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Is the next debt crisis in student loans?
May 29, 2010 9:19 AM   Subscribe

Is the next debt crisis in student loans? Students are graduating from undergrad with 6-figures of student loan debt. With whom does the responsibility reside?

(It isn't just the NYT claiming that student loan debt is the next big crisis, Suze Orman said the same thing in 2009.)

The suspects:

- The student his/herself? Was possibly a minor when the loans began, likely not financially savvy, possibly living less-than-frugally, wants to be in the best school possible.

- The parents? In this NYT case, the parent was not financially savvy either and didn't understand the system, there is pressure to put kid in best school possible.

- The universities? This article claims that the financial aid offices may not know how much debt the students take on, the university doesn't want do lose middle class applicants, the university doesn't want to turn away students, the university doesn't want to be big brother.

- The private loan companies? They are predatory, certainly. But there is an effort to get private student loans pushed back to "last resort."

And really, what's the value of a college education?

Comments in the NYT blog are interesting as well.
posted by k8t (203 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
Tuition prices have been rising out of control. I remember one year when I was in school they raised tuition 19%. The next year I was visiting a friend in another college town (in the same state) and he had a newspaper with a headline about the 19.1% increase. So I say

"Why do you have last year's paper?"

And he says: "Uh, no this is today's paper."

Apparently they were boosting rates again. For the second year in a row. And this was in the early 2000s I think. The next year they did a 9% increase. And the economic situation has just been getting worse and worse. And on top of that, students are graduating into a terrible economy where they can't get jobs at all.
posted by delmoi at 9:24 AM on May 29, 2010 [9 favorites]


Wouldn't be surprising. The American society is so willing to saddle its citizens with debt is criminal.
posted by >> at 9:28 AM on May 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Do people know that they can get a really good, affordable education in professional fields from public city and state-run colleges? Why is everyone looking at me like I'm crazy? Tell me again what you studied at The New School.
posted by fuq at 9:28 AM on May 29, 2010 [17 favorites]


My plan: Everyone defaults at once. Whe neveryone has bad credit then no one has bad credit

Backup plan: Revolution. Backs against walls, etc.

Backup Backup Plan: Unleash Kraken.
posted by The Whelk at 9:29 AM on May 29, 2010 [37 favorites]


Two words: State college.

Lived in Texas. Went to the University of Texas. A few grand per semester. Zero loans. Zero debt. Great education.
posted by chasing at 9:29 AM on May 29, 2010 [7 favorites]


Tell me again what you studied at The New School.



Upper middle class socialization! For every class!
posted by The Whelk at 9:30 AM on May 29, 2010 [6 favorites]


(Granted, I did graduate school at NYU and loaded up on debt, but I knew I'd go into a fairly high-income field and that the cost would be manageable and worth it.)
posted by chasing at 9:31 AM on May 29, 2010


Just a reminder that money is a complex value system that relies on competing institutions. The public prints and insures the money supply, but we don't often give or loan it to ourselves individually for any public or private good, except maybe to insure our savings deposits. Instead we filter it down to ourselves through bankers, as a generous offering to them so that they continue to allow us to pretend at democracy.
posted by Brian B. at 9:32 AM on May 29, 2010


Yeah, I don't mean to minimize this (and even state schools have seen major rate hikes), but WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOUR IN-STATE SCHOOL!!?!?! Here in Washington, the UW Seattle is roughly $7,000 a year. It's a world class research school and has a beautiful campus.

PS Seattle Central Community College is something like $80 a credit. It's a damn good school.
posted by lattiboy at 9:33 AM on May 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


As an NYU alumni (who studied philosophy and thus not the most profitable degree) I believe that it is up to the student to decide just what the hell they are doing. When you first get your acceptance letter they tell you that your expected tuition for the first year and when you add room and board always add up to something like $60,000 (back in 2001 at least which was the year in which my fellow 2005 grad probably started). Now I dont know much about math (and because of it went for the humanities degrees) but I quickly realized that 60,000 X 4 = $240,000 and I was unlikely to earn that back anytime soon.......my little sister who was 8 at the time took ahold of the letter and we heard a very loud "DDAAAAAAAAMNNNNN"........so if an 8 year old realized the magnitude of such an expense I dont feel bad at all for those who choose to go to this institution without reading the fine print. I dont know how condescending it would be if my parents would have gotten a letter that said:

"Before you send us your kid, please make sure that you can afford us we are very expensive"

I think they got the point when they read:

Expected tuition: $40,000
Room & Board: $20,000
posted by The1andonly at 9:33 AM on May 29, 2010


Oh and to add to my previous point, only way my parents let me attend NYU was cause I was able to get enough scholarships and funding so that we only had to pay $10,000 a year. Half of which they make take out a loan for just so I understood I was not going for free or that they were able to afford it....and thus I graduated with a $20,000 dollar loan.....
posted by The1andonly at 9:36 AM on May 29, 2010


Paying $200K for a brand name undergraduate education is dumb enough. Taking out six-figure loans to do it is like the mental equivalent of having bad credit: you're already too stupid to be able to pay it back.
posted by mondaygreens at 9:37 AM on May 29, 2010 [10 favorites]


Re: State colleges.

I'm doing graduate school in California; this year they bumped the student fees for the undergrads in a BIG way, up 32%, or $2,500. Why the student fees? Because it was decided in the seventies that no student should have to pay tuition. So there is no tuition but now over $10k a year in student fees. The UC (and many state school across the country) are moving more towards a private model, and prices are skyrocketing. So while you treasure the free education you received, please take some time to make sure that the same opportunity is available to future generations.
posted by kaibutsu at 9:38 AM on May 29, 2010 [6 favorites]


I spent a hundred grand on school from 92-96, 85% of it loaned. I studied the arts. I managed to stake out a career in the arts and pay off all those low-interest loans within a decade.

At the time of my education it seemed like a ridiculously self-indulgent waste of resources, but I am glad to have proven myself wrong.

My situation is probably atypical.
posted by damehex at 9:39 AM on May 29, 2010


To throw in my experience - my parents were not financial aid savvy and this was back in the 1990s before this all would be googable. They used savings to pay for our college. It probably would have been smarter to keep some of the savings earning interest and using federal low interest loans to cover most of the cost.

Fast forward to me going to grad school. I just took out private loans. It was easy to do. I consider myself pretty financially savvy and I didn't get it. (Thus it happens to the best of us ???)

Now I see undergrads at my state school (a UC) bitch about small tuition increases and I laugh. They don't even know what a deal they are getting.

Debt is a prison.
posted by k8t at 9:40 AM on May 29, 2010


I've got 3k of debt over over from the shitty shitty state school I dropped out of - so I'm pretty much okay with calling this Usury and saying the fuck with it.
posted by The Whelk at 9:41 AM on May 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


Yeah like a good high school student I applied to many many schools. I got accepted to a few that would have placed me with a quarter million dollars of debt by the end of my run (actually more considering I took 5 years to graduate, not 4). I wound up going to a local private university that left me, after 5 years, with around $18k in debt. Considering the annual tuition to that school is around $24k I feel pretty happy that I got my entire education in less than one years tuition. If their wonderful scholarship program hadn't been there I totally would have gone to my state U or our community college.
I see a lot of comparisons between college tuition and healthcare; that is year after year their tuition increases far outpace inflation or increases in income. Certainly a problem when you graduate students over 5 years with an average 15% tuition increase YOY. And certainly a problem when you unleash 1000 students on a local economy that has 9% unemployment already.
posted by msbutah at 9:42 AM on May 29, 2010


And I remember when I was applying for undergrad, I often heard the mantra that you get in first and then figure out how to pay for it later, because you WOULD figure it out one way or another, and the degree was worth whatever the price ended up being. This reminds me well of the kinds of things said about the US housing market before the crash: real estate prices only ever go up, so even though you're paying $1.5 million for an outhouse built on a sink hole, it will certainly pay itself off in five years time...
posted by kaibutsu at 9:42 AM on May 29, 2010 [9 favorites]


Taking out six-figure loans to do it is like the mental equivalent of having bad credit: you're already too stupid to be able to pay it back.

They let 18-year-olds take out loans with no conference with their parents. I bet I can name a whole lot of dumb-ass shit you did at 18 that you'd rather not be judged as "too stupid" for as an adult.
posted by griphus at 9:42 AM on May 29, 2010 [15 favorites]


On top of loans, parents have been financing college educations with home equity. That party has certainly ended. Not to mention the reduced return on colleges' endowments and other investments. If I were a university president, I'd be shitting bricks about now.

My wife is an adjunct at a local private university. In the last year or so, they've clearly become extremely financially cautious: they've delayed backfilling positions opened by retiring faculty. I get they impression they've battened down the hatches and are waiting to see who all these things shake out.
posted by tippiedog at 9:43 AM on May 29, 2010


And just as a side-note, if people weren't so bitchy about taxes the US or your state could probably have a slightly higher and much more progressive tax system that would fund things like, say, inexpensive education for middle-class students.
posted by chasing at 9:45 AM on May 29, 2010 [9 favorites]


"Education debt is good debt" is another big fat lie.
posted by k8t at 9:46 AM on May 29, 2010 [13 favorites]


And I remember when I was applying for undergrad, I often heard the mantra that you get in first and then figure out how to pay for it later, because you WOULD figure it out one way or another, and the degree was worth whatever the price ended up being. This reminds me well of the kinds of things said about the US housing market before the crash: real estate prices only ever go up, so even though you're paying $1.5 million for an outhouse built on a sink hole, it will certainly pay itself off in five years time...


Yeah I heard a lot of this in HS and it kept flashing great big CON! CON! CON! lights in my head - so I went to a really cheap state school which suuuuuuucked (Never go to FIT people. It is a Bad. School.) and still left me with debt but at leasst it's on the horizon of being payable and not say my mom's entire yearly salary - twice!- with interest.
posted by The Whelk at 9:46 AM on May 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


...that would fund things like, say, inexpensive education for middle-class students.

These debts tend to be going more toward private education. You can't exactly buy NYU-style prestige for a state school no matter how much funding you get.
posted by griphus at 9:47 AM on May 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Fast forward to me going to grad school. I just took out private loans. It was easy to do. I consider myself pretty financially savvy and I didn't get it.

My experience was almost identical to k8t's. Just like with the housing bubble, a lot of smart people made this mistake.

I actually think the student loan situation is strikingly similar to the housing bubble. Just as homeowners were told their investment would always continue to grown, students were (are still?) told that education is always a worthwhile investment.

One major problem is that, while a college degree is certainly no guarantee of wealth, it's become harder and harder to have a middle-class lifestyle without one. Yes, I know one can become a plumber, etc. without a degree, and probably make more money, but not everyone is cut out for the trades.
posted by lunasol at 9:48 AM on May 29, 2010 [1 favorite]



I'm amassing six digits at Columbia to finish my BA at age 25. I have never been able to earn any money, and I'm a writer: I probably never will. At this point it's just numbers to me. I want my education more than I want money. It's likely I'll never attain the middle class lifestyle I grew up in. I know the gamble I'm making, but I've been to three different kinds of schools in my long academic career, and the difference in quality between Columbia and even a place like NYU is pretty much night and day. So, I'm in it, over my head, for better or worse. And God help me, I'm in it to study poetry.
posted by bukharin at 9:48 AM on May 29, 2010 [7 favorites]


At the well-regarded state school I attended undergraduate tuition and fees for someone in-state are currently around $12k a semester (including room and board, so you could do it cheaper). That's more annually than I earned in each of the first three years after graduating. State schools are cheaper than private by far but still a huge expense for people who may still not know what they want to do with their lives.
posted by ghharr at 9:49 AM on May 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Part of the problem is that there's no tie between loan availability and intended major. It's well known that some majors are simply less marketable than others (when was the last time you saw a job posting that had a BA in Theater, Philosophy, or Women's Studies as a requirement?). So why are we encouraging students to take on gargantuan debt to pursue degrees that have a very, VERY small likelihood of being useful later on?
posted by deadmessenger at 9:50 AM on May 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


NYU grad Ryan Durosky graduated with $275k in debt.
posted by anniecat at 9:50 AM on May 29, 2010


"Education debt is good debt" is another big fat lie.

I didn't want to harsh the buzz of the OP in that Sarah Lawrence thread, but yes a thousand times. That is one of the dumber blanket statements I have ever read.

Temple U grad, non-traditional student, some small stipends (Board of City Trust scholarship, who knew?) and tiny loans, best investment I ever made.
posted by fixedgear at 9:51 AM on May 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


> ...that would fund things like, say, inexpensive education for middle-class students.

These debts tend to be going more toward private education. You can't exactly buy NYU-style prestige for a state school no matter how much funding you get.


1) I disagree. Many state schools are quite prestigious.

2) If you must, must have the Gucci label on your purse, then I guess you just have to suck it up and pay for it. If you just want a nice purse to carry stuff around in, there are other options.
posted by chasing at 9:51 AM on May 29, 2010 [5 favorites]


griphus, I would think most of these kids are in conference with their parents, considering that that's where the rest of their tuition comes from. Plus, this is basic math ^. If NYU is so awesome and worth the price, why don't they have better financial counselling? Why are these kids not figuring out that half a million dollars in personal loans is not worth it for a BA. (There's nothing the world worth that much loan, IMO.)

I'm not saying that they're solely or even mostly to blame for their stupidity or that what they suffer after graduation is in any way proportionate to the dumb shit they did. (Which I'd say is also true for many defaulters on housing loans.)

But yeah, stupid stupid stupid.
posted by mondaygreens at 9:53 AM on May 29, 2010


Two words: State college.

Lived in Texas. Went to the University of Texas. A few grand per semester. Zero loans. Zero debt. Great education.


Well...the bill to YOU was only a few grand a semester, but you were probably the beneficiary of huge state subsidies. I doubt state schools are that much cheaper overall than private schools.
posted by mullacc at 9:54 AM on May 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


I know is not related but is it just me or Cortney Munna looks a whole lot older than 26.....hmmm.....
posted by The1andonly at 9:55 AM on May 29, 2010


Many state schools are quite prestigious.

Name me five state universities of any concentration (liberal arts, medicine, engineering, farming whatever) whose prestige (NOT quality of education, simply recognition and "ooh you went to $SCHOOL?") outweigh their private competitors. My point isn't that state schools aren't prestigious or aren't worth going to. It's that for most individuals, socialization dictates that between going to State College and Harvard/Yale/NYU/Johns Hopkins/SVA/etc. etc., the private school almost always wins out. And when it doesn't, it is usually for economic reasons (not wanting to take out a six-figure loan) rather than reasons of prestige.
posted by griphus at 9:55 AM on May 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


mullacc,

Yeah, no doubt. But that's what I meant about my tax comment. I feel like we all value education -- it would be nice if, as a national community, we could recognize the value of helping education people who might otherwise not be able to afford it.
posted by chasing at 9:56 AM on May 29, 2010


I think that the real reform needs to happen at the high school level. Why does everyone need to go to college?

I teach your college kids at one of the best colleges in California (and in a very selective major). Many of them don't show up to class, do show up to class but spend their time on Facebook or GChat, and don't give a shit about learning.

Wouldn't these kids be better off learning a trade or at least not distracting those kids that actually want to be there?
posted by k8t at 9:56 AM on May 29, 2010 [14 favorites]


Mrs. Sy and I discussed this article over breakfast this morning. On the one hand, selective private universities are a luxury good; this kid chose to buy the Volvo (NYU) rather than the Hyundai (CUNY, SUNY), and that was a poor choice. Moreover, I believe that for most professions (i.e. not president or supreme court justice) buying the basic model doesn't hamstring you in terms of future earnings, much less a more holistic view of life outcomes. I don't have the google-fu to call it up, but I remember reading a study to the effect that people who graduate from Penn make more money than people who graduate from Penn State, but people who got into both but choose Penn State don't make any less than Penn grads. This has been borne anecdotally by my family experience, where half of us went to Goshen and the other half went the NYU-ish route. Mathematicians and carpenter's wives are equally plentiful on both sides. So, yeah, let this be a lesson that in-state tuition (or a private school with fewer bells and whistles and cheaper real estate) is your friend.

On the other hand, one of the most cheering things about elite private education in the U.S. is that rich kids subsidize poor kids. Most (by now means all) people who are paying the sticker price come from families that can afford it. And they (and their alumni donations and bequests and so forth) mean that, at Harvard and a few other places like it, anyone whose parents make five figures gets a free ride, grants not loans. It's an embarrassment that half of Harvard students come from the top 10% of American families by income, but it's great that most of the other half don't leave six figures in the hole. However, if your folks are making too much for financial aid (or if you're accomplished enough for them to admit you but not accomplished enough for them to court you), then you're in a pretty vicious squeeze, and that seems to be where this woman is.

Finally: I won't hear anyone making fun of women's and religious studies. You can I-bank with any major, and it's to this woman's credit that she hasn't gone that route.
posted by sy at 9:57 AM on May 29, 2010 [5 favorites]



One major problem is that, while a college degree is certainly no guarantee of wealth, it's become harder and harder to have a middle-class lifestyle without one.


Which is, and lets say it together now - complete bullshit when you look at in any kind of detail - that there is now a super-expensive and largely useless barrier to having white people take you seriously. Oh and forget the trades. They're shrinking and hard to break into and have a complete excess of labor available.

