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Happy Valley and the High-Priced Ride

by on April 07, 2015 6:15 AM

Lamborghini. Ferrari. McLaren.

Exotic automobile names conjuring up images of glamorous cities in faraway countries.

Monte Carlo. Cannes. Lake Como. State College.

State College?

Why yes, State College. The exotic car capital of Pennsylvania!

Alright, maybe that's a bit of a stretch. I'm sure there are people on the Main Line outside Philadelphia who would vigorously dispute that title.

But on a per capita basis Happy Valley might have a claim to be in the game since those are all brand names of cars you can see on the streets of State College these days.

Certainly there have always been plenty of Mercedes' and BMW's around Happy Valley along with the occasional Porsche, but nowadays the exotic car level is at such a point that Range Rover is listed as passé on the auto status meter in town. And a Lotus is positively pedestrian.

The interesting thing from an observational point of view is that it appears most of these exotic cars are being driven by students, not locals. Not that there aren't plenty of locals who could easily cover the cost and insurance for any of these vehicles, it just seems the locals prefer to spend their money on a Cessna Citation rather than a showy vehicle. (Having recently spent several exhausting days on stretches of Interstate 95 a Cessna Citation sounds like an extremely bright idea!)

How is it that students are the ones tooling around town in vehicles with list prices well into six figures? Perhaps this is the logical result of Penn State's status as the second-most expensive public university in the country. If the cost to attend school here is that high, then some of the people who can afford it must be able to afford a splashy ride as well.

And excuse me while I take a small tangent here. Penn State was for years the most expensive public university in the country but this past year fell into second place. Behind Pitt. Well, I don't know about you, but as a Penn Stater I don't enjoy being in second place behind Pitt in anything. Even in the most expensive public school category. I suggest the powers-that-be either drop tuition drastically and fall well down that list, or have Penn State re-categorized as a private school.

In my opinion Penn State is a public university in name only anyway, making the ranking technically a moot point. Because when you compare Penn State's tuition rates to the private universities that it more closely resembles, Penn State is an excellent value and falls in the bottom-half of the cost-to-attend rankings.

The paltry allocation Penn State receives from the commonwealth is so small that Pennsylvania legislators using the phrases "Penn State" and "public university" in the same sentence ought to be fined $100 every time they do it and the money sent to Penn State – which will certainly put it to good use.

But getting back to the topic, it still costs over $30,000 a year to be a full-time student at Penn State. Sure, some of the local students are getting the employee discount, and a lot of the rest receive various aid packages and/or take out monstrous loans, but some of these students are paying the full price out of their – or their parent's – pockets every year.

And if their parents can afford to spend $30,000 after-tax dollars without subsisting on ramen noodles, then maybe their income level is such that a $250,000 sports car to accompany the kid to school isn't a financial burden.

Time was that having a car at all at college was a luxury. Then came a time when getting your great-aunt's 15 year-old Buick LeSabre was a major coup. Now the bar is set so high that a Beemer is getting to be the minimum standard.

Of course this turn of events means that our local foreign car mechanics are happy – since a simple oil change on a Ferrari runs almost $200 – but I'm thinking more of the big picture here.

I have no answer to the question that these events I've been musing about bring to my mind, nor am I convinced the events are related.

However I do wonder, what does it say about Happy Valley and Penn State that we've wiped out all the trailer parks and instead have exotic cars tooling around town? Hmmmm ...

 

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John Hook is the president of The Hook Group, a local management consulting firm, and active in several nonprofit organizations. Previously John spent 25 years in executive, management and marketing positions with regional and national firms. John lives in Ferguson Township with his wife Jackie and their two children.
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