Letter to an Unknown Lender
July 4, 2018 1:29 PM   Subscribe

"The foundational myth of an entire generation of Americans was the false promise that education was priceless—that its value was above or beyond its cost. College was not a right or a privilege but an inevitability on the way to a meaningful adulthood. What an irony that the decisions I made about college when I was seventeen have derailed such a goal." (CW: some discussion of suicidal thoughts)
posted by Lycaste (42 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
And this guy sounds like one of the relatively “lucky” ones. When does the crash happen? Buying a pair of pants shouldn’t be a major financial decision for anyone, but if it is for pretty much an entire generation eventually the Stuff Companies are going to run out of customers and the whole scheme will collapse under its own weight, no?
posted by The Card Cheat at 2:15 PM on July 4 [3 favorites]


It was not the lenders that promised Miller that his education was priceless. By his own admission, his parents did. And if he was like most people drowning in debt from fancy schools, that message was reinforced by his teachers, guidance counselors, and college admissions offices.

The phrase "predatory lender" is almost redundant. The whole point of bank lending is to make as much money as possible, and it doesn't much matter if its through interest, fees, repos, or reselling of debt. The relationship is, to a large extent, inherently predatory.

Many cultures and religions know this. Ours seems confused about it, even after the recession. If your parents and educators tell you the predator is safe, and that leaping into his maw is a rite of passage, then it is they, not the predators, at whom I'm more interested in slinging blame.

As long as we mythologize and hyper-valorize college and education in general, the bullshit will heap up and inure to the benefit of whoever is willing to make suckers of us all. Education absolutely has a fucking price tag, and it's often not worth it. I am not bitter about my student loans or the money my extended family blithely threw at my tuition, but I will not facilitate my children making the same mistake.
posted by andrewpcone at 2:21 PM on July 4 [16 favorites]


Abolition of university fees (in Australia)

The Whitlam Labor Government abolished university fees on 1 January 1974. By the mid-1980s, however, there was consensus between both major parties that the concept of 'free' tertiary education in Australia was untenable due to the increasing participation rate.

So the generation just before mine got their free uni and turned around and pulled the ladder up.

A student could defer payment of this HECS (higher education contribution scheme) amount (in which case it was called a HECS debt) and repay the debt through the tax system, when the student's income exceeds a threshold level.

The government will pay for it and you pay them back when you can afford it, without interest. Of course, people want to burn down this idea too. I get the impression that certain elitists in the government want tertiary education to be for the wealthy alone, like it was.
posted by adept256 at 2:38 PM on July 4 [1 favorite]


Yes. Rather than blaming the victim for not knowing what a bank is, or trying to de-valorize education, we should simply recognize that education is an obvious public good, and tax rich people to pay for education for whoever wants it. This is a successful approach that has worked in the past, and the currently-existing rich could easily afford it.
posted by demonic winged headgear at 2:42 PM on July 4 [68 favorites]


Education absolutely has a fucking price tag, and it's often not worth it.

I.... Uhh.....

Look, post-secondary education is costly because morons believe that wars pay for themselves and education does not, and proceed to vote for more wars and spending cuts to education.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 2:49 PM on July 4 [57 favorites]


Don't blame the banks! When have bankers ever engaged in any shady, unethical, illegal or economy melting behavior? I blame the parents.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 2:52 PM on July 4 [13 favorites]


It isn't just war.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 3:14 PM on July 4 [1 favorite]


Student debt has been a very effective way of suppressing protest in the USA. It's created a whole populace living in fear of “This will go on your permanent record!” forever.
posted by scruss at 3:22 PM on July 4 [25 favorites]


Is there a good way of estimating what sort of financial shape this guy would be in without the college education + debt, but with the same amount of financial bad luck? Like, same relative tier of jobs pay for HS graduate as he has for a college graduate? Because the life he describes sounds an awful lot like the life without steudent debt of at least a couple people I know who don't have a degree or a good job.
posted by Zalzidrax at 3:49 PM on July 4 [1 favorite]


When I was growing up, there was a lot of jokey talk about how expensive college was. I didn't worry about it. You could get a rough understanding of how expensive private colleges are by checking the sticker price, but who could say what you'd pay once student aid was factored in. Prices are effectively different for everyone. Right? My older (and far more academically accomplished) sibling started getting acceptance letters from Ivy and near-Ivy schools, and we got our education on how much it would cost. The answer was...pretty much sticker price. It was just an obscene amount of money for our middle class family. We were comfortable, but not the kind of comfortable that lets you sign up to pay $30K a year tuition. The sibling went to the nice state school instead. The school was happy to cover tuition, and my parents were downright cheerful about paying for living costs.