How many jobs can be classified as "Sits in front of a computer/ Doesn't sit in front of a computer"? How much that is button pushing? How much actually requires a college education at all aside from providing you can willing to do what you're told and take on debt for the honor and glory of being Employable by getting a degree which, as I mentioned before, is largely useless and in my case, actively annoying and off-putting.

The workin' map is a chump, and it's finally hit the cubical wall and the 50% off J.Crew Polo Shirt Summer Fun Sale.
posted by The Whelk at 9:57 AM on May 29, 2010 [8 favorites]


griphus, at a graduate level in particular, state schools are considered more prestigious than private.

I went to University of Michigan and I think that it is "good enough" prestigious as many privates.
posted by k8t at 9:57 AM on May 29, 2010


Griphus if you were a prospective student who was going for any humanities degree then the questions are:

1) Do I want to go to a "prestigious" place and then be broke for the rest of my adult life?

2) Do I want to get a "good" but less "prestigious" education that will afford me to you know eat out at a nice place once or twice a month?

I think that I would choose number 2 on a heartbeat.
posted by The1andonly at 9:58 AM on May 29, 2010


Two words: State college.

As long as you don't live in California, where students wanting to get into state systems are being put on waiting lists and the two state college systems are scrambling desperately to make up for massive cuts from their budgets for the upcoming fiscal year. That comes on top of harsh cuts to their budgets over at least the past two years. Those cuts are going to keep coming every year until probably 2014 at the soonest. It's hard to imagine that Texas isn't doing something similar to its state colleges, although maybe Texas has its budget act together better than California does.

The students who are entering the UC or CSU systems in the fall who don't have almost total parental support for all 4 years of their college careers will be shouldering some form of loan load, guaranteed.
posted by blucevalo at 9:59 AM on May 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Two words: State college.

A bunch of people have said something along these lines, and it was my brother's plan. He did indeed get a good degree and find good work in his field after graduation. But it also took him seven and a half years because the university was understaffed and overtaxed in its best majors. Even as a supersenior, he was locked out of lab classes for the major by people with more credits. Those three and a half years cost him hundreds of thousands in income he could have been making, so it's not as though there's no cost to him or to the larger economy in terms of productivity. And the very prospect of that education was primarily via public subsidy during the boom years of the 90s, which aren't coming back. Expect those options to be less of a cure-all in the decades to come.
posted by el_lupino at 9:59 AM on May 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


workin' man.

A chump workin' map would be fun.
posted by The Whelk at 9:59 AM on May 29, 2010


If NYU is so awesome and worth the price, why don't they have better financial counselling?

NYU is, like any other private university, first and foremost, a business. If the business end doesn't function, there's no school. What would they have to gain from 'better financial counselling'? I'll bet they're perfectly fine with pointing kids to scholarships and grants, because for them revenue is revenue.

Why are these kids not figuring out that half a million dollars in personal loans is not worth it for a BA.

Because there's no one to point them in that direction if they grow up white-collar middle-class. From junior high school on you are instructed to go to college. 18-year-olds, adults in the eyes of the law or not, are still sheltered. Still kids. They do not know how the world works and their parents, who grew up in a different time with broadly different scholastic and economic conditions, perpetuate the "go to college" ideal.
posted by griphus at 9:59 AM on May 29, 2010


It's sometimes strange to me that I quite literally had no idea that student loans even existed when I was choosing a school. I seriously thought at the time that you either got a scholarship or it was you and your parents footing the bill.

That had a dramatic effect on my school choice, one that I've often cursed, but maybe I should be look more on the positive side: I did most of a BS in Math with no debt, and only took on about 3-4k for the BA in Math Ed I thought I wanted to tack on at the end.

I sometimes do wonder if the large rises in tuition are fueled by student loans, just like home prices were pumped up by the easy lending.
posted by weston at 9:59 AM on May 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


Honestly, blucevalo and I did not coordinate our responses there.
posted by el_lupino at 10:00 AM on May 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


When I was going to Penn State in the early eighties, tuition was $2300/yr for state residents. Even adjusted to current dollars, that's less than $5000 a year yet the actual tuition for 2010 is $13,604 a year. Are educations really three times better then they were in the early eighties?
posted by octothorpe at 10:00 AM on May 29, 2010 [5 favorites]


Telling students to go to state and community colleges is, I think, the wrong strategy. People take out huge loans to go to big-name schools because they know that highly-renowned schools result in better chances of employment. That, in turn, is because employers value big-name schools higher. The point, therefore, is to convince employers that expensive degrees do not necessarily translate to better employees. That is a much harder argument to successfully make, however.

The situation as it is now seems intractable. I see a strong parallel between the US federal debt and the debt of US college graduates. Can debt just keep climbing? Will the system go into default?
posted by jiawen at 10:01 AM on May 29, 2010


I bet I can name a whole lot of dumb-ass shit you did at 18 that you'd rather not be judged as "too stupid" for as an adult.

Shame it's also 23-27 year-olds who are plunging deep into debt to get a graduate degree from a private school in Creative Writing when their undergraduate degree in Creating Writing failed to achieve anything for themselves but a self-published 'zine.

I have a friend who is leaving a very prestigious school with mountains of debt (as in, one could purchase a lovely mountain house with the money) and hopes to get multimedia freelance gigs.

I don't think these people are stupid, but I think what they did was stupid. Recently, I've been discovering that my affordable education at a rather anonymous public state school was a much better and wider education than some of my acquaintances have received at very notable private schools.
posted by fuq at 10:01 AM on May 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


Blucevalo - "The students who are entering the UC or CSU systems in the fall who don't have almost total parental support for all 4 years of their college careers will be shouldering some form of loan load, guaranteed."

Actually that is not the case.

I'm on the financial aid advisory board at UCSB and I can assure you that student needs are met very highly. First, any under $100k families get CalGrant, which covers quite a bit.

AND, most importantly, at UCSB at least, students are completely prohibited from having more than $22k per year TOTAL in financial aid (loans, scholarships, work/study, etc.), so it turns out that most students don't end up taking our more than a few thousand in loans if at all.
posted by k8t at 10:01 AM on May 29, 2010


griphus,

Look, prestige is a weird thing. It depends on where you live, what your field is, and the sort of people you like to work with. If you can afford it, fine. But kids should be after an education. If you're smart in your field, you'll do fine. Even if you graduated from some crappy state school like Berkeley, Penn State, or UCLA.
posted by chasing at 10:02 AM on May 29, 2010


Name me five state universities of any concentration (liberal arts, medicine, engineering, farming whatever) whose prestige (NOT quality of education, simply recognition and "ooh you went to $SCHOOL?") outweigh their private competitors

UNC-Chapel Hill.

(That's one, at least.)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 10:02 AM on May 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


Griphus if you were a prospective student who was going for any humanities degree then the questions are...

What if, at 18, when you make this decision, you're not aware of the economic climate? God knows I didn't exactly have my head around it, nor many of my peers. Neither did our parents, who didn't really care what was going on with "the economy" as long as they still had their jobs. We were all instructed to go to the "best name" school we could. Our schools, wanting to have the best matriculation rates into said "best name" universities didn't exactly discourage us either. It was all "education is good debt" bullshit mentioned above.
posted by griphus at 10:03 AM on May 29, 2010


I went to 2 schools, sorta didn't go to class at one, dropped out of the other. UT Austin and UNT. I left UNT around 1995. I don't particularly remember learning anything functionally useful during the classes. Most of my more useful knowledge came from extracurricular stuff (game development/LARC lab). To give credit though, there wasn't much useful training in my chosen field of Game Design, mostly because it simply didn't exist.

So I escaped without any debt, just some pissed off parents who still think I wasted my talents by not getting an MBA or somesorts of degree. In Hindsight, I'd like to go back to school simply to learn something else, not for skills, just because it's interesting. It's also a nice break from working for a living .

I've been interviewing a lot of people over the past few months, most of them coming from either for-profit gaming specific schools, or private universities with game development tracks. The for-profit schools are outright offensive. In my view they seem to be preying on GI Bill military members, offering a 1-2 year certificate and simply not teaching them anything useful. The higher dollar schools are just as bad, but they at least have the sense to conceal it with some other educational frippery.

It's not to say that the people coming out of these programs are bad. It's also not to say that the programs are equally bad across the board. The Guildhall is a solid program that has a tendency to train people in the day-to-day business of development... But overall, it feels like the schools just don't give a shit. They want to get as much money out of these potential students as possible, peddling the dream of game development and riches, all while maximizing ROI.

And don't get me started on the differences between the american education system and the one in Finland. I'm sure For-Profit education will serve us extremely well over the next few generations.. Just like that awesome healthcare system

I don't know if I'd be better off with a degree. IN 1995, maybe. Now? Not a fucking chance, especially if it's going to saddle me with 250,000 in debt.
posted by Lord_Pall at 10:03 AM on May 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


Self correcting problem. We need farmers, carpenters and blacksmiths, not journalist, economists and actuaries. As soon as that need manifests itself, this will go away.
posted by falcon at 10:03 AM on May 29, 2010 [6 favorites]


i think the old mantra of "get into the best college possible, worry about the debt later" will be ending with this generation. college has just gotten too expensive and the economy too cruddy for the trade-off to be worth it. i see a lot of kids finishing their generals at community college, then going on to the state u, and MAYBE grad school if they can get a scholarship.
posted by camdan at 10:06 AM on May 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


(Horses ass, I need to start hitting 'preview' before posting. Sorry for the spamming, folks.)

If you can afford it, fine. But kids should be after an education. If you're smart in your field, you'll do fine.

My experience, having attended both a relatively-prestigious engineering university and a pretty-good liberal arts university? Most people aren't. For a whole lot of them, the brand name will matter a lot more than the education because most just don't get everything out of it they can. If you, an average student of average ability and ambition, manage to luck out into NYU instead of your state school (assuming your state school isn't fantastic) for a Standard-Issue Business Management BA, where do you think there's a better chance of landing a job afterward?
posted by griphus at 10:06 AM on May 29, 2010


Do people know that they can get a really good, affordable education in professional fields from public city and state-run colleges? Why is everyone looking at me like I'm crazy?

Tuition room and board for the state u. in "Taxachusetts" will be $17,399 next year.
UMass officials say that students at UMass-Amherst are getting a better deal than their peers at other public flagship campuses in New England. For in-state students, next year's price tag at the University of New Hampshire could hit $18,500, a 26 percent increase from five years ago; at the University of Rhode Island, $17,691, a 30 percent increase; and the University of Connecticut, $17,500, a 28 percent increase, according to data collected by UMass.
posted by ennui.bz at 10:07 AM on May 29, 2010


Glad to see the NYT took the time from their usual article on how you Have To Go To a Top School To Get a Good Job to remind us po' folk where the state colleges are.
posted by geoff. at 10:07 AM on May 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


We need farmers, carpenters and blacksmiths, not journalist, economists and actuaries. As soon as that need manifests itself, this will go away.

considering how the bosses would rather blow up the moon then see their profits drop by half a percentage, I don't see this happening anytime soon (unless they make it legal to actually not pay anyone anything ever, then it might be cheaper for them)
posted by The Whelk at 10:08 AM on May 29, 2010


We're rapidly approaching a point where most prospective liberal arts majors will attend school remotely. There's just no way to justify the huge increase in cost of being on campus. Schools that offer majors requiring a lot of lab time will survive, but I don't see how the small liberal arts colleges can. Even the large public universities will downsize.

The analogy to the housing boom and bust is apt. Just as the price of a home was out of step with the available salaries, so too is tuition.

-----

Oh and forget the trades. They're shrinking and hard to break into and have a complete excess of labor available.

That isn't the case across the board. Take a look at welding.
posted by BigSky at 10:09 AM on May 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


bukharin, this is in no way intended as an attack, but what are you studying in poetry that's worth being indebted for the rest of your life? You seem to be saying that at this point you don't even expect to be able to pay back your loan... and are okay with that, and with not even being financially comfortable ("middle class") after you graduate.

You can get poetry books in the library, you can join poetry groups online, you can get some Teaching Company courses on audiobook. Or, yes, go to a cheaper college. Why choose this difficult and ethically dubious path? Is it because being poor and indebted might fuel your own poetry? Is it the fact that you won't be put in jail for not paying back a student loan?
posted by mondaygreens at 10:11 AM on May 29, 2010 [5 favorites]


For people asking what's wrong with state schools, here's an anecdote. I'm interested in psychology, so I downloaded the course podcasts of various courses from UC Berkeley for free via iTunes U. Great stuff. But Psych 101 is Psych 101, right? Surely the differences between schools are overblown? Note: I did not read a textbook along with the Berkeley material.

Well, I decided recently that I want to pursue it more seriously, so I need to actually get it on my transcript so that I can certify that I sat in the chair in front of a professor. Luckily I work at the local state university - the flagship school of the state system - and have good access. Should be about the same, right? Flagship state school, flagship state school.

We're approaching our second midterm now, and for everything that's been taught so far - I kid you not, every aspect of the course - I already know the terminology and the concepts. 95+% of the time I know the exact example my prof will use to illustrate a concept. When I do know the example, 90% of the time I know details or qualifying factors that she does not mention or glosses over (where she says "removed part of his brain" I know "removed most of the hippocampus and some of the surrounding tissue"). Often, the research cited by our prof and our textbook is not the most current or exciting view in the field (we talk about Kohlberg, Haidt is never mentioned). Some of the time, really amazing, groundbreaking work is not mentioned at all (is memory localized in the brain? If you went to Berkeley, maybe you could fill my classmates in). The Berkeley course - and note that I did not read the textbook they use, did not have access to their prof's office hours, and did not go to their GSI sections (which State U doesn't have for this course) - systematically provided more detail, more topics, and more recent research.

I imagine that if I had taken Flagship State U's course, then gone to Local Town Community College or Out-of-the-Way State U I would have seen a similar effect. Let's not even talk about the differential in graduate school admissions. Please, let's just not talk about it - I might start crying.

If you are going to school just to get a degree - just to get a piece of paper that said you sat in a chair for a few years and were awake most of the time - yeah, I can buy that it doesn't matter where you went to school. But if you're actually interested in learning, or actually interested in being well-positioned to meaningfully contribute to a field or have good job prospects in academia without a Herculean uphill battle....not all schools are created equal. Anyone who tells you different is lying through their teeth or has no idea what they are talking about. Run away.

(Yes, it's possible, in a logical sense, that upper-level courses are different. Let me know how that works out for you. No, I'm actually not bitter about this. I don't have any illusion that I will get into nor a desire to go to Yale or Berkeley for grad school.)
posted by mister-o at 10:11 AM on May 29, 2010 [8 favorites]


Is it because being poor and indebted might fuel your own poetry?

For some, angst isn't free!
posted by fuq at 10:13 AM on May 29, 2010


If you've got a lot of student loan debt, you should look into income based repayment, which is a new federal program as of a year or so ago. It basically caps your payments at a manageable level that is tied to your income. In some cases it can completely eliminate your payments. After 25 years of payments under IBR, any remaining principal is forgiven outright.

Personally I think that easy access to credit is why tuition has gone up so much. Colleges were free to jack up tuition year after year knowing that students would simply take out more loans, which the lenders were happy to offer because the loans were guaranteed by the government, and the students were happy to take because many people are bad at reasoning about finance. The government should end the vicious cycle by capping loan amounts and tying the cap to inflation.

There's also the problem of student loans being based solely on need rather than having any relation to expected payoff. That you could get $250k in loans to study the humanities is absurd. Of course, as a society we should encourage and enable such study, but the proper vehicle is grants, not loans.

Then there's also the problem of universities being allowed to accumulate massive endowments without using the money to actually assist students. There's no excuse for a school with a multi-billion dollar endowment to charge tuition of $35k.
posted by jedicus at 10:17 AM on May 29, 2010 [9 favorites]


I sometimes do wonder if the large rises in tuition are fueled by student loans, just like home prices were pumped up by the easy lending.

Maybe. I'm aware of loan issues with for profit schools, and there was something about the government subsidizing banks to make student loans too.

But there is also the issue of what the schools are spending the money on. Sometimes, it's things out of their control, like skyrocketing health care costs. Sometimes, it's things that have a dubious per-student return, like a campus football stadium, which only benefits the athletic department. And sometimes, it's something else. I've been trying to find an article I remember which talks about how to reduce college costs, and haven't found it yet, but I found this one from Washington Monthly (College for $99 a Month) about online vs. traditional education, and it had this:
Colleges charge students exorbitant sums partly because they can, but partly because they have to. Traditional universities are complex and expensive, providing a range of services from scientific research and graduate training to mass entertainment via loosely affiliated professional sports franchises. To fund these things, universities tap numerous streams of revenue: tuition, government funding, research grants, alumni and charitable donations. But the biggest cash cow is lower-division undergraduate education. Because introductory courses are cheap to offer, they’re enormously profitable. The math is simple: Add standard tuition rates and any government subsidies, and multiply that by several hundred freshmen in a big lecture hall. Subtract the cost of paying a beleaguered adjunct lecturer or graduate student to teach the course. There’s a lot left over. That money is used to subsidize everything else.
So as the cost of other services go up, the cost of basic tuition goes up. And because basic tuition is adjustable, there's less pressure to keep the costs of other things down.
posted by ZeusHumms at 10:18 AM on May 29, 2010


I'm on the financial aid advisory board at UCSB and I can assure you that student needs are met very highly. First, any under $100k families get CalGrant, which covers quite a bit.

