The Debt Crisis
July 10, 2018 8:30 AM   Subscribe

“In some ways, I now think that one of the primary functions of the university, for the ruling class, is precisely to train a generation in indebtedness, in a state of being in debt.” ON UNIVERSITIES: ROUNDTABLE - what is a University for? (The White Review) - Season Of The Bitch episode 42: Debt as a feminist issue and possible solutions (1:03:52) - The net worth of college graduates with student debt is truly depressing (Market watch) - Competition: Find the craziest graph that shows how bad the student debt crisis really is (Twitter) - The Debt Collective, organizing as debtors and recourses against predatory lenders and collectors - The New Economy Project , what is the Soildairty economy? (Previously, Letter to an unknown lender. )
posted by The Whelk (136 comments total) 56 users marked this as a favorite
 
It’s hard to say exactly why the median net worth of young adults with college degrees dropped during this period, [...]

NO IT'S NOT YOU GODDAMNED MONSTERS
posted by ragtag at 8:42 AM on July 10 [55 favorites]


Jesus, the graphs in that Twitter thread behind the " Competition: Find the craziest graph..." link are bad individually, and as a group are downright scary.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:47 AM on July 10 [8 favorites]


What would happen if a meaningful percentage of student debtors went on a payment strike?
posted by uberchet at 8:48 AM on July 10 [2 favorites]


And on top of everything else, there's a new game show where the grand prize is getting your student loans paid off. Yeesh. I'm almost tempted to audition.
posted by Cash4Lead at 8:50 AM on July 10 [8 favorites]


Though it’s likely that these young adults with college degrees will ultimately pay off their student loan burden, the report captures a moment in time when servicing student debt may pose an obstacle to this group’s other financial goals, like saving for retirement or a home.

Well, yes, I'd say it's pretty likely it'll get paid off, since student loan debt isn't dischargeable in bankruptcy, so if you don't pay it off, you get your wages garnished for the rest of time. Which... yeah, I'd call that an obstacle to owning a home or retiring at 65, thanks for that clarification, magazine written by Boomer assholes who paid $11 a semester for college.
posted by Mayor West at 8:51 AM on July 10 [65 favorites]


I was listening to an interview with Marxist scholar (and academic) David Harvey this morning where he said - in a qualified and off-the-cuff way - that loan debt is a form of peonage that hints at a new feudalism.
posted by ryanshepard at 8:53 AM on July 10 [42 favorites]


As long as your ability to get stable housing is dependent on your credit, a payment strike would be actual madness and encouraging people to do it who aren't already in stable and affordable long-term housing situations would be irresponsible. I want the situation fixed, but I don't want people who already don't have good financial positions to destabilize themselves further to fix it.

Well, yes, I'd say it's pretty likely it'll get paid off, since student loan debt isn't dischargeable in bankruptcy, so if you don't pay it off, you get your wages garnished for the rest of time.

There's a third option, which is the track I'm on: You stay on income-based repayment until the plan ends and then you wind up with the rest forgiven, but by the time that happens, again, you probably don't own a home (or else you've just potentially created a big taxable event, woo) and your retirement savings have been lacking for the last twenty years.
posted by Sequence at 8:54 AM on July 10 [26 favorites]


I mean, David Harvey isn't wrong about that you know.

It's essentially indentured servitude to banks.
posted by deadaluspark at 8:55 AM on July 10 [8 favorites]


Jesus, the graphs in that Twitter thread... are downright scary.

Student loans are 50% of the federal government's assets?

Is that...is that right?

Oh my God.
posted by schadenfrau at 8:57 AM on July 10 [51 favorites]


There's a third option, which is the track I'm on: You stay on income-based repayment until the plan ends and then you wind up with the rest forgiven, but by the time that happens, again, you probably don't own a home (or else you've just potentially created a big taxable event, woo) and your retirement savings have been lacking for the last twenty years.

This is my plan, too, and I'm terrified that they'll change the rules sometime during the 19th year and I'll be on the hook for the entire amount + all the interest that's accruing. It kills my spirit to see my total balance increasing every month, despite my past several years of on-time payments. I almost want to take money out of my savings to pay the unpaid interest, just for the small morale boost it would give me. But that would be unwise. But I also don't trust anyone on the other side of this to fulfill their end of the deal.
posted by witchen at 9:04 AM on July 10 [18 favorites]


I mean, the thing about the federal government is that it also owns the indefinite right to collect taxes, but that isn't exactly included on the books even though most other things you would call a long-term entitlement to other people's money WOULD be considered assets, so I think that's kind of misleading as charts go. The government's ability to pay its obligations is not necessarily significantly derived from student loans just because it holds a lot of them, the way a business would collapse if it suddenly lost half its assets.
posted by Sequence at 9:18 AM on July 10 [10 favorites]


Forgive me because this isn’t really my area (aside from holding a fair amount of student debt on my own), but that 50% of government assets statistic... wow, does not actually surprise me? I haven’t been in college in years but I’ve really just been watching as tuition increases madly, and colleges build more and more new buildings and buy more property... and student loans are federally backed so I’ve assumed it’s the government paying for all of this? It seems like a giant scam placed on the backs of college students and I don’t entirely know what the end game is but I truly don’t believe it can continue indefinitely.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 9:43 AM on July 10 [3 favorites]


Federal involvement in higher education is having the exact same effect that it had on the housing market: fundamentally distorts the market and helps support a drumbeat that says: "everyone must go to college"...just like, "Everyone must own a home." This then draws more and more people into the market until it can no longer be supported.

This is what we're seeing now. It is exactly the same undercurrent that created the housing bubble. And like with the housing bubble - nobody forced anyone to purchase a home, but the 'general consensus' became that you'd be throwing your money away if you *didn't* buy a home. That a home was the one path to upward mobility and equity for retirement. That home ownership was the backbone of our society.

Once you've convinced everyone of that, the bubble blows bigger...until it pops.
posted by tgrundke at 9:59 AM on July 10 [9 favorites]


It seems like a giant scam placed on the backs of college students and I don’t entirely know what the end game is

You don't want to 'ask the internet' those questions. Some of the travellers roads lead to zerohedge, prager U or even Alex Jones. Those places are not compatible with the viewpoints of many MeFiites.

