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The Ones We've Lost: The Student Loan Debt Suicides
July 9, 2012 8:45 PM   Subscribe

The Ones We've Lost: The Student Loan Debt Suicides: "I'm an advocate for people who are struggling to pay their student loans, and I've been receiving suicidal comments for over two years and occasionally receiving reports of actual suicides".
posted by ActionPopulated (188 comments total) 57 users marked this as a favorite

 
Stories like John Koch's - where he borrows $69,000 to study law, is unable to find a steady job, and finds himself hit with penalties upon penalties - to the point where he estimates that when he "retires" he will end up owing $1.9 million - remind me that in all my creative writing fantasies, of all the bad guys and evil masterminds I've dreamt up, I will never be able to match the inventiveness and cruelty of the financial institutions in the US.
posted by xdvesper at 9:12 PM on July 9, 2012 [68 favorites]


Suicide due to depression is a terrible thing. It's not right to co-opt it for whatever doom and gloom story you want to sell today.

Bad article.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:16 PM on July 9, 2012 [8 favorites]


Why isn't education "free" doesn't society benefit from it? Why is this still a question? We dealt with the monarchy lets put this one to bed.
posted by pdxpogo at 9:17 PM on July 9, 2012 [6 favorites]


Suicide due to depression is a terrible thing. It's not right to co-opt it for whatever doom and gloom story you want to sell today.

Bad article.


Except for the part where economic downturns and unemployment have a clear connection to increase in suicide. It's not co-opting chemical depression to talk about an environment that makes it more likely to be triggered.

Money troubles are the thing in my life (and I suspect lots of people's) that have brought me closest to a suicidal mindset. Nothing makes you feel more worthless than getting rejection after rejection from jobs you apply for and dodging debt collector phone calls.
posted by emjaybee at 9:20 PM on July 9, 2012 [111 favorites]


We dealt with the monarchy

Wasn't that basically aimed at furthering the interests of the ownership class? I don't think the same motivation exists here.
posted by pompomtom at 9:22 PM on July 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


Having worked for many years in higher education, I was somewhat aware of the increasingly staggering amount of debt under which many graduates, especially law graduates, begin their careers. I did not know, however, of the astonishing default penalties. I do know about the depression. This situation is a national disgrace. Contrasted with the cavalier behavior of bankers who were the beneficiaries of bailout money highhandedly awarding themselves bonuses and posting banner year profits following those bailouts, this just seems unbearably wrong.

Indentured servitude is very much the reality of some young people who are taking their best option--a low-paying service job with health benefits which at least feeds their young family. If they can keep it up for enough years, I believe the debt is reduced or absolved, not too sure of the details. I've worried about this for years while I have watched tuition go up and watched law schools recruit and accept more students than can possibly pass the notoriously difficult bar exam here, much less have a successful career in the law.

I've had to contend with money worries in my life but never faced debt that I could not see how to get out of. I repeat, this is disgraceful.
posted by Anitanola at 9:23 PM on July 9, 2012 [14 favorites]


Whoa nitrogen asphyxiation
posted by Michael Pemulis at 9:26 PM on July 9, 2012


This is a very US-centric view of this crisis. Newsweek recently had an article about debt driven suicides in Europe, which seems to be largely the same as this Daily Beast article. (They are related publications these days, after all.)

The current economic situation in various settings and contexts is driving people to despair, and they are taking their own lives. Welcome to the other side of capitalism.
posted by hippybear at 9:29 PM on July 9, 2012 [6 favorites]


Suicide due to depression is a terrible thing. It's not right to co-opt it for whatever doom and gloom story you want to sell today.

Yea, they signed up for it right? We should ignore whatever happens as a result, move along, nothing to see here.
posted by T.D. Strange at 9:29 PM on July 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


If they can keep it up for enough years, I believe the debt is reduced or absolved, not too sure of the details.

Not so much.

It's possible to have your student loan debt discharged (canceled) or reduced, but only under certain specific circumstances:

-You die or become totally and permanently disabled.
-Your school closed before you could complete your program.
-For FFELSM and Direct Stafford Loans only: Your school owes your lender a refund, forged your signature on a promissory note, or certified your loan even though you didn't have the ability to benefit from the coursework.
-You work in certain designated public school service professions (including teaching in a low-income school).
-You file for bankruptcy. (This cancellation is rare and occurs only if a bankruptcy court rules that repayment would cause undue hardship.)

posted by emjaybee at 9:30 PM on July 9, 2012 [7 favorites]


"And it all meant this: that there are hardly any excesses of the most crazed psychopath that cannot easily be duplicated by a normal, kindly family man who just comes in to work every day and has a job to do. "

- Terry Pratchett, Small Gods.

It's not co-opting at all. Suicide rates are linked to employment, consistently across cultures, and nations.

You create a system where people have huge debt and no prospect for employment and some the people, particularly the men, are going to kill themselves as a result.
posted by Grimgrin at 9:32 PM on July 9, 2012 [30 favorites]


Koch originally borrowed $69,000 (...) eventually he defaulted on his loans. He was immediately slapped with $50,000 in penalties.
That's beyond absurd.
posted by Flunkie at 9:34 PM on July 9, 2012 [8 favorites]


.
posted by samofidelis at 9:34 PM on July 9, 2012


Anitanola: If they can keep it up for enough years, I believe the debt is reduced or absolved, not too sure of the details.

I believe you are referring to Income Based Repayment.

In other news, universal no cost post-secondary education isn't going to happen in the United States. Sorry, but it isn't worth trying for in this climate. The only viable solution in the short term is to restrict students' abilities to borrow money for useless degrees. I think the best avenue to be considered is to link how much money a student can borrow to their estimated income after graduation.
posted by saeculorum at 9:35 PM on July 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


The whole student debt thing is pretty shocking.

I feel like I dodged bullet by being unambitious enough that I just went to state school and let my dad pay the $1500/semester.

While I have been deep in debt in my life, it's because I did the obvious "wrong" thing: got credit cards young, thought I could handle them, gradually maxed them out. Going to a prestigious school is supposed to be the "right" thing, and yet people who took that path ended up with 10 times as much debt as me.
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:36 PM on July 9, 2012 [6 favorites]


Anitanola: If they can keep it up for enough years, I believe the debt is reduced or absolved, not too sure of the details.

I believe you are referring to Income Based Repayment.


There's also Public Service Loan Forgiveness, for eligble 501c3, state and federal employees who make 120 eligible payments. Just as a reference, my position at a federal agency used to be staffed by non-attorney paralegals until 2009. The latest round of hiring was all Ivy League law school graduates, how many lower ranked grads even have a shot at PSLF eligible positions now? Not many, not to mention the poor paralegal that they displaced.
posted by T.D. Strange at 9:40 PM on July 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


I'm reminded of the Indian farmer suicides.
posted by Rangeboy at 9:43 PM on July 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


There's also Public Service Loan Forgiveness, for eligble 501c3, state and federal employees who make 120 eligible payments.

From the linked page:
What must I do to have any remaining balances on my Direct Loans forgiven under the PSLF Program?

You must make 120 on-time, full, scheduled, monthly payments on your Direct Loans. Only payments made after October 1, 2007 qualify.
So... basically, there's not a single person who has actually had their loans forgiven under this program to date.
posted by hippybear at 9:43 PM on July 9, 2012 [37 favorites]


It's not co-opting at all. Suicide rates are linked to employment, consistently across cultures, and nations.

You create a system where people have huge debt and no prospect for employment and some the people, particularly the men, are going to kill themselves as a result.


'suicide rates are linked to employment' is not the headline I see here.
posted by jacalata at 9:44 PM on July 9, 2012


Suicide due to depression is a terrible thing. It's not right to co-opt it for whatever doom and gloom story you want to sell today.

I don't want to pile on, because I see what you're trying to say here, but depression is a disease which doesn't, in most cases, result in suicide. There are exacerbating factors. And money troubles must be counted among the most dangerous of those.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:46 PM on July 9, 2012 [7 favorites]


So... basically, there's not a single person who has actually had their loans forgiven under this program to date.

Correct. We're all relying to our detriment on Congress' promise at this point. Imagine what's going to happen the first time some government lawyer applies to forgive over half a million dollars in accrued student loan interest under President Romney and the newly reelected Teabagger Congress with a filibuster proof 60 seat majority in 2017.
posted by T.D. Strange at 9:48 PM on July 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


-Your school closed before you could complete your program.

Man oh man, did I just luck in to the best teen summer comedy script idea ever.
posted by codacorolla at 9:48 PM on July 9, 2012 [33 favorites]


Indentured Students Rise As Loans Corrode College Ticket

Buried in Debt, Young People Find Dreams Elusive

ah, Rangeboy, I was about to link to that as well.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:48 PM on July 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Maplethorpe, why are you dumping RAT FECES in to the dining hall hamburger meat?"

"Ahhhhhh jeez Dean Hinkle, I can explain!"
posted by codacorolla at 9:49 PM on July 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Crazy student loan policies are a worthy topic of discussion, but what the hell is up with the second link? Random link to a four-post crazy immigration forum that are discussing the same article?
posted by schroedinger at 9:50 PM on July 9, 2012


Schroedinger: the original Chicago-Sun Times article about Jason Yoder (referenced in the first link) is behind a paywall now. The crazy-ass forum was the only place I could find the full text of that article.
posted by ActionPopulated at 9:51 PM on July 9, 2012


Ah, OK, thanks for the clarification AP.
posted by schroedinger at 9:54 PM on July 9, 2012


'zine(?) The State: Violence made Visible
But by taking out those loans, Yoder was doing exactly what the student loan-industrial-complex wanted him to do. Sallie Mae CEO Albert Lord made a fortune of $230 million by shifting his company, and the government-backed student loans in its portfolio, from public to private.
DailyKos: An American Tragedy: Student Loan Debt Suicide
While there has been no formal study to map the correlation between student loan debt and suicide, studies have been done, which prove that long-term unemployment is a factor in rising suicide rates:
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:05 PM on July 9, 2012


They're putting nitrogen in tires now, right?
posted by carping demon at 10:12 PM on July 9, 2012


Let's not forget that we have a Republican nominee for president who basically said that students should seek as much education as they can afford, which would create a self-sustaining class of wealthy Americans, who are the only people who can afford to send their kids to college without taking on debt. And these are also the people who will be our doctors, lawyers, teachers, business professionals. Not like there'd be a lot of incentive for them to work in low-income, disadvantaged areas.
posted by honeybee413 at 10:15 PM on July 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


They're putting nitrogen in tires now, right?

Mostly as a marketing gimmick, apparently.
posted by hippybear at 10:16 PM on July 9, 2012


The weekend of July 4, 2002, as I was studying for the bar exam, I learned that my friend J. had finally succeeded in one of her numerous attempts to kill herself after she graduated with a J.D. from the University of Vermont Law School.

Shortly before her final attempt, she received a decision from a New Hampshire bankruptcy court denying her petition to discharge her crushing student loan debt in bankruptcy on the dual grounds of depression-related disability and unemployment. The court's decision (which was technically correct as a matter of law) kindly explained to her that, while she might be too depressed in the moment to find a legal job which would enable her to pay off her student loan debt, she could not demonstrate that she would never be able to do so. Contrary to the end, she showed that court how wrong it was.

As a lawyer 10 years out of law school and dealing with my own law school debt, few days go by now that I don't think of her and imagine how desolate she must have felt when she got that decision in the mail and, with her hard-won legal knowledge, read it and understood exactly what it meant. And what sucks so much about the whole thing is that she herself came from a working class background and wanted to be a public interest lawyer so she could help less privileged people.

Also, hippybear is right. I've been with the same LSC program (providing free legal services to poor people in Brooklyn) since I graduated 10 years ago and I am not eligible for loan forgiveness under the federal plan. To be clear, I'm not whining about my own circumstances so much as suggesting that, at a time when municipalities and states are slashing their social services budgets for low-income and disabled people, income levels are dropping, unemployment is rising, the pressures of gentrification are threatening the last bastions of affordable housing for the poor, and tuition levels for professional degree programs are sky-rocketing, perhaps we might want to implement a true loan forgiveness program for graduates who devote their professional lives to helping the most vulnerable members of our society.
posted by lassie at 10:36 PM on July 9, 2012 [84 favorites]


Tell me no lies: "Suicide due to depression is a terrible thing. It's not right to co-opt it for whatever doom and gloom story you want to sell today."

T D Strange "Yea, they signed up for it right? We should ignore whatever happens as a result, move along, nothing to see here."


Depression is a *major* issue for graduate students generally. I would be interested to see if debt is correlated in any literature. Depression is certainly not limited to graduate students carrying debt.

Grad school is also isolating for many, can be a moment when a life-time A student suddenly experiences a first academic crisis (imposter syndrome!), and can also feel like you are constantly being judged (and found wanting). If someone has depression, these factors can increase the ability to deal with it.

Another factor I see in my work (at a graduate student society) is that there are international students who find themselves away from family and sometimes culturally isolated at a difficult time.

Some people (esp high achievers) may able be averse to asking for help.
posted by chapps at 10:43 PM on July 9, 2012 [10 favorites]


Call me naive, but if you end up owing over $320,000 in loans already, can't even get subprime credit, and can't find a job, why would you even bother considering paying it all back??
posted by astapasta24 at 10:48 PM on July 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


One of the things that really needs to be impressed upon people is that their debt is in their heads. That's all it is. It's a theoretical concept. Even if they go into collections, even if they sue you, the states all, so far as I'm aware, have limits on how much of what you have they can take. So maybe you can't discharge it in bankruptcy. But they also can't take your entire paycheck in garnishment. You can have a certain quantity of exempt assets. It's bad, but if you owe a million dollars and make $30k, the million dollars is meaningless. You essentially go on IBR forever. Okay, maybe you'll never own a house. Lots of people never own a house. Please, if anybody out there is feeling despondent, do not do anything permanent over your inability to buy a house.

But we hammer people so often about how being in default basically makes you a bad person. About how stuff makes your life worthwhile and you aren't a responsible adult if you can't get credit. About how you have to take "personal responsibility" when the system we have set up includes express protections for people who owe money so that lenders can't completely destroy your life. Their lending should have accounted for the risk of your default. Even if you can't discharge them in bankruptcy, they can never force you to live in a cardboard box on the street. You can rent a house, own a modest car, have furniture and hobbies and kids and a life and they cannot take those things away from you. They have to take personal responsibility for the risks they took in lending, too.
posted by gracedissolved at 10:59 PM on July 9, 2012 [87 favorites]


Call me naive, but if you end up owing over $320,000 in loans already, can't even get subprime credit, and can't find a job, why would you even bother considering paying it all back??

They can basically take your paychecks.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:07 PM on July 9, 2012 [7 favorites]


I have never understood the rational for student loans not being dischargable in bankruptcy. Especially for professional degrees. It's a business expense, pure and simple. If a business fails it should be allowed to go bankrupt. Few people study accounting, law, or medicine out of a love for the topic. They're investing in a business.
posted by bswinburn at 11:12 PM on July 9, 2012 [19 favorites]


You're right, gracedissolved, to a point. We no longer have debtors prisons in this country, and there are some limits to how much of your income can be garnished by your creditors. But defaulted debt is, in my experience with my clients, a tremendous stressor for not only the obligor, but his or her entire family who might be relying on the ungarnished income to pay the rent or supplement the monthly food stamp allowance. When you recieve less than $1,000 a month in minimum-wage employment income or entitlements, the fact that no more than 30% of it can be garnished is cold comfort, and will likely lead to an eviction proceeding quite quickly. Not to mention how miserable debt collectors can make your life.
posted by lassie at 11:17 PM on July 9, 2012 [12 favorites]


And if you have bad credit, you are only going to be renting from a slumlord, and a whole host of jobs are unavailable to you (and increasing -- many if not most decently-paying jobs these days require good credit). This is on top of being "overqualified" for anything that isn't in your field and "unqualified" for anything that is. And then your unemployment runs out...
posted by dirigibleman at 11:27 PM on July 9, 2012 [9 favorites]


bswinburn - my friend, who is an attorney has made a similar argument for years, especially considering that is the one counter to pervasive tuition inflation. "Why does college keep getting more expensive?" people ask.
The answer is that it is a business, with unrelenting demand for its' services, and due to the sweetheart protection of the government, both the finance companies and the educational institutions themselves don't have to worry about not getting their money. It is a racket, plain and simple.
posted by horsemuth at 11:28 PM on July 9, 2012 [6 favorites]


When you "invest in yourself" through higher education, it's important to make sure that there's enough base capital to make the multiplicative effect of your investment substantial enough to be rewarding. Unfortunately, studies show most people have an inflated view of their own utility, and so the educational system will be taking advantage of people for many years to come.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 11:33 PM on July 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


This is a complex and frustrating matter for me.