Isn't Schwarzenegger asking the state legislature to cut Cal Grants for the coming FY? Or am I mistaken?

AND, most importantly, at UCSB at least, students are completely prohibited from having more than $22k per year TOTAL in financial aid (loans, scholarships, work/study, etc.), so it turns out that most students don't end up taking our more than a few thousand in loans if at all.

I stand corrected. But your comment doesn't address the reality that the cost of living in Goleta or Santa Barbara is probably going to be a pretty big stretch for any student, whether she has a Cal Grant or not, unless she has some other significant means of support or is commuting like a crazy person to be able to live somewhere affordable that's anywhere within 150 miles of UCSB. Does UCSB give all of its students affordable on-campus housing options? My bet is that there's surely not enough space available to make that happen. If I'm wrong, I'm wrong, but I'd be interested to know.
posted by blucevalo at 10:20 AM on May 29, 2010


Just a comment about state schools (as I am currently completing my PhD at one, and got both my BA and MA at 2 other state schools).

I am a huge supporter of public higher education. I think it is one of the most essential components to a working democracy.

That said...

State schools in many places (esp. here in Arizona, or over in CA) are suffering. States have been cutting back funding for them big time. Class sizes are getting progressively bigger, faculty who retire are not being replaced, and tuition, while small compared to private schools, is going up and up -- it may not be a ridiculous cost for middle class families, but for those in the lower economic categories it is becoming more and more of a strain. They are increasingly being pressured on both ends: most don't have the prestige of private schools, and they take longer than for-profit schools and aren't as focused on professionalization. Many of the students have to work full time to support themselves, or sometimes even their parents, and still don't make enough money to cover the rising costs of tuition, housing, food, and books. So, while you may get out of school with LESS debt, state schools are, unfortunately, not a panacea for the student loan problem.
posted by Saxon Kane at 10:23 AM on May 29, 2010 [4 favorites]


@Blucevalo - nope CalGrants were "saved."

As far as living in the area, there is some on-campus housing and some off-campus housing.

Here's this year's undergrad off-campus budget.

(And it was raised from $22k to $25k with those fee increases, but same idea...)
posted by k8t at 10:24 AM on May 29, 2010


Name me five state universities of any concentration (liberal arts, medicine, engineering, farming whatever) whose prestige (NOT quality of education, simply recognition and "ooh you went to $SCHOOL?") outweigh their private competitors

UNC-Chapel Hill
University of Michigan
UC Berkeley
University of Virginia
William and Mary
Georgia Tech

...rank at or above sub-Ivies. (Because actual Ivies have great financial aid for the most part, unless you're in an extention, pay-to-play program for "adult" students.)
posted by availablelight at 10:26 AM on May 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


And @Blucevalo, the number of UCSB students that take out loans is quite small. Those that take out PLUS loans (the less desirable federal ones) is even smaller. And UCSB does not allow private loans at all.
posted by k8t at 10:26 AM on May 29, 2010


You can't exactly buy NYU-style prestige for a state school no matter how much funding you get.

You could just go to Berkeley or UCLA or Michigan or Virginia or Chapel Hill or William and Mary or UCSD.

NYU is a fine school, but it's a whole lot more expensive than it is prestigious.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:27 AM on May 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


When I was going to Penn State in the early eighties, tuition was $2300/yr for state residents. Even adjusted to current dollars, that's less than $5000 a year yet the actual tuition for 2010 is $13,604 a year. Are educations really three times better then they were in the early eighties?

Answer to a rhetorical question, but "no". From my point of view (staff at UIUC) it's driven by two things:

1) We teach with more expensive tools. For example: in the 80's no one cared about having a network. In the 2000's we spend $20 million to install a world class one. It's a smart investment because now you can't do anything without a network... but that doesn't make it cheaper.

2) The state has decreased our funding. In Illinois, the Blago years were terrible for the universities. And even now that he's gone, we have to deal with the mess of the financial collapse, his reckless spending, and the decades of mildly (in comparison) reckless spending before him. UIUC got 7% of the money the state promised; where is the rest supposed to come from if not tuition?
posted by sbutler at 10:30 AM on May 29, 2010


...but it's a whole lot more expensive than it is prestigious.

That's true. But as kid coming out of the heartland and equally focused on freedom and education, would you rather attend school in New York or Michigan/Virginia/North Carolina? (I'm grasping at straws, I know.) The California schools, if NPR is to be trusted, are Hindenburging.
posted by griphus at 10:30 AM on May 29, 2010


I will simply speak to one or two issues, not covered thus far in comments;
1. State Schools. Yes. Bargains. But here is the reality. State school A costs little to attend. But years ago, charged out of state students very little more to go to that school. Now, most state schools charge substantial tuition for out of state students (3, 4 thousand more) and so the state schools, hurting financially, now take in a bigger percentage of out of state students for the higher fees. At one time, a conventional cap of 10% tops...not now.And that means my kid might not get into my state school, which I get taxed for, because another kid from out of state takes his spot. And then I might have to pay much more to send my kid to an out of state school.

2. The number of college presidents now making over a million per year pus great benefits, like free house etc) has gone way up. Not that many years ago, nearly none at all and most were making well under 150 thousand per year. Making more? coaches for winning teams.

3. How colleges screw you:
using more and more part-timers, most without terminal degrees, who don't feel that connect to the school and who get crap pay and no fringes so they work less, often. Or: grad assistants...Larger and larger classes. Best deal: private schools without grad programs so no grad assistants available and all upper div courses taught by full-timers with terminal degrees. Alas: expensive because private.

4. the future: hybridization--mix of traditional classes and online courses.
posted by Postroad at 10:32 AM on May 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


NYU is a fine school, but it's a whole lot more expensive than it is prestigious.

Not if you are a business major....NYU ranks consistently in the top 10 for business at the undergrad level and at the top 5 at the graduate level. Its part time business program is number 1 in the nation.

Same thing could be said for the law school............

It really doesnt matter....the point is who do you blame for school debt? And it should be kids and parents who are not financially aware enough to say that if you dont expect to ever earn more than $50,000 dollars a year (like mr. writer somewhere up there) then you shouldnt be taking out huge loans just to get a better education.....
posted by The1andonly at 10:33 AM on May 29, 2010


This was a big part of Frontline's college, inc. which was linked to on the blue a few weeks ago.

One of the stats is pretty damning when it comes to default rates for for-profit school colleges. From the transcript:
BARMAK NASSIRIAN, Lobbyist, Traditional Universities: We constantly hear declarations of good news. All of the official stakeholders tout what strikes one as impressively low default rates. Well, of course, the reason is because we're not counting all of them.

In federal financial aid, because of very heavy lobbying by institutions, default is defined as non-repayment within a very narrow window of currently only two years from the first date that you enter a payment. So if you can push defaults outside of that window, they go away. They don't exist. They don't count.

MARTIN SMITH: [voice-over] Nassirian believes the default rate at for-profits could be as high as 50 percent. And consider it another way. According to current government figures, for-profit students are much more likely to default on their loans. They represent just 10 percent of all college students but nearly half of all defaults.

[on camera] They have about 10 percent of the students. They have about 44 percent of all student defaults. That sounds like there's a bigger problem than just a few bad apples.


Yes, Nassirian is a traditional university lobbyist, but government figures (as indicated above) agree with him. And when you factor in equation that most of the funding for these students comes from federal loans, for-profit schools being way more expensive than you think (30k for 12 month courses, etc), inadequate educations for the most part, the majority of funding comes from federal loans, and the fact that for-profit universities are growing like gangbusters you don't have to be a college grad to agree we've got an excellent chance to be screwed.

Yes, loans for private traditional universities might be a problem, but for-profit school defaults are gonna lead the way for sure.
posted by tittergrrl at 10:35 AM on May 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


So why are we encouraging students to take on gargantuan debt to pursue degrees that have a very, VERY small likelihood of being useful later on?

Seriously?

Yeah, why should we encourage anyone to study anything besides a technical skill that will form them into a cog for the economic machine?

I mean, I get what you're saying, but the answer to the problem is not, it seems to me, make everyone into profit-accruing worker drones for industry.
posted by Saxon Kane at 10:36 AM on May 29, 2010 [6 favorites]


Name me five state universities ... whose prestige ... outweigh their private competitors [for at least some significant number of fields].

Virginia - Penn
Berkeley - Stanford
UCLA - USC
Wisconsin-Madison - Marquette
Michigan - Detroit-Mercy*/Calvin*
Washington - Puget Sound*
Minnesota - St. Thomas*
Texas - SMU*

* I don't think these public schools have much direct competition from private schools. The listed private schools are the closest you will get.

It is true that the HYPMSCC bloc is pretty unbreakable with regard to prestige except (in some cases) by Berkeley. But at all other levels, including the much-vaunted-in-this-thread-NYU, there are significant numbers of public schools which are more prestigious.
posted by thesmophoron at 10:37 AM on May 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


They let 18-year-olds take out loans with no conference with their parents.

They don't even teach kids how to fill out their taxes. It's fucking nuts. I would add that they don't teach kids how to write checks, except they're mostly a relic these days anyway (still, it's hilarious to see "young folk" mix up the payee and amount, or endorse their own checks). But "how to fill out your taxes" should be one of the first civic lessons you learn in your government-paid public schools, yet it's completely ignored. Instead we get years of gym glass and tumbling and square dancing.

The day you turn 18 should be a day of dire warnings for any senior in high school. They should be made to take a mandatory class their last semester called, "What happens next?" where they discuss what you should do if you're ever arrested, the basic concepts of balancing your budget, and the long-term consequences of debt. Because every 18 year-old has a target on their back. They are seen as credit prey, uncommitted, ripe and ready to commit themselves to decades of future blood-lettings.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:38 AM on May 29, 2010 [36 favorites]


We need farmers, carpenters and blacksmiths, not journalist, economists and actuaries. As soon as that need manifests itself, this will go away.

Um, I don't really think we need more of any of these things, considering what I've observed with factory farming, the housing downturn, and, um, industrialized production of goods ("blacksmiths?" You're kidding, right?).

Health care continues to grow though. And jobs related to computing will still be in relatively high demand for some time, it would seem. This may be useful. I assume that it's still relevant even though it's a few years old (from 2008).
posted by dubitable at 10:39 AM on May 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


So why are we encouraging students to take on gargantuan debt to pursue degrees that have a very, VERY small likelihood of being useful later on?

"Useful"? Really? I'm getting a degree in Literature, majoring in the long-dusty works of, mostly and sadly, dead white dudes. Not too useful in the big scary world out there, right? Bullshit. I've never had so much practice retrieving, interpreting and synthesizing data in any experience before. Usefulness is not just the material you study, but what you do with it.
posted by griphus at 10:39 AM on May 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


"If you're smart in your field, you'll do fine. Even if you graduated from some crappy state school like Berkeley, Penn State, or UCLA."

Colorado State University has a fashion merchandising program that landed a friend of mine an internship at Women's Wear Daily.

Of course, if you're not from Colorado, it's not nearly as affordable, so to some extent you're limited by the quality of the schools in your home state.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 10:39 AM on May 29, 2010


Name me five state universities of any concentration (liberal arts, medicine, engineering, farming whatever) whose prestige (NOT quality of education, simply recognition and "ooh you went to $SCHOOL?") outweigh their private competitors


The Citadel
Cal (aka Berkeley)
Texas A&M
University of Michigan
Rutgers

Also, one of the traditional Ivies is also, in part, a state school: Cornell.
posted by deadmessenger at 10:40 AM on May 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


And UCSB does not allow private loans at all.

k8t: I wasn't aware of that. I think that's really awesome -- I mean that sincerely. If UCSB can find livable ways for its students to get a 4-year education without loans, more power to you. All I'm saying is that Clark Kerr's Master Plan is increasingly a thing of the past. If UCSB is fighting the trend, terrific, but that isn't stopping the trend.

Here's this year's undergrad off-campus budget.

Rent is listed as $6559/year in the off-campus budget that you linked. Is there a single apartment or even walk-in garage in the greater Santa Barbara area that is renting for $728 a month that is a safe and legal accommodation? I kind of doubt it.
posted by blucevalo at 10:42 AM on May 29, 2010


Yeah, I don't mean to minimize this (and even state schools have seen major rate hikes), but WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOUR IN-STATE SCHOOL!!?!?! Here in Washington, the UW Seattle is roughly $7,000 a year. It's a world class research school and has a beautiful campus.

PS Seattle Central Community College is something like $80 a credit. It's a damn good school.


I taught at our local community college for years, and it convinced me to plan my college savings for my kids with the idea in mind that they will start there. The instruction is as good as I've seen elsewhere (and I've seen a lot of elsewheres). In my department, English, the required freshman comp classes are taught mostly by part-timers who either have years and years of experience, or are grad students at the Local Big 10 U's English dept who have exhausted their funding eligibility.

If a student in this town wants to take the required freshman comp, she can take it at MSU and likely have a 22-year-old fresh out of college with no teaching experience as her instructor. Or she can have the equivalent of that 22-year-old, aged a bit and with 4-5 years teaching experience if she chooses the community college. Cost: about $240 for the CC class, about $800 for the MSU one (last time I checked).

The CC gears many of its courses toward allowing students to transfer to MSU. For instance, when my librarian partner went back to school to change careers to computer programming, he took courses at both places. The CC courses were so tied to the MSU courses that for many of his required classes, the course numbers were the same. And they have very well-designed transfer plans for other 4-year-colleges in the state.

I know that not every place has a strong community college. But I think more families in areas that do should consider it. My take on things is that I am happy to help my kids with their education (and I hope to get them through school debt-free, as my parents did me, thank you so much mom and dad), but I don't think I'm obligated to give them a four-year on-campus college experience.
posted by not that girl at 10:42 AM on May 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


The socioeconomic implications and the present status of the job market (and one's choice of a school and a major) are just a few of the comments above in a thread that could break records if we were to try to seriously solve the problem here (as if MeFi has ever solved a problem).

My daughter is about to embark upon four years at a pretty expensive school. Luckily, realizing that her parents were not rich, she developed a remarkable C.V. and academic record, so they gave her some generous scholarships. Still, the fact that two working civil servants (a teacher and a public defender) have to worry about sending one child through school is a remarkable testimony to the degradation of affairs in the U.S.

My father sent six kids through college - and grad school and med school - on his own. This was before the Reagan Revolution.
posted by kozad at 10:43 AM on May 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


Useful"? Really? I'm getting a degree in Literature, majoring in the long-dusty works of, mostly and sadly, dead white dudes. Not too useful in the big scary world out there, right? Bullshit. I've never had so much practice retrieving, interpreting and synthesizing data in any experience before. Usefulness is not just the material you study, but what you do with it.

Oh, I'm sure you find your degree useful and fascinating- you wouldn't be going into debt to study it otherwise, right? But, your degree's usefulness to prospective post-graduation employers was what I was referring to - because someone's willingness to pay you to apply the skills you developed in college is what matters when it comes time to pay back that student loan.

So, what kind of job do you expect that your Lit degree will qualify you for once you've graduated?
posted by deadmessenger at 10:47 AM on May 29, 2010


All of this makes me extremely happy to be attending college in Canada, where there is very little emphasis placed on what school you attended (with a few exceptions for a few fields).

I'm still baffled at the U.S. school system. Canada's has its own problems (namely the public perception that University-bound students are more intelligent than college-bound or trade-bound ones), but all of our schools are affordable. Is the potential for earnings in the states really so much greater than Canada's that many students can afford their educations?

More succintly: is this article showing an emerging trend, or just calling attention to the fact that no one in the U.S. can afford their educations anymore?


(and hurray for my first comment on MeFi, hi all!)
posted by FuzzyLumpkins at 10:49 AM on May 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


mullacc: "Well...the bill to YOU was only a few grand a semester, but you were probably the beneficiary of huge state subsidies. I doubt state schools are that much cheaper overall than private schools."

I can't speak for Texas, but I can talk about my state school. The budget from the state in 2007 was approximately 25 percent, and is certainly lower now. The budget from tuition is perhaps 5 percent. The rest comes from research grants. Every once in a while people talk about taking the college private because of the onerous state compliance burden -- for some reason there are state "preferred vendors" for they have to buy computer equipment from and so on, and surplus equipment has to be sent to Topeka for sale, and various accounting and lobbying with the state must take place.

Private schools are eligible for those grants, and the ones worth the prestige the public bestows upon them receive plenty. I think you're kidding yourself if you think Texas or Kansas legislatures lavish tax money on education to the tune of Harvard or MIT tuition.
posted by pwnguin at 10:50 AM on May 29, 2010


@ blucevalo, if they share a bedroom, it is $500/person. If they don't share a bedroom, it is closer to $1000.
posted by k8t at 10:50 AM on May 29, 2010


That's true. But as kid coming out of the heartland and equally focused on freedom and education, would you rather attend school in New York or Michigan/Virginia/North Carolina? (I'm grasping at straws, I know.)

Yeah, that wasn't what you asked before.

I dunno. Some kids coming out of the heartland would rather go to NYU, others couldn't resist the call of the west coast and the Cal schools, others want to go down south and escape winter for a few years. But I'd wager that the median student coming out of (say) Ohio mostly wants to go to Ohio State, and that the median student coming out of Indiana wants to go to IU, and the median student coming from Iowa or Nebraska or Chicago wants to go to their flagship state university.

