College outprices itself
Readers agree that the price of a college education is rising too high too quickly, and some wonder if getting an engineering degree is worth the effort. Meanwhile, a reader pleads with automakers to build and sell small, economical pickup trucks.

Is the tuition worth it?
You are right on target with your comments about the affordability of a college education and the consequences for our economy (“College Classes for the Wealthy,” June 23). Consider this, tuition at Pennsylvania State Univ. is $8,100/semester or $16,200 annually (not including room, board, books and other fees). Try paying for that with a minimum-wage summer job — not a chance. Parents must have adequate financial resources to assist their children in obtaining a good education or the debt becomes suffocating.

Dan Wortman

When I went to school there were no Pell Grants. The only funds I received was a $300/semester state grant and tuition was about $1,100/semester. In those days, college buildings were basic cement blocks with steam heat, bare walls, and no air conditioning. My part-time teachers were scientists from a local national lab, doing research in their normal work hours, and not pulling in grants at the school.

Today, the buildings are like government buildings, well lit and luxurious, with art on the walls. The dorms are luxury apartments. Teachers are “career-tenured professors” working on government grants and only grad students teach. The schools hire platoons of “professional grant writers” and other government liaisons.

So when the government gets involved, schools jack up salaries for professors, buildings become outrageously expensive, tuition goes up because schools know the government will increase tuition grants, and the government encourages practically every child to go to college. But most high-school graduates aren’t ready for it. So colleges institute remedial math and English, as well as courses on how to study and how to get up to go to school. Course work is diluted to keep the grades up, and college-graduate quality goes down.

In short, as government gets more involved, costs go up, while standards and quality goes down.

Mike Morgan

As a person living in Norway, I had the privilege of free college and university education. It is, however, common for students to work part-time throughout the year to have some additional money to spend. And the trend of students going into business and finance may be reversing as a rising demand for engineers has led to good engineering jobs lately. This can only be for the good.

Gunnar Maehlum

As an engineer, I see new engineering hires come into the company with good salaries, but then they have very little chance for an increase unless they change companies. Plus, the regard management holds for engineers is pretty low. They seem to think that there’s no need to pay more for a U. S. engineer when H-1B engineers from other countries are cheaper. So I constantly worry about layoffs when the economy shows any signs of weakness.

So why be an engineer now? The future is too uncertain.

At this point, I am directing my son to get a technical degree but to also get a degree in business at the same time. It’s not that many more credits. And he would then have the option of going into the business sector, perhaps in a company that specializes in the technology he likes and knows about.

Al Brothers

A plea to Detroit
I have been in the market for a small, fuel-efficient pickup truck for some time now. Like most pickup truck owners, I need one to haul the occasional load. Twenty years ago, there were several small trucks in dealer showrooms. Unfortunately, over the years those trucks have grown and are no longer small or fuel efficient.

I don’t need a $60,000, 400-hp supermega-behemoth with a center of gravity so high it is unusable without electronic stability control and a tailgate so high off the ground you need a step ladder to get into the bed. I also can get along quite nicely without programmable cup holders or electronic dust caps on the Schrader valves.

What I would like is a basic, small, 40-to-50-mpg pickup, perhaps powered by a small turbocharged diesel or maybe a plug-in diesel hybrid. And a manual transmission would be just fine. I find it hard to believe there is not a sizable market for such a truck. After the advent of $4-a-gallon gas and the near demise of the auto companies, I thought for sure if they got through that crisis they would figure out the market and offer such a vehicle. Every time I open an automotive trade magazine or shop online for a truck, I think surely one will appear any time. No such luck. All I see are more supermega-behemoths with fuel efficiency so bad, they won’t even publish the figures.
Sadly, it looks like my next “pickup” will be a small car with an aluminum trailer.

Phil Quenzi

Change the design, skip the custom parts
I can’t tell you how many times my colleagues and I have simply ruled out off-the-shelf components after looking at data sheets and realizing they may not meet our needs. One thing I’d like to point out though: Sometimes the custom parts offered by vendors are too expensive to justify the purchase (“The Benefits of Custom Parts,” June 23). It’s often less expensive for the engineer to just slightly change their CAD model to accommodate a standard component.

Becky Dansen

Bullpups and ballistics
In his letter about an article on the Army’s weapon competition (“Letters,” July 7), Mr. Faulkner accurately describes some of the failings of modern U. S. infantry rifles, but misses the mark on others.

His assertion that “Bullpups are always better” is not necessarily true. Witness the many and varied problems the U. K. experienced with its new L85 bullpup. In fact, the troubles were so severe and pervasive that the managers hired the German firm of Heckler and Koch which sort of fixed it. But, of course, it still uses the same 5.56-mm cartridge as the M16 family.

Ballistics — internal, external, and terminal — are always a topic for lively discussion, but suffice it to say that bullet construction and design is every bit as important as the cartridge and barrel length. Some of the modern cartridges adapted to the M16 (and its derivatives like the M4) have nothing to do with the Soviet 7.62 × 39 round, and offer a considerable upgrade in combat effectiveness to that. The 6.8SPC has reputedly been used by SOCOM with excellent results, with the larger bullet performing its task well. Thus, proving velocity is not always king, size matters, too.

Finally, while it is true that the M1 carbine was sadly lacking in stopping power, Mr. Faulkner’s assertion that its bullets were stopped by Chinese winter clothing during the Korean War is incorrect. The bullets penetrated all right, they just didn’t have much immediate effect. This held true even with lightly clothed enemies such as Japanese soldiers, as my father, a World War II veteran, would attest.

Hank Burleigh

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