Education is important. But...the way people sell higher education is the way people sell scams. High school kids are besieged with talk about finding the "right" college, the perfect fit, the reach school that just might accept you. Plenty of kids don't know how much a school will really cost them when they start searching. When the apply, they don't know if they'll be accepted. But if they are, how nice! How wonderful to be validated! And finally, they don't have a great grasp on how long it will take to pay back tens of thousands of dollars. Throughout this, they hear constant propaganda about how famous alumni succeeded because of the connections they made at the school, how successful students are, how attending that college was the best decision they made in their lives.

Having learned what to expect in advance, I was able to approach my college search with Charlotte Lucas-level pragmatism. I didn't want to go to school with people from high school, so I aimed middle-of-the-road and focused my applications on private schools that I knew I could get into. This was during the aughts, when a lot of expensive schools were eager to increase their US News and World Report rankings by increasing average SAT, etc. I thought these places would offer good merit scholarships, and I was right. Even then, I was so lucky. I was lucky that I gamed the system in the right way at the right moment, and of course very fortunate that my parents were in a position to help pay for living expenses. I know (in-state) people who left my brother's school with $30K+ in debt, I know people left my school with $100K+ in debt.

Higher education should be less expensive, absolutely. High schools also should be teaching kids how to attend college without indebting yourself forever. (For example: if someone else isn't paying for it, you should absolutely spend your first two years knocking out the basics somewhere cheap.) But I get where the author is coming from, because the college selection process isn't presented to students as a major financial decision, and it should be.
posted by grandiloquiet at 3:52 PM on July 4 [7 favorites]


[Comment removed, I get the intention of the sentiment but let's really avoid just casually invoking sexual assault metaphors in discussions about literally anything else.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 5:15 PM on July 4 [3 favorites]


then it is they, not the predators, at whom I'm more interested in slinging blame.

...what? The banks are not scorpions in a fable, they are institutions created and maintained by human beings in a system created and maintained by human beings that continues to suffer them to exist. I'm not sure why we should prostrate ourselves morally before capitalism.

(By the way, the CFPB Navient litigation is still pending. It was only filed last year! Illinois, Washington, Pennsylvania, and, this past week, California have all also sued them.)

Education absolutely does have a value beyond and incommensurate with its cost. That doesn't mean that its cost can't be too high. I think it's important not to give in to the urge to devalue education as not yielding the ideal capitalist result--the right is already doing enough of that. But of course you can hardly blame a person in the author's position for being frustrated and overwhelmed.
posted by praemunire at 5:57 PM on July 4 [6 favorites]


...the college selection process isn't presented to students as a major financial decision, and it should be.


This is a point I have seen in several essays similar to the one in the post......and it is worth lingering on for a moment. The decision to sign up for massive debt is made by young people, very young, with almost no financial experience, usually not even making bills and rent every month: and usually EVERYONE in their life is telling them it is the right thing to do, and that it's so right that alternatives don't even bear consideration.
posted by thelonius at 6:49 PM on July 4 [10 favorites]


Higher education should cost less to deliver -- and there many ways we can make it cost less -- and employer credentialism should be disuaded, but all that said ... higher education borrowing is worth it for most people who finish their degrees.

Let's take this dude. $182k for two English degrees seems fairly steep, but even using draconian assumptions around (non) tax-deductibility, (lack of) income adjusted payments or end-of-payment-plan forgiveness, and marginal tax rate on income, he only needs to gross $25k or so a year more than he would as a high school graduate for that debt to be worth it. Seems pretty likely.

Heck, a doctor who finishes residency owing $400k (bog standard, alas), using even more draconian assumptions, is in the black on the trade if she grosses $65k or more a year than she would as a high school graduate.