Back to what you asked before, prestige is a weird thing. Flagship state universities in particular are often highly prestigious... within their state. If you're from Iowa or Nebraska or Ohio or Florida and want to live there when you graduate, you might find yourself better served going to your flagship state U than higher-ranked (but not Harvard). Likewise, other schools have massively high reputations within their regions but less so otherwise (UVa and Chapel Hill in particular).

NYU is particularly bad here, because as you move away from New York and out of very-high-prestige or very-high-income professions, people are likely to assume that that degree you went $100K into debt for was a SUNY. Ditto UPenn.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:50 AM on May 29, 2010


So, what kind of job do you expect that your Lit degree will qualify you for once you've graduated?

Civil service, wherein I have friends with Music, Theater and History degrees. Just about every related ob offer I've seen indicates "Bachelor's Degree Required" with no specifics tied to it, and few have explicitly applicable BA degrees tied to them anyway. Considering I'm not going into engineering or finance, my resume and work experience (non-academic, wherein I exercise the skills I picked up doing my BA) should do the heavy lifting. I'll have to claw my way to where I want to be rather than walk in at that level, but I haven't a problem with that.

Like I said, I know few individuals in the non-academic Working World who have specifically-applicable Bachelor's degrees outside of the finance (and we see how they are doing) and engineering crowds.
posted by griphus at 10:52 AM on May 29, 2010


Hi!

Is the potential for earnings in the states really so much greater than Canada's that many students can afford their educations?

No, that's the problem.

Your schools are affordable because you value them and fund them. We also have a wacky state system that leaves them very vulnerable to relatively localized politics and budgetary concerns.

So if California goes through a horribly shitty time financially, or Illinois has one crazy-ass corrupt governor, their public schools (which really benefit the entire nation) are fucked.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 10:55 AM on May 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


I love a liberal education, education for its own sake, and all of that. But having now RTFA, I have trouble having sympathy for anybody who thought $100,000 in debt for a degree in religious and women's studies was a good idea. We had a recent AskMe from somebody who was 87k in debt from a undergraduate English degree. I'm torn between my sympathy for people who naively believed the idea that any college degree was worth whatever it took to get it, and wanting to slap them for stupidity.
posted by not that girl at 10:56 AM on May 29, 2010


So, what kind of job do you expect that your Lit degree will qualify you for once you've graduated?

I'm afraid we are all asking the wrong questions in this thread. The real reason behind the debt crisis in education is because this question, and others like it, are the only things most Americans consider when they think (sic) about education. As if humans are born intellectually, morally, emotionally, and socially developed and just need to go through an approvals process before they are fit to enter the work force (which is an end in itself, and the only end worth considering).
posted by mister-o at 10:56 AM on May 29, 2010 [7 favorites]


Post secondary education serves two big purposes (and dozens of little purposes) one is educating, and the other is credentialing. Society operates for the most part under the flawed assumption that these things have a whole lot to do with one another, but that isn't the case. It isn't as though there are these arcane secrets that are only taught at Harvard that dramatically increase your human capital. No, a degree from Harvard is valuable because it signals that you are the kind of guy who got into Harvard in the first place.

This is a bad dumb wasteful unfair system. I don't think a liberal arts education is a waste of time but the people receiving a liberal arts education certainly seem to. If you make it through university having never read Kant or Keynes or without having learned Calculus or Organic Chemistry it is safe to say you will never read or learn those things. What a weird fucking coincidence. These things are so vital to know a smattering of that if you don't learn them you don't deserve a middle class life but after four years of playing dress up we can hang them up forever.

It's all kabuki. Do you think it is any coincidence that people use just the tiniest fraction of what they learn in university in the jobs that their university education expressly qualified them for?

If education was our goal, the life of the mind, increasing human capital, we could get there on the cheap. A motivated and disciplined individual could get 90% of an ivy league education with access to a good library and a broadband internet connection. I know you can point to certain university activities that would not be digitally replicable. That's true. But what if we were interested in replicating or replacing them without all the concerns with signaling the necessity of expense and convincing ourselves and others what a prestigious and important undertaking is happening. If our society wasn't already organized under this weird assumption that education is a stage this chrysalis like stage of life as though human beings were metamorphic insects it would even be cheaper since you wouldn't have to create new institutions whole cloth.

By the same token if you wanted a semi objective third party to issue you a certificate saying that your written communication, critical thinking, conscientiousness, or whatever constellation of aptitudes a university education hints at assessing are yay big it would be pretty easy to create a separate institution that was more fare, more informative, and most importantly less costly and time consuming than a diploma from an institution of a certain amount of prestige and a GPA.

I am going to assume something about my audience. I am going to assume that this is a community largely of people who will at least get a bachelors degree. As such we are incumbents we benefit or will benefit from the status quo. We've invested a lot of time and effort and money in playing the game that we are expected to play and that makes us less willing to believe and less able to see that the system exists to advance the interests of incumbents like us. The game is rigged. I'm not saying the way things are is terrible, indeed it is probably better than anything that existed previously. But, I think if we weren't so path dependent, if we were concerned with creating the best system we could, it would be possible to create a system so much more effective fair and efficient than what we have now that it would make our current education system look like astrology to astronomy, phrenology to psychology, blood letting to antibiotics.
posted by I Foody at 10:57 AM on May 29, 2010 [27 favorites]


What did Rockefeller think about young people and debt ?
Live within your means. One of the swiftest toboggans I know of is for a young man just starting in life to get into debt.
posted by elpapacito at 10:59 AM on May 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


griphus, regarding prestige - Yes, it matters when you're out trying to get a real job but not nearly as much as you think or want it to. Prestige, above all, is for the person who goes after it, and while there's nothing inherently wrong with chasing it or spending money on it, it's also about how much you can afford.

It's like buying Chanel clothes when you can only afford American Eagle. Sure, the branded clothes are better, they look better and make you feel better. But that doesn't make getting into credit card debt to buy them a smart decision.

Yes, education is more important than clothes but as a 'business' (which NYU shouldn't be, since it's a nonprofit institution) and in the real world, it's operating on the same principle - especially as far as prestige goes.

Why is it so hard to accept that there are some things out of your reach, financially? And how is it a reasonable response to ignore that fact and buy into it anyway?

Of course you had your reasons (no one willingly gets into a situation like this) but it seems to me you are just trying to shun responsibility here. You aren't entitled to the best education, let alone the most prestigious one, just because you got accepted into it.
posted by mondaygreens at 10:59 AM on May 29, 2010


Flagship state universities in particular are often highly prestigious... within their state.

Okay, you have a point there; I didn't really realize my bias until just now. I live and was raised in NYC so my experience has always been either "oh you're local" or "oh you left your state to come specifically here." Considering NYU's size and its ever-presence in my teenage stomping grounds, I sort of associate out-of-town college student with the school.

Now that I think about it, the state-school point is pretty salient. I've gone to Brooklyn College (part of the CUNY system which parallels the SUNY system, except entirely within the five boroughs) five years ago and again now, and we've had a huge influx of outside students. Considering the cultural leanings of the new out-of-towners, I assume this is because of Brooklyn's rising status as an arts mecca.
posted by griphus at 11:03 AM on May 29, 2010


In answer to the question posed in the title: No. Student loans are non-dischargeable in bankruptcy, so the lenders will eventually get their money, unless you die before you can pay it off.

The crisis is/will be for those owing the debt not those holding it. Unfortunately, that means you're unlikely to see much, if any, help from the government on this.
posted by wierdo at 11:04 AM on May 29, 2010


Telling students to go to state and community colleges is, I think, the wrong strategy. People take out huge loans to go to big-name schools because they know that highly-renowned schools result in better chances of employment. That, in turn, is because employers value big-name schools higher.

I have come to believe as I've gotten older and watched my friends make their way in life, that most people do not live in the segment of society where the difference between a decent state college education and an elite education makes a meaningful difference in job prospects or income. If a young person has a specific aspiration that is best served by a certain school, OK. But "the best school possible, no matter how expensive, when I have no specific reason to go there" seems like a waste of money to me.
posted by not that girl at 11:05 AM on May 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


Jesus God, I am so glad my parents didn't buy into the bullshit financial aid offices were trying to pull in 2002. I was really, nigh-unforgivably mad at them at the time for not refinancing their house so I could go to a private school to study...probably something similar to the woman in the linked article.

I took a scholarship to Michigan State, was in an awesome residential college program there, and graduated with no debt. Graduating with no debt was like being a fucking unicorn. It's like I was the only one.

My girlfriend, who I met at school and am still with, scraped together funding between a few scholarships, her folks, small loans, and some shitty jobs (one included actually being shit on) but graduated with a totally manageable amount of loan debt. So, these days, we're like a unicorn and her sasquatch friend.

Now, the picture is different for everyone. But, there are universities that make a point to offer full rides to every National Merit award winner (like University of Oklahoma) or generous offers to every bright student they can find (Wayne State, in Detroit--they actually called me up and asked me to enroll, and I didn't even apply there).

Excellent high school students can find a way for someone to pay for them to go to college. And yet, people routinely turn down the stupidly generous scholarship I was awarded to go to private schools that offer them six figures of debt. It's these people I have no sympathy for.
posted by Tesseractive at 11:06 AM on May 29, 2010 [6 favorites]


Shame it's also 23-27 year-olds who are plunging deep into debt to get a graduate degree from a private school in Creative Writing when their undergraduate degree in Creating Writing failed to achieve anything for themselves but a self-published 'zine.

As someone who got a (free!) MFA in poetry, and who has a BA in English with a concentration in creative writing (more on this below), I can't help but sneer at this.

Anyway, my undergraduate story: my mom's a single mom who, when my sister had applied to art schools five years before, had been making well-below poverty-level incomes. My sis also got a large scholarship through our high school, 5k per year. She went to Parsons, was an RA after her first year, and graduated with less that 20k debt, which I think she hasn't paid off yet because back then, interest rates were super low. She was also able to somehow declare herself independent from my mother, which I think has something to do with it.

Five years later, I'm applying for colleges. I like painting, come from an artistic family, so it's pretty much expected that I'll go to art school. So I start putting together my portfolio, apply for the Cooper Union home test, go to a few portfolio days where I see the kids from arts' high schools with their huge, amazing portfolios and start feeling freaked out and crushed about my prospects. I went to a high school with exactly two art classes, so I start to feel really, really in over my head. I get into two schools, Parsons and MICA, both of which are excellent. Parsons gives me almost no funding. MICA gives me a bit, but I'd still be graduating with over 70k in debt. Even at 18, this makes me hyperventilate a little. I don't get the same scholarship through my high school that my sister did, and my mother is, like, palpably upset at me for this. She's making more money now, but still, my "college fund" has about 3k in it.

All of this is making my head explode. I decide to take a semester off, taking a few classes at community college, to decide what I'm going to do.

I decide that I don't want to do the art thing professionally. I decide that I want to focus on my other love, writing, instead. But I'm still at a loss with what to do for schools. All the kids in my high school honors classes went on college visits with their parents and such. My mom just really doesn't know how to approach any of this--and why should she, really? She suggests that I apply to her alma mater, William Paterson University, which is a state school. I go visit it. It has a pretty campus, considering (which will be under construction for most of my 3.5 years there, but what can you do?), and is close to the guy I'd just started dating (who I marry, six years later). So I apply.

Little did I know that in-state tuition in New Jersey is a farce compared to other states--about 10k/year for tuition alone. I also had no idea that, by applying for the winter semester, I'd be ineligible for almost every scholarship and grant the school had. Had, say, someone in admissions clued me in to the fact that I'd be ineligible for most financial aid, I definitely would have waited six months to apply.

I'm able to cover most of my first semester through savings. Midway through my second year, the single, small grant I received is withdrawn because my mother is now making too much money. My sister tries to encourage me to become declared independent, but when I go to the financial aid office and ask how to approach this, they pretty much laugh at me and tell me it's something only available for "orphans and children of abuse." I ask them how I can apply for financial aid--I have a 4.0 at that point. They give me a list of scholarships available through the school which I'm pretty much completely ineligible for (they're for single parents, those going into teaching, students of color, and so on). I apply anyway, but don't get anything. I ask financial aid what I'm supposed to do. They tell me to take out more loans. I end up living at home for my last year, because I can't afford to live in the dorms. Though I'm taking 18-21 credits a semester so that I can graduate in 3.5 years with most of my high school class, I commute over an hour each way every day. I'm exhausted, but I do it. When I graduate, I get a job working in a local library, making 30k a year, with good benefits, pretty quickly. The job only requires a high school diploma, but apparently most applicants were even more over-qualified than I was (with masters degrees!). Eventually, I go on to graduate school fully-funded.

I don't regret my college experience. The last two years there, particularly, were amazing. The professors in my English and philosophy departs were truly interested in supporting bright students. They loved me, and I loved learning from them. It was the first time in my life that I felt truly intellectually nurtured, something I didn't feel at all for the entirety of high school (I was mostly a B student, and bored out of my mind). I eventually got a job at my school's writing center and found great nerdy friends, too. That being said, intellectually, most of the first two years (community college and lower-level courses at my university) were painfully bad. There were times when I considered transferring, or dropping out.

And when I look at my student loan bills--just a smidge over 40,000 for six years of education--I think that maybe I should have. But I know that really, I was in college because I wanted to learn and love knowledge. I was the type of student I rarely saw when I later taught college courses myself; most were there for the piece of paper, the job prospects which may or may not have been waiting for them. That's fine, and valid, but not worth going into debt for. Part of me thinks, though, that if you love learning, there's no better place to do it than college, even a state school.

I also know that my family wouldn't have been happy with the choice to drop out. Though I received little guidance about the process of applying for schools, going to college was a given. And I'm better off than most of my close friends from high school. My three best friends went to two private liberal arts schools and a private art school and have $120k, $100k, and $80k of debt, respectively. Whose job was it to help us with all of this? Was it up to our high school guidance counselors, the financial aid offices at our schools, our teachers? None of them had any idea what would happen to the economy down the line, and when we asked, we were told that student loan debt was "good debt." Was it up to our parents? When they were in school, "taking out a loan" meant 10k, tops. No one told us how quickly the money would snowball. No one really gave us any options, or laid out our choices for us clearly. Many of us were children of the working class. Our parents were trying to do the right thing by encouraging us to get a good education. Was it our responsibility to know the price of this, when we were sixteen, seventeen, and eighteen years old and applying for schools?

I wish I'd been better prepared by the system for college and what that entailed financially. I do. I wish someone had told me to wait six months and reapply for my state school so I could get some of the scholarships for incoming students. I wish someone had told my mother what modern college savings should look like. I wish my mother's fairly measly income hadn't been factored into my financial aid when she didn't contribute to my college expenses. I wish someone had told my friends what their monthly payments would look like with over a hundred thousand dollars of debt. But no one did. I'm not going on at length like this because I like to hear myself talk. Well, not only that. Mostly, I just want to share one story that's really not all that atypical among people my age. We were young, smart, ambitious, and naive, and thought we were doing the right thing--this shouldn't be a LOLLIBERALARTSSTUDENTS kind of a discussion, but a LOLCOMPLETELYBROKENSYSTEMTHATPREYSONTHEIGNORANCEOFSTUDENTSANDTHEIRPARENTS kind of one.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:06 AM on May 29, 2010 [31 favorites]


Like I said, I know few individuals in the non-academic Working World who have specifically-applicable Bachelor's degrees outside of the finance (and we see how they are doing) and engineering crowds.

I think this is one of those situations where we're in "violent agreement." A Lit degree will open only those doors that will be opened by any degree - including those in Beerbong Studies from the University of Boot&Rally. A degree from a less expensive school (requiring smaller loans) will open those doors equally well. So, why are we encouraging people to go six figures+ into the hole for degrees with a minimal (if any) post-graduation ROI increase? That's the part I find ridiculous.

I will point out, though, since you mentioned engineering and finance: those degrees will open the employment doors I mentioned above equally well, plus others that are far more abundant and pay a hell of a lot better these days.
posted by deadmessenger at 11:10 AM on May 29, 2010


Of course you had your reasons (no one willingly gets into a situation like this) but it seems to me you are just trying to shun responsibility here

I'm not sure if you're specifically addressing me, but I go to a city university of no particular prestige and have less than $5k debt from when I flunked out of an expensive engineering university on almost-full scholarship.

As far as your "branded clothes" argument, walking into a high-powered jet-setting business interview wearing Armani will look a whole lot better than a Wal-mart suit. It's not about looking or feeling better, it's about how it reflects on you to people who you need, and who do not have time to really get to know you before deciding whether to give you what you need or not. This has nothing to do with "entitlement." It's about doing financial calculus based on faulty information, a not-entirely-formed brain, and outdated socialization. I don't "shun responsibility" for anything, but I am also not going to say that the decisions I made as a kid were the product of solid reasoning and logic.
posted by griphus at 11:11 AM on May 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


PhoB: that sucks that finaid was so useless.
posted by k8t at 11:13 AM on May 29, 2010


Hey PhoB, I'm not talking about "LOLLIBERALARTSSTUDENTS" (That's me your talking about: B.A, Anthropology and Sociology) I'm talking about people who have gone through that you have and then said "Oh, well, it didn't work the first time, so I'll do it again, but with more money this time."