Those who are just thinking about the cost of education might want to consider the below:

As one of the only classes of hard-to-escape debt consider how much you like paperwork and how often you'll be filling it out. Perhaps MeFi'rs who have mentioned they are on the income based payments can speak to the paperwork load needed to stay complaint?

Thinking you could be immune from filling out social safety net paperwork by having a "good paying" job? San Francisco income levels sure make a short commute to work as a QoL issue paperwork worthy. Using the social safety net and making sure there is one TO use doesn't look like 'a problem for the poor' based on that reporting.
posted by rough ashlar at 10:00 AM on July 10 [2 favorites]


Posts like this make me weep but I feel slightly better knowing I'm not alone.
posted by k8t at 10:01 AM on July 10 [7 favorites]


Friends, I'm professionally obligated to remind you that the most plausible explanation for increases in college tuition exceeding inflation for so long is Baumol's cost disease and not administrative bloat or an amenities arms race. State divestment is also a likely contributor especially for public institutions.

But back on the topic of student debt: The massive amount of money involved is one of the primary reasons why some of us were so opposed to DeVos's nomination as Secretary of Education. Setting aside fears of nefarious schemes and graft, ethical and effective management of this money requires significant experience and skill that DeVos clearly doesn't possess nor is she likely to hire colleagues who do.
posted by ElKevbo at 10:04 AM on July 10 [15 favorites]


It seems like a giant scam placed on the backs of college students and I don’t entirely know what the end game is

You don't want to 'ask the internet' those questions. Some of the travellers roads lead to zerohedge, prager U or even Alex Jones. Those places are not compatible with the viewpoints of many MeFiites.


Serious question, seeing as I know a lot of tradespeople who are making very comfortable livings coming out of trade schools with minimal debt: why do you think it's a scam? What information was not provided to you prior to signing the loan paperwork, or what misdirection was given when you signed the acceptance letters?

I know it sounds snarky, but it is sincerely not intended to be so.
posted by tgrundke at 10:06 AM on July 10 [3 favorites]


I'm going to have public service loan forgiveness, I'm about 70% done, and I've had my months of employment certified. I was an early case so I hit some bumps in the road.
Via ask me I learned of a lot of resources on this. One piece of good news is that people who were accidentally paying into the wrong plan will get those months counted soon.

But I'm happy to chat.
posted by k8t at 10:09 AM on July 10 [7 favorites]


What information was not provided to you prior to signing the loan paperwork, or what misdirection was given when you signed the acceptance letters?

Well, part of the answer is a little above you, provided by, well, you:

This is what we're seeing now. It is exactly the same undercurrent that created the housing bubble. And like with the housing bubble - nobody forced anyone to purchase a home, but the 'general consensus' became that you'd be throwing your money away if you *didn't* buy a home. That a home was the one path to upward mobility and equity for retirement. That home ownership was the backbone of our society.

This is huge. This is why I didn't even actually look closely at my loan paperwork. I was 19, I was being pressured by everyone, especially my parents, to go to college, because I was a "smart kid" who did "good in school." I wanted freedom to go do what I wanted, and I would have probably been served better by going and getting a job and learning a little responsibility before I jumped into waiving my future earnings in exchange for a meager education. This was the year 2000, so most people still bought into this.

But no, I had my entire support network breathing down my neck that this is what I had to do, this is what everyone did, and I didn't know enough about the world or have enough self confidence to articulate my problems with it, so I just went along with it anyway.

I suspect the same goes for quite a large number of people pushed into this in their teens.

I mean, why do we expect teenagers to be fully understanding of complex legal documents of a financial nature? Especially when their parents are the ones helping them fill out all the forms? I mean, this is from a generation where most people don't even know how to cook because their families didn't teach them. My family nor my school taught me about finances, debt, and/or how to manage it. They also didn't teach me about how to be a good person, how to cook and clean up after myself and the like. Most of that I learned from the life of hard knocks and working shitty job after shitty job but striving to do my best at each.

But nope, let's shove complex financial instruments down teenagers throats, tell them its the only way to succeed in the world, and then question why they did it. Didn't they understand what they were getting into?

Of fucking course not. And that is very, very purposeful on the part of the banks capitalists. You can't grift something from someone who knows they're being grifted.
posted by deadaluspark at 10:16 AM on July 10 [69 favorites]


Student loans are 50% of the federal government's assets?

Is that...is that right?


I think that's just financial assets, so it doesn't include the real estate which presumably makes up the vast majority of the federal government's total assets, or, like, the battleships and physical goods.

So, still not good, but it's absolutely not the case that forgiving student debt would immediately wipe out half of the net worth of the federal government.
posted by Copronymus at 10:17 AM on July 10 [6 favorites]


I just made my first loan payment. I'm still unemployed. I hate this. I had an amazing time in college and do not regret it for a minute, but I do completely resent that I live in a country that punishes you for getting an education. When they say stuff like "you'll be the next generation of thinkers and doers," they're really just speaking to the rich kids who can afford it. Now you can't even complain if you're in debt, because whose fault is that? You could have gone to trade school like your brother in law; you know, he has no debt and he just bought a house while you were still working on that anthropology degree of yours.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 10:22 AM on July 10 [29 favorites]


You could have gone to trade school like your brother in law; you know, he has no debt and he just bought a house while you were still working on that anthropology degree of yours.

Nevermind that, at the time of enrolling, all your peers said it was your only option for a future... but now they say you should have done something different.
posted by deadaluspark at 10:24 AM on July 10 [17 favorites]


And like with the housing bubble - nobody forced anyone to purchase a home...

Many employers of "better" jobs now require a bachelor's degree even to apply, meaning that lifetime income is limited for those with only a high school diploma or GED. Renting is a real alternative to buying a house, and often a better choice, economically -- but there's no substitute for "more money."

(I work at a .edu that requires a BA/BS for most jobs, which I object to all the time, but HR stands form.)
posted by wenestvedt at 10:29 AM on July 10 [24 favorites]


And that you should "do something you love," but you find out after the fact that it's only to only "love" finance, medicine, or law.
posted by witchen at 10:30 AM on July 10 [11 favorites]


I understand why we always talk about how college is what everyone was told to do, etc., and certainly we can reconsider what the right path is for some people. But I feel like the more significant thing is that college costs way more money than it did a generation or two ago. Even in my lifetime, community college here in California used to cost $11 a credit. Now it's $46. My grandparents both went to UC Berkeley in the 40s, and their tuition was free. It is now roughly $15,000 per year for in-state students, and about $50,000 per year if you're out of state. For a public institution. And they're still struggling for funds, thanks to a reduction in government support.

