I've seen multiple articles about how fewer and fewer students are majoring in the liberal arts and more and more are pursuing business and technical degrees. From where I'm sitting as a person who's been a staff member at various universities for over a decade, that shift is an inevitable result of the breathtaking college tuition increases.

When I was an undergrad, the big cost of college was the opportunity cost: you lost four years of income that you might have earned at some decent job somewhere. (Back then, people with high school diplomas still had a shot at decent-paying jobs). And if you were particularly focused and energetic, it was very possible to manage a full-time job while taking classes and work your way through. I worked my way through grad school paying out-of-state tuition while holding down an assortment of part-time jobs that I could bend around my course schedule; it was tough, but I did it. Lots of other people did, too. With a variable combination of luck, hard work, and determination, students could avoid taking out loans to pay for their education.

But today, that's impossible. Ordinary bachelor's degrees can cost what medical school used to. College is so hideously expensive that the only way to work your way through would be if you had a job earning $50,000 or more a year ... in short, a job that would require that you already have some kind of college degree, and the kind of job that is in very short supply in our brave new world economy.

A friend of mine did the math on his daughter's tuition; she will start college next fall. Even though she's a good student who is getting all the expected financial aid -- 50% support or better at each institution she's considering -- a 4-year degree at Indiana University would ultimately cost her more than $500,000 by the time she gets her loans paid off. In the case of IU, she'd be paying out-of-state tuition, but the other schools at which she's been accepted would be about as expensive because the in-state colleges are offering less aid. A bachelor's degree at one school, Boston University, would ultimately cost her something close to $625,000.

People are forced to think of college as trade school to have any hope of paying that back. As long as states keep trying to starve college budgets while colleges put their money into highly-paid administrators and public universities increasingly behave like for-profit organizations, there are few easy answers. I have some hope that the MOOC movement will help fill the gap for students who want to learn about the world instead of simply molding themselves for corporate consumption. And people will still have the urge to write books and create art and make movies even if they can't afford go to class to study how to do those things.

"What do you mean they didn't send you for physio?"

I was telling an extended family member, who happens to be an osteopath, about the circumstances that led me to stop running last spring. It's been almost a year since I've run, a few ill-advised sprints while someone was holding an elevator door open for me notwithstanding.

My knee is still sore. The doctor told me it would probably be sore occasionally and that I could use Tylenol to cope. Not ibuprofen, he said. Too much of that can lead to liver damage. And he said that running in this condition could lead to arthritis. I don't want arthritis. I went home and I cried, and then I never ran again.

"They should have sent you for physio," this relative said again. "Even if this thing can't be cured, it could keep it from getting worse. And it certainly wouldn't hurt."

I told her what the doctor said, that physiotherapy wouldn't help me because it was a condition and not an injury. That I just had to live with it and I could medicate away the discomfort.

She said that as a professional, she found that horrifying.

I called another doctor.

When I was told to stop running, most people reacted with kindness and sympathy but acceptance. Two other people — other runners — took the news harder than I did. They kept persuading me not to give up long after I'd conceded defeat. There's nothing like easing into acceptance while other people are stuck in the denial phase on your behalf. I appreciated their kindness, but I also knew that they've combatted their own strings of running injuries and decided they were projecting their own fears of having to give it up. I smiled and nodded and thanked them for their interest, but never pursued anything. That might have been foolish.

I had an assessment on Monday morning; I told the new doctor the same story. I ran for two years with no trouble, suddenly developed nagging ache on the inside of my left knee after my second half marathon. I went to a sports clinic. The doctor there theorized about an overuse injury, promised me we'd get it fixed. X-rays and ultrasounds yielded no sign of damage. He diagnosed me with chondritis, said running was bad for me. The end.

"And how much treatment did you have?" the new doctor asked as he patiently wrote everything down.


He looked up from his notepad and gave me the same look the osteopath relation had over Easter dinner.

They've started me on physiotherapy and are scheduling me for an MRI. They can't be sure of the problem until the results, but this new doctor suspects something different in the cartilage. The physiotherapist, after poking around and figuring out where I hurt, thinks the medial collateral ligament could be the problem.

In the meantime it looks like the supporting muscles in my legs could have stood to be stronger — not enough cross-training, maybe — and there was talk of getting me into an exercise program involving a stationary bike or an elliptical. I tried using an elliptical not long after I was told not to run anymore. It hurt. But they talk like they can make it stop hurting.

I wasn't feeling brave enough to ask either new specialist what it all means, but they both volunteered the fact that these are things that can be treated.

"I haven't run in almost a year," I told the physiotherapist.

"We'll figure out what you can and can't do," he said.

Cautious optimism never hurt anyone.

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