Part of me thinks, though, that if you love learning, there's no better place to do it than college, even a state school.

I disagree. Completely. With vigor. And sentence fragments.
posted by fuq at 11:18 AM on May 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


All of this makes me extremely happy to be attending college in Canada, where there is very little emphasis placed on what school you attended (with a few exceptions for a few fields).

Hrrrb? I think you'll find that people notice whether you attended U of T or Waterloo (or Harvard) versus Nipissing or Brock.

More succintly: is this article showing an emerging trend, or just calling attention to the fact that no one in the U.S. can afford their educations anymore?

It's mostly just scary stuff that sells, similar in spirit to the WHICH COMMON HOUSEHOLD GOOD WILL RAPE YOU TO DEATH IN YOUR SLEEP TONIGHT? WE TELL YOU AFTER WEATHER AND SPORTS!!!

In 2007/2008, the median student at a public four-year university graduated with less than $10000 in debt, and that includes out of state students. Put differently, the debt load the median student takes on to complete a BA is less than a cheap car. An undergraduate degree remains generally affordable in the US. Likewise, there were people taking on $100K in debt to graduate from expensive private universities in the 80s.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:18 AM on May 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


I love a liberal education, education for its own sake, and all of that. But having now RTFA, I have trouble having sympathy for anybody who thought $100,000 in debt for a degree in religious and women's studies was a good idea. We had a recent AskMe from somebody who was 87k in debt from a undergraduate English degree. I'm torn between my sympathy for people who naively believed the idea that any college degree was worth whatever it took to get it, and wanting to slap them for stupidity.

I went on several college tours with one of my friends who now is about $120k in debt (from the New School)--and he gave up a full ride at a NJ state school to do it. Having been on these, and also state school tours back when I was applying to college, I can tell you that there's a world of difference between the marketing strategies of private liberal arts schools and public state schools. Places like NYU really market themselves as life-changing experiences. To a degree, particularly for people like my friend, this is accurate. He was a bright-as-hell, gay, creative, unusual guy who had a terrible time in our public high school in New Jersey, and going to Rutgers really would have represented more of the same for him. Heck, probably 25% of his graduating class from high school would have been there with him. Subjectively, I still can't imagine it was worth it. But I can see why you'd be easily sold, and that the private schools really effectively know how to sell themselves as offering intellectual liberation from one's blue-collar suburban background doesn't really help at all.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:19 AM on May 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


And I'm better off than most of my close friends from high school. My three best friends went to two private liberal arts schools and a private art school and have $120k, $100k, and $80k of debt, respectively. Whose job was it to help us with all of this? Was it up to our high school guidance counselors, the financial aid offices at our schools, our teachers? None of them had any idea what would happen to the economy down the line,

PhoBWanKenobi I really like reading most of your posts so please dont sneer when I ask this:

If the economy would have stayed the way it was in the late 90s or even before the whole collapse of the last three years....do you think that even then it would have justified spending $120k for an art major? If the economy was good...would they had been able to pay it back in a relatively easy manner?

I believe the answer to that question is no. I also believe that you came out way ahead (even if you could have saved more) by making the decision you did. Point is the system is broken (I did attend NYU for philosophy but only cause I thought I was going to make it up by going to law school) but really in what economy is it justified to become an arts major and spend $120k on it ?

I can argue that no matter how good the economy is, it definitely NEVER makes sense to spend such an amount of money to a degree with such low rates of return on investment.
posted by The1andonly at 11:20 AM on May 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


Tesseractive: "But, there are universities that make a point to offer full rides to every National Merit award winner (like University of Oklahoma) or generous offers to every bright student they can find"

Arg. You just reminded me of an incredibly annoying fact: the first round of National Merit is graded by state. An internet friend of mine in the 90s did substantially worse than I, but because he lives in Mississippi and I in Kansas, he was invited and I was given a "Commended" consolation prize. This is hardly "national merit," in my opinion.

Most annoyingly, he decided to major in film studies "for the easy GPA to apply to law school with." I suppose it helps a bit to realize he would have graduated from law school a few years ago, when 2Ls were all panicking about finding a job.
posted by pwnguin at 11:21 AM on May 29, 2010


Do you think it is any coincidence that people use just the tiniest fraction of what they learn in university in the jobs that their university education expressly qualified them for?

That's not very true. Many jobs that have BA requirements boil down to being a Generic Information Processing Unit, and a BA really does give you extensive training in processing information.

The only way it's true is to the very limited extent that those BA-requirement jobs don't particularly care what subject matter you used as practice when you were learning to be a Generic Information Processing Unit.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:22 AM on May 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


I will point out, though, since you mentioned engineering and finance: those degrees will open the employment doors I mentioned above equally well, plus others that are far more abundant and pay a hell of a lot better these days.

Well, sure, and an MD trumps the both of them but the chances I, and many of my fellow students, developing the capability to get one of those (and, believe me, a number of us have tried) are about as likely as waking up to a completed residency at the Mayo Clinic. However, there's a whole lot of skills I, and, again, many of my fellow lit students have that the financeers and the engineers and the doctors do not. I've edited their papers and I hope to hell most of them will never have to write a grant proposal in their lives. Usable skills. I'm not defending myself for the sake of it. The skill sets differ, period, and your concept of the engineer being inherently more employable over the lit major is plainly wrong.
posted by griphus at 11:23 AM on May 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Part of me thinks, though, that if you love learning, there's no better place to do it than college, even a state school.

I disagree. Completely. With vigor. And sentence fragments.


Well, it was the first place in my life where I ever felt intellectually stimulated (including gifted classes in elementary school and such). I've worked in a variety of jobs which were the kind I could have gotten straight out of high school (retail, retail management, waiting tables, office jobs), so I can say with confidence that those wouldn't have been any better for me, either. I needed to be fostered in a fairly specific and guided way. Maybe that's just me, though.

As for paying for a graduate degree in poetry: I could go on at an even worse length about that, mostly because there are so many schools that are willing to completely pay your way for a degree that might be creatively integral but won't do anything for your job prospects. However, most of these situations involve moving out of the tri-state/NY area, something that I've seen (from experience) that most NYU, New School, or Columbia MFA students are perhaps understandably unwilling to do.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:24 AM on May 29, 2010


Flagship state universities in particular are often highly prestigious... within their state.

This is a good point, and again is an area where people should take their aspirations into account. In Michigan, the "second-tier" state schools that aren't nationally ranked often have in-state reputations in certain areas. For instance, most of you probably haven't heard of them, but when I was younger, Western Michigan University was known for strong engineering programs, and Central Michigan for education (I don't know how this might have changed in the last decade or so). If you planned to live and teach in Michigan, Central was a really good choice--the people likely to hire you knew that you had attended a good program they were familiar with.

On the other hand, when I happen to meet someone who is doing a Ph.D. in one of the three areas WMU offers that degree in, with the intention of becoming an academic, I sigh and internally wish them well, but don't expect to hear from them in three or four years about the tenure-track academic position they got.
posted by not that girl at 11:25 AM on May 29, 2010


Personally I think that easy access to credit is why tuition has gone up so much. Colleges were free to jack up tuition year after year knowing that students would simply take out more loans, which the lenders were happy to offer because the loans were guaranteed by the government?

Libertarians have been advancing versions of this argument for at least ten years. Here's a 1999 article from The Freeman arguing that government subsidies have caused the skyrocketing of college tuition. I don't agree with everything that's in that article, but it definitely seems reasonable to look at government subsidies of tuition (which is what credit guarantees on student loans really amount to) as a cause of the huge increase in cost of tution (and also of the expectation that everyone go to college as a credential, regardless of its actual usefulness for the career they want to pursue.)
posted by Jahaza at 11:27 AM on May 29, 2010


kay, you have a point there; I didn't really realize my bias until just now. I live and was raised in NYC so my experience has always been either "oh you're local" or "oh you left your state to come specifically here."

Well, New York is a weird state in this regard. New Yorkers seem to view SUNY/CUNY as being lower-level than they really are, and as places for poorer people rather than for everyone. Hence one of NY's biggest exports is college students, and it's been this way for a long while -- when I was at Virginia back in the 80s and 90s, there were a LOT of students from NY (mostly not from NYC).
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:30 AM on May 29, 2010


I can argue that no matter how good the economy is, it definitely NEVER makes sense to spend such an amount of money to a degree with such low rates of return on investment.

I agree with you, actually; it's not. However, I don't think it was the students who thought these degrees were worth it, at least not initially. It was the parents, educators, and schools who were telling us that 1. Getting a Bachelor's degree in anything was the most important thing we could do in our young lives, for job security 2. Getting a degree from an expensive liberal arts school would have not only given us, and our families, a certain degree of prestige and made us look impressive but also have given us the best job prospects. This is in the original article: “All I could see was college, and a good college and how proud I was of her,” Cathryn said. “All we needed to do was get this education and get the good job. This is the thing that eats away at me, the naïveté on my part.”

I think there's a certain degree of ignorance in the parents of many of these kids that the schools and the loan institutions were praying on here. I can't help but see the students (and their parents, to a certain degree; many of them took out PLUS loans, too) as victims.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:31 AM on May 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


So, what kind of job do you expect that your Lit degree will qualify you for once you've graduated?

As she pointed out, there are plenty of jobs that require just a BA, and as long as you have some background and relevant experience, they will be interested in hiring you. Now, the key issue is that those taking on debt need to be aware that they need to look
for a higher paying job, but just because you didn't major in engineering or finance doesn't mean you face an impenetrable barrier there-- in the case of prestigious Ivy League schools, the debt may pay for itself for those who think that way because those universities provide easier access to I-banking and consulting jobs regardless of your undergrad degree.
posted by deanc at 11:34 AM on May 29, 2010


Things look even worse when you consider that student loan debt is unique in that it cannot be forgiven in the case of bankruptcy. Nice little gimme written into the law, that.

Re: State vs. Private schools...My daughter buster her hump making the requisite grades in high school, in order to reap scholarship money for college. When the smoke cleared, it was going to be more costly to send her to a state school than a private school. Sure, the tuition at the state school was dirt cheap. But, after they tacked-on housing/meals and the various fees, the amount she was going to have to finance was higher at the state school than the private school.

Technical schools are a worse trap. Because most of them operate on a non-traditional calendar, the amount of Federal aid/loans available to tech school students falls far short of what is needed to attend. Remember, too, that most students who attend tech schools don't generally come from families that can easily (if at all) put-aside the tens-of-thousands necessary for junior to learn a trade in these schools. A lot of these trade schools operate as little more than outlets for private lenders, saddling kids with 30k or more of variable-rate debt.

Finding scholarships, grants, etc are another issue altogether. If you live in a school system with a counseling department that truly earns its keep, congratulations. Sadly, this is a variable from school system to school system. Ours was worthless. We had to take time away from jobs and whatnot to scour the web, searching for scholarships or grants our daughter might qualify for. It was a depressing, frustrating job. There are a ton of sites out there that look like helpful aggregators of information, only to turn out to be worthless ad-filled sites full of outdated, or incorrect, information. In the end, one comes away with the feeling that a) It makes no sense to require a kid right out of high school to make these sorts of snap financial decisions, that could easily sink them for years, and b) The free market approach is utterly inefficient and presents a wholly uneven field. Once again, the consumers are a part of the market only so far as their wallets will open.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:36 AM on May 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


I-banking and consulting jobs regardless of your undergrad degree.


Yeah but this is not really true.....though sometimes they take folks without a business degree usually these people have a master on something else that would be beneficial to the business for more information look at the breakdown of McKinsey when it comes to hiring:

http://www.mckinsey.com/careers/is_mckinsey_right_for_me/diversity_of_backgrounds.aspx
posted by The1andonly at 11:38 AM on May 29, 2010


Hrrrb? I think you'll find that people notice whether you attended U of T or Waterloo (or Harvard) versus Nipissing or Brock.

Maybe in some circles (and certainly regarding Waterloo for engineering / sciences), but for the most part, I haven't noticed a huge emphasis on what school you attend, and I've never heard U of T being considered a "prestigious" school. Considering that I grew up in that area (Kingston) and am currently attending Humber, I'd say that a bias in favor of U of T has to be minimal at best.

I've in fact never heard anyone say that bigger name or more "prestigious" schools were better for your employment opportunities in Canada. Perhaps you had a different experience, but it just wasn't an issue when I was applying for schools.
posted by FuzzyLumpkins at 11:41 AM on May 29, 2010


I went to a fancy private liberal arts college instead of my flagship state U because FPLAC gave me a shitload of financial aid (not much of it in loans, either) and flagship U gave me none. This was the case with every other FPLAC that admitted me. It was less expensive for me to go to FPLAC than to go to my state university.

I graduated with a "useless" history degree and have rarely been unemployed since then. I'm an editor, not an engineer, so I guess by some metrics I'm still useless. Whatever. The places I've worked have valued me enough to consider me useful. Friends who graduated with degrees in literature/history/art/etc. are now professors, publishers, doctors, policy analysts, staffers for state or national politicians (or are politicians themselves - she was an Asian Studies major). Graduating with a BA in something other than engineering or computer science doesn't doom one to begging for change on the freeway off-ramp.

But I also went to college (in the 80s) at a time when it doesn't seem to have been common to take out gigantic private loans in order to pay your tuition. The loans that I had were all part of my financial aid package and were all federal loans. My debt was about $12K.
posted by rtha at 11:42 AM on May 29, 2010 [4 favorites]


New Yorkers seem to view SUNY/CUNY as being lower-level than they really are, and as places for poorer people rather than for everyone.

That is, unfortunately, because of the huge disparity in educational quality within the SUNY system. And, hell, within the schools. Albany keeps ranking as #1 Party School consistently, but it also happens to be a great place to go if you want to enter the NYS/NYC political sphere. Same thing in CUNY. There's a number of great schools, and at the same time there's CCNY (sorry CCNY alumni) which just isn't fantastic. Plus, having Columbia and NYU next door doesn't help matters. Sigh. I see by your profile that you teach in Buffalo, and I assume that's upstate NY Buffalo so I don't have to tell you about the economic and funding horrors of non-NYC NY.
posted by griphus at 11:45 AM on May 29, 2010


If the economy would have stayed the way it was in the late 90s or even before the whole collapse of the last three years....do you think that even then it would have justified spending $120k for an art major? If the economy was good...would they had been able to pay it back in a relatively easy manner?


Step 1: Convince the plebes that education is a about buying stock in the ownership economy.

Step 2: Profit for 15 years as your newly trained servant works off his debt while adding value to your corporation because they've gotten a "good job."

Step 3: Profit from the value added to your corporation by a lifetime of service from a highly trained employee.

Step 4: Laugh with your friends at the club, while the plebes argue over who can be trained as a more valuable servant.
posted by ennui.bz at 11:46 AM on May 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


Here's a wild idea - make starting and running a small business actually a good idea from a taxation standpoint with help for people who want to be independent contractors as opposed to optimizing the system for a few gigantic businesses who can use economies of scale to squash and or absorb everything?

Oh wait that's the whole idea nevermind.
posted by The Whelk at 11:47 AM on May 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


Eliminate professional sports from higher education (i.e. you are welcome to have sports teams, but are not allowed to make money off of them). Provide government backed COLA adjusted loans to anyone who wants to go to college. Cap how much any private university can charge and still be eligible for students who get said government backed loans. Boost research grants to universities. Cut DoD funded research that goes to universities by 75% and move those funds to general science research funding at the uni (DoD funded research results in vastly less translation into civilian uses than direct research dollar for dollar).
posted by VikingSword at 11:48 AM on May 29, 2010


Does everyone get a magic flying pony as well, VikingSword? You're about as likely to "eliminate professional sports" in higher education as you are to remove legacies or eliminate institutional racism.
posted by griphus at 11:51 AM on May 29, 2010


Just as homeowners were told their investment would always continue to grown (sic), students were (are still?) told that education is always a worthwhile investment.

who the fuck are you people talking to and why do you believe them? you either think that you're wearing the cloak of invincibility or you just. don't. understand. basic. math.
posted by msconduct at 11:54 AM on May 29, 2010


k8t: I'm appreciating your information, but I'm still having a hard time believing that any UCSB student is going to comfortably afford an off-campus residence in Santa Barbara or Goleta on the financial-aid-office-approved budget that you linked.

I'm not denying that it can be done. Obviously, students do it every day, by rooming with other students or whatever they can manage, or UCSB would be out of business. But their quality of life must be compromised in some way or another to make it work.

Looking at craigslist right now, I'm seeing a lot of ads, some from UCSB students, scrambling for any decent affordable housing in the greater Santa Barbara area. Sure, that's anecdotal, but I don't think I'm just pulling these opinions out of thin air. If UCSB's financial aid office has ways of making these situations work, that's great. But in my experience, most financial aid offices don't have much to offer when you tell them that you're having trouble with housing.
posted by blucevalo at 11:55 AM on May 29, 2010


Financial literacy is not generally taught in US schools. Hell, math is barely taught in many US schools.

