The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

Victory Laps For the Mayor

By Matt Wood in News on Aug 25, 2006 3:23PM

chicagoist_2006_08_higherlearning.jpgWhen Chicagoist was in college, our friends who had to stay for a fifth year called it "Taking the Victory Lap." They'd spend a year taking six hours a semester, hitting on underclassmen at the bars, sleeping most of the day, and drinking and smoking most of the night. Come to think of it, that's kind of how they got to that fifth year in the first place. It's a time-honored tradition for career students afraid or unwilling to leave the comfy, hedonistic nest of college and enter the real world. Faced with the scary costs of a college education these days, Mayor Daley is suggesting that high school students be given a chance to take their own fifth-year victory lap.

Apparently, Daley went on a tirade yesterday after someone pressed him about his decision to let St. Xavier University send out recruitment letters on official letterhead with his signature. He says high school should be extended to five years to help defray college tuition costs, and then college curriculums could be reevaluated and perhaps shortened to three years, making them cheaper. He reasoned that high education costs dissuade people from having more children, causing the birth rate to decline and thus stunting growth of the knowledge-based economy, sending more jobs to China and India.

We'll cut the Mayor some slack here because this idea doesn't seem too well thought out. The state can barely fund four-year high schools now. How would we pay for all those Super Duper Seniors? With gambling money of course, if either gubernatorial candidate gets their way. Gov. Blagojevich wants to pawn the Illinois Lottery to raise funds, and Judy Baar Topinka wants to build a casino in Chicago. But either way you pay for it, we're not so sure we buy the argument that expensive educations single-handedly depress birth rates and thus strangle economies. The costs of energy, housing, and medical care to get a kid far enough to even think about college do a fine job of scaring away would-be parents as it is. Thomas Malthus might say that a lower birth rate wouldn't be such a bad thing for society anyway, especially when our existing schools are already overcrowded. And of course, the Mayor's whole idea hinges on the notion that once high school is five years long, college will be shorter and cheaper, which isn't going to happen. To the Mayor's credit at least, a fifth-year would probably provide valuable vocational training for students who were never going to college in the first place.

What do you guys think? All questions about how to pay for it and half-baked population-growth theories aside, do you think five years of state-funded high school would be a good thing? Would it give students an extra push to continue on to college, or would it encourage more of them to stop after the victory lap?