The only thing that is a scam, or bad policy, is lending money to people who aren't going predictably to increase their income through the education -- anytime the student clearly lacks the chops to graduate, bogus for-profit career academies, lower-ranked law schools, pretty much any unsupported humanities or liberal arts PhD, etc.
posted by MattD at 6:56 PM on July 4 [2 favorites]


I find it fascinating that no one wants to blame the universities for the student loan crisis.

If someone sold you a $200,000 car, and it was perfectly fine but turned out to only cost $50,000 from other competitors and only cost $40,000 to produce, you'd be furious at them and probably sue.

But universities occupy such an exalted place in our society that no one ever says, "Your product is fine but the prices you are charging are unreasonable." Instead they blame the student loan companies, the government, high school counselors, our families, Lehman Brothers, anyone else who might be tenuously connected and is easier to blame.

It's exactly the same with doctors. No one ever says "I went bankrupt because I became ill and my physician charges $700,000 a year." Instead we blame the health insurers, the government, the pharma companies, faceless "administrators," anyone other than the person who is charging the extortionate price because they occupy a near-sacred position in our society.

We're blind to the obvious problem in front of us.
posted by miyabo at 7:29 PM on July 4 [9 favorites]


This isn't just a question of debt versus college. It's also a question of debt versus an appalling amount of debt. I googled the author. (Stalkery!) He attended NYU, one of the most expensive schools in the country, for both his degrees. Education is an investment that does tend to pay off, but it's fair for the author to question whether it was worth it for him to end up $150K+ in debt for two English degrees. I'm extremely receptive to the argument that being in New York City is a boon to someone interested in literature or media. But... had it been laid out to him, at 18, that he could save at least $30K by doing his first two years at a community college, then transfer to New York to finish his BA, would he really choose the full debt? What if he could get a good degree from UMich and a graduate degree from NYU? That would be a very different experience, but would his earnings be any worse? He'd still end up in New York with two good degrees, but his finances (and stress levels) would be significantly better.
posted by grandiloquiet at 7:54 PM on July 4 [3 favorites]


It's created a whole populace living in fear of “This will go on your permanent record!” forever

It's possible you're being cute and this is what you were implying, but I'd say that student loans have created a populace that absolutely has to have an extra $200-600/month to service a Very Special kind of debt that is, in a real way, permanent.

My loans have absolutely made me more conservative about doing anything that could lead to losing a job and defaulting (including getting arrested at protests).
posted by pullayup at 8:17 PM on July 4 [20 favorites]


But universities occupy such an exalted place in our society that no one ever says, "Your product is fine but the prices you are charging are unreasonable." Instead they blame the student loan companies, the government, high school counselors, our families, Lehman Brothers, anyone else who might be tenuously connected and is easier to blame.

People tend to have a fierce loyalty to the school they've attended, attempts to put the blame on the schools will inevitably result in #NotMyAlmaMater.

There's also the issue that tuition has increased in part due to decreased funding from state taxes. Before student loans couldn't be discharged through bankruptcy anyone whose state school was too expensive would've been part of a cohort that could make political hay over the fact that they couldn't even afford to attend State U., and would presumably have their parent's support.
posted by I paid money to offer this... insight? at 8:26 PM on July 4 [5 favorites]


If someone sold you a $200,000 car, and it was perfectly fine but turned out to only cost $50,000 from other competitors and only cost $40,000 to produce, you'd be furious at them and probably sue.


Sometimes the $200,000 car is a $200,000 car. I went to a teaching focused undergraduate college that my family could only afford sending me to because I got a 50% tuition scholarship. Having subsequently taken classes at both community college and having TAed and taken classes at a state research university while getting my PhD, I can say that the difference in quality of education is staggering.

There is a major, major difference between being in a class of at most 20 people taught by an expert in the field who's primary interest is teaching and being lost at sea in a lecture hall of 200 people for many of your classes the first couple years, and to have the only personal teaching you get be from TAs who are only a couple years ahead of you in education and expreience who get about 2 weeks of orientation before being tossed in the deep end of teaching.

I am fairly certain, knowing myself, that I would have dropped out of state school or gotten terrible grades in community college out of boredom. I'd be listing "some college" on my resume and not "PhD in Physics" if I hadn't been lucky enough to get into the Ferarri of higher education. And it's expensive, no doubt. But who deserves it? Who deserves to get that without suffering a life of immiseration? Just the people who have the right combination of smarts and generous and rich enough parents?