I graduated undergrad in 2000 when the job market was still fairly bearish and didn't have much trouble entering the workforce on the pretty low end of salaried employees, and had to work my way up from there. It feels strange to write that I've been in the workforce for 12 years, but there it is.

I also graduated with over $50 grand debt, the amount that I had to go into in order to supplement working (mostly) full-time throughout college to pay for it, as I was the sole financier of my education. I came from a family with six kids, with a dad who was a public servant, who to this day still has next to no retirement package for him and my mom (that's the next debt I'm planning to go into, quite frankly).

I spent the first decade of my life after college being owned by American student debt profiteers, essentially working for them. 120 straight months of struggling to make my minimum repayment, sometimes a bit more when I had budgeted well. And although I finished my repayments just a couple of years ago, I feel as though I am somehow the last of an era of those who were able to get an education at a fairly reasonable price, find a job, and pay it back.

Articles like these simply make it sound like this is no longer possible for anyone and I am a monster for assuming it should be as easy for me as it was for anyone else. Well, it wasn't easy for me. It wasn't as hard for me as it is for some, but it was still a damn lot of hard work, and it didn't start with the 40-hours a week I was working in undergrad to offset my living costs.

It started with parents who put a strong work ethic in me at a young age - building fences and stacking firewood and mowing the lawn and cleaning the chicken coop all at a young age. I remember being angry at my parents at a young age because I never saw other kids having to do everything I had to do. And once I was old enough that they started paying me an allowance for it, they taught me the importance of saving, by literally forcing me to save my allowance. I was angry about that too at times, but then I could afford to buy my first BMX bike in cash.

By the time I was 12 I had my first job mowing neighbors' lawns, doing various landscaping work, and feeding their animals when they were on vacation. By the time I was 14 I was working at a dog kennel and had my first truly demonic boss. By the time I was 16 I was working at a grocery store, and when I graduated high school later that year, I started working 40 hours a week the month before my 17th birthday.

By the time I was choosing colleges, I knew enough about money to know what would be within my "reasonably affordable" range and what was simply absurd. Maybe some of my peers - those entering college in the mid-90's - could have reasonably afforded to graduate with literally hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt. Maybe they had family money to fall back on, maybe they were going to land a job as lawyer or doctor, maybe it somehow made sense for them, but for me, the math just didn't work on paper.

If you were to tell me that kids these days were graduating with a few tens of thousands of dollars in debt and they were struggling to find full time work that could allow them to make a $330 dollar a month loan repayment on top of rent and utilities and food and whatnot, I would agree with you that this is a travesty. But every time I hear this tome, some Ivy League victim is trotted out with enough debt to buy a brand new house and a nice car to go in the garage. I don't think, now in my mid-30's, with a good job and 12 years of work under my belt, that I can afford a nice new house, let alone a new car. In fact, its not just that I don't think it - I know its an insane idea.

I bought my current car, the nicest one I've ever owned, in cash. It was 7 years old with 75,000km's on it. I still rent my housing, 12 years out of school. I travel a lot and the real estate market is pretty volatile where I live anyway, but I'm not sure that if I lived in the US I would be comfortable going into hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of debt. I might, but it would take a lot of math and consideration.

My point here isn't to pat my back or that of my parents, but to say that I don't think my situation is that abnormal or unattainable. I'm not rich, by US standards, I've just worked hard and not signed on for anything that I didn't have a reasonable chance at being able to repay. I realize the job market is in the shitter right now, but unemployment isn't at the 40% that it is where I live now. There are jobs out there, they are hard to get, but America is by no means in a full-blown recession.

The student debt system (and higher ed as a whole to some extent as well) is a corrupt and twisted one, but many Americans are as complicit in it as are those who took the sub-prime loans for houses they knew they could never afford. I'm as happy as anyone to stand up for the hard working students who went to a college that was reasonably within their ability to afford, but there are a lot of people crying foul right now that simply do not fall into this group. Maybe its a few bad eggs, but from all I can tell, its not just a few people graduating with hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt.

I'm supposed to finance their financial irresponsibility? Yeah, get back to me when you actually start taxing the rich, the ones who could actually afford to do that for you (and maybe pay for healthcare for people who can't afford college in the first place). Because I can't. I couldn't get a $300,000 education, and I can't get a $300,000 house. I don't feel that bad for you.

I am grateful that I have work, when many of my friends and family struggle to find it. I am star-crossed and truly blessed. The difference is that most of my family and friends struggling to find work don't have extreme amounts of debt to repay like the people in these articles. Let's talk about the people who commit suicide or struggle with depression because they can't afford to get their mom to a hospital or get food on the table for their kids. Maybe once we address that I can spare a thought for these kids with massive student debt.
posted by allkindsoftime at 11:33 PM on July 9, 2012 [21 favorites]


I live every day in fear of losing my job (and never being able to find another). Or even quitting. And it's really not possible that I will lose my job and it's not even that great of a job.

Fuck this economy and the 4 years of utter hopelessness I have lived under.

Or maybe every person in their mid-20's has lived so hopelessly.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 11:33 PM on July 9, 2012 [8 favorites]


The student debt system (and higher ed as a whole to some extent as well) is a corrupt and twisted one, but many Americans are as complicit in it as are those who took the sub-prime loans for houses they knew they could never afford.

Is it already time to link to the people-tripping-on-stairs thread again?
posted by reprise the theme song and roll the credits at 11:46 PM on July 9, 2012 [34 favorites]


Please tell me where you bought those bootstraps you're lifting yourself up with, allkindsoftime, because I bet there's a few thousand people who'd love to know where to get them.
posted by flatluigi at 11:57 PM on July 9, 2012 [32 favorites]


One of the biggest and most intractable issues facing the U.S. in handling this is the belief that being employed or not is a matter of virtue. If you are employed it is because you are a functional member of society. If you are unemployed it is because you are a lazy deviant.
posted by Navelgazer at 11:59 PM on July 9, 2012 [17 favorites]


I went back to school (community college) in Fall of '08, when I was still working full-time. The following May I was laid-off, and the job search was... bleak. With my parent's support, I decided to go to school full-time and work if I got work-study awards.
I transferred to the state university this past winter, which was well-timed since as of now the school is not accepting any new or transferring students. At all. Indefinitely. And I'm starting to wonder if I've made a mistake by not beating my head against the job market and trying harder, even though I know I was at an invisible ceiling for advancement in my field. I'm banking on the fact I'll have 10+ years of practical work experience under my belt when I finally graduate (at 40) but the longer all this shit goes on, the more freaked out I get that my experience will mean jack and I'll be completely fucked.
It's all so, so, worrisome and stressful and incapacitating, and I'm not even taking on any debt.
Christ, I can't even imagine.
posted by ApathyGirl at 12:00 AM on July 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


allkindsoftime:

Keep in mind that if you attempted that now, increases in college expenses alone would have probably pushed that debt over six figures, you'd have had a harder time finding a first job, and both that job and the one you had during college would have almost certainly paid less. Things have gotten measurably worse since you graduated, and they are on a worsening trend.
posted by Mitrovarr at 12:11 AM on July 10, 2012 [26 favorites]


allkindsoftime, more than being blessed to be taught fiscal responsibility you're blessed to be taught fiscal realism. The overwhelming message of our culture is to tell our kids that they should go to college, take out the loans, live the dreams, and the debt will take care of itself. If you have to take more debt in order to go to a "better" institution, well that's just fine, because the higher grade in U.S. News rankings will get you a better salary and you'll be pursuing your dreams blahblahblah. This goes doubly for professional degrees, where one is essentially promised that the business/law/whatever degree will bring a plum job or professorship.

Perhaps it seems crazy to you, but truly public awareness of these things is only relatively recent. Up until now, it was all too easy to be convinced by the career counselors, media, parents, and universities telling you the debt was an investment in your future. And, on average (your realist experience is unfortunately not), if you come from the lowest income strata of our society you are most likely to look at higher education with rose-tinted glasses and rely on voices of authority to determine your expectations. It does not help that we are psychologically programmed to believe ourselves outliers--everyone else will fail, but we're the exception. This isn't a product of crazy consumerist culture or bad parenting or not enough spankings. That's a tendency that crosses time and societies.

(Incidentally--despite your assurances that victims of subprime loans knew they could not possibly afford their homes, a large number were low-income people with little financial expertise who were assured by fraudulent lenders that they could not only afford that expensive house, but they could afford an even more expensive one)

It is also worth noting that average tuition costs have nearly doubled since you left school--and that's after adjusting for inflation. I am finally finishing up my degree this next semester. I transferred in a lot of credits from a prior (paid for) attempt at college, and upon returning I first took all the classes I could at a local community college before attending a state school known for its relatively low tuition costs. Due to my very low income I'm receiving the maximum eligible financial aid. Yet after only five semesters I'll still be graduating with $30,000 in government loans and $6,000 owed to my family.

The situation is more complicated than "Kids, lawns, walking uphill both ways." The number of university students across the world who have taken on significant debt loads in the past decade is pretty staggering; what if the issue is not that millions upon millions of entitled do-nothings suddenly appeared in the past ten years? I propose that perhaps at a certain level of dysfunction, the dysfunction indicates something structurally unsound within the system itself.
posted by schroedinger at 12:15 AM on July 10, 2012 [65 favorites]


backing Mitrovarr up: I just graduated from college at a state school. In-state tuition doubled in the time I was there.

Talk about shooting ourselves in the foot.
posted by victory_laser at 12:15 AM on July 10, 2012


Even five years ago, tuition was going up yearly at schools. States have cut what they put into education and the Feds haven't made it up — it comes from loans.

It's also worth saying that if you're a poor kid in America, you hear "Go to college" pretty much every day, even if you're a lower middle class kid. You don't necessarily know a lot of people who have gone to college, except maybe your public school teachers who either graduated a long time ago or who aren't gonna tell you how much of a shit-show it is. Plus, in pretty much every other recession it made sense to delay going into the work force for a couple years in order to get more schooling. That's not necessarily true in the same way any more.
posted by klangklangston at 12:23 AM on July 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


And student loan debt is a decent part of why I won't be getting married in the foreseeable future.
posted by klangklangston at 12:23 AM on July 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


When I was looking for colleges back in 1993, I was told not to worry about tuition, because financial aid would take care of it. I also heard right up until 2009 that student loans are "good" debt, because it dramatically increases your chances of a good job (and sadly, that's probably true even today -- as bad as college graduate debt slaves have it, I shudder to think what a high school graduate has to deal with in this economy). Then the economy collapsed and suddenly the same people who drilled into us for our entire lives that college loans are good debt and not to worry about tuition are calling new graduates stupid for getting into so much debt and "entitled" because they expected a job better than they could have gotten straight out of high school just because they got a college degree.
posted by dirigibleman at 12:29 AM on July 10, 2012 [17 favorites]


I don't think, now in my mid-30's, with a good job and 12 years of work under my belt, that I can afford a nice new house, let alone a new car. In fact, its not just that I don't think it - I know its an insane idea.
...

I'm supposed to finance their financial irresponsibility?

This is just it, though. You're speaking with the hindsight of a man in his mid-30's with an above average amount of life/work experience for an American your age.

Students getting into this kind of debt are largely 17-24 years old. We don't even consider the under-21 year olds to be responsible enough to buy and drink a beer! But they should be able to get in hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt and be held stringently responsible for that.

Also, don't forget that the majority of these kids think - because they've been told so by all the adults in their lives - that they ARE making the financially responsible choice. All the adults tell them that life with just a high school diploma is a dead-end. That a college degree is now mandatory for any decent work. And not only that, the prestige of the college you go to will determine the course of the rest of your life. And they tell the kids that it doesn't really matter what they major in, that the important thing is just that they have a degree in anything, look, so many people aren't doing jobs that involve what they major in.

And then some kids take it further, again, thinking they're being MORE responsible, not less. Yes, maybe they would have really loved to major in drama but instead they will take out the extra money and stay in school a few extra years for pharmacy school, or law school.

I think a lot of people don't realize that baby boomers who don't spend much time online are largely clueless to what a bad bet so many of these things have become. Take law, even with the legal profession, I think most lawyers over the age of 45 have absolutely no inkling how hard it is for current grads to get jobs. What sucks is that these people are at the age where their kids are starting to enter these fields and take on these loans. And many of the kids are going to listen to their parents' advice over what they read or hear in a newspaper or online.
posted by cairdeas at 12:38 AM on July 10, 2012 [46 favorites]


This seems to me to hit exactly the stratum of society which, when sufficiently alienated, has often initiated successful revolutions elsewhere - but this is the USA.
posted by Segundus at 1:09 AM on July 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


It's curious - this isn't really a poor person problem but a lower-middle to middle-middle class problem. I was poor and was lucky enough to get gobs of financial aid. Other poor people can probably do fairly similarly. I worked a lot of jobs in college, but if I had never lifted a finger I still would have had only about 20k in debt. People who borrow $90,000 are in the window where they're considered too rich for serious financial aid, but are too poor to be able to write big tuition checks.

What's interesting about the student loan problem is that it's both a bad problem, one that's not going to get solved any time soon, and one that's easy to avoid:

1. Don't borrow money for any advanced degree that does not add either JD or MD to your name. With maybe a very small handful of exceptions that I don't know about.
2. Don't go to law school unless you can borrow under $50k or are in a top 14 or so program. And probably not even then.
3. Don't attend a college that would require you to take out more than about $30k in debt total. Work a few years or go to a state school or live at home.

It's terrible that things are like this, but unless they somehow change going to a nice private college should really only be a live option for the ultra rich, the ultra smart, and the ultra poor.
posted by pdq at 1:25 AM on July 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


suddenly the same people who drilled into us for our entire lives that college loans are good debt and not to worry about tuition are calling new graduates stupid for getting into so much debt and "entitled" because they expected a job better than they could have gotten straight out of high school just because they got a college degree.

This is somewhat true, but it's also true that people who pointed out the issues with student debt even back in the 1990s were faced with a wall of retorts: they just weren't good enough for scholarships/hadn't looked hard enough for scholarships/were too weak-kneed to take on more debt/didn't deserve a college degree/should just go to a community college already/were too lazy to work a part-time job/etc. ad nauseum – or in other words, they were "stupid" and "entitled". I experienced this personally: my family earned too much for me to qualify for need-based scholarships, my desired degrees (math and music at first) weren't exotic enough for other scholarships, and due to a controlling, abusive family, I had no savings and, oh, they ended up contributing a paltry amount, just enough so they could say "we helped! She can't complain!", towards my college education, in spite of my financial aid package being calculated on much more assistance from them, and they declared me as a dependent on their taxes.

I certainly wasn't the only student in that position. The danger was crystal clear, even back then when the public, local university I chose only cost $6,000 in tuition per year. I was lucky but knew plenty of others who weren't: the university in my area happened to have top-notch science, language and music programs. I was your standard over-achiever in high school, raking up AP credits and essentially buying myself a free year on the cheap thanks to those. I lived in a state with a national park that paid the state minimum wage, higher than federal (very few nat'l parks are so generous), where I was able to live and work one summer, thus paying for another year + an on-campus "quad" apartment (four units shared a single kitchen and bath). I was able to graduate only $16,000 in debt. Even that amount makes Europeans' eyes boggle.

