When I was about eight years old, I asked my dad how expensive college is. He told me it cost $20 each year to go. Because this was more money than I could ever image being in one place at one time, I panicked and began saving every nickel I could excavate from beneath the sofa cushions and every dime I could extract from between the car seats.

After an entire day of hunting for college savings, I was still worth a paltry $1.65. Distraught, I ran to my Dad and asked him if he could please, please, pleeeeeeeze pay for me to go to college. He told me if I got him an ice cream sandwich from the freezer, he'd think about it.

When I got a little older, I discovered that college costs substantially more than $20. I learned this when my best friend Jack, whose sisters were preparing to enroll, told me about how his dad had been complaining about the high cost of tuition.

"It's not that big a deal," I said. "College only costs $20."

Jack, who because of his older sisters always knew more than me about everything, laughed and said, "Are you stupid? College costs thousands of dollars!" and punched me in the stomach.

Though I look forward to having kids so I too can exploit their naiveté for my own convenience, I do not look forward to paying for their college educations. If Jack's dad was complaining about how much tuition cost 10 years ago, I imagine that at this point he must be breathing fire.

For the past 11 years, the yearly tuition cost at four-year colleges has increased at a steeper rate than inflation. This year, average tuition at a four-year private college is $30,367. A Bowdoin education (as you may or may not have inferred from the title of last week's column) costs $46,300 per annum.

According to the calculator on my computer, this means that in order to send your kids to college long enough to earn a degree, you'll have to pony up, on average, $121,468 (not accounting for future tuition increases). If you want them to have a shiny Bowdoin College degree like yours, you're looking at a whistle-worthy $185,200 price tag. It is my understanding that for an extra $5,000, they'll make it glow in the dark.

My dad likes to let me know me every time he sends my tuition check. I usually remind him about how I got punched in the stomach because of his sadistic sense of humor. I guess he probably wins that duel.

So if college is so cripplingly expensive, why go? Why not invest that money someplace, watch it grow into a nest egg, and live on it?

Some people might say that education is the most valuable investment of all?that the intellectual curiosity that college nurtures in students allows our species to continue its march toward enlightenment.

Other people might say it's worth it for the free booze and birth control.

But for people who can't bring themselves to justify college in such idealistic or cynical terms, perhaps a new report by the U.S. Census Bureau can offer some insight into how we can quantify the value of an undergraduate degree.

According to the bureau's data, the average American college graduate makes $51,554 per year, compared to the $28,645 for adults with only a high school diploma. That values a college degree at just about $23,000 a year.

Wow! So maybe college is worth the astronomical expense after all. If you're making an extra 23 grand per year, then your Bowdoin education will pay for itself in a quick eight years! If I can pay back my parents for four years at Bowdoin, I can finally start making my Dad feel guilty of making me look like a jackass when I was eight.

But wait a second. It seems that to fully rebate your tuition bills, we're looking at more than eight years. I mean, you'll probably hold an entry-level job for a few years before they start paying you a substantial wage?and that's assuming you choose to remain in the same profession. And what if you want to take some time off and travel after college?

Because some of you might be impatient like me and want to start seeing this 23 grand right now without waiting for it to appear over the long term, I'll let you in on my master plan: a plan that ensures that your degree will start working for you just as soon as you're done working for it.

I call it "Degree-for-Hire"(tm). Once you've gotten your mitts on that magic, $185,200 shred of paper, laminate it, frame it, stick a theft-prevention tracker on it, and start leasing it out. Get your hands on a copy of the Census Bureau report that corroborates that it is worth $23,000 to allay skeptical lessees, and set the one-year lease price at around $20,000 a year (***A $23,000 DOLLAR VALUE, YOURS FOR THE LOW, LOW PRICE OF $600 A MONTH!!!***). You can have holiday specials, limited-time offers, all manner of "blowout"...the possibilities are endless (***JUST LIKE YOUR SAVINGS!!!***).

The yearly profit from this scheme will provide you with a modest living wage, but that's not to say you can't live like a king (by "king," I mean person who makes an entry-level wage + $23,000). You can use your degree to secure a job for yourself, and then lease it out to job-seekers. This way, your college education will pay for itself in eight years, you won't half to worry about long-term increases in student loan interest rates, and you can afford not to move back home after college. Plus you might even have a shot at financing your kids' college educations. You win, the customer wins, your unborn children win?everybody wins!

It is only fair that at this point I mention that any philosophy majors who are getting excited about his plan should know that their degrees will be worth too little to sell at "Degree-for-Hire"?except maybe as a "free bonus" during special promotional periods.

Some of you might ask, "Won't it be a problem that my name is on the certificate and not the lesee's?" Well, excuse me if I've been too busy thinking up ideas that will make you rich to work out all the fine details. You're off the team. Naysayer.

Me, I'm already selling advance leases on my degree. I have a Halloween special this weekend: Enter into a one-year lease agreement and receive the lyrics to the Bowdoin Alma Mater, absolutely free! It's a limited-time offer, so act NOW, NOW, NOW!!!