Never mind the fact that a combination of growing enrollment and slashed funding means even the "responsible" in-state tuition costs at a state school are higher than they were when I was going to school.
posted by Zalzidrax at 8:28 PM on July 4 [13 favorites]


Counterpoint: my long and winding road to eventually acquiring a BA took me through classes at a city university, a state school, a liberal arts school, and a fancy private university. Tuition scaled accordingly.

However, I wouldn't say that the quality of education changed all that much from one school to the next. All four schools had dedicated professors and valuable courses, be they lecture or seminar-based. Some schools came with students that struggled a little more than others, and some wih students who put in more effort than others, and some with more grade inflation than others, but the differences were relatively small—unlike the pricetags.

I am currently debt-free, though definitely not making 25k more than I was as a high-school dropout. I want to go to graduate school, but I am terrified of the consequences of doing so in the US, since there is a non-zero chance that the debt could ruin the rest of my life
posted by evidenceofabsence at 10:01 PM on July 4 [5 favorites]


The place where I am working probably would not have hired me without the fancy degree, but adjusting for inflation, I am making $4k more than I was before I decided to go back to school and take out $40k in loans.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 10:15 PM on July 4 [1 favorite]


Student loans: the greatest trick the devil ever pulled...
posted by bendy at 10:22 PM on July 4


I don't have the link handy, but I have read a study indicating that, overall, public university in-state tuitions have increased basically proportionally with (a) inflation and (b) cuts in government support. That is, if the states had continued to support their universities at the same rate as they did in the 60s, in-state public university students would have the minimal debt burdens of that era. It's boomer greed and kicking away the ladder behind them that has done so much harm to in-state students.

The author did make some mysterious choices. It is by no means clear to me that in any humanities field (maybe film?) NYU is so much preferable to U-M as to justify taking on what I estimate to be approximately three times the debt for a BA. And, although I can think of a few circumstances where this might not apply (e.g., a four-year combined BA/MA, if NYU even offers them), a terminal master's in the humanities at an expensive school is generally not recommended for anybody whose parents aren't flush. But being a little unwise at 17, or even 21, shouldn't trap you into a lifetime of debt.
posted by praemunire at 10:23 PM on July 4 [3 favorites]


(Personally, I think I benefited hugely from the expensive school I went to. But, because my family was somewhere between poor and the very bottom of the middle class, I graduated having suffered many indignities owing to my absurd financial situation but only owing about $4,000 (about $6600 in today's dollars). If I were going there now, I wouldn't be being charged tuition or being required to take loans at all, just a contribution from summer earnings. It would be cheaper for me to go there than to go in-state public. The author's family unfortunately pursued the worst possible strategy: she didn't go to an elite enough school to get adequate financial aid based on need, nor to a sufficiently uncompetitive school relative to her abilities that she could've gotten substantial merit-based aid, nor to a school that they could actually afford the sticker price of. Again, though, not justification for decades of misery.)
posted by praemunire at 10:30 PM on July 4 [3 favorites]


The decision to sign up for massive debt is made by young people, very young, with almost no financial experience

Also why credit card companies are omnipresent and handing out swag at every single new students' orientation at every single college and university in the US. IIRC I racked up $30,000 in credit card debt before I was 23 and am still banned from owning an AmEx. However, I graduated from college with only $1500 in student loans.
posted by bendy at 10:33 PM on July 4 [2 favorites]


Just to respond to the post that lending money to someone who does a liberal arts Phd is a scam - well, I have one of those, and I earn so much money that my children will not incur student debt.

The story is horrifying, but I had one question - why does bankruptcy not affect these debts? Being bankrupt is a bad thing, and screws up your credit rating for years, but the one thing it does do (I had thought) was wipe your debts clean. Maybe it is different in the USA, as many things seem to be.
posted by Major Tom at 12:32 AM on July 5 [2 favorites]


Also why credit card companies are omnipresent and handing out swag at every single new students' orientation at every single college and university in the US.

They actually made that illegal after you graduated college. IIRC, you have to present some proof of ability to repay (ie a job) to open credit card, and apparently you can't set up shop within 1000 feet of a college campus.