Oh and then, when you study humanities, you get to deal with people telling you your choice of degrees is worthless. Then, when I applied for the exchange program to France that put me not far from where I currently live, 15 years later, everything checked out for me... except that I had only travelled outside of the US once, when I had managed to hide enough savings from summer jobs to pay for a shoestring trip to France, also paid for dearly in shouting, screaming and punching from parents plus doom-laden guilt trips from other family members. People who talk about "predicting someone's future earnings" and "only letting students who've proven themselves attend university" should take a VERY hard look at what that means, what kind of privilege WILL be reinforced by such judgements.

Quick recap of my situation as viewed from the outside: raised by middle-class parents with enough money to pay for college, two Volvos and a Toyota 4x4, nice two-storey three-bedroom house in the countryside, conservative values that kept them proud of the US and livid about anything "yerpeen". Daughter (me) who was top of her class in French, spoke it fluently, top of her class, highly recommended by her profs, but she's attending a state school a few dozen miles from where her parents live and despite all their money, she's only been out of the country once. Hm. My actual reality: I was raised with parents who told me we were so poor that they couldn't afford clothes or shoes for me, and I needed to watch what I ate too. I didn't know they had lied all along until applying for financial aid.

My exchange year in France was accepted on a razor-thin decision, pushed over into acceptable range because I'd had that shoestring trip earlier. Once there, I shared how I wanted to get the French 6-year degree and work in the country. They laughed at me and said that "with [my] background, [I] would never make it. Even people with money have a hard time. Even people who marry French citizens have a hard time. You need a hard dose of reality, you cannot do that." Yep. Cannot. My defense strategies from dealing with family were helpful; a few more repetitions of "you need to come down to earth and look at your future realistically, you cannot achieve this wild dream you have" and I just stopped talking about it and did it anyway.

Last year I earned my Masters degree from a French university, which 15 years ago, was that very same 6-year degree I had hoped for (it used to have a different name; EU standards have been adopted since. I earned it with high honors, mention bien, US equivalent is magna cum laude. Anyone who's recognized me by now knows that I have lived in France for 13 years; I also spent two years teaching English and French to CEOs and managers in Finland. I did not do it by having money, I did not do it by coming from a family who took jaunts to Europe every once in a while, I did not do it by marrying a French citizen.

I did it by becoming a French citizen and the long history of hard work and independence that entails. No one predicted it but me. Not a single person. How many talented, hard-working people would be stymied by a predictive system? If I, a relatively privileged white woman who was blessed with smarts, was so very nearly given a completely different future than the one I aimed for, how will less privileged people fare?

The problem is not the students. Some are unrealistic, yes; some are unduly privileged, yes. That does not mean the majority who are suffering should be ignored – and so many are suffering, at so many levels, many of them silent because they've heard the "stupid, worthless complainers" discourse so. many. times. The problem is the system. Until enough people realize that we have indeed instituted indentured servitude, and what that means (hampered creativity, fewer opportunities, greater rich-poor divide, worse health outcomes, adding up to loss of human soul), any other "solution" will continue this nonsensical focus on young people who aren't even old enough to drink alcohol legally. Why should their futures be defined by predatory lenders and a discourse that inevitably turns to "stupid worthless not-yet-adults"? In a sad way, bringing in predictive elements will indeed be predictive: we'll get exactly what's predicted. And it will be based on who is doing the predicting. Anyone who doesn't shudder at the thought has not had much experience of human nature.
posted by fraula at 1:27 AM on July 10, 2012 [77 favorites]


Hear, hear.
posted by cairdeas at 1:31 AM on July 10, 2012


Honestly, I am a person for whom this article is very relevant. A few weeks ago, I attempted suicide because of my student loan debt. I am 24 years old. I attended the private college that my parents and my guidance counselor suggested was right for me - a beautiful liberal arts school that I am thankful to have gone to, but which now I know really cost too much money. I came from a lower middle class family, so while I received financial aid from this school, I had to take out a considerable amount of loans to attend and pursue my dream. Do you know why I took out those loans? Because everyone around me (most especially my parents, who had never been to college, but who desperately wanted me to go because they believed it would be the ticket to a better life) insisted that it was the right choice, that I would get a great job right out of college and be able to pay it back, no big deal.

Except I did NOT get a great job after I graduated. My liberal arts degree is basically not worth the paper it was printed on, I guess. I tried as hard as I could to get a job, I swear. I sent out resumes and wrote cover letters. It feels like I am either underqualified or overqualified for everything. I am a waitress and my paycheck is negligible. No one helps me pay my rent or helps me with food costs, so I am barely getting by. I have been applying for deferrals every six months for the past two years, but I know soon that the deferrals will run out and then it will be over for me. I will default, and what the fuck happens to me then? Oh, I might be okay, they can't take my life away from me, but I will still feel like a terrible failure for the rest of my life because I was unable to pull myself up by my own bootstraps or take some personal responsibility, or some other happy-crappy individualistic platitude like that. God, do I ever want to be able to be the successful person that I always thought I would be if I had a college degree. But it just isn't that easy. It isn't that easy at all.
posted by SkylitDrawl at 1:43 AM on July 10, 2012 [58 favorites]


Please do not kill yourself.
posted by Segundus at 1:58 AM on July 10, 2012 [26 favorites]


Honestly, I am a person for whom this article is very relevant. A few weeks ago, I attempted suicide because of my student loan debt. I am 24 years old.

Please, please don't kill yourself over student loan debt. Crushing debt can be exactly that: crushing. It's amazing that we allow ourselves and each other to enter into these contracts and that all the while, everyone around us encourages us to do so as "the right thing" and as "what's next".

What appears to have happened is that the received wisdom of "go to a good school in order to be prepared for the world and to qualify yourself for a good job" lagged dramatically behind the changing economy that sucked up the good jobs, laid off droves of people while the corporations survived on taxpayer bailouts, and all the while, persisted: wisdom still imparted on kids today. "Go to school. Get good grades so you can get into a good university. Get a degree. Hopefully in 5 years. And then you'll find a job."

No where in that equation does a rational discussion occur wherein the parents stop to question the received wisdom. And the kids are kids. They're relying on their parents as they do, to help guide them. It's not just the parents. It's the institutionalization of academic culture that enforces this exact path for every single student that enters it. Throughout your entire academic career, you hear this from everyone. You feel social pressure as your friends hear it and try their hardest. You're told that the consequences of NOT getting into a good school can be dire: burger-flipping and the like.

But no one has told the parents that the consequences of an ill-fated post-secondary education can be even worse. Burger-flipping is bad enough for many. Burger-flipping with $50,000 in burgeoning debt is exasperating in a way few things in this life can be.

But no one is daring to say anything of the sort. Because what's the alternative? Are we supposed to tell our children not to go to school? Not to pursue a degree? That it might make them worse off? No, not exactly. Education is important. But the received wisdom needs to change. It needs to push people to question the path they're taking instead of falling into the trap SkylitDrawl and millions of others have been tricked into taking.

I went to state school for exactly one and a half semesters. I wasn't very interested in high school and so as my honors Cs turned to non-honors Cs and Bs, I realized that it wasn't in the cards for me. I'm also looking up ASU's schedule of tuition and I note that in 2004 when I started, tuition for a semester was $2,033. Today, it's $4,862.

I don't consider myself to have pulled myself up by my bootstraps. I consider myself to have dodged a bullet. Seriously. School wasn't a good fit for me, and because I was already interested in web development and computers and writing, I had something of an out. But I had the greatest of social pressures upon me, urging me to stay in school, not to drop out; that was unthinkable and how will you get a job and so on, not just from my parents, but from everyone around me.

You become a social pariah in a way. People judge you for not sticking it out. They judge you for not being advanced enough or having the work ethic necessary to earn that degree. And 18 years of academic indoctrination from every possible angle takes its toll. I consider myself extremely lucky that the right confluence of events occurred that allowed me to muster my courage and tell my parents I was doing the unthinkable. I had enough of a job in the works, having started a "web development company" at the time with my friend (who, incidentally, is four years older than me, has a degree, and owns exactly 50% of the business I run with him, and makes exactly what I make) that my parents realized that years of my hating school had finally come to a point and that I was making the decision that was right for me. I'm ever grateful that my parents accepted that. They let me stay at their house, paying a modest amount for rent while we built up the business. They saw what I was doing and supported the idea. They were stern and taken aback, and a bit disappointed at first, but they realized it was what was best for me.

But I'm terrified about my own children. I'm terrified for my brother. I recognize that I happened to fall into a career I had been preparing for all my life and that I had the fortuitousness to put the pieces together and make something of it, even without a degree. I realize that many careers require a proper education. That most people aren't lucky like I was. And so what do we tell them now? What do I tell my brother, who has taken on $50k in student loan debt for a year abroad at London School of Economics in the hope that they'll allow him to convert to a full transfer there to finish his degree, lest he complete a UofA degree at considerably greater expense than any one of his peers?

Ironically, I'm in a situation now where I have some debt attached to me. My partner and I ran into rough times as many small businesses did, and there came a moment when I realized that I could either make payroll and rent, or pay our taxes. (In this case, "making payroll" did not include said taxes.) So we made a tough decision: we plainly did not file our 941 payroll tax form. And thus, didn't submit our normal electronic payment. We also skipped our own payroll, ensuring that our employees got theirs.

At first, it was supposed to be just a month. We'd catch back up. But deadlines slipped, projects slipped, and, to put it simply, we didn't make a single payroll tax payment from the end of Q1 on through the rest of the year.

Things finally started to look up the next year, and when we had some work lined up and some stability, I reached out to the IRS. Five weeks later a revenue agent showed up at my office requesting a meeting immediately.

It turns out that "failure to file" is usually, rightfully associated with evading or avoiding taxes. As such, the penalties are completely insane: up to 25% of your total. This is separate, and in addition to penalties for failure to pay, and interest. And since this is payroll tax, which was, strictly speaking, never mine to begin with, the tax "pierces the corporate veil" and can survive personal bankruptcy on both of us.

But this was a conscious decision we made. It was a bad decision, perhaps. But looking back, we would have had to close up shop three years ago and we're still around today, albeit making hefty, usurious payments to the IRS on a monthly basis to make things right. And since projects are coming in and my people are working, there's at least a path out that I can see. The crushing feeling makes an appearance when we have a bad month and I realize that we're very close to having to close up shop entirely, at which point the debt will flow down to my partner and I. But for now, things look good and we may be able to dig our way out in just a few more months.

But there's the distinction: it's why I haven't been forced to too closely contemplate something as severe as suicide. I have a way out. A mountain of debt that cannot, will not, may not be erased, discharged, or even dented... it's no way to live. It's a gorilla on top of a piano on top of a safe on top of your chest and because there's no visible path out, it's NOT as simple as just telling yourself that it's "just an abstract number". It's a number that will affect you for years, and for that reason, something has to change. Something's gotta give.

A more thorough analysis of the probable job market for a given degree, along with the worst-case-scenario cost of attaining that degree might help. But it's still a number people will wave away, thinking they can overcome it and do better than the average.

An institutional change to bring education costs back down from the stratosphere, where they've significantly outpaced might help, but at least half of our current government absolutely refuses to do anything that could remotely be construed as helping the common/fellow man.

A forgiveness program or a change to allow student loan debt to be dischargable through bankruptcy makes a fair amount of sense to me. I understand that student loan financing is a business too, but maybe it shouldn't be. Or at least, maybe it shouldn't be so profitable a business. Maybe the government regulators or guarantors that back those loans and monitor them should consider stepping in to cap the rent-seeking, profit-taking, soul-crushing bankstering that's bleeding an entire generation dry. Maybe a few lucky shareholders and a few lucky board members shouldn't be allowed to earn a living on something so ignoble.

But this is America. And ignoble profiteering is just as legal, and far more profitable in many cases, as noble profiteering.

I don't know what to tell people with mountains of student loan debt, except to please not take your life. It's not worth it, and there are ways to cope, even if it may be a long road and even if the debt may shadow you.

I don't know what to tell those getting out of high school, bright-eyed and eager to jump into the beginning of this cycle, unaware that at the end of the conveyor lives a shredder and half the time it chews you up, takes your money, and guarantees you no job.

I hope the economy turns around in a meaningful enough way to allow the people who pursued this dream to begin realizing some of it, but I know enough to not be terribly hopeful that it will happen quickly or dramatically.

Here's hoping the received wisdom changes, or that reality does.
posted by disillusioned at 2:40 AM on July 10, 2012 [16 favorites]


This seems to me to hit exactly the stratum of society which, when sufficiently alienated, has often initiated successful revolutions elsewhere
Indeed. As a rule, a regime doesn't really want to be building up a stock of long-term-unemployed, pissed-off law graduates. Lenin, etc.
posted by Sonny Jim at 3:07 AM on July 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Should have gotten a real degree, like a JD, right?

Always gonna need lawyers, right?

Not like there will ever not be jobs for people in a real profession, right?
posted by the man of twists and turns at 4:10 AM on July 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think the best avenue to be considered is to link how much money a student can borrow to their estimated income after graduation.

I'll agree to this sort of scheme only if it comes with a promise that you will actually earn the "estimated income" for a degree after graduation, with full refunds given if you should not.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 4:14 AM on July 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


My student loans are in deferment, but I just received a suggested payment schedule that if I started paying today, my loans will be paid off in 2036, when I am 78 years old. My loans are consolidated at 4%. My loans got shifted from Direct Loans to EdFinancial, they are both supposedly Federal loan servicers. But I think I got sold down the river. I just got a document from EdFin that I have never received from Direct Loans, it says the interest accruing each month is far greater than my suggested monthly loan payments. At this rate, I project my loans will be paid off when hell freezes over.

I knew that employers were checking credit records of job applicants, and denying jobs to heavy debtors, but I thought that student loans weren't part of that credit rating. I recently heard that Law School grads are being denied jobs solely on account of their student loan debt. So employers can access this data.

This all makes me wonder why I'm not suicidal. Current financial practices are making all college graduates unemployable. Once people figure out that a college degree is financial suicide, higher ed in the US will disappear.
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:35 AM on July 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


The University system in the United States has become an instrument of economic oppression.
It is a system helping to prop up the corruption of the big banks, while insuring that children from lower income families are locked into financial servitude.

And the worst part - all the liberal college professors are STILL defending the system. The liberal college professors denounce oppression everywhere - except when they look in the mirror.
posted by Flood at 4:52 AM on July 10, 2012 [12 favorites]


Many borrowers forget: your social security check can be garnished to pay federal student loan obligations.

Up to 15% I think: "The government can shave off up to 15 percent, provided your remaining monthly benefit doesn't drop lower than $750"
posted by etherist at 4:55 AM on July 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


What's interesting about the student loan problem is that it's both a bad problem, one that's not going to get solved any time soon, and one that's easy to avoid:

1. Don't borrow money for any advanced degree that does not add either JD or MD to your name. With maybe a very small handful of exceptions that I don't know about.
2. Don't go to law school unless you can borrow under $50k or are in a top 14 or so program. And probably not even then.
3. Don't attend a college that would require you to take out more than about $30k in debt total. Work a few years or go to a state school or live at home.


These "rules" may seem self-apparent and sensible to you, but you have to be in a certain kind of social context to figure them out in the first place. I went to a high-end liberal arts college that sends a ton of people to law school and various PhD programs. At my school, discussions about graduate school were common, and faculty and advisors were well aware of the "don't go to grad school unless you're fully funded/don't go to a law school below T-14" ideas.