I'm in debt because of a BA that I got for the promise of job prospects, so I understand frustration over that. But I feel like we tend to focus on that to the exclusion of other factors. Student debt isn't only a problem because people are just too foolish to make practical financial choices, it's a problem because the cost of everything has risen dramatically, from tuition to housing, to basic healthcare. Meanwhile, I'm paying 13% interest on a variable interest rate loan I got 10 years ago. Yeah, my financial literacy was a factor in being stuck with that loan, but maybe some culpability rests with the companies that charge students fuckin' 13% interest. I still have federal loans from back then with 6.4% interest. Don't get me wrong, we can certainly reconsider who needs to go to school, and certainly we can encourage people not to go into debt, but I don't think the debt holders built those steep graphs all by themselves, if you get what I mean.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 10:41 AM on July 10 [25 favorites]


Yeah, my financial literacy was a factor in being stuck with that loan, but maybe some culpability rests with the companies that charge students fuckin' 13% interest. I still have federal loans from back then with 6.4% interest.

Let's just call it what it is. Usury.

Wasn't that supposed to be a fucking sin?
posted by deadaluspark at 10:54 AM on July 10 [23 favorites]


What I find frustrating is that, as an academic and an instructor of classes, I have no say about what my students pay in order to attend the university where I teach, and I have no say about what my students pay in terms of their loans. As a grad student who independently taught my own classes, my salary and tuition waiver were paid after 5 students registered for my class and paid tuition. The money for the other 40-70 students per semester? I don't know where that all went. Some of it to building upkeep, some of it back to the department, but ... I could not tell you what the thousands and thousands of dollars went. I don't know how to opt out - I'm an academic and a researcher and a teacher and I love what I do - but I don't want to be complicit in a bloated and exploitative system that keeps me bobbing along in the hopes of a permanent position while my students incur hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of debt and I'm still struggling to pay off mine.
posted by ChuraChura at 10:55 AM on July 10 [22 favorites]


college costs way more money than it did a generation or two ago

I think I've mentioned this exercise I do with my academic audiences. I simply ask every person - professor, librarian, technologist, grants officers, etc. - to raise their hands if they're still paying off their student loans. I raise my hand to get things started (I'm 51).

Inevitably a forest of arms shoot upwards, followed by more hesitant arms (not because they weren't sure if they were paying, but because, I think, they didn't want to risk embarrassing themselves). The numbers have varied between crowds, but they reliably fall between one third to 60% of the audience.

There are always people who looked shocked at what erupts around them. Often they are older.

It's a fine discussion prompt.

(Well, except for one time when things backfired. Small group, around 20, mostly faculty, and one prof insisted that loans were high because students wanted to live in luxury. "They're using debt to buy nice sofas and cars!" he snarled. He was, by far, the highest status person there, a real star for their program, so nobody responded out loud, but looked away.)
posted by doctornemo at 10:56 AM on July 10 [15 favorites]


"servicing student debt may pose an obstacle to this group’s other financial goals, like saving for retirement or a home."
Yes, one knock-on effect of ballooning student debt is increased personal hardship. It also impacts the larger economy, as the holders are less likely to buy cars and houses.
posted by doctornemo at 10:56 AM on July 10 [2 favorites]


And that you should "do something you love," but you find out after the fact that it's only to "love" finance, medicine, or law.

Can't speak to the other two, but... not law. Definitely not law.
posted by asperity at 11:03 AM on July 10 [13 favorites]


I work in the future of education, and it's fascinating to see how people discuss student debt.

Often times people - professors, administrators - do not want to raise the topic at all.

When it does come up, perspectives vary widely. Setting aside the jerk I mentioned in previous comment, you'll find people who underplay the crisis, either from sheer ignorance ("I paid for college by working part time in summers; why can't kids these days?" <-it's truly depressing how many times I've heard that. From academics.), working at a rich campus, or a political desire to resist the marketization of the academy. There are also the opposite, people freaked out by media stories of extreme debt.

Rarely do I hear economists mentioned, including people who've researched this topic (Robert B. Archibald and David H. Feldman, for starters).

I haven't seen many traces of academic debt-holders (i.e., people working in education who hold debt) organizing along that topic.

There is some anxiety that higher ed's desire to attract more students (for political reasons, and also to address the enrollment decline that's been going on since 2012 or so) will mean loading more people with more debt.

Overall, the American academics I see have been gloomy about the whole thing.
posted by doctornemo at 11:09 AM on July 10 [4 favorites]


I mean, why do we expect teenagers to be fully understanding of complex legal documents of a financial nature?

I wanted freedom to go do what I wanted, and I would have probably been served better by going and getting a job and learning a little responsibility before I jumped into waiving my future earnings in exchange for a meager education. This was the year 2000, so most people still bought into this.

And of course, this is the problem of herd mentality. We humans are prone to it. "Everyone else is doing it, so I better get on board now as well".

I'm not criticizing you, merely pointing out that this is a trap that everyone falls into:
1. Everyone is getting married, I better do so as well;
2. Everyone is having kids, I better do so as well;
3. Everyone is buying an SUV, I better do so as well;
4. Everyone is buying a house, I better do so as well;

This is how manias and panics form.

Listen, my parents and I had a very tough, but fair, conversation when I was 17 and looking at colleges. The schools I really wanted to go to didn't offer me any scholarships or price breaks. My parents flat out told me: son, we cannot help you afford those schools, you need to reign it in and focus on something more realistic both that we can help with, and you'll be able to afford.

Now on the flip-side, I fell for the housing scam and purchased in 2005, right at the top of the market. Why? Because it was "silly to rent", "a waste of money". Well, my neighborhood was pretty much decimated by the housing crisis three years later in 2008, and it's only today that prices are just about back to where they were in 2005.
posted by tgrundke at 11:14 AM on July 10 [7 favorites]


Friends, I'm professionally obligated to remind you that the most plausible explanation for increases in college tuition exceeding inflation for so long is Baumol's cost disease and not administrative bloat or an amenities arms race.