As long as that's the case, and as long as student loan companies are in it to get whatever cash they can wrest out of people with as much subterfuge and as little real effort at counseling and risk disclosure as possible before the Obama Administration's jackbooted thuggish reform regulations start clamping down on their profits, I'll take all of the red-faced outrage over people not understanding "basic math" with a huge grain of salt.
posted by blucevalo at 12:00 PM on May 29, 2010


I am convinced that tuition(*) has gone up to extreme levels simply because it can. Lots of people will borrow to the limit of their ability to attend undergraduate school and, with relatively easy credit, their ability to borrow has been pretty damn high in recent years. There is no motivation for schools to keep the cost of tuition down when every incoming class is full of people willing to pay anything to attend.

(*) That would be tuition, the total cost to attend, as opposed to "tuition" which is just one of many line items on the bill. I'm saying this as a person who has, for example, paid many thousands of dollars of "lab" fees on classes that have no lab whatsoever.

At some point, people will lose the ability to keep paying higher prices, incoming classes won't fill, and you'll start seeing some reforms. I suspect that some schools will focus on educating students and other schools will finally have a valid excuse to shed their student programs so that tenured faculty can focus exclusively on research and stop pretending to care about education.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 12:10 PM on May 29, 2010


That is, unfortunately, because of the huge disparity in educational quality within the SUNY system.

I dunno. I've only been in the state a couple of years and impressions are skewed because I'm in Buffalo and UB is such a big force in the area, but my sense is that even Binghamton isn't seen as an impressive place to get into or graduate from.

I think that more than anything else, this impression is due to the relative newness of SUNY. While many of the constituent schools existed in some capacity before SUNY formed in 1948, almost all of them were normal schools. So for a very long time, people interested in anything other than undergraduate education (or even interested in getting a BA instead of the certificates normal schools provided) had to go out of state or private.

In contrast, in a lot of states their University of State and X State University have been degree-granting institutions for 100+ years, often since right around when the state was admitted, have been the clear higher-educational focus of the state since forever, and have produced the state's elite for generations.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:14 PM on May 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


I suspect that some schools will focus on educating students and other schools will finally have a valid excuse to shed their student programs so that tenured faculty can focus exclusively on research and stop pretending to care about education.

Do you really believe that institutions that shed their student programs are not going to have an appetite to save even more money by shedding tenured faculty?
posted by blucevalo at 12:19 PM on May 29, 2010


Isn't tuition going up largely because of the triangle scheme that is higher education? More and more professors receiving tenure, teaching one class a semester and getting every few years off, leaving those left to pay for the burden. It's not unlike the auto industry, or even the crisis hitting state governments. Except for the fact that these professors aren't retired, and schools can't even afford to pay for them without bankrupting their present studies. (Of course, the taxpayers are on the hook for the UAW pensions but not for a dime of higher education. But I digress.)
posted by blazingunicorn at 12:21 PM on May 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


The single best thing that has taken place for higher education in the United States:

THE GI BILL OF RIGHTS
posted by Postroad at 12:22 PM on May 29, 2010


I haven't read this entire thread, but I have personal experience witnessing the ways in which a fancy, expensive Ivy League education can outpace a public university degree. I decided against attending U of Chicago/Columbia and opted for the University of Virginia instead because UVA they offered me a free ride, all the way down to a meal stipend. Did I want to go to more highly-ranked institutions more than UVA? You fucking bet I did, but my parents didn't have the resources to foot Columbia's bill, and U of Chicago's offer still left me with at least $10K in the hole for each year it took me to earn my degree.

New York City is definitely a unique blend of meritocracy and tacky brand-obsession, but I've seen countless Ivy League kids sail out of undergrad directly into coveted positions. And, at least at the particular magazine where I interned, it secretly Matters where you went to school. Without rehashing the story linked above, I worked my publicly-educated ass off as an intern, going into debt for the first time in my life so I could afford rent and food while working for minimum wage.

Of course, I don't think my education is inferior because I graduated from a cheaper state university, but I know a lot of people in the NYC creative industry that certainly seem to think just this. Would I go back in time and switch out UVa for Columbia? It would be tempting, to say the least.
posted by zoomorphic at 12:32 PM on May 29, 2010 [4 favorites]


Do you really believe that institutions that shed their student programs are not going to have an appetite to save even more money by shedding tenured faculty?

I would expect that such institutions would be run by tenured faculty and hence would have no motivation to reform the tenure system. It would be an all-union shop, basically.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 12:33 PM on May 29, 2010


Yeah but this is not really true.....though sometimes they take folks without a business degree usually these people have a master on something else that would be beneficial to the business for more information look at the breakdown of McKinsey when it comes to hiring

You aren't expected to stay in consulting for more than a few years before leaving toget a graduate degree. First and foremost, few people going to a prestigious college get an undergraduate degree in "business." It's just not a major that's offered or pursued outside of UPenn. Next, the path for McKinsey is to join as an undergrad with whatever degree you got, work there for 2 years, and then leave to get an MBA before (possibly) returning to go up the career ladder: the 8% listed with an undergrad degree are overwhelmingly the entry-level people.

the private schools really effectively know how to sell themselves as offering intellectual liberation from one's blue-collar suburban background doesn't really help at all.

I'm kind of curious about how this is done... one of the problems seems to be that you get a lot of people getting drawn in to these small liberal arts colleges having to take on debt to attend them (because the financial aid they can offer just isn't that generous), and then the students themselves aren't funneled into opportunities that would give them high-paying jobs or encouraged to go down these paths, which would seem to be how you would find liberation from that background.

The phenomenon going on sounds like this: the top most prestigious universities in the country seem to do a decent job offering need-based financial aid, to the point where the typical loan burden is equivalent to that of a family car. Then you have the state schools which offer good deals on tuition. Then you have a large swath of private colleges and universities that don't have a lot of money available for financial aid and instead of padding their balance sheets by attracting wealthy students whose families can write checks for tuition, they go after students whom they can convince to borrow lots of money that goes straight into the universities' bank accounts while assuming none of the risk.
posted by deanc at 12:34 PM on May 29, 2010


So, I went to a community college, then a public state university for my BA, and now I'm in a public state university for my grad degrees. Post-BA, I was about $10,000 in debt - which is not bad. However, it took me several years longer than I wanted it to take, because, according to Department of Education standards, I had to turn 24 before I could be considered independent of my parents. My parents were/are not fabulously-well-to-do, but they did earn enough to render me completely ineligible for any decent student aid until I could be deemed independent - this in spite of the fact that I haven't lived with them or received any support money from them since age 19. (Worse still was the fact that we were poor-poor until I turned about 14, which means that the parents had a whopping four years to save for school, but of course there is no way to put that into consideration for aid. Good times.)

Because yes, when your parents can't pay for your school, it doesn't matter how cheap the tuition is. My community college charged $60/credit hour, which I paid for out of my pocket by working the kind of low wage jobs that a person without a college degree can get. Not everyone has a spare couple thousand of dollars even for cheap public schools. I have friends who are paying for one class a semester at CC, because that's what they can afford. Anyway, you don't need to be a prestige-obsessed humanities student to go into education debt.

One thing I have not seen mentioned here is that most states have balanced budget amendments. I live in Michigan, and despite a decent governor trying to maintain services and education, these are the first things that tend to get put on chopping block. They are seen as frills, or something that has no impact on the lives of regular folk. Here, the kids (self included) are just looking to get out of this vortex of unemployment and declining living standards, and the one ticket out is a decent college education. What's the alternative?
posted by palindromic at 12:35 PM on May 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


Debt is a prison.

"Education debt is good debt" is another big fat lie.
-- k8t
This kind of attitude is kind of stupid. It won't cause the same problems as being totally profligate and irresponsible, but it will hold you back in life. Making payments on debt isn't any more 'imprisoning' then making payments on rent, or a mortgage (which is debt of course) or paying for food. It's just another expense. It's only a problem when the interest is greater then your income after expenses. Working a low wage job to pay for an education that will let you get a high wage job is just stupid, because you have to do far more labor to pay for school.

On the other hand, if you're not getting a degree with a greater earning potential, it might not be a good idea.
Yeah I heard a lot of this in HS and it kept flashing great big CON! CON! CON! lights in my head - so I went to a really cheap state school which suuuuuuucked (Never go to FIT people. It is a Bad. School.) -- The Whelk
Wow, I know someone who tried to finish her PhD there and left after a semester. I assume you're talking about Florida Institute of Tech, and not the Fashion institute of Technology in NYC, right?
These debts tend to be going more toward private education. You can't exactly buy NYU-style prestige for a state school no matter how much funding you get. -- chasing
Berkeley popped into mind when I read this, it and other universities were mentioned by others in the thread. NYU isn't exactly Harvard.
They don't even teach kids how to fill out their taxes. It's fucking nuts. I would add that they don't teach kids how to write checks, except they're mostly a relic these days anyway (still, it's hilarious to see "young folk" mix up the payee and amount, or endorse their own checks). But "how to fill out your taxes" should be one of the first civic lessons you learn in your government-paid public schools, yet it's completely ignored. Instead we get years of gym glass and tumbling and square dancing. --Civil_Disobedient
Why should we fill out our taxes at all? The government already has all the information on your W2. the only reason is because conservatives want paying taxes as painful as possible in order to get more mileage out of it politically, plus lobbying from H&R Block and turbotax. It's ridiculous.

Also kids need to learn fitness.
As she pointed out, there are plenty of jobs that require just a BA, and as long as you have some background and relevant experience, they will be interested in hiring you. -- deanc
Like what? I heard from time to time when I was in highschool, but I haven't heard of it since and -- other then teaching English in a foreign country -- I can't think of any job like that at all. A friend of mine got a film degree on that theory, couldn't find any job, and ended up going to law school after a couple years.
posted by delmoi at 12:52 PM on May 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


Like what?

Where do you live? I have a number of friends with Liberal Arts BAs (music, theater, etc.) who work in non-profits and civil service.
posted by griphus at 12:53 PM on May 29, 2010


Yep, FIT in NYC, that was an oft confusion.
posted by The Whelk at 12:55 PM on May 29, 2010


Here, the kids (self included) are just looking to get out of this vortex of unemployment and declining living standards, and the one ticket out is a decent college education. What's the alternative?

If you are interested in alternatives to education alternatives to improve your living standards, I humbly suggest dealing drugs. For many inner-city and disadvantaged folks, this could be the low-investment high-return investment that you may be looking for. Forget higher education because the easy money is right here! There is no huge barrier to entry like college's application costs (150$! Instead of throwing that away as an application fee, flip it! easy 400 dollars) and you can see your investment's return in as little as a few days. Dealing drugs is within anyone's price-range, and there is a lot of room for advancement. Even with a minimal investment of time (not even a monetary investment!) you can begin a career of selling drugs today! Stop wasting your time in a culture that only gives lip service to understanding you while you go in debt for decades, deal drugs today!

Dealing: It's the fastest way to a higher standard of living!
posted by fuq at 1:02 PM on May 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


If college students can't be trusted to fend for themselves in the face of "predatory lenders" why on Earth do we let them vote, drive, or own firearms?

When does childhood end now, forty?
posted by codswallop at 1:03 PM on May 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Like what?

Like working for any one of a zillion nonprofits in DC. Or publishing. Or marketing. Or consulting. etc.
posted by rtha at 1:04 PM on May 29, 2010


Dealing: It's the fastest way to a higher standard of living!

I know you're being flip, but didn't that Freakonomics guy have a whole thing about the low rungs of the deal cycle paying out below minimum wage? And that it's only the people at the top who prof...Oh. Oh. I'm on to you now, fuq. And I want in or I'm getting the 5-0.
posted by griphus at 1:06 PM on May 29, 2010


look, "They" are still selling the lie that the only way to be successful in life is to have a good college education. the only way to do that for most people is to take on tons of loans, because they want to be successful. even state colleges are expensive these days, even if you're a resident. so if you're faced with taking out loans (that you'll be able to pay back! because you'll have a great job! because you went to college!) then of course you'll do it.

the thing is, for at least the last 10 years or so, having a college education hasn't meant much of shit, because so many people have one, that a BA, BS has become devalued in the marketplace (except it still costs a lot). so we go on to get advanced degrees because now the promise is THAT will get us the good job that will allow us to pay back loans and have a house and family and what not.

but then the economy tanked. and tra la la everyone's fucked. the real problem is with the people who are saying that college is the only way to get ahead. what's wrong with vo-techs? they actually teach things called "skills" whereas college (depending on your major) is teaching "thinking" or whatever.

sure, you might have to take out a loan to go to a 2-year vo-tech, but vo-tech isn't going to cost as much, you will learn actual skills that can be applied to your job on day 1, and you don't have to figure out how a degree in english literature can be futzed on your resume to make you sound like a good secretary. you went to school for phlebotomy or electricianry, that's what you're trained for and ready to do. and you didn't pay 100K plus to learn how to do it.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 1:08 PM on May 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


If college students can't be trusted to fend for themselves in the face of "predatory lenders" why on Earth do we let them vote, drive, or own firearms?

Because we have civics classes, Red Asphalt and gun safety classes. No one is required to watch a movie called Your Life In Six Figure Debt or take class or even a test about budgeting your loan fees before taking out a six figure loan.
posted by griphus at 1:09 PM on May 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


traditional universities are complex and expensive

Depends how far back in time we're talking. Time was not necessarily rich students followed good teachers the way Deadheads followed Jerry Garcia. Tenure wasn't in it at all. You delivered or you starved.

But that was then. These days, my alma mater periodically hits me up for money so they can put in way cooler student centers and cozier dorms and food courts and theaters and such. Because how else can they attract the kind of students that they want?

My main beef is that our K through 12 is as poor as they are. No doubt you have all seen sites like this. Get back that kind of Happy Valley fantasy rigor back into schools and we might not be having this discussion.

Not that the colleges are doing much better, but at least in theory it differentiates you from the mere high school graduate.
posted by IndigoJones at 1:13 PM on May 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


...but vo-tech isn't going to cost as much, you will learn actual skills that can be applied to your job on day 1, and you don't have to figure out how a degree in english literature can be futzed on your resume...

Except we live in a world where an abstract skill set is as valuable and necessary as a technical one. America is not a country based around production. It hasn't been for many decades. We provide services, and not all of them revolve around hands-on skills. You can't go to vo-tech school and end up running the back-end of your local government's social service system. Even the Social Service degrees concentrate on dealing with the consumers directly and that's not exactly a whole hell of a lot of good when you need to write policy. An English or History degree is.
posted by griphus at 1:14 PM on May 29, 2010 [4 favorites]


I feel like we all value education -- it would be nice if, as a national community, we could recognize the value of helping education people who might otherwise not be able to afford it.

People with money don't want you competing with their children by going to the prestigious colleges that they can afford for their children. Therefore, tax money won't be spent on allowing you to do so.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 1:21 PM on May 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


While I think the entire student loan industry is predatory and awful, I can't agree that "go to a State School" is the answer for every student out there. It certainly wasn't for me.

I have about $50k in debt and i'm delighted about it. I went to a State School's laboratory school campus for my K-12, took classes at State School while in high school, and ran screaming from State School as soon as I graduated because the classes I had taken were a joke. I fled to a private liberal arts college that was undergrad-only and had less than 2,500 students. We had tiny class sizes (one class I took had four students), wonderful professors, a gorgeous campus, a great cultural scene and a strong study abroad programme that cost the same as regular tuition. During my study abroad I found a country that I wanted to live in, and ended up using my internship as a launchpad for expatriating. Here in Scotland I met my now-husband, and have a great job. I've never been unemployed.

My bachelor's was in political science, with two minors in philosophy and latin american studies. I work in technology, and got into it from e-government research I did at college.

I'm all for state schools and a strong public education (I envy the British system my friends here enjoyed), but I would not trade my education for anything. I absolutely flourished at my school, and while my degree might not have been "useful," I learned a tremendous amount about critical thinking and gleaned many other practical skills that I use every day. The world completely opened up to me, all for about $50k in debt. To me, it was completely worth it.
posted by ukdanae at 1:48 PM on May 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


This sense of corpratization of the University is actually a big topic at my University at the moment. The Faculty are trying to lead a minor revolt and return to the notion of education and learning for their own sake, rather than for a business. This seems to us less a “free market of ideas,” than a cartel designed to promote certain academic products at the expense of others that might be intellectually — or morally — superior, but promise less return on investment. The analogy of research sponsored by drug and tobacco companies is not exact, but is too close for comfort.

I am really interested to see how this plays out. I am hopeful that the Faculty are able to fight successfully on this one.
posted by Carillon at 1:52 PM on May 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


"I'm kind of curious about how this is done..."

Speaking as a first-generation college graduate who is paying off $57,000 in student loans and just graduated from a private, liberal arts college, I sought to transcend classes, which for me and others, including Bourdieu, would mean more than economic freedom.
The liberal arts college also marketed itself to students, as being a place where you can become a well-rounded intellectual individual and be at least [although this was not explicit] financially able to make your own living, which I'll roughly define as being able to almost anywhere in the country and have a place to live [not anything grand, just a basic place to live in a good, urban city] and working full-time in a non-physically strenuous job, be able to afford that.

I don't think I or any of my friends had beliefs we'd be extremely well off [say, $85k a year plus benefits] anytime soon, but the education and connections [networking] that we would make through the liberal arts college would be worth it.

The lure of the liberal arts college and its marketing [to go there] was also the state of mind and the intellectual curiosity [and I'll admit, I now know no one can take that away from me, but it's a lot harder to act on that now, living back with my parents].