However, consensus of the bootstraps crowd on mefi and the million "don't go to grad/law school" articles aside, those conversations only came into the popular consciousness pretty recently. As so many others have pointed out, the discourse about education for a long time now has framed any graduate school as a good credential, any debt as "good" debt. And those discourses came from both parents and counselors wanting the best for students and unscrupulous loan companies, and sometimes it's hard to tell who means well and who doesn't.

I posted this story because my friend R is a recent student loan debt suicide. I'm not saying that debt alone was the cause of his death; he'd been depressed for a long time, for a wide variety of causes. But his very last facebook post before he died stated that his loan company was going to start garnishing wages, that he was afraid of having to go live in our city's men's shelter. (Which, incidentally, is about to close down-so much for safety nets for people who do hit bottom.)

You can say that it's reductionist to blame student loans entirely for suicide, that depression and suicide are multi-faceted, and I'll be right with you. But you cannot tell me that debt can't exacerbate existing depression.

At R's memorial, several people made the point that it was extraordinary that he'd become the passionate academic and activist he did, coming from a family where no one previously had been to college. BA, most of the way to a PhD, several years' worth of teaching and several testimonials from students who'd had their lives changed by his classes. It is extraordinary--but I also can't help but rage at the system that saddled him with so much debt to get to that point.

Skylit drawl-please reach out anytime.
posted by ActionPopulated at 4:55 AM on July 10, 2012 [8 favorites]


Sorry if this seems tangential, but what struck me most about this post -- besides feeling bizarrely grateful that I only needed ten years to pay off my state-school debt from the late 1980s -- is how mental illness in this country seems to go unchecked, unnoticed, unaddressed. Students killing themselves over debt? Shouldn't this be a huge wake-up call? But it isn't. The same is true for veterans: story after story after story of soldiers who can't get out from under the crushing weight of PTSD. (And speaking as someone who's bipolar, trust me, depression is very often triggered by circumstance, regardless of one's chemical predilection for it.)

There seems to be a pattern in this country of asking more and more of its citizens, and then abandoning them to fend for themselves, when their need for support is at its most critical point. In my mind, education is essentially service-oriented; we prepare people to give of themselves to society, be it in economic fields, social work, art, etc. And yet, students, soldiers, even the elderly, they're all left in the dust, forced to navigate the waters of abandonment and hopelessness, without any sort of road map from the very organizations who put them in that situation in the first place.

SkylitDrawl -- Thank you so much for being brave and sharing your story. The fact that you spoke up means you want help, you want to get through this. Don't give up. I know that sounds trite and meaningless, but I've been there. It really can get better. There really are people out there who will listen to you, take you seriously, and try and help you. Keep reaching out. And if you need to reach out to someone today, feel free to email me. I'll listen.
posted by flyingsquirrel at 5:04 AM on July 10, 2012 [8 favorites]


This is what happens when a society puts the accumulation of wealth as it's central purpose of existence.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:12 AM on July 10, 2012 [11 favorites]


(The post is okay, but the discussion is great--thank you, everybody.)
posted by box at 5:19 AM on July 10, 2012 [9 favorites]


I propose that perhaps at a certain level of dysfunction, the dysfunction indicates something structurally unsound within the system itself.

I would agree. Something is out of whack, and blaming it just on dumb kids misses the point. Like the housing bubble, this has relied on corrupt lenders and middlemen making loans that they knew were crazy, combined with regulatory capture that ensures that the lenders are protected at the expense of regular people.

this isn't really a poor person problem but a lower-middle to middle-middle class problem. I was poor and was lucky enough to get gobs of financial aid. Other poor people can probably do fairly similarly. I worked a lot of jobs in college, but if I had never lifted a finger I still would have had only about 20k in debt. People who borrow $90,000 are in the window where they're considered too rich for serious financial aid, but are too poor to be able to write big tuition checks.

It's also catches the difference between going to a well-funded school, and going to a not-so-well-funded school. I just checked, and the average student loan debt at the school where I got my BA is still almost exactly what I owed when I graduated, almost twenty years ago. If you go to a school like that, you are almost guaranteed to not have excessive loans. But those are a tiny minority of schools that are so elite and well-funded -- and worse yet are the thousands upon thousands of students attending the for-profit schools that have been created to capture the easy loan money.

It's interesting how fast the tone has shifted about big student loans. Just a couple of years ago I was reading AskMes here where people were saying "no, get the degree, even big student loans are good debt, go for it dude." That was the accepted wisdom for many years, and it's still out there. But now, if anything, the advice has swung too far in a conservative direction, where I keep reading advice to not take on debt for any graduate program.

Whatever the mix was of luck, family, aptitude, and more luck that let me graduate with about the same student loan debt as buying a new Honda Fit, it has been incredibly freeing in my life. I have friends who owe more in student loans than I took on in a mortgage -- that's a huge burden even for someone a decade or more into a successful career, and I can't imagine how it would feel to someone graduating today.

At the same time, like allkindsoftime, I've lived in places with severe poverty and crushing economic situations. I think it's good to be critical of the faults of our system and the ways it isn't working, but it's also important to not overstate the situation. Compared to being poor in most of the world, owing some student loans in the US isn't all that dire. That doesn't excuse or dismiss anything about the situation (nor, I think, should we be providing hints to the oligarchs of how much more they can extract before we hit bottom), but it is always going to be a part of my perspective on this.
posted by Forktine at 5:36 AM on July 10, 2012


Just out of curiosity, would the debt be lower if they went to community college for 2 years to take the basic/general courses? I just don't understand why people would pay full price for 2 years of essentially garbage they could take at a community college, transfer, get their BA and try to find a company to foot the bill for a MA.
posted by stormpooper at 5:55 AM on July 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


In today's economy, how many companies do you think would be willing TO foot the bill for someone's MA rather than just hiring someone else who has the degree already?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:05 AM on July 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Because their parents and all of society has told them that community college is for poor saps who can't get into a real college, and they are children who have no reason to doubt the message that every single person they know is telling them?
posted by showbiz_liz at 6:05 AM on July 10, 2012 [10 favorites]


I'm one of those lawyers with a huge amount of debt. I've got just about $170,000 and my wife has around $60,000 from getting a master's in education. Under the income based repayment, our payments are manageable, although they take up most of our discretionary income.

For us, the real depressing effect is thinking about our long term financial outlook, things like buying a house and having kids. We're going to have kids, we might well buy a house, but it's going to be a lot harder for us than it would be if we hadn't had to take out the equivalent of a mortgage to buy our education. Not to whine about the problems of being upper middle class, but things like houses, regular decent vacations, those are things you expect if you're in a professional career, and they were things that people in our position in our parents generation would have access to no question. At a minimum, we have to worry.

I also have no idea what I'm going to do in 23 years when my loans are forgiven and I have to pay taxes on something like $300,000 worth of loan forgiveness.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:07 AM on July 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


community colleges - I did my post-bacc requirements for nursing at a community college, which was extremely competitive. Classes fill up within minutes of the online registration opening. I love the education I got there (great basic sciences!), but, getting into the classes was much harder than at the university. Also, transferring credits is being made increasingly difficult, that was a common complaint from friends who were trying to transfer into 4-year colleges. but yeah, if you can swing it, I loved the community college I went to. just getting into any of the pre-health fields classes was ... intense. I would recommend it though, if you can, because it was a hell of a lot cheaper than my 4 year college. and 1/10th the cost of my current wildly overpriced institution with its crap-tastic financial aid (lookin at you, "ivy league of the south"!).

also, wait, companies foot bills for MAs? I'm familiar with hospitals/health systems helping out with tuition costs if you go on to advance your degree, but I hadn't heard of that before.

last point: I don't think it's the sheer amount as much as INTEREST that's going to drive me off the ledge ultimately. my six figure debt has fixed 7.8% interest. I remember looking at a payment plan calculator that suggested I'd need to pay about $2500 a month on a 10 year plan, which would be paying $150,000 in interest (just interest!) alone on top of the principal. so right now, that's the part that's really got my goat....feels so futile.
posted by circle_b at 6:10 AM on July 10, 2012


Let's talk about the people who commit suicide or struggle with depression because they can't afford to get their mom to a hospital or get food on the table for their kids. Maybe once we address that I can spare a thought for these kids with massive student debt.

Honestly, some of these kids will be those people if things don't change. Some of them probably already are. I've had clients whose Social Security Disability was being garnished to pay student loan debt. Under federal law, the govt has to leave you with $9,000/year in social security benefits. That's real, actual poverty, not spoiled middle-class kids whining about not being able to buy a house. And since there's no statute of limitations on federal student loans, the government can keep taking that money until you're 80. Or dead.

It also seems cruel to blame 18-year-olds for these financial decisions. Even if you sat down most kids entering college and said to them point blank, "These loans will require you to pay $x/month after you graduate," that $x is going to be meaningless without context. I had to live within my budget (allowance + work earnings) as a kid, but I didn't have any idea how much it would cost to feed myself for a month, pay rent and utilities, car payments, etc. Until student loans come with actual education about what it means to pay $x/month for 10-30 years, the problem isn't with the kids, it's with the system.
posted by Mavri at 6:10 AM on July 10, 2012 [9 favorites]


And people who don't blame the kids blame the parents, but the conventional wisdom until just recently was that student loan debt was good debt. And even now, there are parents whose kids are the first to go to college, or parents who got cheap degrees from state schools back in the day, and they're probably utterly unprepared to educate their children about these loans. It's a different world.
posted by Mavri at 6:13 AM on July 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's also catches the difference between going to a well-funded school, and going to a not-so-well-funded school.

Of course, part of the problem of being a "sensible consumer of higher education" (and I feel a little off just typing that) is that it's a long process, and the landscape keeps changing. Maybe you need a Master's degree for the job you think you want. So you start looking at schools when you are 16-17, starting a process that won't be over for 7-8 years at least, and, in the meantime, your state and federal government could cut funding unexpectedly, the administration could cancel programs, the faculty who were teaching the courses you need could retire, die, switch jobs, etc and not be replaced (which can derail or delay graduation, increasing expenses). The federal government could change rules about how student loans are handled, what the interest is, whether they can be deferred or discharged or not. To be fair, some of those changes could work in your favor, but most won't. Obviously, the window is narrower for people going back to school for a professional degree like a JD, but these changes are more sudden than most people are ready to anticipate, and it's easy to get caught in a sunk-loss kind of thinking.

And, of course, as mentioned above, many students and their families are not well placed to be "sensible consumers of higher education," because their experiences and those of the people giving them advice are even more out of date. As I have said often before, I blame this (in the US at least) on our loss of vision -- we seem not to consider education a common good that we need to support as a society but as a private good that only benefits the person getting it. And that attitude has corroded the system, duping costs directly onto the students that used to be heavily subsidized by society.

And the worst part - all the liberal college professors are STILL defending the system. The liberal college professors denounce oppression everywhere - except when they look in the mirror.

Huh. You must travel in very different circles, because in my last 13 years in higher education, I have never heard a professor, liberal or otherwise, express support for increasing student debt loads. Some don't spend a lot of time thinking about it, I am sure, but most are aware of the problem (since, you know, they talk to students pretty much daily, and, despite what a lot of people seem to think, the baseline attitude of faculty is that they want their students to be successful and happy) and are agonized about it. Sadly, their ability to change a system driven by conservative politicians and voters is not great.

Even higher ed administrators, who are, as a rule, more insulated from the students and more concerned with fiscal bottom lines, are deeply concerned with student success -- a student who does not complete their studies or can't apply them when they graduate is not a benefit to the institution. They want the system to work, but are stymied by a larger society which seems hell-bent on burning all services that used to be considered the common good and even citizen's birthrights to the ground in an orgy of misplaced fiscal ideology. If someone is colluding with banks to prey on students, it's not the faculty and administration of universities. Either that or I have been cheated out of the benefits of all my evil deeds....
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:14 AM on July 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


And the worst part - all the liberal college professors are STILL defending the system. The liberal college professors denounce oppression everywhere - except when they look in the mirror.

I don't know which survey of liberal college professors you know, but the ones I associate with are very, very unhappy about the situation and are going out of their way to caution students about taking on too much debt. And I'm just a lowly community college instructor, but I seize every opportunity to talk to my students about realistic job expectations and lucrative majors. (And, as much as I can get away with it, I tell them not to major in my field, which is a dead-end. Just don't tell my department chair or dean that I'm spreading the truth to the masses.)
posted by Alexander Hatchell at 6:15 AM on July 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


When banks and the economies of entire countries fall like dominoes, people go "This system is fucked; how can we fix it?" When hundreds of thousands of students end up in the hole, we go "Those stupid kids, they should have made good choices like me!" That is fucked up. If you're blaming each individual for making bad choices that they *obviously* shouldn't have made, rather than looking at what's happened systemically, you have been co-opted. Congrats.
posted by rtha at 6:18 AM on July 10, 2012 [22 favorites]


There should be an option to give back your JD if you got one in the last few years.
posted by smackwich at 6:20 AM on July 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


I have a son starting college in the fall. I got 2 degrees from one of the top public schools in the country (as an out of state student) in the late 80s for about $10K a year and I graduated with about $20K in student loan debt. Paying back $20K over 10 years is just an annoyance. To send my son to my alma mater as an out of state student would cost $45K a year. That is not going to happen. He will be attending the perfectly good local public school and living at home. Assuming my wife and I stay gainfully employed for the next 4 years (not a given in this economy) he should be able to graduate without taking on any debt at all.

One of his friends is headed to an out of state school - $45K per year, almost all of borrowed, and he doesn't even know what he wants to major in. It's madness. The problem seems to be parents that won't tell a kid no, we can't afford that, and we aren't going to let you go $150K in debt to get a college degree. Just no.
posted by COD at 6:20 AM on July 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Regarding footing the bill. What I mean is the last 2 major companies I worked for pays for advanced educations (I believe 80%). You need to stay one year after receiving the degree otherwise you pay back the education. Ours is big on people getting their MBA. For hiring, most hire those right out of college with a BA and most then take advantage of the MBA and then leave. I don't know, sometimes looking at the company with the most perks to get what you want out of it helps too. I'm not saying finding a job is easy seeing the stats of graduates not finding a job but I am just curious about their limitations. Is it only in one state? Is it they're trying to find the job that starts out at $65k+?

I agree that the killer is the interest on these loans.
posted by stormpooper at 6:25 AM on July 10, 2012


Today after work, I am going to print this article (or a better one if anyone has a source other than Huffpo) and send it to all of my congresscritters with a letter that says, basically, "what are you doing about this?"
posted by gauche at 6:28 AM on July 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Here's a list of 10 companies who foot the bill.

Two I worked for were Discover Card and a major insurance carrier.
posted by stormpooper at 6:29 AM on July 10, 2012 [1 favorite]



Just out of curiosity, would the debt be lower if they went to community college for 2 years to take the basic/general courses? I just don't understand why people would pay full price for 2 years of essentially garbage they could take at a community college, transfer, get their BA and try to find a company to foot the bill for a MA.


First, you have to have a good local community college and then, as circle_b points out, you have to get into your courses. In the middle-class area where I live, there are a lot of 20-somethings seemingly in community-college limbo while they work in food and retail, sometimes spinning their wheels for a whole year because they can't get into the courses they need. And the community college here is supposedly fantastic. Maybe they are not accumulating debt, but they're going to be much older when they start making an actual salary and benefits. Of course, they may feel that's a pipe dream anyway.
posted by BibiRose at 6:31 AM on July 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Just out of curiosity, would the debt be lower if they went to community college for 2 years to take the basic/general courses? I just don't understand why people would pay full price for 2 years of essentially garbage they could take at a community college, transfer, get their BA and try to find a company to foot the bill for a MA.

Maybe. It depends on your income, where you would be transferring to, and all kinds of other specifics that aren't useful to speculate about. In a lot of cases, definitely, students would be smart to try and get a place at a community college for the first years, and then transfer, but it's not a total given that it will pay off. I've never worked at a place that would pay the cost of an MA, though I have been at places that would do things like let you take classes on the clock (which is sort of subsidizing a degree, but still leaves you with the bill).