I don't have the link handy, but I have read a study indicating that, overall, public university in-state tuitions have increased basically proportionally with (a) inflation and (b) cuts in government support.

Way back in 2012 I linked to a study published in 2009 that's no longer online. Fortunately, archive.org has a copy. Figure 16 is the one you want to examine, tuition went up but state support went down harder.

Instead, it seems they publish an online database you can explore. With a few clicks, you can see data with inflation adjusted automatically for 2007-2012. For example, enrollment at the university I used to work for went from 17k to 22k (in 2018 enrollment is approx 30k). Over that period, state appropriations fell from $9,524 to $5,989, and the student's share of education rose from 59.2 percent to 71.9 percent. Over the same time period, total revenue fell from inflation adjusted $37,428 to $34,072, while It's too late on a holiday for me to pull that into a spreadsheet, factor in enrollment sizes etc and verify the assertion, but eyeballing it, things seem to match up.

It's definitely not like we had grand parties to scheme up new things to spend windfall tuition money on. Or if we did, I wasn't invited.

But being a little unwise at 17, or even 21, shouldn't trap you into a lifetime of debt.

It would probably help if there were more signals. Borrowing limits based on declared major, annual outlook reports, monthly loan payment comparisons, departmental placement rates, etc. Like, obviously the future is difficult to predict, but has the MA in English ever been a winning lottery ticket?

The story is horrifying, but I had one question - why does bankruptcy not affect these debts?

I wasn't alive at the time, but I've heard stories of students fresh out of law school filing for bankruptcy and defaulting on their law school debts. But that could be hokum, and it was just typical American graft, no different than the laws that granted credit cards superpriority.

But in general, lending is less risky when there's collateral to repossess, so for things like education which you can't repo, you might wish to encourage lending by offering additional protections. On the one hand, it's obviously not moral to punish students for ill-advised degree debt, but on the other hand, the same electorate that decided states should defund universities keeps student loans difficult to discharge.

I'm not actually sure at this point we can actually unwind it. The federal discretionary budget is 1 trillion dollars; the outstanding student loan number from the article is 1.4 trillion. Obviously not all of that would wind up in default, but it seems like our options are:

1. have the govt step in, and either blow up the interest rates basically everywhere via heavy borrowing, trigger a strong round of inflation via printing, or raise taxes non-trivially and permanently.
2. let defaults harm lenders, and trigger another 'break the buck' scenario ala 2008
3. fix the problem slowly: declare new student loans dischargable, watch the entire university system enter crisis as current students are unable to find willing lenders to match current tuition levels.
4. ignore the problem, hope it fixes itself
posted by pwnguin at 2:02 AM on July 5 [4 favorites]


So the generation just before mine got their free uni and turned around and pulled the ladder up.

No we didn't. The generation who got free uni in that 15-year window—at least the tail end, who were still at uni at the time—didn't pull the ladder up, we protested against the changes every step of the way. And were mocked by the generation before ours who compared our "selfish" protests unfavourably with their noble marches against the Vietnam War.

I only got caught by one year of HECS in my final year of undergrad, but was philosophically opposed to it then and have remained so ever since.
posted by rory at 3:10 AM on July 5 [4 favorites]


The story is horrifying, but I had one question - why does bankruptcy not affect these debts?

I wasn't alive at the time, but I've heard stories of students fresh out of law school filing for bankruptcy and defaulting on their law school debts. But that could be hokum, and it was just typical American graft, no different than the laws that granted credit cards superpriority.

But in general, lending is less risky when there's collateral to repossess, so for things like education which you can't repo, you might wish to encourage lending by offering additional protections. On the one hand, it's obviously not moral to punish students for ill-advised degree debt, but on the other hand, the same electorate that decided states should defund universities keeps student loans difficult to discharge.


Oh you used to be able to discharge student loan debt in bankruptcy, but then sometime in the late 2000s they passed a law that student debt was no longer dischargeable (I think there are still exceptions for special cases)
posted by LizBoBiz at 3:54 AM on July 5


There is a major, major difference between being in a class of at most 20 people taught by an expert in the field who's primary interest is teaching and being lost at sea in a lecture hall of 200 people for many of your classes the first couple years

That doesn't have much to do with sticker price, though. Going to a little SUNY where you'll get something close to that level of attention doesn't cost any more than going to one of the university centers that are more classic Big State U.