Like ukdanae said , I had opportunities from going to a liberal arts college that I had not been able to attain before and I'm glad to have taken them [even if I may have been able to at a state school]: attend an academic conference [and present research there], study abroad and be throughly immersed in the language and culture, run a college radio station, and whatever my future will hold.

BTW, speaking as the son of a plumber, going to a vo-tech is cheaper than a private, liberal arts college, but it's not as cheap as you think, nor is it always going to land you a good paying job.
posted by fizzix at 1:55 PM on May 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


I just don't feel sympathy, in general, for people with these big student loans. I don't see how it can have been much of a big surprise... yeah, they're preyed upon, but it's obvious from the beginning you're being preyed upon. I mean even if you're getting financial aid, the school is making the current tuition and board times four (or however many years you're in school) plus a few percent for yearly increases off of you. They're making that phenomenal sum of money off of you in exchange for a piece of paper stating that you are not a complete idiot - you don't even get anything near the kind of guarantee or warranty of future results / performance you would get along with buying a hundred dollar Cuisinart (or two hundred dollars or however much Cuisinarts cost, I've never bought one.) That much money sloshing around in a system producing such intangible results is obviously a racket and of course there are tons of people feeding vampirically off of it.

Anyone who didn't investigate and proceed very carefully before they started signing papers that indebted them for five or six figures - I'm sorry, I'll forgive you at that age some starry-eyedness and some idealism but I won't forgive you the money or pay it in your stead. I already did enough paying for other people's education because I refused financial aid and paid full tuition on my own! :^) (Involving maybe 40k$ of student loans myself as well as having paid a big hunk of money earned during a few years off before matriculation.)

(And anyways, even if there are people who were screwed somehow in the quid-pro-quo for the degree - if the degree didn't perform as promised they ought to be getting a refund from the school that misrepresented the value of its degrees and not shorting the people who loaned them money because of a promise to pay it back... a promise you'll pay it back even if you drop out or fail to get the degree in some other way. Heck, if we're going to start covering peoples' tuition let's pay for the people who never even got a degree at all, they seem even more screwed over by the system to me.)

On preview I think LastOfHisKind really has a great point: just like the amount of time it takes to complete any given task will expand to fill all of the time available the price of tuition is going to expand to fill all of the credit available.
posted by XMLicious at 1:57 PM on May 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


k8t: PhoB: that sucks that finaid was so useless.

My (state school) financial aid department was equally useless. I chose to go to a state school after gasping at the price tags where I wanted to go (Smith, Reed). I had money that I'd inherited from my grandmother, and unfortunately, it was titled IN MY NAME. It was about $10,000 by the time I graduated high school, if I remember right.

(Grandma died in the early 80s and left me a wee bit and my clever mom put it all into CDs at the height of the paying-crazy-amounts-of-interest era)

My parents are creative people (they met in art school) who work 'day jobs' to support their other interests. We didn't have big bucks. In addition, my dad's a carpenter, so he's frequently not working in the depths of winter. My mom works for a school-related company, so she's not working in the summer.

See where I'm going with this? Any time I went in to apply for additional aid because Parent A was out of work, by the time it got processed, Parent A would be back to work, the extra aid would be refused and then Parent B out of work...and so on and so on.

However, because my little college fund was titled in MY name, the school was allowed to consider ALL of it in the "family contribution" column, so I got nada grants-wise. If it had been in my parents' names, I would have qualified for a TON of money. I had to take out loans because it was that, or drop out. I was already at a state school, I'd already given up the hope of going where I wanted to go. What else could I have done? Financial aid departments are a scam just like the rest of it.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 2:00 PM on May 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


At 17 I was smart enough to choose the free ride to state school over 40k a year a private.

I don't have a lot of sympathy for my middle-class peers who thoughtlessly go on about "oh I know how expensive it is, but NAME BRAND!" and then cry when they get the bill. A little sympathy. But not that much.

I see a lot of people trying to justify their absurdly expensive education and it honestly makes me feel really good about my choice.

I guess some students have bad experiences at state schools, but certainly not me. I'm incredibly happy with my academic experience, the number of opportunities I have at a large flagship drastically outnumbers those of my private-school friend (we've compared), the students are down-to-earth and guess what - it was free, and I have no pressure to pick a high-paying career over going to grad school or doing something I love. Best feeling ever.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 2:09 PM on May 29, 2010


My biggest personal problem with the whole situation is that you are allowed to consolidate your loans only one time.

I finished school in 1996. I immediately was pushed to consolidate. I knew nothing of finance at the time. It made sense to me. I would write fewer checks, and it would slightly reduce my monthly obligations. I did it. Now interest rates are much lower than they were in 1996. If I could consolidate under today's interest rates, I would save several hundred dollars per month. But I am not allowed to do that because student loans can only be consolidated the one time.

From a personal standpoint, what would I like to see changed? I would like Obama to allow people to consolidate their loans a second time. It would help an enormous amount of people who are struggling to pay their bills. Who would it hurt? Banks, I suppose.

Is it realistic of me to hope that anyone in politics will side with me over the banks?
posted by flarbuse at 2:18 PM on May 29, 2010


I'm incredibly happy with my academic experience, the number of opportunities I have at a large flagship drastically outnumbers those of my private-school friend (we've compared), the students are down-to-earth and guess what - it was free

The only reason it was free was because you received a valuable scholarship, paid for by the rich parents paying full fare for their children and by middle class students borrowing money to pay the tuition. Yes, you obviously made a very good financial decision, but "you should just get a full scholarship" is not a solution for most students, even at a state school.
posted by deanc at 2:21 PM on May 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


rtha wrote: "Graduating with a BA in something other than engineering or computer science doesn't doom one to begging for change on the freeway off-ramp."

Certainly not, but some tracks, like public accounting, not only almost guarantee a reasonably well paying job after graduation but also generally involve well paid summer internships. My SO could have graduated with zero debt if she had taken the internships. (IIRC, at the time they were paying about $15,000 for each summer)

She managed to rack up about $30,000 in loans (none private) for living expenses. I can only imagine what the total would be if scholarships hadn't paid for undergrad and she hadn't gotten an assistantship that paid the $12,000 tuition when she was doing her master's. She basically just had to feed and house herself for five years.

Of course, she had the advantage of not falling into the trap of thinking that state schools weren't good enough and was driven enough in high school to get grades good enough to qualify for undergrad scholarships and a good enough GRE score to make a distant state university happy to have her and give her free tuition.

For my part, I dropped out of high school, got my GED so I'd have it (which took all of two hours worth of test taking), and started working in my chosen field. A degree wouldn't make a lick of difference in my life. The only thing that might make me regret that choice is if I want to move to another country. Most are a lot more welcoming of degreed people from what I understand.
posted by wierdo at 2:24 PM on May 29, 2010


Some state universities provide awesome education. Some suck. Some private universities provide awesome education. Some suck. I don't think a blanket statement that you can get an equally good education at either is of any use. IMO, "prestige" isn't as important as the education received.

Everyone has a different relationship with money, and everyone has a different relationship with the "need" to have attend college. Even the concept can send some people into an angry froth, while others go into a delighted rapture (I'm in that second group).

In the end, all of this depends on your priorities.
posted by tzikeh at 2:37 PM on May 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


griphus wrote: "Does everyone get a magic flying pony as well, VikingSword? You're about as likely to "eliminate professional sports" in higher education as you are to remove legacies or eliminate institutional racism."

Shoulda read the whole thread, but at universities I'm familiar with with somewhat competitive football and basketball programs, said programs are what pay for most of the extracurriculars, even after they blow millions of bucks on football and basketball stadiums. TV rights bring in a whole lot of cash. I will fully agree that many universities place too much emphasis on sports, but they're not nearly the drain that they appear to be on the surface.
posted by wierdo at 2:39 PM on May 29, 2010


@ blucevalo - why would any college student be looking for housing with 3 weeks left in the quarter? What is on CL now isn't representative. I just asked a bunch of students via email what they pay for rent and they (25 of them) said between $400-$700 for a shared room.
posted by k8t at 3:25 PM on May 29, 2010


Every time I see one of these articles I get madder and madder at my alma mater (Rice). When I attended in the 80s, tuition was under $10K, even though it was rising every year, and I got out with a BA (and 3 years later, an MA) in history with no debt. Now tuition is more than $30K a year. That I ended up with no debt was sheer luck and not the result of good planning on my part. The fact that Rice was cheap was one reason I was interested, but I really fell in love with the campus. The private high school I attended pushed me to go Ivy; my counsellor was annoyed that a top 10% student wasn't interested in better schools. I'd just come back from two years abroad and didn't want to leave home again. It's just my good luck and natural stubbornness (refusing to go Ivy) that kept me from ending up in the situation that PhoBWanKenobi describes.

I don't know why tuition at Rice is going up so much, either. As an alum, I hear so-called reasons, but what it really seems to boil down to is that prestigious schools on the east and west coast can charge that much, so there's no reason why a prestigious school on the Gulf coast shouldn't. I look at my nieces and nephews and I wish I could recommend Rice to them, but even with the alumni connections--which have been fabulous for me in terms of friendship and job connections--I just can't. I know too many kids with loan debts in the high five or low six figures who are working in bookstores or as kindergarten aides or whatever with no prospect of ever repaying their debts. Knowing what a difference the lack of debt has made in my life means that I can't recommend any school they can't pay for almost all of with scholarships, grants, and savings.
posted by immlass at 3:34 PM on May 29, 2010


Anyone who didn't investigate and proceed very carefully before they started signing papers that indebted them for five or six figures - I'm sorry, I'll forgive you at that age some starry-eyedness and some idealism but I won't forgive you the money or pay it in your stead.

I haven't seen anyone ask you to.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 3:47 PM on May 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


It makes no difference what you think something is worth

i) if you don't have the money for it /
ii) after you already bought it.

If you don't have a reliable plan of paying a loan back, you're either stealing or gambling. It doesn't matter if you're 18 or 49, doesn't matter if you're buying an education or a house.

Money doesn't discern. That's our job.
posted by mondaygreens at 3:56 PM on May 29, 2010


k8t: And UCSB does not allow private loans at all.

I don't think that is the case at all.

http://www.finaid.ucsb.edu/TypesOfFinAid.asp
Shows UCSB's financial aid options, click under alternative loans, which are private loans.

http://www.studentlendinganalytics.com/images/Undergrads_2010_05.pdf
They even provide a list of the preferred private lenders.

As a former UC student (though not UCSB), I can say that private loans are available at other UCs, I assume UCSB would be the same.

k8t: First, any under $100k families get CalGrant, which covers quite a bit.

This isn't true either. The income scale is sliding and depends on the Cal Grant, but any family, even with 6 or more members, is ineligible for an entitlement Cal Grant A with an income over 93K ($51K for CalGrant B), and the threshold drops with less family members. Plus, there are asset limits as well (about $62K for dependent students), so owning a home or other assets makes many ineligible.

Interestingly enough, at the UCs so little of their funding comes from the state (about 20% at UCLA) that there is a lot of pressure to charge private tuition rates, though they would never admit it. This has already happened with some graduate programs at other top public institutions, like the University of Virginia School of Law and Darden business school, which receive no public money except for a small amount for in-state tuition breaks. The net result is that in-state tuition at those schools is only a few thousand less then sticker. At that point, what is the point of a public school at all?
posted by roquetuen at 4:01 PM on May 29, 2010


@roquetuen, but those are used pretty much exclusively by international students.

And yes, sorry, I rounded up to 100k when it is 93k for CalA.
posted by k8t at 4:27 PM on May 29, 2010


@roquetuen "We highly recommend that students exhaust their federal Direct Loan eligibility before pursuing funds through an alternative loan. Also, be aware that parents of dependent students are able to borrow up to the complete cost of education through the federal Direct PLUS Loan program."

So perhaps a student that doesn't have parents OR isn't a grad student might have to use private, but those numbers are quite small. (Looking through my paperwork from last year, it was 3 students for all of UCSB.)
posted by k8t at 4:29 PM on May 29, 2010


PhoBWanKenobi: I haven't seen anyone ask you to. [to forgive student loan debt]

Hasn't President Obama proposed this himself? Here's the Facebook group and the web site mentioned in that article.

But if you're just saying that no one in this thread suggested this - no, I don't think anyone has and I didn't make that comment as a response to anyone or in criticism of anyone in particular, my apologies if it was construed as such.
posted by XMLicious at 5:14 PM on May 29, 2010


I ignored my college loan oblications for at least five years, beause at 2% I was making money by not paying. One day a collection agent called, I had saved some money at the time, so I said: "how about I pay half right now and we call it square?" They agreed, paperwork was exchanged, and friends of mine dutifully doing their own monthly payments were pissed off. You'd think they would have been happy for me.
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:17 PM on May 29, 2010


To a debt collector, 10 cents on the dollar is pretty good. Fifty cents on the dollar? A gold mine.

I'm surprised they play that game for student loans, though. I guess fifty cents now is better than risking you dying before ever paying off the loans.
posted by wierdo at 5:21 PM on May 29, 2010


I'm looking at the numbers in that story.

First of all, there's this:

According to the College Board’s Trends in Student Aid study, 10 percent of people who graduated in 2007-8 with student loans had borrowed $40,000 or more. The median debt for bachelor’s degree recipients who borrowed while attending private, nonprofit colleges was $22,380.

That seems like a very manageable amount of student debt to me, particularly if it's financing the education of your dreams. I'm honestly not seeing the problem for 90% of graduates.

When we look at the other extreme, the highest borrowers, we have this:

The balance on Cortney Munna’s loans is about $97,000, including all of her federal loans and her private debt from Sallie Mae and Citibank. After taxes, she takes home about $2,300 a month. Rent runs $750, and the full monthly payments on her student loans would be about $700 if they weren’t being deferred, which would not leave a lot left over.

You can't live in NYC on $850 a month after rent? Really? Because that's what's left over.

And then we have this:

Her mother can’t help without selling her bed and breakfast, and then she’d have no home.

Really? He mom can't send her (or her lenders) $150 a month? Because the cheapest room in that B&B (which looks amazing, by the way) is $169. Because even a small monthly contribution like that would help her daughter reduce her monthly debt payment by 21.4%, and that seems very helpful to me.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:22 PM on May 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


My friend Kevin was recently told by our law school career services office that many graduates are looking at Starbucks because they have health benefits. They suggested he do the same.
posted by greekphilosophy at 5:47 PM on May 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


I Foody: It's all kabuki.

Well said. Having graduated from the university AB, MA and PhD (not the same university), I've come to conclusion that if one really wants to be educated, the university isn't the most efficient method. Time spent at the university on undergraduate "education" seems in particular to be time used in an inefficient manner. Granted, there are other benefits from leaving home from 18-22 and being with people of the similar age - just not necessarily educational benefits. Regarding graduate education, I believe it's all about the time spent. If it does take 10,000 hours to master a skill, then seven years of grad school provides the chance to spend the required time. Grad school provides a relatively "safe" place to do this. One trouble with graduate education is that for those who receive terminal degrees in the hopes of becoming academics the market is hopelessly saturated. Of course, the amount of grad students in universities does help keep costs down.
posted by Wash Jones at 5:48 PM on May 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


We need farmers, carpenters and blacksmiths

Sorry, these jobs have all gone to China
posted by Miles Long at 5:57 PM on May 29, 2010


Here is an interesting paper on the economics of the higher ed "market". Of particular interest is the correlation between the sticker price of the school and subsidies students receive: expensive private schools subsidize a far greater percentage of student costs (e.g. students pay $30k out of the total $60k spent on their education) than cheaper schools (students pay 4k out of 5k).

Then combine this with how state schools around the world are basically a government subsidy for the rich because it's the upper classes that overwhelmingly benefit (perhaps moreso in more "socialist" countries where universal funding means wealthy kids' parents aren't forced to pay).
posted by ropeladder at 6:10 PM on May 29, 2010


Name me five state universities of any concentration (liberal arts, medicine, engineering, farming whatever) whose prestige (NOT quality of education, simply recognition and "ooh you went to $SCHOOL?") outweigh their private competitors. My point isn't that state schools aren't prestigious or aren't worth going to. It's that for most individuals, socialization dictates that between going to State College and Harvard/Yale/NYU/Johns Hopkins/SVA/etc. etc., the private school almost always wins out. And when it doesn't, it is usually for economic reasons (not wanting to take out a six-figure loan) rather than reasons of prestige.

That's an interestingly culture-specific view, though. I work with a Brazilian who was explaining to me that in his country, public institutions are the ones with prestige, because places are limited to those who obtain marks over a certain level, while private institutions are held to be places stupid people with money go to buy pieces of paper; similarly, in Australia the top research university is public; in much of Europe the name universities are public.

2) The state has decreased our funding.

This is the fundamental issue. The Reagan Boomers want their tax cuts, and if their kids have to tak on six figure debts (and spiralling government debt) to afford them, so be it.

So, what kind of job do you expect that your Lit degree will qualify you for once you've graduated?

I'm afraid we are all asking the wrong questions in this thread. The real reason behind the debt crisis in education is because this question, and others like it, are the only things most Americans consider when they think (sic) about education.