Interestingly to me, my local community college has technical programs that have 100 percent job placement rates. You aren't going to earn Big Law salaries, but spending about $7000 in tuition for two years to get access to a job that likely starts in the $30-$40k range, sometimes higher, looks like smart math to me. But they are competitive programs to get into, and you need to be able to both handle intellectual things like math and technical classes, as well as being able to handle tough physical work outdoors in all weather, from blizzard to heat wave. Just saying that programs like that exist doesn't help someone who doesn't have those skills, can't relocate to take advantage of it, or is so buried in problems that even the community college tuition is a total barrier.
posted by Forktine at 6:32 AM on July 10, 2012


I just literally spent about 5 hours yesterday putting together a presentation and student loan debt was a huge part of it. A few facts:

- student loan debt has now surpassed credit card debt for the first time ever and tops $1 trillion dollars
- half of recent graduates are either unemployed, or (imo a less talked about and more sinister problem) UNDEREMPLOYED
- student loan debt can essentially not be discharged in bankrupcy as has been pointed out
- social security can be garnished to pay off student loan debt
- 1/3 of debt is held by people over 40, this includes both older people who have taken on debt and parents who co-signed for their children who are not able to pay
- college costs have been rising so quickly and so fast that the amount of debt that students have to take on to complete a degree is no longer in any way proportional to the earnings they can expect
- at this point, people who have a college degree still make more over a lifetime than high school graduates. However, it will take several decade to see the true effects that high college costs and a shitty economy and job outlook will have on recent grads
- The homeownership rate for people 25 to 29 is at its lowest level since 1999, and for 30- to 34-year-olds it's the lowest rate in 17 years. First time home buyers are the key to an economic recovery. Also as klangklangston mentioned, many young people are putting off marriage and starting families due to this debt.

So, it's a scary situation and we are only beginning to see the consequences. Not being able to discharge student loan debts in bankruptcy is a relatively new thing and we really need to push to bring that back. Because given what we know about how debt affects both individuals and society, it is fucking criminal to chain people to this burden which will stay with them essentially to the grave.
posted by triggerfinger at 6:36 AM on July 10, 2012 [15 favorites]


Let's talk about the people who commit suicide or struggle with depression because they can't afford to get their mom to a hospital or get food on the table for their kids. Maybe once we address that I can spare a thought for these kids with massive student debt.

I don't get this line of thinking generally, if only because there's pretty much always someone suffering more than anyone else and I don't see any real point to shutting off empathy to people, but it's also a terrible way to think about people who suffer from mental illness. The thing about mental illness is that it makes the amount you're suffering more or less completely subjective and doesn't have much to do with your circumstances. It's entirely possible for someone who has mental health issues to feel just as panicked by not being able to pick a movie at Blockbuster as I do about having to dip into my savings to pay rent.* Depression just doesn't work along some sort of linear scale based on how serious your problem objectively is.

*This example is drawn from life
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:36 AM on July 10, 2012 [22 favorites]


Westvaco Corp (now MeadWestvaco) paid for most of my MBA. IIRC, they reimbursed 90% for an A, 80% for a B. It took me 3 years and 1 quarter of night school to complete it. I'm not sure if really made any difference from a career standpoint, but I did learn a lot, and 20 years later I'm still friends with a few of the people that I met in grad school.
posted by COD at 6:40 AM on July 10, 2012


Just listening to the California Report on our local public radio station, and they're telling me that community colleges in this state have seen cuts of $770 million dollars, and a 15% reduction in classes in recent years. So yeah, "go to your local CC for your gen eds" is much easier said than done.
posted by rtha at 6:54 AM on July 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


I know 4 young people, all with work experience, who are heading to law school this year. We tried to politely hint that they might want to look online for articles related to big firms that are falling apart, the bimodal curve of lawyer salaries, the loan crisis, but I dont think they will.
posted by discopolo at 6:56 AM on July 10, 2012


discopolo, it's hard to overcome people's presumption that law school is still a ticket to ride. Send them some links from here. You'll be saving lives.

I recently got a thank-you note from a friend whom I discouraged, three years ago, from going to law school.
posted by gauche at 7:00 AM on July 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


I wrote this- oh, wow, almost exactly a year ago. And you know what, I got lucky! Through a family friend, I met a guy who gave me an interview, and I now have an office job, with benefits. It's still not a lot, but I can breathe. I feel like a huge weight has been lifted off of me, every day.

Of course, I still can't save much of anything. And when my computer broke a few weeks ago, I broke down crying because I knew I couldn't easily afford to buy a new one. And I am basically trapped in this city because the idea of picking up and moving somewhere new with a few months' savings and finding a job is a total pipe dream to people like me. But I'm not being sarcastic when I say I am happy, and grateful.

Every time these stories come up, I think what a bullet I dodged. I had great SATs, pretty good grades, meh extracurriculars. Good enough for my state school, not good enough for my school of choice- Swarthmore. I cried when I didn't get in. Thank GOD I didn't. As it is, I still wound up with $28K of debt- and yes, I went to a state school, and that's with working 15 hours a week on top of my loans. It would be higher if I hadn't worked.

I have been talking a lot about college with the guy I'm seeing, who is going to school for the first time at age 26. Previously he attended a trade school, then worked in that trade for a few years, figured out a related career that he wanted to do, and realized he'd need a specific degree to do it. For him, this is a business decision, and he wouldn't be going if he didn't need this specific degree. I, on the other hand, just... went to college, right out of high school, with no clear idea of what I wanted to do.

Why? It's not because he was more savvy than me. It's because most of the adults he knew, including his parents, hadn't gone to college, and most of the adults I knew had. My parents, all my aunts and uncles, my parents' friends, my friends' parents, the members of our church- I can count on one hand the important adults in my life without degrees.

Thing is, my parents explicitly told me, over and over, that we could be anything we wanted, and we didn't have to go to college. But... what would that even mean? I didn't know. I barely knew trade schools existed. I had absolutely no models in my life for what a successful person who didn't go to college would look like. It was inconceivable.
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:01 AM on July 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


discopolo: or here. Many of these are about law school debt.
posted by gauche at 7:02 AM on July 10, 2012


I recently got a thank-you note from a friend whom I discouraged, three years ago, from going to law school.

My roommate regularly thanks me because my tales of law school debt and unemployment got his mother to stop telling him to go to law school. Right now he's a paralegal, makes as much as me, and has zero debt. I won't say I'm happy to have provided the service, but I'm glad he didn't go to law school.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:06 AM on July 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Right now he's a paralegal, makes as much as me, and has zero debt.

Last year, an attorney who works across the cube from me here in the insurance factory applied for a paralegal position that he saw advertised. The firm told him that they got so many applications from out-of-work attorneys willing to work as paralegals that they re-posted the job as an associate with the same salary.
posted by gauche at 7:16 AM on July 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


My brother got an offer for masters in intellectual property rights from a school in Munich, but didn't get any aid. We've been telling him to go easy on that this year at least, given his current job, which he likes, and given the uncertainty in Germany. Poor kid had taken it a bit bad -he's always wanted to go to Europe- but reading this thread, I'm thinking he made a good decision.

Or at least that's what I'll be telling him
posted by the cydonian at 7:20 AM on July 10, 2012


Gauche, if I said anything else, I'm sure they wouldn't listen. They'd read the links and feel like I was trying to bring them down.
posted by discopolo at 7:22 AM on July 10, 2012


The best way to get funding for a masters in the US is to be accepted to a fully funded PhD program that includes a masters, and leave early.

There are some academic masters which are funded - I know that some are in Canada. But that's often only partial funding, unless you receive a scholarship from one of the Tri-Council (research councils) or something otherwise special.
posted by jb at 7:33 AM on July 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


But every time I hear this tome, some Ivy League victim is trotted out with enough debt to buy a brand new house and a nice car to go in the garage. I don't think, now in my mid-30's, with a good job and 12 years of work under my belt, that I can afford a nice new house, let alone a new car. In fact, its not just that I don't think it - I know its an insane idea.... I'm as happy as anyone to stand up for the hard working students who went to a college that was reasonably within their ability to afford, but there are a lot of people crying foul right now that simply do not fall into this group.

I absolutely want to address this, because it's a misconception that so many people have, and it absolutely poisons the discussion about student debt. The students most vulnerable to crushing debt loads are not students who borrowed more than they could afford to attend elite colleges or postgraduate programs, including law and medicine. The most vulnerable students are low-income undergraduates pursuing degrees at public college, regional private non-profit colleges and private for-profit colleges. For instance, 87% of Pell Grant-eligible undergraduates leave college with loan debt. (click on the June 10 fact sheet, which includes the info on for-profit colleges referred to below.) The Pell program was originally intended to cover most or all of the cost of an undergraduate education for low-income students, many of whom were the first in their families to attend college. Thirty years ago, the Pell program covered about 70% of the cost of attendance at a public college. Today, a Pell grant covers less than a third of that cost.

Students at for-profit colleges are also vulnerable. 96% of those students borrow to attend for degrees of specious value. Most of those students are also low-income, first-generation students who are susceptible to predatory marketing. (Check out the story of the for-profit recruiter who signed up Marines with traumatic brain injuries, some of whom could not recall afterwards which classes they enrolled in.) 75% of those students fail to earn a degree from the for-profit school, and they are more likely to default. Those defaults are incredibly predictable- take a low-income person with a desire to better themselves, lend them $20k for a worthless degree, and then spit them out 18 months later with new debt to service and no credential.

Stories of students who went to an expensive, elite private college to study basket-weaving are very, very common in news media (I suspect because those students are the type to be friends with media professionals), but they do not paint a true picture of the students most burdened by educational debt- those students are low-income, first-generation college students who do not have enough information about the education market to make an informed financial decision before enrolling in college. Those are the students who need reform.

SkylitDrawl, I am so so sorry that you are struggling so much. Please stay with us; we need you here so badly. I and many other people are standing with you.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 7:37 AM on July 10, 2012 [34 favorites]


They'd read the links and feel like I was trying to bring them down.

Yeah, like I said, it's a tough presumption to overcome.
posted by gauche at 7:37 AM on July 10, 2012


By the way, the best course of action is to get the best education you possibly can, then leave the country.
posted by Jeff Mangum's Penny-farthing at 7:42 AM on July 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Student debt up, all other kinds down:
For the quarter, student debt rose by $30 billion, or 3.4%, while all other kinds of debt fell by $131 billion, or 1.2%. Of the other major categories, only auto debt was up (but just 0.3%); mortgages (-1.0%), credit cards (-3.6%), and home equity lines (-2.4%) all fell. Debt has broadly been falling for almost four years, but student debt continues to rise. Nonstudent debt is down 13% from its 2008 peak—but student debt makes a new peak every quarter.
I guess this is the part where I can say that by any measure (STEM degree in four years! debt-free! well-paying professional job!), I made all the 'right' decisions, and yet I can still think the student loan debt explosion (fueled, like other bubbles, by 'easy' money, a strict repayment scheme, and social pressure) is out-of-control bullshit.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:43 AM on July 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


.

Anyone in absurd debt from student loans: with overwhelming probability, your problem has nothing to do with your personal morality, or prudence, or responsibility, or anything like that. You are no more "entitled" than anyone else, since "you" are an entire demographic, and personality features don't really work that way. Your situation is the result of mass insanity, and your depression is an understandable response to absurd circumstances, like an allergy but with more justification. Nothing about the situation reflects on you, though, and your ability or inability to compete in a rigged game that elevates wealth above its actual practical importance sure as fuck doesn't.

Stuff that reflects your actual value as a human is not stuff that you have in common with millions of other people, i.e. if your negative circumstances are shared with millions, they probably have little to do with the wisdom of your decisions, given the information you had. You share your despair with millions of other people; your despair is a rational response to a problem that you did not cause, and which is both larger than, and separate from, yourself.

As someone who dodged the student-debt bullet essentially by a series of random bits of luck, almost anything you do about this despair garners nothing but admiration from me (for the exactly nothing that that is worth). Please don't fucking kill yourself, though. Go find the other people in your situation, who are also in that situation as a result of predatory societal insanity. Find LOTS of them, and go into the street, and peacefully but unambiguously demand that your society wise the fuck up, because this is everyone's problem, as well as yours. For however much or little it is worth, I and a lot of people like me will join you, and be on your side.
posted by kengraham at 7:50 AM on July 10, 2012 [14 favorites]


What does a company that provides these loans get from having given money that will never be paid back? Is it like the mortgage crisis, where they get wrapped in to financial products and sold to other buyers as good debt? Is it that the debtor will end up eventually paying X more in interest payments than they were ever lent for the degree, thereby making it a good long-term investment for the bank (even if they never get the full amount owed)?
posted by codacorolla at 7:50 AM on July 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


SkylitDrawl, I, too, encourage you to reach out if you find yourself contemplating hurting yourself. I promise you are not inconveniencing anybody. There is help, and you are absolutely not alone.

Here are some words I wrote to someone who was, like you, contemplating suicide over their student loans. I hope they may help you.

You are thinking about trading everything -- everything in the world, all of your future experiences, all of your relationships, all of your struggles and triumphs, everything you have not yet learned or understood -- just to not have to pay back money that you don't even have anyway. This doesn't sound like a great trade to me.

It's a painful time. We are all, I think, realizing that the future we were promised is a lie, stolen from us by rich and powerful men who are in all likelihood going to die content, in their own beds. I just [at the time of writing] finished a two-year stint of self-employment that felt a lot more like unemployment, for all the money I had coming in: I know it can be really tough to feel like you have any self-worth without working. I don't know what else you're going through, but I know that these are troubled times, and it does not surprise me to find people troubled by them.

But please don't feel like you have to carry around everything you're carrying around with you. You don't have to feel like there's no hope just because you owe some fucking money, of all things. There's a lot of hope. Maybe your life will be different than you expected: maybe you will have to live with terrible credit and never buy a house. Who the fuck cares? You're still alive; you can still learn new things, can still make jokes and play with a puppy and drink lemonade on a hot day (or whatever brings a smile to you). Please, please don't let owing Sallie Mae be the thing that is so big that it negates your whole existence. It's just Sallie fucking Mae. Don't let them win. Don't let them take away lemonade and joking and being alive.
posted by gauche at 7:53 AM on July 10, 2012 [7 favorites]


I am grateful that I have work, when many of my friends and family struggle to find it. I am star-crossed and truly blessed. The difference is that most of my family and friends struggling to find work don't have extreme amounts of debt to repay like the people in these articles. Let's talk about the people who commit suicide or struggle with depression because they can't afford to get their mom to a hospital or get food on the table for their kids. Maybe once we address that I can spare a thought for these kids with massive student debt.

But lord, that day will never come.

You know, there's this elite strategy called "divide and rule". One of the ways it works is distinguishing between "good" poor folks and "bad" poor folks. "Good" poor folks pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, and if they demonstrate via paperwork and public testimony that they are "good" enough, elites will provide some modest social services for them. "Bad" poor people can go die in a hole.*

The only way that regular people will win in this country is to come together, to stop nickel-and-diming each other over who is deserving and who isn't. We have to create programs that serve everyone, regardless of some kind of "you're whining because you have student debt but I deserve help because I can't afford insurance" line of reasoning.

It's worth remembering that while you think people deserve to take their moms to the hospital, the same right-wingers who say students are whining think that your mom should just curl up and die because she can't afford insurance. Student debt, medical debt, homelessness, it's all the same to the elites - as long as they can get a bigger slice of the pie they don't care which ones of us were "good".



*This is often a proxy for racism - "good" poor people are usually white; "bad" poor people are usually brown.
posted by Frowner at 7:55 AM on July 10, 2012 [35 favorites]


The link between economic depression and suicide rates makes sense and seems, at least, to have a historical basis. It's the causal link between specifically student loans and suicide rates that makes this piece feel a little woo-woo.
posted by deathpanels at 7:56 AM on July 10, 2012


If you need to take out 50k dollars in loans in order to get a degree, then the government colludes with loan companies to make it impossible for you to discharge that debt, then it seems evident to me that you are just not wanted as a citizen.