The difference between going to little SUNY or many other Directional State Universities and going to Elite But Not So Elite That It's Free Private School is nothing to do with the quality of education you receive or the skill, interests, or "passion" of the faculty there. The primary difference is going to be that if you go to a little SUNY or Directional State University you'll mostly be around people who were C students in high school with courses pitched at people who were C students in high school, while at Elite Private School you'll mostly be around people who were honors students in courses pitched at people who'd been honors students.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 4:58 AM on July 5 [2 favorites]


to have the only personal teaching you get be from TAs who are only a couple years ahead of you in education and expreience who get about 2 weeks of orientation before being tossed in the deep end of teaching

I TA'ed at a fancy-pants school, and we got zero training or orientation. Nothing, not even a lecture on plagarism or sexual harassment policies, for example. In some departments, like mine, TA'ing meant assisting with big lecture classes and running a smaller section once a week; in other departments it meant teaching an entire independent class on your own. I felt kind of bad for the students there, who were paying big money for what often wasn't great teaching, especially compared to the liberal arts college I had attended for undergrad.

The author's family unfortunately pursued the worst possible strategy: she didn't go to an elite enough school to get adequate financial aid based on need, nor to a sufficiently uncompetitive school relative to her abilities that she could've gotten substantial merit-based aid, nor to a school that they could actually afford the sticker price of.

My impression is that very, very few people fully understand this calculation and how to best make it work for their specific situation. I definitely didn't when I was 17; I just made a lucky decision that turned out to have been better than some of the other options.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:47 AM on July 5 [5 favorites]


I wasn't alive at the time, but I've heard stories of students fresh out of law school filing for bankruptcy and defaulting on their law school debts. But that could be hokum, and it was just typical American graft, no different than the laws that granted credit cards superpriority.

I don't doubt that you have heard those stories, but they are not a good reason for preventing student loans from being discharged in bankruptcy, because they are, even if true, a miniscule proportion of the total student loans that could have been discharged in bankruptcy at the time. Like, 0.3%. See this article in the Harvard Law Review:
First, one might claim, as the provision’s proponents initially did, that § 523(a)(8) is needed to ensure the viability of the federal student loan program. When first made, this argument was premised on the beliefs that (i) student loan discharges would soon cripple the federal student loan program and (ii) recent negative trends in bankruptcy filings had been caused by the extant dischargeability regime (which lacked a student loan exception). But neither of these beliefs has support. Debunking the first premise is the fact that by 1977, under 0.3% of the value of all federally guaranteed student loans had been discharged in bankruptcy — a rate that was comparable to that for consumer loans more generally158 and a rate that the government could clearly withstand. (p. 607 - footnotes omitted.)
posted by gauche at 7:25 AM on July 5 [4 favorites]


Oh you used to be able to discharge student loan debt in bankruptcy, but then sometime in the late 2000s they passed a law that student debt was no longer dischargeable (I think there are still exceptions for special cases)

That is not true. As seen at this link (http://www.finaid.org/questions/bankruptcyexception.phtml), the law making student loans non-dischargeable was first passed in 1978. It was subsequently changed many times, including into the 2000's, but this is not some recent break from history. Non-dischargeability in most cases has been the norm for decades.
posted by scivola at 4:44 PM on July 5


Non-dischargeability in most cases has been the norm for decades.

Wrong. Private student loans only became nondischargeable in 2005.
posted by praemunire at 5:26 PM on July 5 [3 favorites]


It seems to me that the incentives of the student and the University need to be aligned. I think higher ed should be free, but the university gets 10% of your pretax income above the poverty line for ten years.

A school that hands out worthless degrees should eat the cost, not some clueless 17-year-old.
posted by FakeFreyja at 11:47 AM on July 6


Tressie McMillan Cottom refers to "the education gospel."
She cites Grubb and Lazerson, phrase it like so:
education [is] moral, personally edifying, collectively beneficial, and a worthwhile investment no matter the cost, either individual or societal..."
Then specifies the economic aspect: “Education is good because a good job is good.”