Faculty salaries (considering all faculty, including non-tenure-track) were up only 11% in real terms between 1975 and 2012. That's an annual growth rate of under 0.3%. I can't quickly find equivalent changes in tuition for the same period but here are some numbers on public in-state tuition and fees, which more than tripled between 1987 and 2017 alone, an annual growth rate of a little under 4%, a full order of magnitude higher than the growth in faculty salaries. It is very hard to see how Baumol's accounts for this difference.
posted by enn at 11:14 AM on July 10 [19 favorites]


Serious question, seeing as I know a lot of tradespeople who are making very comfortable livings coming out of trade schools with minimal debt: why do you think it's a scam? What information was not provided to you prior to signing the loan paperwork, or what misdirection was given when you signed the acceptance letters?

When I was 15, my parents signed me up for tens of thousands of dollars of unforgivable debt at a 12+% interest rate. (It would have been hundreds of thousands had I not had grandparents willing and able to help me out.) I was a child. The only things I knew about finances were what my parents told me. They told me that this was normal and okay and that it'd be fine. They lied to me. Worse, when I graduated and had obscene payments to make and the economy evaporated, they refused to believe me when I told them what was going on.

(Incidentally, I won the fucking lottery and managed to luck out of that hole and am on a reasonably solid financial footing now. But I live like a pauper to this day because I'm too terrified to do otherwise.)

There's a reason Millenials are completely disenchanted with America, our financial institutions, our religions, and even our parents. They're all trying to eat us alive.
posted by ragtag at 11:16 AM on July 10 [56 favorites]


Tuition has gone up (both public and private) for three primary reasons:

1. Student loan guarantees ensure that the school will get paid, regardless of whether you can pay
2. Supply and demand: everyone wants to go to college because they're told "they have to".
3. Students are demanding more amenities

Ohio has a lot of really good county, community and technical colleges that focus purely on the academics and are extremely affordable. In recent years, schools like Youngstown State, Cleveland State, Tri-C, Stark State and Akron U. have been booming because they are vastly more affordable than the alternatives. They lack a lot of the amenities, but provide a damned fine education and turn out some excellent students.
posted by tgrundke at 11:19 AM on July 10 [3 favorites]


The only things I knew about finances were what my parents told me. They told me that this was normal and okay and that it'd be fine. They lied to me. Worse, when I graduated and had obscene payments to make and the economy evaporated, they refused to believe me when I told them what was going on.

Jesus, that's rough - and what did they take those loans out for in your name at 15? I'm not dismissing your rather unique case, but on the aggregate, I don't think this is the situation the vast majority of college bound kids find themselves in.
posted by tgrundke at 11:22 AM on July 10


I don't know if it's because we're all exceptionally smart (not likely) or just lucky or what, but I'm part of a group of friends who's kids are going off to college at the same time and every single one of our kids was able to get scholarships (NOT loans) that cover most or all of four years of their educations. And when I say "most," I really mean most, with my kid about to take on the most debt of all of them: $6,000 total. For 4 years.

We range from lower class to upper middle class, and I think we were all very instrumental in our kids' college choices. We had frank, open discussions with them (and each other!) about finances and debt and what we could afford. They all chose colleges that were well within their reach, academically and financially. Several of the colleges my daughter was looking at had merit scholarship requirements listed right on their websites so she knew exactly how much she was going to get based on her grades and ACT scores. And they were 100% accurate.

I don't blame anyone who is underwater in student debt for the debt they incurred when they were children. I blame ALL of the adults in their lives at the time for letting it happen. There is absolutely no way in hell that I would allow either of my children, or any kid I loved, to sign their lives away for hundreds of thousands of dollars just for college. There is always, always another way.
posted by cooker girl at 11:22 AM on July 10 [11 favorites]


what did they take those loans out for in your name at 15?

These were federal student loans. I signed them went I started college. (I started college young, but can't speak to whether any other part of my experience is exceptional: as others have noted, my generation is pretty strongly discouraged from talking about it.)
posted by ragtag at 11:30 AM on July 10 [2 favorites]


We had frank, open discussions with them (and each other!) about finances and debt and what we could afford. They all chose colleges that were well within their reach, academically and financially. Several of the colleges my daughter was looking at had merit scholarship requirements listed right on their websites so she knew exactly how much she was going to get based on her grades and ACT scores. And they were 100% accurate.

And I think this is an important point to make, cooker girl. The reality is that we've got a generation of young adults who, like those who bought more house/bought at the wrong time, are now saddled with a debt burden as a result of "the norms" of the day.

I know of a lot of friends who, like you, are having these very frank conversations with their college bound kids. Like you, these are people who cover the spectrum from "can't afford anything" to "we could pay full boat at Harvard". But in all cases, the conversation revolved around what was appropriate, excessive, realistic and responsible.

Look, when I went to get approved for my mortgage in 2005 the loan officer called to tell me that I was approved for $425,000. I laughed and responded, "Sir, if you are willing to give me $425,000 on my salary, your Excel spreadsheet is horribly broken."

I was looking at homes in the $125,000 range, to give you an idea of what I knew I could realistically afford at the time.

This is a large part of what drove the housing market, and the economy as a whole, right off the cliff. We're doing similar with student loans today. And, at a certain point, each individual needs to do some basic math and realize that the amortization schedule on a 10 year student loan for $100,000 is......a lot of money. If you're not in a career path that's going to bring you $150,000 in income, borrowing that kind of money is crazy. The calculators are out there.

At some point, you've got to be honest with yourself.

Today, we can afford a lot more house...I'm just not willing to make the trade-offs in lifestyle.
posted by tgrundke at 11:33 AM on July 10 [6 favorites]


Tuition has gone up (both public and private) for three primary reasons:

1. Student loan guarantees ensure that the school will get paid, regardless of whether you can pay
2. Supply and demand: everyone wants to go to college because they're told "they have to".
3. Students are demanding more amenities


No, not really, maybe.

College costs have gone up because college-degree jobs have gotten more technical, requiring more skills and more staff, the costs can't be buried by offshoring, automation, or outsourcing, or by increasing class size (colleges are negatively rated on that measure) like other productivity enhancements are.

It may seem like every job in the US requires a college degree, but statically only 30% of US adults have a bachelors degree. It's more than ever, but still pretty low.