Don't pay anyone a dime, and get out of the country while you can.
posted by Jeff Mangum's Penny-farthing at 8:04 AM on July 10, 2012 [1 favorite]



also, wait, companies foot bills for MAs? I'm familiar with hospitals/health systems helping out with tuition costs if you go on to advance your degree, but I hadn't heard of that before.

I don't know about MAs, but I've worked for a few companies that offered "tuition reimbursement" if you wanted to get an advanced degree (MS, usually in CompSci or something similar) if you could prove that it was directly related to your current job.
posted by deathpanels at 8:06 AM on July 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's the causal link between specifically student loans and suicide rates that makes this piece feel a little woo-woo.

Why? Do you believe that there is something special about student debt, such that student debtors should be less likely than other sorts of debtors to commit suicide?*

I think you're misreading the article. I don't see where it says that student debt is more strongly correlated to suicide than other forms of debt. It just says, there's a lot of student debt, and we are seeing suicides as a result.

* Frankly, I suspect that student debtors would probably be slightly more likely to commit suicide than debtors holding other kinds of debt: whatever subset of debtors who would commit suicide if not for bankruptcy will commit suicide when bankruptcy is not available to them, as in the case of student loans.
posted by gauche at 8:07 AM on July 10, 2012


allkindsoftime: It started with parents who put a strong work ethic in me at a young age - building fences and stacking firewood and mowing the lawn and cleaning the chicken coop all at a young age. .....

And 12 years into professional life you are not in a position to own any of those things, so if you had a kid, he wouldn't have a fence to build or a yard to mow or a fireplace to supply or a coop to clean. Because you haven't been able to achieve what your father had achieved at your age. And you're not the only one, and the situation gets worse by the year.

By the time I was 16 I was working at a grocery store, and when I graduated high school later that year, I started working 40 hours a week the month before my 17th birthday.

Those jobs are no longer available to unskilled young people learning to manage their money for the first time. They're filled by adults trying to support families and retirees trying to supplement their depleted retirement savings. When my 16-year-old son looked for work this summer, all of the usual jobs -- fast-food places, grocery stores, dishwashing and busing tables, and cleaning at the dog kennel -- were already taken by adults who can't find any other work. So he's volunteering at a local community center, every day, 8:30-4, and I'm paying him for his time. Just like for the paralegals T.D. Strange referred to above, the lower you already are on the ladder, the faster the rungs you can reach are being removed.
posted by headnsouth at 8:17 AM on July 10, 2012 [43 favorites]


It makes me so sad that we have such a horrible system in place. I am currently in the process of trying to go back to school in my 30s. I have been in my career for over a decade, but due to terribly bad choices in my late teens and early 20s, I am jumping through hoops to try to fix things I did 10 years ago that are impacting me heavily now. I would so love to not have to go get this degree, but I have hit a wall where the first 15 minutes of every interview for the last 7 years have been about why I don't have a degree, and whether or not I'm capable without it.

What this has said to me is that it isn't a lie that you need a college degree to get a job- the lie is that a college degree will actually get you one. Community colleges in CA have been slashed to a point that it's incredibly difficult to get any of the classes needed, and a number of 4 year colleges are only taking a small number of transfer students. This system is set up for failure, and there is no way out.
posted by Nimmie Amee at 8:19 AM on July 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


Not suicidal, but struggling to stay on top of too much student loan debt, paying a bit extra each month in an attempt to nibble it down. I got out from under a bad mortgage a few years ago, and that process actually made sense compared to figuring out monthly student loan obligations. I'll get notices of payments due with no amount due or business address to send payment. I get statements with no record of payments applied to the account. Apparently one of the loans was sold and bought back, so I have yet another account number to track.

In my opinion, the system adds an additional layer of crazy-making by being so opaque about the billing cycle that debtors are forced to make a leap of faith and throw monthly money at the lenders. While I could use some modest debt relief and reorganization, I'd settle for a easy-to-ready monthly statement.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:33 AM on July 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


wolfdreams01 : When you "invest in yourself" through higher education, it's important to make sure that there's enough base capital to make the multiplicative effect of your investment substantial enough to be rewarding. Unfortunately, studies show most people have an inflated view of their own utility, and so the educational system will be taking advantage of people for many years to come.
And those studies are considering a representative slice of the population - all ages and experience levels. Students making decisions about college often haven't even reached legal adulthood yet. They clearly aren't ready to comprehend multi-decade loan commitments.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:35 AM on July 10, 2012


Those jobs are no longer available to unskilled young people learning to manage their money for the first time.

This. Was I brilliant because when I was a sophomore in high school, I parlayed a connection with a caterer into a part-time job as a bread baker, and then that into a prep cook position at a fancy food store, all before I hit college? Not hardly. I was just as dumb as everyone else in high school. I happened to be in the right place at the right time.

It was the 80s. The caterer who hired me had enough economic stability and growth to be able to quit catering and open her own artisanal bakery (which is still going! that's my first real boss there on the page! Thanks, Christy!) and hire people, including taking a risk on then-15-year-old me.
posted by rtha at 8:36 AM on July 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


« I’m going to tell you a story. It’s the story of a good girl from a quiet town who prayed, studied hard, said no to drugs, and otherwise did everything she was told—and then went on to become Sallie Mae’s bitch and lost just about everything. This story is mine. »—Fuck Your Prayer, Show Me Solidarity
posted by procrastinator at 9:02 AM on July 10, 2012 [8 favorites]


Because what's the alternative? Are we supposed to tell our children not to go to school? Not to pursue a degree? That it might make them worse off? No, not exactly. Education is important. But the received wisdom needs to change.

No, what needs to change is tuition.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 9:09 AM on July 10, 2012 [7 favorites]


from procrastinator's link:

I Said No To My Student Loans, and the author blogs about the response, including this gem: They ought to strip you of your citizenship! You ought to have your child taken away! I hope the lenders DO drive you to suicide!

posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:21 AM on July 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Bankruptcy laws should be changed to allow discharge of student debt. Compounding interest on a debt that can't be discharged is too close to debt slavery.
posted by OrderOctopoda at 9:25 AM on July 10, 2012 [7 favorites]


Let's talk about the people who commit suicide or struggle with depression because they can't afford to get their mom to a hospital or get food on the table for their kids. Maybe once we address that I can spare a thought for these kids with massive student debt.

Let's talk about all the programs that currently exist to help these people, like SNAP or Medicaid, which don't exist to help young people with student debt. And let's talk about how student debt can compound other issues. Like a friend of mine who had student debt and then was hit by a car and incurred medical debt*. And in the end, we have to talk about how hard it is to get help for mental health issues in this country. When I was at my poorest, I sought help at a low-cost clinic (Sunset Terrace in Brooklyn), which required 3 intake appointments, all at times when normal people would be at work, and if you missed even one you had to start at the beginning. Needless to say, I never was able to see a psychologist.



*Happy ending- he moved to China to escape debt collectors and is quite successful there, though it would be difficult for him to ever move back here.
posted by melissam at 9:30 AM on July 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


As someone who has been dodging student loans for nigh 10 years, I can tell you what it takes for me. I have no assets in my name. I have a drivers' license and passport. I think the only bill that has my name on it the garbage. My partner has a job where he can do everything on his own -- cars, house, etc.

I have not had a job for 7 (!!) years due to disability. I am applying for SSDI, but that process is long and arduous, and often not successful. Even if I do get it, there is no guarantee that I can get these loans discharged. My partner and I are holding off on marriage since I don't know what that would do in terms of him potentially being on the hook for my debt -- which to me is unacceptable.

I mean, you can't even get it discharged after 20 years or something?? Sure, there are no physical debtors' prisons, but when you are living your life without the ability on your own to even rent a decent place, it sure can feel like a prison.
posted by waitangi at 9:46 AM on July 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


allkindsoftime: I am grateful that I have work, when many of my friends and family struggle to find it. I am star-crossed and truly blessed.

If what you are is actually "star-crossed," you'd better be looking for a lot of dump trucks to hold all the holy water you'll need to ward off the looming vampire armies.

Yeah, get back to me when you actually start taxing the rich, the ones who could actually afford to do that for you (and maybe pay for healthcare for people who can't afford college in the first place).

Who is this "you" to whom you refer? There are tons of people all over the United States working their asses off to elevate the message about student loan debt and other systemic crises to the level of awareness that might penetrate the minds of the loons who are in a position to make something like "tax the rich" happen. But the loons aren't listening to anything but the voices in their heads and the money arriving in their re-election coffers from the interests they really listen to -- and who do those turn out to be, not so coincidentally? The rich!

Where I live, there is a Tea Party Congresswoman elected in 2010 who's now running for re-election. Her campaign slogan is not "Tax the rich," but "Cut their pay" -- as in cut the pay of every member of Congress if he or she refuses to make cutting the national deficit his or her top priority in office, above everything else, sanity be damned. Forget about taxing the rich, that's Class Warfare and Unbridled Socialism! And she has a primary opponent who is even farther to the right than she is, and God knows what snappy campaign slogan she's going to come up with other than her current "I owned a construction company for 20 years. I build stuff, Obama destroys stuff." That really sounds like the ideal climate for a "tax the rich" initiative. And that's the climate we've got in this country until some as-yet undefined tipping point arrives at which we become sick of blaming each other for our ills and start finding ways to work together to get out of this maze.

Meanwhile, you've got donors at Romney fundraisers saying stuff like this: “I don’t think the common person is getting it. We’ve got the message. But my college kid, the baby sitters, the nails ladies — everybody who’s got the right to vote — they don’t understand what’s going on. I just think if you’re lower income — one, you’re not as educated, two, they don’t understand how it works, they don’t understand how the systems work, they don’t understand the impact.”

waitangi: Sure, there are no physical debtors' prisons, but when you are living your life without the ability on your own to even rent a decent place, it sure can feel like a prison.

There are states and counties in the US in which there have been the return of the equivalent of physical debtors' prisons, alas.
posted by blucevalo at 10:18 AM on July 10, 2012 [7 favorites]


Student loans used to be dischargeable in bankruptcy, up to the mid-70's. Then a restriction requiring a minimum number of years of repayment prior to dischargeability was imposed.

Then in the last 90's all government-backed student loans were no longer dischargeable in bankruptcy, unless one could meet the difficult-to-meet standard of "undue hardship to debtor or debtor's dependents. In 2005, the definition of a non-dischargeable student loan was expanded, to include private, non-government-backed student loans or "any other educational loan that is a qualified education loan, as defined in section 221(d)(1) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986." (11 USC Section 523(a)(8)(B).)

There are currently two bills in Congress to reverse the 2005 changes: S.1102 -- Fairness for Struggling Students Act of 2011 and H.R.2028 -- Private Student Loan Bankruptcy Fairness Act of 2011 but this won't bring us back to the time when government-backed loans could be discharged, with or without a high burden of proof.

I cannot find the report online, but the National Consumer Law Center says that there is no data to support the claim that students were wantonly discharging their loans in bankruptcy, rather than paying them back. It certainly is hard to compare student loan burdens of people in the 1960's with those of the 2010's but one theme runs through all consumer law analyses--particularly that done with an eye toward helping consumers or social justice in general. People want to repay their debts.

The data shows that even when people could--theoretically--have taken out student loans with no intention of paying them back, but intending to discharge them in bankruptcy--people did not behave that way. They took out loans, intending to repay them, and only sought discharge when there was little or no other option.

Considering that certain federally-backed student loans can be forgiven after 120 contiguous payments while continuously-employed at a qualifying non-profit institution, or after 25 years of continuous payments, if you are in income-based repayment (I believe it was changed to 20 years, but can't find a link), it seems to me that re-allowing dischargeability is not going to harm the system.

My fear is that these programs will be taken from us, just as dischargeability was.
posted by crush-onastick at 10:20 AM on July 10, 2012 [7 favorites]


Colleges/Universities should be co-signers on all student loans. If they are indeed providing students with a quality (and useful) education and are diligent in their job placement activities, there should be nothing to worry about when co-signing loans to pay for that service.

Of course, this would apply to the principle but interest/late fees/penalties may need to be placed a little more heavily (all?) on the student to prevent a complete moral hazard.
posted by wabashbdw at 10:30 AM on July 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


And that's the climate we've got in this country until some as-yet undefined tipping point arrives at which we become sick of blaming each other for our ills and start finding ways to work together to get out of this maze.

In the entirety of human history I am not aware of a single instance in which chronically reduced resources ever resulted in a society working together for a long-term solution. We are capable of sharing in a crisis but not over the long haul. When the well (or the Colorado River) is running dry, people and governments will fight to the death for the last drop.
posted by headnsouth at 10:33 AM on July 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


For anyone suggesting community college as a way around burdensome student loan debt, I recommend a look at this report on community college success rates from California.

Key findings:
-70% of degree-seeking students had not completed a degree or certificate within six years of enrolling.
-Only 23% of students who enrolled transferred to a four-year university, with Latino students having the lowest transfer rate.
-Only 40% of degree-seeking students earned at least 30 college-level credits, the minimum needed for "significant economic benefit."

So you need to wait forever to get enrolled in popular classes, as posters above have mentioned, you still may have to take out loans to pay for those classes, and even if you do earn enough credits for the significant economic benefit, you'll still get employers judging you because you didn't bootstrap your way to the full BA. No wonder people are skeptical.

Report originally found through this very relevant post, which I'm sure I saw on the blue at some point.
posted by ActionPopulated at 10:35 AM on July 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


What I don't understand is that if college is so much more expensive now, where does all the money go? Better gyms? Higher salaries for the president? The actual cash value of a college degree is quite obviously less now than it was a decade ago. A plainly fvcked up system.
posted by jetsetsc at 10:41 AM on July 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


I cannot find the report online, but the National Consumer Law Center says that there is no data to support the claim that students were wantonly discharging their loans in bankruptcy, rather than paying them back.

The reason student loans aren't dischargeable in bankruptcy is that it's impossible to secure the debt against the education.

It should be obvious that this is also why you can't pay for perishable food or movie tickets or a haircut using a credit card.
posted by gauche at 10:50 AM on July 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


I don't know where the money goes, but rumor is it's not to the faculty.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 10:52 AM on July 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Sure, yes, gauche, you can't secure the loan with the object being purchased, but the popular media spin on the changes in the 70's and through to the 90's was nothing so pedestrian as securitization. It was lousy deadbeat students who wanted a free ride.

Student loans were long dischargeable without institutions who gave them going under from the burden of unsecured loans.
posted by crush-onastick at 10:53 AM on July 10, 2012


(not that I missed the sarcasm, what with the "you can't buy a haircut with a credit card" . . .nope, not me!)
posted by crush-onastick at 10:54 AM on July 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Let's talk about the people who commit suicide or struggle with depression because they can't afford to get their mom to a hospital or get food on the table for their kids. Maybe once we address that I can spare a thought for these kids with massive student debt.

Who are you to hover over the coffins of the dead and decide whether their suicide was legitimate or not?
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 10:55 AM on July 10, 2012 [14 favorites]


I just ran the numbers through our local state university's online aid calculator. If we were sending our 5-year-old daughter to college today, with the income we currently enjoy, she would expect to graduate college with around $65K in debt. Less if she lived at home all four years. Time to invest in the GET program.
posted by KathrynT at 11:02 AM on July 10, 2012


To quote from a sidebarred comment, debt that cannot be repaid is not helping anyone. It is obscene that we have to pay for school with loans in the first place, since an educated populace is a public good, but doubly obscene that the rules we have in place to make lending and borrowing socially positive don't apply to these particular loans.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:07 AM on July 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


The reason student loans aren't dischargeable in bankruptcy is that it's impossible to secure the debt against the education.