She then shows how that faith is increasingly costly:
we increasingly demand more personal sacrifice from those who would pursue higher education: more loans, fewer grants; more choices, fewer practical options; more possibilities, more risk of failing to attain any of them…
posted by doctornemo at 11:50 AM on July 6


They actually made that illegal after you graduated college. IIRC, you have to present some proof of ability to repay (ie a job) to open credit card, and apparently you can't set up shop within 1000 feet of a college campus.

I had a brief moment of terror that you knew enough about me to know when I graduated. It's on the internet - probably MeFi - but you'd have to be looking.

Anyway, I'm very glad to hear that this practice is illegal. It got so many young adults into trouble before they had the wisdom to understand what they were getting into or the income to pay off their debt. I, very fortunately, got smart about money soon after but I know there were a lot of people my age overwhelmed by debt and high interest credit cards.
posted by bendy at 6:36 PM on July 6


Sometimes the $200,000 car is a $200,000 car.

A physics degree is inherently pretty expensive -- you need labs, equipment, support staff, highly paid faculty, grad students. That's OK since physics grads are usually pretty well paid in the end.

An English degree requires essentially nothing other than a faculty member's time (who is probably paid half as much as a physics faculty member). And it doesn't lead directly to any well-paid jobs.

So why is tuition the same for both degrees?
posted by miyabo at 8:26 PM on July 6


So why is tuition the same for both degrees?

In a sense, it's not. Advanced degrees are cheaper in the STEM, when you consider funding support via GRA/GTA positions. But I grant you, tuition is the same, and there's no reason to believe this is socially optimal, or even economically optimal.

My sense is that Master's / PhD programs in the humanities are treated as a vital revenue source, and that faculty grant funding is a rarity. I don't have direct insights into the typical English dept's budget, but we can napkin math it. A master's degree at U of O requires 12 five credit-hour seminars. Judging by the online enrollment system, these are limited to 15 participants, but the average enrollment is closer to 12. Tuition is roughly $320 per credit hour, so a seminar generates $19,000. And I imagine there's overhead both for the department internally and the university as a whole, but let's generously only round revenue down to $50k a year for teaching 3 grad classes. And these are courses taught by tenure-track faculty, which are in the $70-$90k range. Presumably the department shores up these salaries with the occasional grant, and undergrad courses.

So, given that arithmetic, I'm not sure how far one can cut tuition and still have a grad program. The more likely scenario is charging STEM students more -- the demand for degrees is there. But the demand for candidates is also stronger, and I've seen plenty of faculty on the CS / EE mailserv bemoan the dept's weak compensation plan costing them strong candidates. Nobody looks at a tuition waver's dollar value, after all.
posted by pwnguin at 9:05 AM on July 7 [1 favorite]


Paid Off is a game show about student debt: Maybe the show will become a huge word-of-mouth hit and TruTV can create more game shows to fill in the holes in the social safety net. Brush up on your general knowledge and you, too, could win a no-deductible gold health plan! Make it past a wall of spring-loaded boxing gloves and a labor organizer will come unionize your workplace! Name that tune and get your grandma on a waiting list for a nursing home that isn’t under investigation by the state! And if you get arrested protesting family separations at the border—well, considering that The Running Man was set in 2017, maybe you’ll get a chance to get pardoned on TV, too.
posted by grandiloquiet at 8:04 PM on July 9


Advanced degrees are cheaper in the STEM, when you consider funding support via GRA/GTA positions. But I grant you, tuition is the same, and there's no reason to believe this is socially optimal, or even economically optimal.

Tuition policies aren't set by the country. They're set by the state (and the university).

If you charged more tuition for a STEM graduate student, I guarantee you that that department would bleed professors, and it would also bleed high-quality graduate students.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 8:08 PM on July 9


Things that I often had impressed upon me as a child: Education is a virtue! Education will enable you to obtain satisfying employment and live a fulfilling life! Education will enable you to support yourself. The more education, the better! If you get good enough at saying words related to the Western canon, the world is your oyster!

A thing that I was told less often: Universities have, historically, served a gatekeeping function that has nothing to do with education and everything to do with class, race, and exclusion. They may function as educational institutions, but they are also private clubs.

The thing I ultimately learned as an adult: A private club's ability to confer success may have everything to do with its clubbiness, and nothing to do with education whatsoever.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 9:30 AM on July 10 [2 favorites]


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