A college education wasn’t cheap back when I was attending.

And that was many, many, many 3% to 5% annual increases in tuition, room and board ago.

Unless you have a much bigger couch than the average American in which to find stacks of $100 bills between the cushions, this is a major concern.

Hopefully people learn this lesson before the fact rather than after. It helps to open your eyes when you are in high school and your balding physical education teacher comes bouncing into your study hall, jumping up and down with excitement because he just paid off his student loans.

Go online and find a college cost calculator. Plug in the numbers, and I predict that your college education over the next four years will be approximately “Yikes” for public universities/colleges and “No freakin’ way” for private.

Facing those numbers, who can blame politicians for floating free education as an idea whose time has come in the United States?

Free isn’t free. But it also isn’t a fantasy.

$160 million endowment

The University of Texas at Austin announced last week that is creating a $160 million endowment that will completely cover tuition and fees for students from families that earn up to $65,000 a year who have financial need. Students from families that earn up to $125,000 will receive some assured tuition support.

Estimates are that the program, slated to begin in fall of 2020, will help 8,600 undergraduates per year with full tuition and 5,700 students will tuition support.

A previous program offered free tuition for students from families that made less than $30,000.

Tuition and fees at the University of Texas currently run about $10,500 per year. Students will still need to pay for room and board, which costs up to $17,000.

Every little bit helps. A higher education shouldn’t only be for those whose parents are rich enough to bribe their way into any university they so desire.

Earning that diploma will affect the average college student’s finances for a decade-plus after they receive it.

And it’s not just the big expenses that pile up.

One of my biggest college educations was the once-a-semester trip to the bookstore.

Nothing better prepares you for being a future car buyer than going to the college bookstore.

It’s a close race between cars and college textbooks to see what depreciates in value more just 30 seconds after it is purchased.

Selling back books and getting enough money for a tank of gas — back when it was really, really cheap — was cause for a victory dance for me.

‘Buyer beware'

Today’s college students have more options for their textbooks. And they also have more reasons for “buyer beware.”

The case of a University of Delaware student became well-known last week for the absurdity of it, even in the inflated finances world of higher education.

The student rented a textbook from Amazon for the semester. She forgot to send it back by the date due after the class was completed.

So she got charged $3,800 for a textbook that would have cost $150 purchased brand-new.

This math makes me know why Amazon will be our corporate overlords any day now.

A mere nine-hour phone call with customer service by the student’s father got things straightened out with Amazon issuing a statement saying that this was an isolated error that “we quickly resolved directly with the customer.”

I’m not sure if a phone call that lasts about as long as your quickest shipping option is “quickly” or not, but let’s not quibble about the details.

Whether it is tuition or fees or Amazon screw-ups, nothing about college is cheap.

Any presidential candidate who has a realistic plan to get those costs under control with a realistic plan to pay for it will have my attention.

Please.

I’ve got a high school sophomore. The clock is ticking.

And I don’t have “Full House” residuals coming in to pay for wherever my children want to go.

Dale Miller is a sports writer for the Independent. Once a week he wanders away from the sports department to offer his take on non-sports related topics. Email him at dale.miller@theindependent.com

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