If you want an education you don't need to rack up a house-load of debt at a private university. Many prestige universities have lectures and coursework online for anyone who wants to use them. On this very web site you can talk to people who are experts in linguistics (languagehat), Native American history (LarryC), who study philosophy (nasreddin), and this isn't even a site specialized in any of those topics. You could do tolerably well as an autodidact, or better doing cheap undergrad courses at your local institute of higher learning, and supplimenting with free, world-class material and participating in specialised on-line communities.

If you want to work in a field, as opposed to gaining an education, that's another matter.

Things look even worse when you consider that student loan debt is unique in that it cannot be forgiven in the case of bankruptcy. Nice little gimme written into the law, that.

And the outcome is a classic, textbook moral hazard.
posted by rodgerd at 6:42 PM on May 29, 2010


If the filthiest-rotten rich bastards on Wall Street can be bailed out, sure as shit students should be.

But reality doesn't work that way. They're fodder for the system. Debt is their birthright.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:44 PM on May 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


The only reason it was free was because you received a valuable scholarship, paid for by the rich parents paying full fare for their children and by middle class students borrowing money to pay the tuition. Yes, you obviously made a very good financial decision, but "you should just get a full scholarship" is not a solution for most students, even at a state school.

Well, you're making several incorrect assumptions about who's funding my scholarship, but I'll grant that for most students merit scholarships are all funded by the school.

The way things are currently, plenty of smart students are offered generous scholarships but turn them down in favor of prestige. Schools are still throwing full rides at national merit scholars. And "attending a state school at the fraction of the cost of a private school" is an option for ALL of these students who have gotten themselves $200k into debt. My case may be extreme but my point stands.

Obviously I have plenty of sympathy for lower-class students who have to go into debt because they can't afford a public school. I think there should be plenty more help for them. That's probably why I'm unimpressed by the complaints of kids who willingly turn down inexpensive (for them) educations to rack up massive denbt.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 6:56 PM on May 29, 2010


fff: The guy who managed to get $275k in school loan debt - he took an enormous gamble with a bunch of other peoples' money and evidently lost. From my perspective he seems more akin to the wall street bankers than to myself or my family or friends. I don't think that he should get bailed out and I don't in general think that bailouts are the way to go.

Healthcare Reform cost a chunk of change and lacked many things but it'll make many of the neediest people's lives better and provide a safety net that we can all use. I'd prefer to see more programs like that, rather than debt-forgiveness efforts, if we're going to keep rolling out trillion-dollar expenditures. (But of course if the dichotomy was something like "War with Iran, or student loan debt forgiveness?" for the next trillion I would go with debt forgiveness hands down.)
posted by XMLicious at 7:08 PM on May 29, 2010


If the filthiest-rotten rich bastards on Wall Street can be bailed out, sure as shit students should be.

Music to my ears. But like you say, unlikely to happen.

My (state school) financial aid department was equally useless. I chose to go to a state school after gasping at the price tags where I wanted to go (Smith, Reed). I had money that I'd inherited from my grandmother, and unfortunately, it was titled IN MY NAME. ...

However, because my little college fund was titled in MY name, the school was allowed to consider ALL of it in the "family contribution" column, so I got nada grants-wise. If it had been in my parents' names, I would have qualified for a TON of money. I had to take out loans because it was that, or drop out. I was already at a state school, I'd already given up the hope of going where I wanted to go. What else could I have done? Financial aid departments are a scam just like the rest of it.


Interestingly, I was in pretty much the same situation (smallish savings account from a relative, parents who weren't in a position to help very much) and found that going to a private school made a lot more sense financially than did going to a state school, for pretty much the reasons you describe. The private school had the flexibility to look at my overall situation, gave me a ton of financial aid, and let me graduate with a very modest amount of loans. The state school I was looking at would have ended up costing me at least $10k more, because of how the low tuition was matched with lower financial aid and less flexibility.

I think it's important to be realistic about student debt, and to take on as little as possible. I have a bunch of friends who pay more every month in student loan payments than they do for rent; I know several people who owe more than I borrowed to buy my house. If they were earning huge-ass salaries, that would be cool. But they aren't -- they are earning solid middle-class salaries, and if you are making huge loan payments on that, you are not going to be living in the house of your dreams or saving for retirement or going on nice trips.
posted by Forktine at 7:16 PM on May 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


That's an interestingly culture-specific view, though. I work with a Brazilian who was explaining to me that in his country, public institutions are the ones with prestige

This is mostly true in the US too; the overwhelming majority of private colleges and universities are somewhere between "not particularly prestigious" and "actively not prestigious," just as the overwhelming majority are not remotely selective in their admissions.

The only difference in the US is that the very top of the elite schools are mostly private.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:22 PM on May 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Minor digression in response to this and this: please educate yourselves as to what kabuki means and the potential for the word's misuse. Might as well not sound ignorant if you can avoid it, right?
posted by dubitable at 7:31 PM on May 29, 2010


Hey, I just got a crazy idea: how about if, when every student begins the college admissions process, shares in that person like Bowie Bonds are issued against that students future earnings and the school is required by law to accept those bonds for up to, say, 50% of total tuition. That way the school is compelled to have an interest in the student's financial health far into the future and also if any defaulting or forgiveness-type situations arise the costs can be borne equally by both the school and the banks.

And the personal bonds could be traded in a market, and there could be ratings agencies to rate their value, and you could construct derivatives and have whole options and derivatives markets...on second thought, this might be a bad idea.
posted by XMLicious at 7:32 PM on May 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Minor digression in response to this and this: please educate yourselves as to what kabuki means and the potential for the word's misuse. Might as well not sound ignorant if you can avoid it, right?

That reminds me of this.
posted by anniecat at 7:59 PM on May 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


That reminds me of this.

Crap. I shouldn't have said anything. There's gotta be some corollary to Godwin's Law involving bukkake, right?
posted by dubitable at 8:34 PM on May 29, 2010


I went to a wonderful private college and got the vaunted liberal arts education my mom wanted for me. And it was great, but I laugh when I think about how there's no way in hell I could ever afford to send a hypothetical kid to the same college unless I win the lottery.
posted by bardic at 9:37 PM on May 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


please educate yourselves as to what kabuki means and the potential for the word's misuse. Might as well not sound ignorant if you can avoid it, right?

Yeah, I think I'll take my advice on the "correct" use of the term "kabuki" from a Slate article that snarks about the "400-year-old Japanese stage tradition with the Lady Gaga get-ups" in its first graf.
posted by blucevalo at 11:32 PM on May 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


How they managed to squeeze an entire German count into text I'll never know.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:33 AM on May 30, 2010


When I was 18, I knew exactly what I wanted to study. I applied to 9 different schools and got into all but one. The choice came down to getting a free ride + living stipend at the state school (which was OK - top 50 in my chosen subject) and paying the ridiculous tuition at my first choice, a private university that was top 5.

What clinched it for me was when I went on a campus visit at the state school. It was a very pretty place, with nice facilities. I had a sit-down with my parents and a professor who was also the undergrad advisor for my chosen subject. He asked me what other schools I was considering. When I told him that I was going to be visiting [private university] next week, he got a pained look on his face, laughed nervously, and told me that I'd be doing myself a disservice by going to [state school].

And he was right. My parents and I gritted our teeth and I went to my first choice. It was hard. We sat down with the tuition and financial aid forms and figured out, dollar by dollar, how to pay for it all. My mom put off her retirement. I covered all my living and material expenses, which meant working the entire time I was in undergrad and eating a lot of rice and beans.

But those jobs were entirely research assistant positions for [private university], which paid well and gave me great resume fodder. Every summer I worked hard and saved as much as I could for the following year. The environment pushed me harder than I had ever been pushed before, and gave me a lot of great connections. As soon as I graduated, I joined a startup company with some researchers from that university, and that put me on a career track with which I'm very happy. I emerged with minimal debt, mostly due to my parents' sacrifices and my own determination to live frugally and save as much as I could.

Today, inspired by this post, I checked my alma mater's tuition rates online. Undergrad tuition is now $55k per year, or about 2.5x what it was when I graduated just 10 years ago. A story like mine would be completely impossible today - there is absolutely no way for a bright middle-class kid to come out of there with less than $100k in debt. Meanwhile, they've built six entirely new academic buildings and renovated the student center twice.

I used to donate a bit each year. But those fuckers are never getting another dime from me until they get their goddamn priorities straight.
posted by xthlc at 8:58 AM on May 30, 2010 [6 favorites]


I used to donate a bit each year. But those fuckers are never getting another dime from me until they get their goddamn priorities straight.

I donate money specifically to the endowment that funds all those paid research assistantships that gave us the money and experience which put us on our respective career tracks.
posted by deanc at 10:30 AM on May 30, 2010


Yeah, I think I'll take my advice on the "correct" use of the term "kabuki" from a Slate article that snarks about the "400-year-old Japanese stage tradition with the Lady Gaga get-ups" in its first graf.

Ah, touché! Clearly, the comment you mentioned defines the article, invalidates my entire point, and--most importantly--therefore, the above usage of the term "kabuki" is correct. Nevermind!

Anyways, one thing remains true, which is that I shouldn't have brought it up. My mistake, apologies, continue, etc. etc.
posted by dubitable at 1:08 PM on May 30, 2010


Regarding state schools, it is interesting that the current president of Stanford University was a graduate of SUNY.
posted by JackFlash at 3:08 PM on May 30, 2010


It concerns me that "liberal arts degree from a private liberal arts college" seems to be shorthand for "unnecessarily debt for a philosophy degree."

I'll admit that I joke about my undergrad (and grad) degrees in English as being useless...but from a practical sense they haven't been. I'm employed, albeit not in the lucrative world of investment banking or somesuch, but employed nonetheless. And, honestly, my "small, private liberal arts college" provided an extremely generous package of scholarships, grants and a small amount of loans.

Attending a large public university for grad school gave me a definite appreciation for the value of that liberal arts education. As a 21 year old with nothing more than a B.A. to my name, I was the sole instructor for a class of 25 freshmen who were paying insane amounts of money (even in-state tuition, as I recall, was fairly substantial) for college. In my undergraduate career, I never had anyone without a PhD as a professor -- because research was valued as secondary to education.

Certainly large state schools benefit from research subsidies, but they aren't called "research one universities" for nothing.

As for community colleges -- my current position has me working with a lot of people who are attending night and weekend classes at local community colleges. I very much see their place in society, but their academic advising resources leave much to be desired. A person could get lost there for years trying to get an Associates degree (and some of these people have) -- spending just as much money as at an "expensive" school.

I'm not justifying six-figure debt by any means, but there are certain intangibles that transcend the easy argument of "just go to a state school or community college."
posted by nayrb5 at 10:27 PM on May 30, 2010


Getting a degree from a prestigious university can be far more valuable than an equally good degree from a not prestigious university, because the world continues to be deeply classist.

Where you get your undergrad matters little if you are going to graduate school. The best graduate programs have people with BAs from the Ivy League or Oxbridge studying alongside people from just about every level of university you can imagine -- tiny sattilite state colleges, places better known as "the other university". You can go to an undergrad university with an incoming and graduating average of C, and still get into top PhD programs, if you performed at the same level as the students who went to universities with A averages in and out. I know people who did. There may be fewer extras at a lower-tier university in terms of research opprotunities, library collections -- and most of your fellow students will not be working at a high level. But the teaching can be as good (or better, since teaching is given a heavier weight in tenure decisions than it is at top research universities).

Outside of academia however, the world is extremely elitist and classist. Two people I know were accepted into the same prestigious graduate school. One came from a middling state university with the highest graduating average for their very large major; the other, equally bright, did very well (near if not at the top of her class) at a top private university. For graduate programs, they were very similar students, and their acceptances and funding reflected that.

Their private sector experiences were universes apart. The student from the prestigious university had spent a year working for a top consulting company before beginningbher PhD -- she had chosen this from a wealth of recruiters who came to her university. The student from the state university had never much as had a flyer from a potential employer; her non-academic prospects involved jobs like being a teller at a bank, or an administrative assistant. Her potential future income was 10s of thousands of dollars less than the other student's, and would have stayed that way for life without graduate school.

Yes, the private university student had student debt; the public university student had none (what with commuting from her mom's house and spending no money other than for books and the occassional lunch). But had they both stayed in the private sector, the private university students would be in the top 10-25% of incomes, the public university student at the median, maybe below.

Why do I say this is classist? Because these opprotunity differences stem directly from the prejudice that even mediocre students at top universities are "better" (smarter, more capable) that top students from mediocre schools. Based on my experience of their actual abilities, it's a false idea, but it continues.

(I would like to say that the specific private school studen. referenced was far from mediocre -- she was just referenced to show the opprotunity disparities.)
posted by jb at 10:45 AM on May 31, 2010



Why choose this difficult and ethically dubious path? Is it because being poor and indebted might fuel your own poetry? Is it the fact that you won't be put in jail for not paying back a student loan?

Well, the bigger picture is I'm studying Russian literature and poetry and getting fluent in Russian. Yes, I mean, it's a serious question. I went to NYU for two years and dropped out, spent three years thinking exactly what you said: I don't need professors to teach me books, and I don't need books to learn the world. I was right. But I also needed to be challenged. I needed someone who could call me out on my bullshit. I needed to write an essay on Akhmatova and have a serious scholar say, "Actually, this is unclear/incorrect/puzzling and pretentious." I had the discipline to read a thousand books, I didn't have the discipline to do anything with them. I wanted to see if, rather than reject the system outright, I could actually submit myself to it, learn the rules, and find smart ways to subvert those rules as I got better at it. Plus, I mean, damn, I'm ambitious. I want to read books all day but I also want to work hard and someday I want somebody to give me a job as editor of something because I spent four years at an Ivy League university working my ass off. Frankly, academia in general bores and disgusts me: a lot of academic writing is just dead language written by careerists to simulate public discourse that has no real stakes except tenure and prestige (see Judith Butler). Academia, if anything, is out to destroy poetry, to prove that poetry and the unconditioned consciousness that produces poetry is a myth, as much a thing of the past as the earthly appearance of God. So in a way I'm in bed with enemy here. In the end I want to make and create art, but I'm not going to make the kind of art I want to make until I can apply myself with an almost scientific precision and attention to detail when it comes to literature. My classes at Columbia have been stellar: unnerving at times, humbling always, but instead of living in my Ivory Tower of Ego reading poems all day and working for pocket change as a service industry serf, I can actually put myself into the fray, prove myself to the community of people for whom this shit matters, and come out of it, yeah, in a lot of debt, but fuck it! I'm the first person in my family to make it out of Texas, I'm the first person in my family who ever had *any* hope I realizing this kind of opportunity; I'm going to take it at all costs, how could I not? When I told my mother I got into Columbia the poor woman cried! Shit, my grandfather retired from K-Mart in Bumfuck Texas after forty years, my father is a homeless man sleeping in a fucking dumpster who goes to the library twice a week to write essays on American history and political theory that nobody reads! (I'm not exaggerating.) Do I want to be him? I'm long past romanticizing poverty; it forces you to confront many difficult and sometimes unexpectedly beautiful things about life, I don't want to be holed up in a Park Avenue apartment dreaming up new non-profit initiatives that "help" people I've never met and would never deign, but I know that poverty doesn't necessarily breed artistic inspiration: mostly it makes you tired and scared. I've been poor my entire adult life, I hate having no money, but what am I going to do? Give up the one chance I have at ever having a decent job that recognizes me and rewards me for doing what I know and love? So, I can either be poor and give up my dreams, or make a huge gamble, get a great education, and hope I'll somehow make a career out of it and live decently one day as a member of the intellectual elite of my generation, for better or worse. I'll take the education I want and deserve, at whatever cost, thank you.
posted by bukharin at 12:46 PM on May 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


This thread prompted me to check out the tuition at our local University and Community College. Still amazingly reasonable, within about $400 of when I graduated in the early 2000s. I'm excited to go back for a couple classes in the fall! So, thanks Metafilter.
posted by stoneweaver at 2:36 PM on May 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


I work at a small university that offers degrees aimed at professions: culinary, mostly, and hospitality [for which read "hotel"] management. Our graduates usually get jobs in their field. A few years ago the leadership realized that they would admit damn near anyone but that they weren't all graduating -- and they suddenly recognized the injustice of saddling with student debt some kids who just weren't going to make it. (Flunking out with a five-digit debt has got to be horribly demoralizing.)

So they raised their standards and boosted the cash available for financial aid. Better students are admitted, they get more aid, and fewer of them are dropping out with that killed debt load. For the ones who make it in and get through, they win; for the ones who don't make it in, maybe it's better that at least they don't waste a year and all their savings.

I don't really know: I got a fancy-pants liberal arts degree (Enligsh lit) but I work in IT now. *shrug*
posted by wenestvedt at 9:44 AM on June 1, 2010


Hear, hear, bukharin!

The most I can hope for is that more of us choose college with as much thought as you have, and for similar reasons -- finding a community, being challenged beyond your self and learning to do what you love in a way that's meaningful in the world. It's definitely a negotiation process where you have a lot at stake, so good luck.

I agree about being in bed with the enemy, by the way, but it sounds a risk that is both necessary and calculated. (Or clever and well-intentioned.) IMHO that's worth communal support and financial cushion.

So I guess my real hope is that more of us have the option to make that choice and to find the kind of jobs that make such choices feasible. Hence my earlier questions.
posted by mondaygreens at 10:09 AM on June 1, 2010


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