Is it possible that our son, 18 years old and only a few days into his freshman year of college, with few simple words in a single text sent to his mom, has a cure for what ills the higher education tuition model in this country that's churning out millions of young adults so buried in student loan debt that they can't afford a place of their own or a decent vehicle?

Is it possible that our son, 18 years old and only a few days into his freshman year of college, with few simple words in a single text sent to his mom, has a cure for what ills the higher education tuition model in this country that's churning out millions of young adults so buried in student loan debt that they can't afford a place of their own or a decent vehicle?

    "I don't think my schedule is meaningful enough."

    Meaningful. What a perfect choice of word. Had he used a word like "good" or "adequate" his text might not have given me such cause to pause, but "meaningful" is what struck me like a baseball to the nose.

    It was apparent, I told his mom, that only a couple days into a marathon five-day "welcome week" orientation, our son, in getting to know his peers, had compared class schedules with some other new freshmen on campus. Not entirely sure of his major, he'd probably come across some kids who know exactly what they want to be when they grow up and enter the real world, and in looking at their schedules, our son probably saw various courses that seemed more "meaningful," at least on the context of having specifically to do with their future careers. Meanwhile, his fall semester freshman schedule, we concluded in a conversation subsequent to his initial text, appeared to be little more than "advanced high school."

    For example, he wondered why he had to take an oceanography course. Sure, during registration week when he met with his academic advisor, our son mentioned that he was interested in all things having to do with water, so oceanography seemed to make plenty of sense as a freshman science requirement. But, he told me, he was fairly certain he wasn't someday going to be an oceanographer or any kind of scientist who works with water. Days after registration, he spoke to a friend about to embark on his freshman year at another university, who told our son that he'd prefer oceanography over the freshman year science requirement that he'd chosen to fill out his class schedule, environmental ecology.

    I get it, meaningful is what you make it, and if you have no interest in making something meaningful, chances are you're going to be largely unfulfilled when you come out on the other side of that particular something ready to move onto the next something.

    But this is practicality we're talking about...real dollars and sense. Futures are at stake. You think they're not?

    If a kid can learn everything he needs to know to get a successful start on a particular career by taking, say, 60 credits worth of college courses, then why does he need to successfully complete twice that many in order to earn his bachelors degree?

The student himself and maybe even his parents could probably dismiss that question for the most part and give it up to a young adult enjoying a well-rounded college experience and making a lifetime of memories...if, say, the college was charging $50 a credit or something in that ballpark. But that was your parents' or maybe even your grandparents' college debt load; this is 2017 and that oceanography course and a couple other courses on his first freshman class schedule that our son is questioning the meaningfulness of are going to cost him around $4,000. That doesn’t include student housing and it doesn’t include his meal plan. That’s just class. If in four years or so he strolls across that stage to be handed his bachelors degree, he will be facing years and years and years of monthly loan payments on around 60 credits worth of classes that had little and likely nothing to do with his career path with a price tag approaching $30,000.

    Meaningful to him? It may depend on how you look at it, but probably not much. Meaningful to the university that's going to get all of that money? You're damn right it's meaningful. It's everything to that university. Remove the requirement that thousands and students need to take all of those peripheral courses, and the university's windows would probably be boarded up in five years.

    I essentially took two years' worth of "advanced high school" during my freshman and sophomore years of college. I remember many of those courses and professors fondly today, but that doesn't change the fact that I paid real money for a course that allowed me to walk away with an "A" grade after a final project that had me telling my classmates who had the best pizza in the city.

    If my kid takes 60 entirely meaningful credits, he’s still going to enjoy college. He’s still going to make friends that last a lifetime, and have stories they’ll enjoy telling, and retelling. And when they’re recalling those unforgettable tales for the umpteenth time when they’re married with their own kids who have started their college careers, the chances are about double that my kid’s student loans are going to be paid off.

    The math here, it’s just not adding up. When are people going to realize this and make a change?