Finally, I think most would agree there is an 'amenity war' going on at colleges, but that's really them competing amongst themselves and using bond money and low interest rates, not tuition money, to make their universities better. It's not really students driving that, they are in the passenger seat and maybe enjoying the ride. Let's say it ends, and then you have the opposite problem - "we are not investing in our universities and they are crumbling" like every other piece of infrastructure in the US. It would not be a good thing.
posted by The_Vegetables at 11:48 AM on July 10 [5 favorites]


Let's just call it what it is. Usury.

Wasn't that supposed to be a fucking sin?


My high school paperback edition of The Merchant of Venice included a reproduced 15th-century anti-Semitic cartoon: a villainous-looking Jew proclaiming "I sueare I will haue all--both use and principall."

Nowadays we just call that capitalism, I guess.
posted by Faint of Butt at 11:55 AM on July 10 [2 favorites]


College costs have gone up because college-degree jobs have gotten more technical, requiring more skills and more staff

I get the argument, but I don't think that's the biggest driver of cost. Go into highly specialized field such as medicine, law, engineering, etc., and sure, you're going to see the costs associated with those degrees go up.

That's simply not the case for the majority of liberal arts majors in political science, sociology, literature, history, etc.

Plus, those who elect STEM type programs tend to be higher paid out of school.
posted by tgrundke at 11:57 AM on July 10 [1 favorite]


And yet, there is a couple of billion dollars a year of scholarship funds no one bothers to apply for. I went through both my undergraduate and graduate programs without a penny of debt, and I didn't come from money. There are supports and lots of them for every level...but say this and people claw your eyes out, while you have first year undergraduates going in with six to seven figures worth of scholarship money, and while they are very good students, not all of them are at the top of their class.

I have nagged people into looking and applying, and they've gotten a nice chunk of change that offset the debt they would have otherwise had, but you have to work and find those. You do have to do your research, and sometimes you can go to certain corporations and organizations and get private funding, too. I always suspected the "magic wand" theory of what a university degree is has made the mess even bigger -- just get that degree and that's all you need, and it's hardly that at all.

It would very refreshing if the narrative shifted from constantly blaming some They for these problems -- sometimes you do have to go and find ways to make it through without debt. I think universities do err in not driving the point to potential students that there are scholarships and far more than what their high school slops together on a sheet of paper or web page -- and that the onus is on them to prepare their funding, and if they have guidance counsellors, take advantage of it.
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 11:57 AM on July 10 [3 favorites]


There is always, always another way.

Not all of us were in a position where we were ever going to be eligible for significant scholarship money, no matter how far we went down on the list of schools. I'm glad your kids did that well in high school, but like... a lot of kids don't do that well in high school, and are still presented with the option of either going to college or not being able to earn a decent living. The whole viability of this plan depends on there being a lot of students that attend those schools who do actually pay tuition. And not all adults have either the knowledge to make these sorts of things happen, or the time and energy to actually do everything they need to do to actually manage their kids' studying and homework as well as their own jobs and life commitments.

This is also non-viable if you don't start college immediately after high school; the merit scholarships dry up fast.

So this kind of thing helps for a certain level of like... high-achieving child with reasonably educated parents who fits into a certain life plan, but I think it's a mistake to assume that represents a huge portion of those with student loan problems now. Yeah, these are "the norms", but I'm not seeing really great alternatives for middle-class income that don't involve college for kids where college is not going to happen for free? Yeah, trades and stuff, except the trades are not actually prepared to absorb a million more graduating high school students every year. So even kids who aren't academically high-achieving head off to college, and yeah, a lot of them don't even finish, and they don't wind up in living-wage jobs, and they've still got the loans to show for it, but it's those people that need a solution most. And I don't think the solution should be that they need to learn to be happy on $10/hour and never even try for better.
posted by Sequence at 11:58 AM on July 10 [23 favorites]


It would very refreshing if the narrative shifted from constantly blaming some They for these problems -- sometimes you do have to go and find ways to make it through without debt.

+1

There are always going to be cases that are heartbreaking, but based on the evidence I've seen, the preponderance of stories about massive student loan debt tend to boil down to: I really didn't think too deeply about it and the next then I knew, I had $50,000 to repay and a degree that has me making $35,000 per year.

It is avoidable. It's not always a happy story, but then again, life isn't always a happy story.
posted by tgrundke at 12:00 PM on July 10 [2 favorites]


This is a large part of what drove the housing market, and the economy as a whole, right off the cliff.

Also no. There is no real evidence that 'risky lending standards' and people taking on giant loans was what caused 'the housing bubble'. What caused the economy to crash was The Fed, crushing growth to contain inflation. The inflation The Fed works to contain is rising employee wages, regardless of the data that wages were actually rising. So the difference now is that The Fed governors are looking for that data, which we know now is constrained by all sorts of economic factors that aren't relevant here.
posted by The_Vegetables at 12:01 PM on July 10 [5 favorites]


That's simply not the case for the majority of liberal arts majors in political science, sociology, literature, history, etc.

You are making a bad assumption that the number of people who are choosing STEM vs liberal arts are equal. They are not.
STEM rise
Since the Great Recession, the number of STEM majors in bachelor’s degree-and-above programs has mushroomed, going from 388,000 graduates in 2009-10 to 550,000 in 2015-16—43% growth. And degrees in the humanities, programs like philosophy and foreign languages? They’ve declined -0.4%.

Different link with actual percents of degrees:
538 % of degrees for various colleges
posted by The_Vegetables at 12:04 PM on July 10 [3 favorites]


Yeah, trades and stuff, except the trades are not actually prepared to absorb a million more graduating high school students every year. S

But actually, yes, they are. I know many tradespeople, from carpenters to plumbers, tool and die repair people, electricians. They are *desperate* for good employees. Why? Because "nobody wants to be a plumber, they're all told to go to college and get a degree".

