2015 Calvin Prize for Vermont Youth

March 25, 2015


Is Higher Education Worth the Cost to You and Your Family?

“…as far as I can judge I do not pay out except where the return is of more value to me than the money…” – Calvin Coolidge, 1895, Amherst

Calvin Coolidge understood the value of money and the importance of managing money carefully. Coolidge also understood the power of compounding interest and knew that even a small investment today could yield large returns in the future. Please read this selection of letters[1] from Coolidge to his father. You will note that the issue of money was a common theme. In these letters many of Coolidge’s expenses are related to his schooling – first at St. Johnsbury Academy in Vermont and then at Amherst College in Massachusetts. In other letters, Coolidge and his father discussed the possibility of Calvin attending law school. Ultimately the family ended up deciding Calvin would “read the law” as a clerk in the office of Hammond & Field in Northampton, MA, thereby skipping the cost of law school.

Young Vermonters today are also faced with the question of higher education. For the 2014-15 school year, one year at a public four-year undergraduate college in Vermont costs an average of more than $24,500 including tuition and fees, textbooks, room, board, and other living expenses. These costs at private colleges can exceed $60,000 per year, and are more than $64,000 at Amherst College, Coolidge’s alma mater. That’s expensive: When Coolidge was an undergraduate at Amherst in 1891 these costs totaled around $300 – the equivalent of about $8,000 today.  Nationwide today, college students often graduate from their undergraduate studies with nearly $30,000 in student loan debt.

When thinking about the costs of higher education, one might also consider the cost of forgoing other opportunities not pursued. For instance, what else could one do with the money and time otherwise spent on college? Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal, offers a “Thiel Fellowship” to some young people if they’ll start a business rather than attend college.

There is, however, also evidence that college can be a good investment. Workers with a bachelor’s degree earn around $56,500 per year compared to $35,400 for workers with only a high school degree. Many also argue pursuing a higher education conveys intrinsic value – that is to say learning for the sake of learning is valuable.

Considering all of this, do you think higher education is worth the cost to you and your family? Use the letters of Coolidge and other Coolidge-related sources to compare and contrast your situation today to that of Calvin Coolidge in his time. What factors influenced Coolidge’s decisions about his higher education? What factors influence your own decision-making process about pursuing higher education? You may submit writing in any genre —essay, fiction, prose or poetry. Your writing must address the question in bold above and must be fewer than 1,000 words. The deadline to submit your writing entry is September 25, 2015.

About the Calvin Prize for Vermont Youth

Calvin Coolidge was born in Plymouth Notch, Vermont, attended Black River Academy in Ludlow, St. Johnsbury Academy, and graduated from Amherst College. He read the law as a clerk in the office of Hammond & Field.

Calvin and Grace Coolidge had two sons, John and Calvin, Jr. As a boy, Calvin Jr. displayed remarkable awareness of the obligation of the presidency and service generally. Calvin Jr. tragically died in 1924 while the Coolidges were in the White House. The Calvin Coolidge Presidential Foundation has therefore proudly established the Calvin Prize for Vermont Youth, a prize named after father and son for writers aged 19 years and younger currently living in or attending school in the state of Vermont. The first‐place prize of $1,500 and the runner‐up prize of $500 are awarded contingent on the winners’ ability to come to New York City to be honored at the Coolidge Foundation’s annual gala in autumn 2015 (specific date TBA). The Coolidge Foundation will pay reasonable travel expenses for the winners and a guardian to attend this event.

The Coolidge Foundation thanks the Thomas W. Smith Foundation for its support of the Calvin Prize for Youth. The Coolidge Foundation also thanks the Young Writer’s Project for its guidance and support of the prize.


Deadline to apply: September 25, 2015

  1. To be eligible to compete, the contestant must be a current resident of the state of Vermont or attend school in Vermont.
  2. Contestants must be under 20 years of age on September 25, 2015 (i.e. born after September 25, 1995).
  3. Writing submissions must contain fewer than 1,000 words.
  4. Writing submissions may be an essay previously submitted as a school assignment or a new writing submission altogether. The submitting author may have a teacher or mentor provide feedback on a draft, but the submission must reflect the author’s own original thinking and writing.
  5. To be eligible to win, the submitting author must commit to attend an awards banquet dinner to be held autumn 2015 in New York City where the prizes will be presented. Reasonable travel costs for the winners and their guardian will be paid by the Coolidge Foundation.

Additional questions? Please email us at: [email protected]

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