s price tag as of this afternoon. Stay tuned for more updates.

Hi Planet Money,

My name is Mike Mahoney, and I’m a huge Planet Money fan (I’ve listened to over 500 episodes)! I’m writing to you because I would love to hear Planet Money do a piece on the state of Higher Education in the U.S. today.

Let me explain further…

I am a graduate student at Virginia Commonwealth University, and I have 1 degree requirement remaining in order to graduate. That degree requirement is a 6 credit hour Master’s essay on a topic of innovation and entrepreneurship as it relates to my, as of yet secured, summer internship/job. This paper, that utilizes zero university resources, is coming in at a price tag of anywhere between $7038-$8922! And that is in-state tuition!

But I can’t even get an accurate figure on that because I keep getting different, incomplete, and misleading answers. This is an actual disclaimer from the tuition calculator on the VCU website:

*The university reserves the right to revise or alter all fees, regulations pertaining to student fees, and fee collection procedures at any time.

I am very displeased at the rigor and quality of my graduate program. I do not feel it is worth the money, and I cannot justify the expense. But having an incomplete degree looks bad to employers, and is also bad, in terms of refinancing my student loans.

I feel like I’m being taken advantage of. I feel like my degree is being held for a $7000 ransom. I feel like I’m being defrauded by a public university, whose mission is to further education and help their students succeed.

I feel like I’m being pressured into silence for fear of hurting the reputation of my school, my program, and my fellow classmates. But I think what they’re doing is wrong, and I think it’s wrong that I have no recourse or consumer protection as it relates to this over-inflated, and under-preforming graduate program.

Maybe this is normal, and I’m just coming off as entitled and crazy sounding. But something about this doesn’t sit right with me, and so, I feel the need to speak up.

I’m happy to tell you more, so please feel free to reach out to me by phone or email. Either way, I’d love to hear back from you, so that I can know whether this is all in my head or not.

All the best from a very loyal fan,
Mike Mahoney

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