Well, the three plumbers I know well are all making 6 figure salaries and have zero student loan debt. They're also some of the smartest problem solvers I know.
posted by tgrundke at 12:04 PM on July 10 [4 favorites]


I have so much rage about student loans I can't possibly express it all here right now. But I would like to share the contents of an email I received this morning from the state university I currently work at. The gist is this:

Due to lack of resources, we are cutting the following programs:
-Center on Aging [p.s. we live in one of the most rapidly aging states in the country]
-Center for cross-cultural exchange between the US and China [lol our former governor is the ambassador to China]
-Program which helps people with disabilities access assistive technology [are you fucking kidding me]
-Center for Bettering Higher Education [irony!]
-Labor Center [not surprising, we basically got rid of unions too this year]
-Program to provide dental care to rural communities [our state is like 90% rural and our healthcare sucks]
-mobile museum to bring exhibits to rural communities

Not totally cut, but budget seriously reduced for:
-Program to improve understanding of pressing issues through multidisciplinary efforts
-Center for Agricultural Safety and Health [lol, most of our state is farming but fuck them I guess]
-Program for assisting students who are veterans or enlisted members [wowowowowow]

Meanwhile, out-of-state tuition for the professional doctorate program I completed here is $50,000 a year and 90% of students pay for it all in loans. Oh and also our football coach makes $5,000,000 a year and has a private jet.

If it weren't so real it'd be hilarious. Fucking hell.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:04 PM on July 10 [28 favorites]


[tgrundke, you've made your point pretty clear, maybe take a step back and let other people discuss for a while.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 12:04 PM on July 10 [7 favorites]


Having just been in college, I never got the sense that students were demanding more amenities. Schools add that stuff because it's easy to advertise, but I certainly never saw the students themselves demanding extravagant shit that would drive up tuition by any appreciable amount. Students would complain that they were overworked and exhausted, and the school would very excitedly install two "nap pods" on the top floor of the public library, or bring llamas to campus during finals week, but even that is a drop in the bucket.

Reductions in public funding, on the other hand...
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 12:06 PM on July 10 [18 favorites]


There is no real evidence that 'risky lending standards' and people taking on giant loans was what caused 'the housing bubble'.

Vegetables, you are partially correct: it wasn't the only thing, but it was a very significant component. When you make money cheap, investors make lousy risk decisions. Investors also start demanding a return wherever they can get it. When the feds relaxed laws on capital controls and lending standards, it was a free for all - the brokers starting giving loans to anyone who could fog a mirror, regardless of whether they could pay for it.

And why not? If you're a mortgage originator you write the paper, collect a fat fee, sell the loan and have zero risk because Fannie/Freddie or other financial institution was buying that note.
posted by tgrundke at 12:08 PM on July 10 [2 favorites]


Wouldn't be a student loan thread without that "blame the stupid borrower not the broken system" guy.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:14 PM on July 10 [51 favorites]


3. Students are demanding more amenities

Yeah, I don't get the sense that students are thinking too hard about "amenities," much less demanding them. It seems a lot more like schools are making needed repairs to infrastructure (fine) and/or installing quirky extravagances (like the above-mentioned nap pods and llamas) because it will look fun in the alumni mag. Students are just like the rest of us, and want habitable living spaces, nutritious food, and the ability to work and live comfortably. They're not demanding in-dorm spa treatments.

This is similar to the thing where millennials supposedly crave participation awards. It's not that they're demanding these things; it's that the people in charge are offering them and making a big production about it.
posted by witchen at 12:15 PM on July 10 [22 favorites]


college costs way more money than it did a generation or two ago

Way, way, way more. Four years at Penn State in the early eighties left me with something like $3k in debt. I paid most of my tuition by working for an HVAC installation company over the summers and the loans were for just for living expenses.
posted by octothorpe at 12:18 PM on July 10 [4 favorites]


I'll add that despite the debt I'm in, I DO NOT regret my degree for a second. I'm very proud to have a degree in anything, and I'm especially proud to have a degree in anthropology. Many of my classmates were first in their families to go to college, many were studying ways to better advocate for the needs of their tribes, or were studying practical measures for fighting institutional racial and gender discrimination.

These conversations always get steered towards how foolish it is to pursue anything like that. That diminishes the very real value of these studies. No, college is not for everyone, nor should it be. No, a BA should not be an arbitrary job requirement, and no, you shouldn't demand that people take on debt to get bullshit degrees they don't want. But these degrees are not intrinsically without value, and they aren't any less important because the system is heavily weighted against anyone but the most wealthy getting them. We talk, on the one hand, about how much representation matters, then turn around and dismiss the thought of pursuing certain avenues as if it's simply natural that things are the way they are, that's just the way the cookie crumbles.

I mean, I might be naive. I just made my first loan payment, so check in with me in like 10 years, ha. I'm looking down the barrel of a high-five-figure debt, knowing that by the time it's paid off (in my 60s, according to the calculator thing) I'll have paid many times what I was originally lent. I accept responsibilities for the mistakes I made (which are leigion), but I'm not going to let lenders off the hook, and I'm not going to forget that my school has seen a steady reduction in funding for decades. Man, I don't know, I don't want a future where the only people going in for anthro degrees are the rich kids who can afford little dalliances with the social sciences. It'll be a return to the early days of the field, with Malinowski being carried around on a litter by the subjects of his study.

Fight the system, not the students.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 12:24 PM on July 10 [26 favorites]


I'm not seeing really great alternatives for middle-class income that don't involve college for kids where college is not going to happen for free? And I don't think the solution should be that they need to learn to be happy on $10/hour and never even try for better.

That's not what I was saying at all, and by saying there's always another way, I wasn't simply saying that everyone should go out and get smart so they can get merit scholarships.

There's community/2 year colleges. This is an incredibly viable way to start a college education, often free of charge or very affordable for pretty much everyone. It's not super sexy like Yale or Harvard or whatever, but many of my family and friends started this way and have found their definition of success, without incurring huge debt burdens in the process. Many community colleges have reciprocal deals with their local state universities where students start their degrees at CC and end up at the state school but still pay the CC tuition.

There's trade school/apprenticeships. Of course there aren't hundreds of them just waiting for people, but they exist and if there's a kid who would rather apprentice to a plumber than go to a four year university, everyone who loves that kid should support her, regardless of anyone else's aspirations for her.

There are the far more affordable State four year universities. If you don't go to the flagship one (generally more expensive), you're more likely to be able to afford it. You don't have to go full time, either. My niece paid for her college degree by working at the same time. Yes, it took her longer, but she had zero debt when she finished (and her employer ended up promoting her because of her degree).

There are tons and tons and tons of outside scholarships that yes, you have to really look for, and yes, you have to write another essay, but someone's going to win that money so you might as well try for it.

