Welcome to Fleece U., where our mission is to take feckless teenagers such as yourselves and turn them into full-fledged citizens of our economy, meaning, of course, debtors.

Many life-changing things will happen to you in the next four years. You will make lasting friends, including perhaps the love of your life. You will drink more than you ever thought possible and bitterly regret it in the morning. You will lose your virginity, if you happen to have brought it with you.

Our stellar faculty ardently hopes that along the way you will be amazed by calculus and charmed by the tipsy conversation between Alcibiades and that wily old radical, Socrates. There is also a general expectation that you that you will come out of here with some hazy notion of spelling and grammar.

But never forget that your real purpose here is to shake off the pointless freedom of youth and assume the burden of debt. To this end, we have just raised our tuition in an attempt to keep up with such top-of-the-line institutions as George Washington University (now weighing in at $39,210 a year, or $50,000 with room and board.) You will find us also charging a plethora of additional fees–a “student activities fee,” a “technology fee,” and an “incidentals fee.” In addition, we will be experimenting this year with a “snow removal fee,” a “lecture hall seat-use fee,” and the installation of pay toilets in the dorms.

It would be short-sighted to resent these fees, since they provide valuable experience in bill-reading, and will come in handy when you confront your own personal monthly utility statements. At present we do not charge any additional tuition for this training in bill-reading, though we are considering adding a special “fee fee” in the future.

Another thing that will help ease you into the status of debtor is the price of your textbooks–about $120 to $180 for a new, graffiti-free copy. True, this seems high when you could buy a hardcover of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows for $20 or less, but the aim is to teach you that a book is something to treasure (and, again, we charge no extra fee for this lesson.)

On average, you will graduate with a respectable-sized debt of $20,000, which will enable you to establish your all-important “credit history.” If we have succeeded in our educational mission, you will be a first-rate debtor, capable of making minimum monthly payments much of the time. As fresh offers of credit cards and home equity loans pour in, you will beam with pride at your achievement.

Please note carefully that Fleece U degree cannot guarantee you a future income that will allow you to pay off your debts. Many of our most promising graduates are now, three or four years later, working for $8-12 an hour serving up latteés, counseling disturbed youth or creating business computer networks. They are set for a lifetime of debt, and we are proud that they first began to accrue it right here, on our lovely mock Oxfordian campus.

We don’t have to remind you not to stigmatize debt as a condition associated with poverty. In 2006, for the first time, the average household’s debt exceeded its income. By becoming a debtor, you will have entered the American mainstream! We have confidence that you will go on to mature effortlessly from college debt to car loan to mortgage to medical debts occasioned by the ever-growing gaps in coverage.

You will see the value of all this debt when the day comes, as it inevitably will, when you wake up and ask yourself, “Who am I and what am I doing here?” You will be tempted to take long walks, read the Upanishads, or try out for a new career as a trophy spouse.

In a crisis like this, you could easily spend thousands of dollars on life coaching and motivational DVDs. But you won’t have to, because you’ll have debt to keep you going. You will get up, shower, and toil faithfully in your cubicle year after year until, in the fullness of time, your family acquires the debt for your interment (at which point we trust you will have remembered Fleece U in your will.)

So think of debt as the great motivator. Think of it as our gift to you. Because for at least the next academic year, we are not even thinking of charging for it.