Christopher Helm planned for graduate school in a unique way. Rather than just examine uni

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Christopher Helm planned for graduate school in a unique way. Rather than just examine universities and their faculty, he did an in depth study of the most important variable, the atmosphere in which he would be living. He of course had some very stringent criteria that had to be met for him to choose an area. Chris' lifestyle was anything but average. He would be graduating from San Diego State University with a BA in Asian Studies, and his graduate work would be towards a PhD in Eastern Religious Studies. Chris was also a Zen (Buddhist) student who lived a spiritual life that required a minimal level of public acceptance and understanding for him to be happy. These two variables posed peculiar problems. The area that he would choose would have to be open minded and liberal enough to accept different cultures. But how do you measure liberality and open mindedness? The main variable for judging open mindedness was education. Chris determined that the only way the average American would be exposed to Eastern ways of thought was if they were college educated. Another determinant in judging a populations liberality was in labor force characteristics, a statistic that was indirectly linked to education level. A population with a high level of professionals, i.e., white collar workers, would correspondingly have a high level of education. Labor force characteristics played a dual role in Chris' study, however. After leaving graduate school, Chris was considering finding a professional level job within the local community. Another important thing for Chris was cost of living. As a student, Chris needed to live in an area with a low cost of living. In judging the cost of living, Chris turned to housing costs in determining costs of living. Having spent his time in expensive Southern California, Chris knew that rent took up a gigantic proportion of his income. An area with a low monthly rent would be well suited to his low income level. Just as he had done with labor force characteristics, Chris also planned for the future when surveying housing costs. He compared the average cost of a house, availability of homes for sale, and even broke down the value of all the homes in his area. This was all done with an eye to the future. After graduating from graduate school, Chris wanted to be able to afford a home without the long wait that he would have encountered in his native California. After careful evaluation of all the universities that had both an acceptable graduate program and an acceptable teacher for his spiritual practice, Chris came up with two universities. These were the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Syracuse, in New York. Each of these universities had outstanding academic programs as well as a respectable Zen Roshi (Master) in the area. They appeared to be equal in every way. The next step was to check the 1980 SMSA census data for each area. Chris first realized that the data would probably be very different for each city, due to their size. Chapel Hill was a small city, with only 32,421 people, while Syracuse was a large city with over 170 thousand people. See graph A. The first census table that was checked was educational attainment (table P-9). This table indicated the level of educational attainment of the citizens of each city. The tables showed that only 15% of the citizens of Syracuse had a college education, while almost three-fourths (74.2%) of Chapel Hill's population were college educated. See graph B. This was a huge difference. In fact, Chapel Hill had more citizens with a college education than Syracuse had with a high school education. This was a strong determinant that the population of Syracuse would be accepting to different ideas and ways of life. Next Chris checked the labor force characteristics (table P- 10) for each area. Again, Chapel Hill came out on top. Almost 60% of Chapel Hill's population held professional jobs, while half that, 30% of Syracuse's population held professional jobs. See graph C. Not only did this show that most people were professionals in Chapel Hill, but it was a good determiner of the kinds of jobs that would be available for Chris when he graduated. Chris also checked the unemployment level in each city. Syracuse had almost four times as many unemployed as Chapel Hill. See graph D. Chapel Hill was starting to look good to Chris. Housing costs were the next variables for the comparison. Median rent for Chapel Hill was $261 per month, while Syracuse's median rent was only $158 per month. Rent in Chapel Hill was over 40% higher than Syracuse! See graph E. Since Chris' income would be the same in each location, due to financial aid and his personal savings, this made a large difference in how he could live his life. In the long run, Chapel hill would end up costing him over $20,000 in additional rent over four years. Chris then checked the median asking price for a house on the market in both Chapel Hill and Syracuse. If Chris wanted to buy a home in Chapel Hill, he would have to spend $115,000, compared to the asking price of $23,000 in Syracuse. Also, almost twice as many homes are vacant in Syracuse than Chapel Hill. See graph F. Obviously, with all the data collected so far, Syracuse is a low income area with a low standard of living. However, this is an advantage to someone like Chris who enters the situation with money earned in a high income area (Southern California) and a future high income profession awaiting him. For Chris the data was clear but the decision was still difficult. He could go to Syracuse, a low cost area where the people are not so open-minded to his lifestyle, or he could go to Chapel Hill, a more affluent, high priced area, where the people are highly educated professionals with a high standard of living. Chapel Hill could cost him $20,000, while Syracuse could cost him his happiness. But can you put a price on happiness? The Price of Happiness by Gary L. Ray Economics 489 Economics and Population San Diego State University October 24, 1990


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