Yes, and the way the education market dealt with securing debt until about the mid-90s was by keeping tuitions low (done by both public and private colleges and universities), investing in public higher education (done by states and the federal government), admitting students based on whether or not they could pay (done by private colleges) and limiting the amount that banks would lend.

All of this kept the market for higher education more or less rational, kept for-profit colleges out of all but a few trades (cosmetology is the one most people are familiar with) and protected students.

Banks lobbied to remove bankruptcy protection from student debt and to have that debt secured by the federal government so that they could lend absurd amounts of money at usurious rates and turn a higher profit on each student. Colleges responded by raising tuition accordingly because lenders would lend it and the federal government guaranteed the money. State governments responded by pulling out of higher ed funding and counting on students to make up the difference with debt. Everyone but the student benefits in this arrangement, and it has grossly distorted the market for higher education.

It should be obvious that this is also why you can't pay for perishable food or movie tickets or a haircut using a credit card.

I assume you mean "can't" as in "shouldn't," because you can buy all of those things with a credit card.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 11:15 AM on July 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


(not that I missed the sarcasm, what with the "you can't buy a haircut with a credit card" . . .nope, not me!)

Oh, whoops, never mind, me, too! Apparently this gets me so riled up that I can no longer comprehend the written word. Sorry, gauche.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 11:17 AM on July 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I wonder what would happen of a strapped borrower were to contact their lending company, announce their intent to commit suicide because of inability to pay, and asked what procedures to take to insure their debt would disappear with them and no attempt would be made to collect from their family. I wonder how AES or MOHELA would react to such a call?
posted by sourwookie at 11:23 AM on July 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


I should have been clearer -- I wasn't trolling, more commenting on the side while at work and also kind of het up about this issue myself, as my posting history here no doubt will show.
posted by gauche at 11:46 AM on July 10, 2012


The reason student loans aren't dischargeable in bankruptcy is that it's impossible to secure the debt against the education. [¶] It should be obvious that this is also why you can't pay for perishable food or movie tickets or a haircut using a credit card.

I think you're being facetious, but it's not a bad point to bring up: we allow people to run up unsecured debt that is dischargable in bankruptcy all the time -- in the form of credit cards.

The reason we don't have a society-meltdown-inducing crisis over this, is specifically because the debt is dischargable. If you're a credit card lender (e.g. BoA, Chase, etc.), you have a very good reason to not lend out significantly more than a person can repay: eventually, they'll go bankrupt and you'll never get the money back.

But with student loans, specifically because they're non-dischargable, there's nothing stopping a bank from letting some poor dumb student run up a few hundred thou in loans, particularly when it's in "fees" that don't really cost the bank anything. There's no risk of it going away in a bankruptcy court, so at the very least you're guaranteed to get a cut of their salary for the rest of their life via wage garnishments.

It's that change -- making student loans non-dischargable -- that led to higher education turning into the monster that it currently is. Sure, there are other issues: the weird facilities arms-race between high-end schools, for profit colleges preying on veterans, the rise of armies of administrators that don't seem to add much value to a student's education, etc., but all of that would be limited in scope if it weren't for billions of dollars in student loans being pumped into the system.

If education loans were treated like any other form of unsecured debt -- dischargable through the regular bankruptcy process -- fewer students would be able to borrow ridiculous sums of money in the first place, because banks would recognize them for the terrible credit risks that they are. Higher ed institutions that have grown fat on student loans would have to slim down, a whole bunch of law schools and for-profit colleges would close up shop, and in general we'd have to deal with yet another bubble bursting. But it's better than letting another generation of kids get broken on the wheel of student debt.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:56 AM on July 10, 2012 [11 favorites]


I think you're being facetious, but it's not a bad point to bring up: we allow people to run up unsecured debt that is dischargable in bankruptcy all the time -- in the form of credit cards...

That's a much better way of expressing the point I was trying to make. Thank you.
posted by gauche at 12:00 PM on July 10, 2012


What's really sick, I think, is that the extra money that schools are getting off of the deal aren't going to instructors — the era of skyrocketing tuition and the era of college courses taught by extremely underpaid contingent labor coincide with each other — but instead to administrator salaries and new construction.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:07 PM on July 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


I wonder how AES or MOHELA would react to such a call?

Probably call up their pet Senator and tell them to get cracking making student debt non-dischargable in death as well.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:08 PM on July 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh God, I can relate to this. A year ago, I had to leave NY and move to a much cheaper town in Georgia with some friends because my debts were getting out of control, and I could no longer afford to stay in the city. I was almost suicidally depressed at the time. I fantasized about killing myself by throwing myself of the George Washington Bridge. It was really bad.

But things have gotten better. Since then, my freelance illustration business has picked up, and I've been able to keep my godawful Sallie Mae loans out of default. I'm going to be moving back to LA shortly, mainly because I still need a job. Since all my friends and connections are back there, I think my chances of getting a decent job are better than staying here in Bumfuck GA. I really hope I'm not being unduly optimistic. I probably shouldn't have read this thread, because it scares me. Even without my loans being in default, my credit sucks as it is-- does this mean I'm fooling myself in thinking I might be able to get an okay job? Does this mean I'll be poor until the day I die? I guess it's a good thing I'll never have kids then.

I just don't ever want to be in that suicidal place again, it was a dark, frightening place to be.
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 12:09 PM on July 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's that change -- making student loans non-dischargable -- that led to higher education turning into the monster that it currently is.

Blame another one of our big problems on Bush then, it was his bankruptcy reforms that made it this way.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:20 PM on July 10, 2012


Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005
posted by saulgoodman at 12:29 PM on July 10, 2012


Thinking out loud: What are the mid- to long-term repercussions of this? Will "not having a college degree" become the new "having a college degree"? What does that mean for the work force? Will we become a nation of low-wage service workers, taking the jobs that are now often held by undocumented immigrants? What does that mean for immigration, foreign relations? How much income flows into the economies of other countries from the wages of people sending money home?
posted by bendy at 12:52 PM on July 10, 2012


Well I've certainly taken a shitload of pile-on for stating my POV on this issue above, but I feel that this at least bears addressing:

You know, there's this elite strategy called "divide and rule". One of the ways it works is distinguishing between "good" poor folks and "bad" poor folks. "Good" poor folks pulled themselves up by their bootstraps..."Bad" poor people can go die in a hole.*

*This is often a proxy for racism - "good" poor people are usually white; "bad" poor people are usually brown.


My friend, if you are by any stretch of anyone's imagination referring to myself with this comment, I strongly suggest you look into a bit of what I do for a living before you make such accusations.
posted by allkindsoftime at 12:59 PM on July 10, 2012


My friend, if you are by any stretch of anyone's imagination referring to myself with this comment, I strongly suggest you look into a bit of what I do for a living before you make such accusations.

I think it's an issue of not acknowledging how easy it is to make a misstep, especially when college debt is sold to young people as "worth it." My school counselor encouraged me to go into debt to go to a fancy private school. Luckily my father was had a background like yours and said I could do just as well at a community college and then state school. I was furious at the time, but I was dumb and young (neurologically most 19-year-olds are not awesome at making financial decisions) and now I have to admit he was right. But what if I hadn't had a father to tell me those things? What if your parents had been different? As they say where I am from "But for the grace of God go I." Proper regulation of a loan system will take into account the neurobiology of decision making in adolescents.
posted by melissam at 1:26 PM on July 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


Well I've certainly taken a shitload of pile-on for stating my POV on this issue above

It can feel like a kind of hostile situation to have a lot of people disagree with you all at the same time. But I just wanted to let you know, for whatever it's worth (since I was one of the people who replied to your post), that when I replied my mindset wasn't "pile on time!! get him!!" It was more like, "hmm, I disagree with this and here's why." No hostility intended, just civil disagreement. I also had a snoring fuzzy dog face on my lap at the time if that helps set the scene.
posted by cairdeas at 1:29 PM on July 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well, look what's happening with the union-busting efforts in Scranton, PA, right now:

Their entire workforce is seeing their pay slashed to minimum wage--literally, policemen, firefighters and all public city workers in Scranton are expected to do the same essential work they've always done, only now for minimum wage--because the politicians that run the show and their elite friends are temperamentally capable of only recognizing and honoring one side of a contract.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:29 PM on July 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Erm, that in response to bendy up there.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:30 PM on July 10, 2012


allkindsoftime, specifically because I'm familiar with your history, when I saw what you wrote - especially Let's talk about the people who commit suicide or struggle with depression because they can't afford to get their mom to a hospital or get food on the table for their kids. Maybe once we address that I can spare a thought for these kids with massive student debt. - I was pretty surprised. I read the username twice because I thought maybe I'd accidentally scrolled or something.

Because the work you do very much puts you in a position to see things on the ground that affect individuals but that have systemic causes and can't or shouldn't be put down to "Well, sometimes people make bad decisions." I mean, that's true, but that decision-making happens in a context.

And, honest to god, are you going to tell someone you work with hey, quit whining about how all your cows died - this guy in the next village? He lost all his cows, and his son, and his brother! That's not exactly helpful, you know?
posted by rtha at 1:36 PM on July 10, 2012 [8 favorites]


If you were to tell me that kids these days were graduating with a few tens of thousands of dollars in debt and they were struggling to find full time work that could allow them to make a $330 dollar a month loan repayment on top of rent and utilities and food and whatnot, I would agree with you that this is a travesty.

Let me be as clear as possbile:

'Kids these days (in a personal case, my fiance) graduated a few tens of thousands of dollars in debt ($60,000 - just for her Master's, she had a partial schoalship and worked through her undergrad) and was struggling to find full-time work that could allow them to make a $330 dollar a month loan repayment (in fact, according to the scaled repayment chart, with her wage she owes $0 a month - deferred, not eliminated)'

Would you say that is, indeed a travesty?
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:51 PM on July 10, 2012


look what's happening with the union-busting efforts in Scranton, PA

The Scranton mayor cut his own pay as well. He says the city does not have the money, because the city council refuses to entertain any proposal of tax increases. This does not improve the situation of the affected workers, of course, but I don't think it is fair (as some lefty blogs are doing) to scapegoat the mayor who implemented this policy.
posted by thelonius at 1:59 PM on July 10, 2012


The increasingly pervasive assumptions I am seeing expressed in the media as well as closer to home that a person (1.) should only pursue the kind of education that eventually pays for itself and then some and/or (2.) should only pursue the kind of education that s/he can afford without external support at the time of attendance are a really sorry commentary on our culture and its values.

Higher education is not merely or even primarily an investment in an individual, but somehow the idea that it is has come to be a very powerful cultural assumption. But it really makes no sense to assume (or to try to dictate) that education is valuable only to the extent of the potential financial return that the individual who pursues it is likely to enjoy. That is an incredibly cynical and short-sighted view, and it is one I think people who disagree with it need to start calling out a lot more. The reality is that a whole lot more people end up benefitting pretty significantly from the education of a single individual than merely the individual.

As it is, a lot of smart, promising people who aren't rich have no choice but to borrow money if they want to go to college. Would it be better if they didn't bother? How much excellent teaching of children would never have happened, for example, were there no college financial aid to support education majors, or if aid could only be accessed on the basis of potential individual return on investment? How many valuable advances and innovations in science, education, agriculture, technology, and yes, the humanities and fine arts, would never have happened (and how many future discoveries will never happen) if we were to follow this cultural discourse to its logical (sic) conclusion? How many citizens wouldn't know any better than to litter or to be a racist jackass at work if most of them never had access to a decent education? We take those values for granted -- not to litter, not to be a racist jackass -- but they are learned. They are taught. Ideas like civil rights and environmental stewardship don't spring up out of nowhere; they don't spring up out of ignorance. As a citizen and taxpayer, I am happy to kick in some money toward the education of people who can't afford it. (And I am still making hefty student loan payments myself. I am grateful to be employed and able to afford to make my payments, which actually represent a considerable chunk of my income.)

In other words, the debt that a student takes on is individual, but the benefit of that individual's education is collective. Instead of vilifying people who make this kind of a choice, as so many in the media (and in real life) are doing these days, we might try being grateful that there are still people who believe there really is such a thing as a greater good and who are willing to take on this enormous burden in order to try to serve it. They are not idiots or freeloaders or chumps; they are just people who care about making a difference in the lives of actual people, who care about something beyond their own self-interests.

Ridiculing them, dismissing them as starry-eyed idealists who are just getting what's coming to them when they end up getting slammed with penalties and ballooning interest rates, well, those are easy ways for people to make themselves feel better, maybe, at least enough to be able to avoid dwelling too much on the injustice of the usurious rates and consolidation schemes pushed by banks. But that doesn't actually help anyone, and to the extent that this increasingly powerful cultural discourse becomes institutionalized and discourages people from pursuing any educational goals that aren't an obvious fast track to generating big revenue for themselves, it is not going to be a win for our society.

And really, should we encourage even more me-me-me thinking and drive more people into personally lucrative professions rather than into meaningful if lower-paying work? I mean, banks have pretty much wrecked the economy while the people running them seem to have done pretty well in the process, so should we really be listening to them and subsidizing the educations of those who want to emulate them over those who want to use their education as a means to serve others? I know I'd rather subsidize someone who is probably not going to double my credit card interest rates because their institution made some incredibly bad and stupid financial decisions (I'm looking at you, American Express and Bank of America) yet have no compunction about treating me as if I'm the one who made those decisions. That's who we should be calling out, not the people they're screwing.

But what do I know? I was an English major.
posted by isogloss at 1:59 PM on July 10, 2012 [47 favorites]


Beautifully said, isogloss.
posted by Phire at 2:03 PM on July 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Thank you.
posted by isogloss at 2:16 PM on July 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: But what do I know? I was an English major.


(me too, isogloss).
posted by emjaybee at 2:53 PM on July 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Student anger boils over: The idea of a student debt strike is circulating among activists -- could it take off?
posted by homunculus at 4:43 PM on July 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's interesting to read the comments of homunculus's article that are negative. I think there is a lot of seething anger/resentment out there towards kids who grew up middle class and went to college, regardless of what their current circumstances are like.

I think for that reason, for activism around this issue to be successful, it cannot be focused at all on formerly middle class kids, no matter how screwed they are now, what their rate of suicide is, etc. I think it's crucial for the focus to keep coming back to what Snarl Furillo said above -
Stories of students who went to an expensive, elite private college to study basket-weaving are very, very common in news media (I suspect because those students are the type to be friends with media professionals), but they do not paint a true picture of the students most burdened by educational debt- those students are low-income, first-generation college students who do not have enough information about the education market to make an informed financial decision before enrolling in college. Those are the students who need reform.

- and to keep coming back to the fact that this is only part of a pattern of predatory, socially destructive behavior by banks, which are continuing to screw all sorts of people in all sorts of ways. All the threads need to be brought together in a way that is easy for people without tons of free time to understand.

Unfortunately, I do not think that will happen.
posted by cairdeas at 5:12 PM on July 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think people already get irate and resentful enough when they perceive another group of people was able to get something that they weren't able to get, that they think would have given them a cushier life. If those people believe that on top of that, they are now being asked to PAY for that other group of people to receive that cushy advantage... they will be furious.

It is so important to focus on the points that everyone can identify with.
posted by cairdeas at 5:21 PM on July 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


and to keep coming back to the fact that this is only part of a pattern of predatory, socially destructive behavior by banks, which are continuing to screw all sorts of people in all sorts of ways.
Many on Wall Street think cheating breeds success - Nearly one-fourth of financial services professionals feel it’s at least sometimes necessary to do illegal or unethical things to be successful, and many are motivated to do so by fat bonuses and other compensation.... The survey found that 30 percent of those in financial services feel pressure to do things that are unethical or illegal because of their compensation or bonus plans.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:52 PM on July 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I mean, banks have pretty much wrecked the economy

Banks have ruined higher education too - because they have made education a "for profit" venture. Law schools aren't taking in more students for the greater good of learning - they are taking in more students for PROFIT.

