Lifelong learner

Johnny Lechner, 28, is an 11th-year senior at University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. He’s planning to come back for a 12th year, even though he’s already got 100 more credits than he needs to graduate and is paying double tuition, known as the “slacker tax.”

Lechner says he went to college to “discover who I was.” The Wisconsin State Journal explains:

Turns out he’s someone who likes to sleep in, play basketball, write songs and party two or three nights a week.

“I’ve fallen into some sort of a comfort zone here,” he said. “I think deep down inside I have a fear of getting into the next phase of my life.”


His middle-class parents pitched in financially for the first two years. Now he owes $30,000 in student loans but otherwise pays as he goes, using money earned as a waiter at the Janesville Olive Garden.

. . . His major has zigged and zagged over the years, with stops at health education, theater and communications. He even tried women’s studies.

“I think they’ll end up kind of balling it all together as a liberal studies major, with a lot of emphasis areas,” he said. He hopes to one day work with troubled youth.

Lechner, who has a B average, doesn’t have to start paying back his college loans till he graduates.

About Joanne


  1. Vivacesunshine says:

    Wow – my school kicks you out after 10 semesters, and summer school counts!!

  2. Michelle Dulak Thomson says:

    Wow. I’m reminded of a favorite New Yorker cartoon. Faculty advisor to student, across a desk: “I’m very sorry, but I’m afraid you just can’t get tenure as a graduate student.”

  3. Independent George says:

    Anybody here ever see the movie Kicking and Screaming? That’s Chet the bartender.

    He hopes to one day work with troubled youth.

    God help them.

  4. Nels Nelson says:

    Perhaps I have too romantic an image of the situation, but surely the university could find or invent a position for him.

  5. Puts me in mind of a novel by Roger Zelazny – “Doorways in the Sand”. It featured a similar perpetual student, who was the beneficiary of a will that provided him with financial support until he got a bachelor’s degree, and he similarly bounced from major to major to avoid acquiring enough credits to graduate in any major field.

    His university finally resorted to granting him a doctorate – much against his will – in order to get rid of him.

  6. Steve LaBonne says:

    Bluto (“Christ! Seven years of college down the drain!”) was an overachiever, apparently.

  7. Wow. As much as I’ve said that if I were independently wealthy, I’d like nothing more than to just take classes in stuff for the rest of my life, there’s something disturbing about this situation.

    “Turns out he’s someone who likes to sleep in, play basketball, write songs and party two or three nights a week.”

    Yeah, well, that’s not exactly part of my dream of being the perpetual student. I’m guessing it’s not so much that he likes studying, but that he likes a largely responsibility-free lifestyle.

    “I’ve fallen into some sort of a comfort zone here,” he said. “I think deep down inside I have a fear of getting into the next phase of my life.”

    Ya think?

    I think one of the frustrations I have with higher education is that any more (and maybe it always was this way), it’s a way for adolescents to enjoy four (or more) additional years of not having to take responsibility before they “grow up” and join the workforce. (I know, this isn’t true of everyone, and plenty of my students are working full-time to pay their way, and have family responsibilities to boot, but I’ve seen too many “whoo-hoo! Party time till we’re 22!” sorts to be able to shake the feeling that college has become kind of an extended high school.)

  8. Ricki: It’s always been this way. Back in 1973 I knew a couple of perpetual students, and I might have been one if I’d been able to support it finincially. I also knew a whole lot of kids that were going to party at their parents’ expense for as long as possible, while learning as little as they could without getting booting out. Perpetual students could be viewed as simply carrying the university’s goal of seeking knowledge to excess, but the partyers are wasting their parents’ money, the college’s classroom space, and the teachers’ time.

    I’d recommend that unless your kid shows intense interest in some major, let him work at McDonald’s for a year or two until he does find motivation…

  9. LOL
    I only lasted five years. I did have a lot of fun, but I also enjoyed getting twice the English credits required for graduation. Chaucer was a blast, even at seven in the morning. And I paid for it all, no loans. I thought about going on and doing the MS and PhD dance, but even then I could see the writing on the wall-I was never Politically Correct. So I took my BA and went to work in an Aircraft Factory…JD

  10. Ross the Heartless Conservative says:

    He is in the real world. He is largely paying his own way by working while he is going to school. It does seem like he could get a job at a university somewhere once/if he graduates. Most universities offer huge discounts for employees so he could still take classes and be on the college campus.

  11. How much are the taxpayers paying in interest on those student loans? I’m sure they are Staffords or the like.

  12. John from OK says:

    I have a new role model.

  13. I earned 184 units for my 125 unit degree, and it was worth it. I went for five years, during which I changed my major and couldn’t graduate in time, then I dropped out (needed a break), got married, adopted a child, went back to school, took a class or two at a time, bought a house, had another child, my wife went back to school (she dropped out when we adopted our first child), sold the house to live near campus, we each went part time for a bit, I graduated and went to grad school, my wife graduated (with Honors, and we had our third child two weeks later), I graduated again (MLS), another child was had, and we are almost living happily ever after.

    It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t a lot of fun. But I wouldn’t change a thing.

    I bet this guy won’t regret a thing, either.