And some kids don't want to go to college in any way, shape, or form. We shouldn't force them to go.
posted by cooker girl at 12:28 PM on July 10 [5 favorites]


As someone who missed out on multiple scholarships that would have severely reduced my debt, I think you're right, cooker girl. This was before I had much academic success to speak of, but there was still stuff I was eligible for, that pretty much everyone was eligible for. I just didn't know about any of it until it was too late. One concrete step we can take now is to find ways to connect students with the aid that would benefit them, because there are so many programs out there, and it can be so hard to know they even exist.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 12:31 PM on July 10 [2 favorites]


Yes, absolutely. I said somewhere else that I think I missed my calling as a high school college/career counselor and I really mean it. I would 100% love to be in the trenches, helping families figure out next steps. There are so many resources out there that I know of precisely because I'm an engaged parent (who probably spends way too much time at work researching scholarships). I would love to give some of that attention to kids who don't have the same resources as mine do/did.
posted by cooker girl at 12:33 PM on July 10 [2 favorites]


There's a third option, which is the track I'm on: You stay on income-based repayment until the plan ends and then you wind up with the rest forgiven, but by the time that happens, again, you probably don't own a home (or else you've just potentially created a big taxable event, woo) and your retirement savings have been lacking for the last twenty years.

After almost nine years working with disabled veterans, I'm finally in a new job where I'm eligible for student loan forgiveness in another ten... but only for my federal loans. I also have private loans, and the only way out of those is if I become permanently disabled.

What information was not provided to you prior to signing the loan paperwork, or what misdirection was given when you signed the acceptance letters?

Well I didn't know I was going to graduate right after the crash in 2008, for one thing. I also didn't know that I would develop autoimmune disease a few years after I graduated, or how expensive it would be to treat, or how bad my insurance would be.

Before that, though... after college, which I graduated from with honors, it turns out that no one hires people with linguistics degrees. I worked a series of shitty temp jobs and a stint at the comic book shop I worked at prior to college, and couldn't even get interviews for things that should have been in my range. I went to law school so that being smart and educated would work for me instead of against me, and because I figured it'd be something of an iron rice bowl.

As far as what was not provided to me in the paperwork, I have no idea - there is no law requiring truth in lending for student loans.

I have a stable job now, but my ability to pay rent isn't much better than it used to be because my loans take a third of my income every month. What I owe the feds is actually going up, not down, despite my regular payments. I'm going to try to get on a forgiveness program that covers my federal loans while I'm still working, but they often don't grant this to people who went to school out of state and I live in a different state than I went to school with in part because I can't afford to live in the state I did go to school in.

As far as being part of a payment strike goes, I'd lose my license to practice, and from there my job, my credit score and thus my ability to rent an apartment, and my ability to feed myself. It's all well and good to be all "you have nothing to lose but your chains" but the way staying on top of student debt has been incorporated into so many other things, that's just not true.
posted by bile and syntax at 12:35 PM on July 10 [14 favorites]


College education should be free. Student loan contracts should be voided as against public policy. (This is unlikely to happen, but I'll assert it nonetheless.)

One actionable thing you can do right now that would help all debtors, not just student loan debtors, is to find out the rules for garnishment in your state and lobby your state representatives to increase protections for alleged debtors. Most states adopt the federal guidelines (25% of disposable income or a limit based on minimum wage), but can provide more protections to debtors in their state if they choose to do so. Your state could lower the maximum threshold, limit the definition of "disposable income," provide additional procedural protections especially around default judgments, or shorten the statute of limitations for collection of certain debts, to name a few options.

Unless you're proposing we invent a time machine, saying "well you/your parents/your teachers/etc should have done X 15 years ago and then you wouldn't be experiencing Y in 2018" is not helpful. Those who already acted 15 years ago have no way to change their prior actions; those making the decision now are doing so in a vastly different economy so what could have worked in 2003 is not really relevant to what might work in 2018 (or what the HS class of 2018 will be dealing with when they graduate in 2022, or later if they go to grad school).
posted by melissasaurus at 12:36 PM on July 10 [16 favorites]


the most plausible explanation for increases in college tuition exceeding inflation for so long is Baumol's cost disease and not administrative bloat or an amenities arms race

Perhaps I'm being naive, but wouldn't this be, if not easy to determine, at least... not impossible to determine?

I mean, this is not like the behavior of mysterious new particles in the Large Hadron Collider. It's accounting. Money is going in, and money is going out. There were records in 1965, which assuming they haven't been lost, we should be able to compare to similar records in 2015, and say so-and-so has changed over the past half century. There are certainly lots of academic institutions which are more than 50 years old, so it ought to be possible to find good data.

And yet... I have never really seen a good hard-numbers comparison, but lots of theories and speculation. For what seems like the extinction-level-event problem in modern economics, it just strikes me as a bit odd.

On preview, I see enn found some numbers; taken at face value they seem to argue against the Cost Disease hypothesis—real wage growth in the higher ed sector seems to be below productivity growth in other sectors over the same period (which should tend to make teachers' and professors' non-automatable labor more valuable). If anything, that suggests that higher ed workers are making less today, relative to the opportunity cost of their time (what they could make doing something else, not teaching), than they were in the past. Certainly, it does not seem to explain the stratospheric rise in the cost of education.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:42 PM on July 10 [5 favorites]


3. Students are demanding more amenities

Well, also there are things that universities must do now that simply didn't exist back when College Was Cheap.
  • The accrediting body for the school requires them to track outcomes against teaching objectives at every level (as described here) -- from the school's mission statement down to individual assignments and quizzes. That all get tracked per school and degree program and course and class. It takes staff and software and computers that simply weren't needed in The Before Times.
  • A staff that handles information security is required to protect student data (FERPA), financial data (SOX, GLBA, various state laws), and other records against attackers who weren't a factor when there was maybe a mainframe in the basement of the admin building with only a dozen hardwired terminals. That accounts for a pile of bodies and software subscriptions and consultants and mandatory PCI compliance audits. (To say nothing of a big IT department for networking, staff computers, an online learning management system, distance learning software, &c., &c.)
  • Health care is now crazy-expensive for the employer, and so at places that can still afford to offer it, per-employee benefit costs are quite high (or so I am told by our HR staff).
  • We have been told that no one may teach a course without a master's degree in that field. That drives up staffing costs, and also means that professional staff can't teach (thereby requiring a faculty member, who costs another benefits package).
My oldest just finished her Freshman year, and with three other kids I am well aware of the costs. (Think Roy Scheider in "Jaws"...) But not all of these cost increases come from gold-plated Vice Deans or gigabit-to-the-frat waste. State- and federal cuts to education funding are real. This stuff costs.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:42 PM on July 10 [6 favorites]


Last year was the first year since 2006 that my total annual pre-tax income was higher than the total remaining student loan debt for my completed BA. For the first time in my life, I could theoretically pay off my debt if I worked for an entire year while spending money on literally nothing else. I've never been paid a living wage, ever. I work full-time at a salaried government position, and divided out I make less than $11/hour. And I'm trapped here, because I don't dare take on more loans to get some nebulous graduate degree to maybe get a better job than the BA got me, and I can't afford to ditch the decent employee health insurance and free housing with my parents here to go jobhunting somewhere else more promising.