Banks have also helped turned the medical industry in a "for profit" night-mare.

Isogloss, your statement is eloquent and thoughtful - but the problem is: the people running the university system have sold out that system. You can not trust them to educate you for the greater good - because they are not in it for the greater good, they are in it for the money.
posted by Flood at 7:40 PM on July 10, 2012


All the threads need to be brought together in a way that is easy for people without tons of free time to understand.
For our private student loans, Sallie Mae uses an index based on LIBOR.
The London Interbank Offered Rate (or LIBOR, pronounced LYE-bor) is a reference rate based on the interest rates that banks offer to lend unsecured funds to other banks in the London wholesale money market (or interbank market).

Sallie Mae uses variable rates on our private student loans, and they are adjusted monthly. The interest rate is based on LIBOR plus a margin. Sallie Mae uses the one-month LIBOR as published in Reuters on the 25th of the month or next New York business day if the 25th is a weekend or holiday. The interest rate on your private loan will increase or decrease if LIBOR increases or decreases.
mine is an evil laugh
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:41 PM on July 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Flood, I agree with most of what you said. But don't believe for a minute that the magic isn't still happening every day in college classrooms because it most definitely is. The corporate takeover of higher ed hasn't made it into our classrooms yet. Yet.
posted by isogloss at 8:30 PM on July 10, 2012


I haven't had a chance to read through this whole thread. I've made some of my frustrations known in the LIBOR thread here.

However, I just want anyone who may be struggling with some loans to look into the IBR program mentioned a few times up above. It has made my situation completely bearable.

I have a mix of private and federal loans...with the IBR (Income Based Repayment) program, my federal payments are pretty much $0. While that means that some of those unsubsidized loans are accuring interest, it does mean that my monthly payments are manageable and I can keep on top of the private loan payments. The subsidized stafford loans do not accrue interest, some debts are forgiven after 10 years of public service, or 20-25 years for everyone else if that wasn't enough time to pay down your loans (which may not be for many).

This program has completely made my situation possible. I have a lot of friends who graduated with me who weren't even aware of the program, or who thought it wouldn't apply to them for incorrect reasons. Just look into it if you have any loans, especially federal loans. It really is a HUGE help, and one that can make your payments very tolerable.
posted by This_Will_Be_Good at 9:27 PM on July 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


The corporate takeover of higher ed hasn't made it into our classrooms yet

The banks have no interest in getting into the "classroom" - there is no money in the classroom. The banks want into the administrative offices, the career center, and most of all, the financial aid office.
posted by Flood at 4:38 AM on July 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


the problem is: the people running the university system have sold out that system. You can not trust them to educate you for the greater good - because they are not in it for the greater good, they are in it for the money.

This is not limited to higher education. The same thing is happening in public schools, where administrators are pushing more and more students into AP classes who have no business being there --- and whose experience in those classes just makes them hate school/learning/reading/authority even more --- just to bump their numbers in order to get more federal dollars. From the ground up, it's not about education at all, it's about money.
posted by headnsouth at 6:06 AM on July 11, 2012


Hearing these stories makes me all the more glad that I managed through four years at a private liberal arts school with: 1) scholarships, and 2) many part-time jobs; those two things made it possible for me to leave with a degree and an amount of student loan debt so small that I paid it off just before the six month grace period was up.

I took 15 hours per semester. I worked as a bookseller, a writing center tutor, a course tutor, a resident adviser, and a library assistant. I didn't go out drinking. I ate in the cafeteria most of the time. I drove a beater.

This isn't to shame anyone who takes out student loans. I realize that not everyone can hold down a job, let alone multiple jobs, and still do well in school. But so often I read about people complaining about the student debt crisis, and I wonder if they thought through all their options (even perhaps the unappealing ones) before signing that promissory note.

A college classmate of mine went on to grad school program after grad school program after we graduated five years ago. She's been to grad school for Art, Education, Occupational Therapy...and right now she's starting a new grad program for University Administration. I've always suspected that she continues to go to school to avoid her piling up student loans, only to add to them in the process. And when she graduates, what is she going to say? Will it be any surprise when she sees the final bill?

College is unreasonably expensive. That doesn't mean you have to follow the path most traveled by to pay for it.
posted by litnerd at 7:26 AM on July 11, 2012


Not to hijack the thread, but I'd like to second This_Will_Be_Good's comment about the Income-Based Repayment program as a possible option for dealing with federal student loan debt. A recent Chronicle of Higher Ed article (sadly paywalled now) pointed out that a relatively small proportion of eligible folks with student debt have chosen this option. Reducing monthly payments for individuals who apply for IBR won't address the systemic clusterfuck of student debt (or capitalism), but I have found that Income-Based Repayment has made my post-college life financially manageable and I suspect that it may work for other folks with student debt.

Folks upthread have raised some good points about possible issues with IBR. As of right now, 10 years of public service work and IBR payments or 25 years of IBR payments will result in a discharging of your debt. As T.D. Strange mentioned, it seems possible that some Tea-Bagger Congress could overturn this decision at some point. And as Bulgaroktonos mentioned, if loan forgiveness remains intact, one will face a significant tax burden during the year their loans are discharged except through the Public Service forgiveness, National Health Service Corps, most law school loan forgiveness programs, or other similar profession-based programs. (cite: IRS) States vary in their treatment of loan forgiveness as taxable income - some treat it as taxable, others don't. One legal change I think is worth pushing is making student loan forgiveness non-taxable income. According to FinAid (linked above), proposals like this have been floated but none has yet been made law. Granted, a measure like this would be a mere band-aid on the larger systemic issues of poverty and debt.

If you want to sign for Income-Based Repayment, here are a few things I've found helpful to know:

- At least for me, a fairly disorganized person, IBR poses some challenges. You need photocopied proof of income (e.g. pay-stubs) and your most recent tax documents on-hand in order to fill out the forms.

- Sign up the minute you think you want to go with IBR. It's an entirely paper and snail mail-based process, and in my experience, it takes months for the paperwork to be processed. (Full payments are expected in the meantime. groan.)

- You have to sign up for IBR with each loan servicer you have. So if you pay one set of loans through American Educational Services and another through Federal Student Loan Servicing, you have to fill out the paperwork twice. [ If you don't know who your loan servicers are, you should be able to find them through the NSLDS Financial Aid Review. ]
Also, did anyone else think MyEdAccount.com was a scam site when they switched over from a .gov?

- Technically, consolidated loans that include Stafford and Graduate PLUS loans are eligible to be repaid through IBR (cite). Anecdotally though, I know people with consolidated loans who've been told they can't sign up for IBR because their loans are consolidated, even just Stafford loans. I've erred on the side of caution and not consolidated my loans, because even with the slight interest discount from consolidating, IBR is far more important to my financial situation.

- Consolidation loans including Parent PLUS loans are not eligible for IBR.

(Links: Helpful Info on IBR | Govt site with payment estimator )

Just to be clear, I'm not flippantly suggesting that IBR and loan forgiveness are the solution to the much larger and interrelated problems at work here- far from it. I have found it to be a valuable stopgap measure and I hope that someone else might find it helpful as well.

Feel free to memail me with questions about the IBR process, and I'll do my best to help.
posted by brackish.line at 7:28 AM on July 11, 2012 [6 favorites]


- Sign up the minute you think you want to go with IBR. It's an entirely paper and snail mail-based process, and in my experience, it takes months for the paperwork to be processed. (Full payments are expected in the meantime. groan.)

In my experience you can get them to defer payments if you call them. My IBR expired back in May and I totally forgot to renew it and when I called to ask a question about reapplying they gave me two months without payments to give the paperwork time to clear. I should note that this is a federal consolidation loan, not a private loan.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:10 AM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Technically, consolidated loans that include Stafford and Graduate PLUS loans are eligible to be repaid through IBR (cite). Anecdotally though, I know people with consolidated loans who've been told they can't sign up for IBR because their loans are consolidated, even just Stafford loans. I've erred on the side of caution and not consolidated my loans, because even with the slight interest discount from consolidating, IBR is far more important to my financial situation.

I've had no problem using IBR with my consolidated loans, although I took great pains throughout school to keep mine entirely Federal, so no private servicers.

And the program is a life saver for anyone that is eligible, my estimated 10 year repayment plan would've exceeded 50% of my after-tax income, and even the extended/graduated option was not much better. IBR brought it down to a level of a new car payment, rather than a unsustainably large mortgage.

My IBR expired back in May and I totally forgot to renew it and when I called to ask a question about reapplying they gave me two months without payments to give the paperwork time to clear.

There was some kind of massive paperwork snafu with the changeover from the DirectLoans in-house servicing to whatever conglomeration of private-partnership or whatever servicers are running things now, most everyone I know was told that they would have to re-file for IBR, and that the paperwork hadn't been sent on time, so they were being kicked off and booted back into 10yr repayment. Once you called and asked about it though, 2 month extensions were readily granted to provided updated income information. Several things jump out here, 1) who got rich in the changeover to the clearly inferior new website? 2) it's implausibly convenient that so many people were told to reapply for IBR at the same time as the servicer changeover, which would’ve resulted in drastically higher monthly payments 3) they're not going to make it easy to stay on IBR and/or keep up with the forgiveness requirements as 4) approximately 17 months of my prior payment history was lost and has yet to reappear on the new website.

I've pulled all my bank statements showing that I've made all the required payments and started keeping paper and electronic records of each payment every month. I'd suggest that anyone who plans on applying for any kind of forgiveness program in the future do the same thing.
posted by T.D. Strange at 9:00 AM on July 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


Is there any guarantee that people using IBR won't just be screwed in 10 years when Republicans decide they don't want to start forgiving balances and gut the program?
posted by stoneweaver at 9:05 AM on July 11, 2012


The banks have no interest in getting into the "classroom" - there is no money in the classroom.

Oh, but there is. At my university, which I think is probably fairly representative, we are constantly bombarded with new "teaching technologies" and "Learning Management Systems," all of which are sold to us by for-profit companies and pushed on the faculty by administrators who are eager to look innovative (and busy) and none of which, in my experience, actually enhance learning in any meaningful way (or in any way at all that anyone has been able to articulate convincingly).

The feedback I get from students in response to these technologies is at best resigned but more often overtly negative. They tend not to like the extra "technology fees" they have to pay, or having to click through 12 screens to get to where they need to be, or having a page lock up when they are submitting assignments (which happens a lot). I have literally never heard a student say anything like "I love Web CT / Blackboard / Desire2Learn! I feel like I am learning so much more now!" Additionally, I have not seen any independent analyses that demonstrate improved learning outcomes as a result of using these technologies.

There is no question but that the shift to "Learning Management Technologies" and the increasing diversion of instructional resources to online learning (sic) is purely profit-driven and, in the case of state schools, it is just one more way that public funds are being shifted to private interests. Unfortunately, many administrators are more than happy to comply in order to curry favor with their Boards of Trustees, at whose pleasure they serve and which at my university (and many others, as the recent debacle at UVA has shown) is stacked with business people and includes exactly zero educators.

So far, there is no evidence that these technologies add up to lower costs and better learning, but they do seem to work pretty well for making it look to the public like something is being done! while making some people a lot of money, courtesy of students and their families (not to mention taxpayers if it is a public institution, although the state university that is my employer gets only about a quarter of its operating budget from the state these days). But the vendors definitely talk a good game and teach the administrators to do the same.

Flood, I should also note that in my earlier response to you, I referred to the "corporate takeover" of higher education and did not suggest that banks are interested in what is going on in our classrooms. For-profit corporations are very, very interested, however.
posted by isogloss at 9:07 AM on July 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


Is there any guarantee that people using IBR won't just be screwed in 10 years when Republicans decide they don't want to start forgiving balances and gut the program?

None whatsoever.
posted by T.D. Strange at 9:11 AM on July 11, 2012


One big driver of fees has been construction projects. In the University of California system, they have decided to use student fees as collateral for construction bonds. Can't have bonds without bond issuers-- big finance firms are usually the ones who do that, and they get a cut.

I also know that banks, like BofA have hired lobbyists to talk to financial aid officers, taking them on cool trips etc. Think there about the conflict of interest.
posted by wuwei at 10:25 AM on July 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


Well, I don't know that there is "none whatsoever" with regard to protections if the loan forgiveness program is gutted in 10-15-20 years. There is a decent legal argument to be made that the program is an entitlement program (with a guarantee of access to benefits created by legislation) and that people are foregoing real income because the loans will be forgiven, which is a substitute for the income. If/when we are all screwed over by a gutting of the program, it will require serious litigation to protect those of us who managed to get a significant investment toward loan forgiveness by working for a qualifying nonprofit, or as public defender, or a school teacher or within other parameters of the program.

If litigation is successful and people with loans that should be forgiven can have them forgiven, it will be a complete fucking bitch to prove your loan should be forgiven. There also won't have been clear guidance as to what you should have done with your loan for whatever portion of time passed between the "should have been forgiven date" and the "litigation resolved date". If I paid, but legally did not need to, will I be paid back? If I don't pay/didn't pay, will I have been sued or put into collections? Some lawyers somewhere will have years of really high billables to clear this up.

I've asked lots of people at my loan servicer, my educational institution, read a whole bunch of stuff at a bunch of .gov sites. There is no need to register anything at the start of your qualifying employment, but there is an optional form to file. The optional form to file does not permit you to indicate that your employment is on-going. The instructions for the form say you must put today's date in the end date blank if your qualifying employment is on-going and that you must request the agency retain the form until your claim for forgiveness is verified and your loans discharged. That's confusing and could be problematic from a recordkeeping standpoint.
posted by crush-onastick at 11:20 AM on July 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


I've actually just filed the optional form this week, which should also result in recieving an accounting of qualifed payments made to date. I think the key thing is going to be documentation, don't assume that someone in the Dept of Ed is keeping track of how much you've paid, they might be, but make copies in triplicate anyway.
posted by T.D. Strange at 12:48 PM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


NYC has a public education campaign about for-profit schools and student loan debt. It's a start.
posted by Mavri at 2:54 PM on July 11, 2012


Is there any guarantee that people using IBR won't just be screwed in 10 years when Republicans decide they don't want to start forgiving balances and gut the program?

Nope. But the same could be said about Social Security, Medicare, Food Stamps, or pretty much anything else funded by the Federal government. Nothing is guaranteed.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:00 AM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Someone in my area just started a business aimed at helping people navigate their student loan debts. He used to work in collections, but realized one day that he could use his knowledge of the systems to help people. He says people are often told on the phone (by student loan folks) that they don't qualify for income-based payments, for example, but that it's just a matter of knowing how to navigate the paperwork. He helps with that. He didn't publish his rates, but he says that they'll be sliding scale based on your financial picture (which you will have shared with him). He doesn't have a lot of overhead, his office is in a small college town....it sounds like a really great idea for a business.
posted by vitabellosi at 10:40 AM on July 15, 2012


jetsetsc - What I don't understand is that if college is so much more expensive now, where does all the money go? Better gyms? Higher salaries for the president? The actual cash value of a college degree is quite obviously less now than it was a decade ago. A plainly fvcked up system.

This article in my alma mater's magazine pretty much made up my mind to never give them any money - http://www.reed.edu/reed_magazine/spring2007/columns/NoC/askprof.html

There was another article at some other point that I can't find now that was equally infuriating.

Basically, they have to charge more to pay for the new buildings and equipment that will allow them to attract the brightest students who will pay for the privilege of using them. The other article said they also have to charge more because other schools are charging more and to seem like an institution of equal or better prestige, they had to match the other schools.
posted by MonsieurBon at 1:16 PM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Eep, sorry. Linked article!
posted by MonsieurBon at 1:17 PM on July 17, 2012


Families are getting more reluctant to take on student loan debt for their kids. I don't know if this is a good thing or a bad thing.
posted by stoneweaver at 9:07 AM on July 24, 2012


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