Now my beater car, which I need to keep the job to pay my loans because there's literally no public transportation here, is about to die a slow automotive death. I've had to go on income-based repayment for my student loans, which will stretch my loan out longer and have me paying more money longterm in interest, because there's no way I could otherwise afford a monthly car payment. And through the Vimes bootstrap theory of economics, I can only either buy another beater car that will wear out in a couple of years and cost more in repairs than I pay for it, or I can buy a reliable car that will drown me back in debt with the auto loan and that I'll never be able to sell back like an investment because I'll need to drive it until it wears out. I can't actually help myself or get clear, I can only kick the can further down the road in the hope of averting bankruptcy and unemployment, without actually solving the problem.

And I know rationally that I am better off than the majority of working Americans, because I DO have a job, decent health insurance, housing and food, family as backup, a cat, priceless things. I still feel trapped and heartsick and underemployed, like I'm wasting my life.

I'm so resentful that my "full-time job" as a college graduate contributes to the fiction that employment rates are up. Every time politicians boast about low unemployment figures, I want to shove my 1040 form and my student loan interest statements down their throats so they can choke on my prosperity.
posted by nicebookrack at 12:43 PM on July 10 [26 favorites]


I have one kid halfway through a state university education and another one about to start at the same university. They're smart, so about half of one's tuition and 3/4 of the other one's tuition is covered by academic scholarships, and they're Pell-grant eligible, which covers a decent chunk of the rest. The older one works a couple campus jobs (all of which, after her first year, have been in her field and are real resume-builders as well as income) and covers the rest of her tuition that way, and the younger one will work on campus for extra money (and hopefully, down the line, the same kind of good experience) but really doesn't need a whole lot for the rest of her tuition.

I think there's a seriously good chance that they'll get out of undergrad if not completely debt-free, then only a thousand or two in debt. And one of the biggest factors in that is that the university they attend is down the road from us and they live with us, not on campus.

In a way I feel bad about it, because my parents (one of whom is a professor) were very big on the "living-away-from-home" maturation experience of college, but honestly, there's no way in hell we could afford that for one of them, let alone two, and they understand that these days, they're willing to swap that kind of maturation for another kind: the kind that understands that avoiding a minimum of $60K in debt apiece for the privilege of living in a dorm and eating chicken fingers in a cafe every night for four years is VERY much worthwhile.

All told, I'm very curious about how much of the average student loan debt is for living expenses, rather than tuition or related academic costs, and that's something that I don't see come up in discussion too often.
posted by dlugoczaj at 12:47 PM on July 10 [6 favorites]


I get so frustrated when we blame student debt on students for being naive and making bad choices.

I mean, yes. There is a lot of naivité involved. At eighteen most of us don't have a good understanding of the financial consequences of our decisions and we aren't sure how to minimize harm. We might choose a school that's too expensive and a degree that isn't right for us.

But the other side of the coin is an increase in the necessary credentials to even be considered for decent, stable employment. I would now need at bachelor's degree to be considered for many of the same jobs that my parents' generation got straight out of high school.

Young adults with a college degree still do better financially, on average, than students without one. They have higher salaries and less unemployment. A degree doesn't guarantee a better financial future, but young adults are playing the odds; there are no guarantees anymore, unless you expect to inherit family wealth.

Trade school is a good option for some; it's not a systemic solution because not everyone can go to trade school. Just like telling everyone to go to law school isn't a systemic solution. We tried telling everyone to go to law school and we ended up with too many law graduates at a time when firms were paying less for more.

In my hometown, there's a waiting list for area nursing schools, and yet graduates have trouble finding full-time work with decent benefits. The conventional wisdom that there's a lot of nursing jobs hasn't caught up with the picture.

Students can't fix this by making better choices because their choices are largely "rock" and "hard place."
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 12:49 PM on July 10 [24 favorites]


Friends, I'm professionally obligated to remind you that the most plausible explanation for increases in college tuition exceeding inflation for so long is Baumol's cost disease and not administrative bloat or an amenities arms race. State divestment is also a likely contributor especially for public institutions.


....what profession? I certainly hope not 'economics' or anything to do with policy. I don't post much anymore, and so hope I don't sound too sharp, but this almost feels nostalgic -- no one of any seriousness has even really entertained that theory since 2013-2014, and even before we had the studies to fully debunk it, it was controversial and seemed institutionally propped up against more plausible explanations. Centrists spent a lot of time clinging to it to dismiss a prior generation of activists warning about the student debt crisis, but having been so thoroughly disproved they've sort of quietly moved onward and upward with little apology or little revision to their continuing quietism in what is clearly a crisis (cf: this thread).

Seems obvious with the benefits of youth / hindsight / analytic tools that even in undergrad Econ terms Bowen's Law (costs existing in relation to maximized possible revenue sources for "goods" like "education") would explain far better than Baumol's musings on string quartets. The very very short of it is: that is exactly what was demonstrated in 2012 by Hill & Carter. They showed that 84% of rising costs couldn't be tied to cost disease, a negligible factor in comparison to the near unlimited availability of federally subsidized student loans (which can only exist by being tied to coerced consumers that also cannot legally discharge this debt...a near risk-free extraction of human capital). Later studies have not only shown student loan availability to fully explain tuition distortions in non-profit private colleges (so beyond the real damage of state divestment elsewhere) but have had near perfect observational conditions due to the 2011 PLUS loan regulations to show how less-available-revenue in hard dollars from low-income, loan-backed students caused several high-exposure universities to lower their tuition (a net tuition reduction of $487, published tuition of $1372). This lowering was paid for by cuts in the instructional apparatus, since administrative positions and grant-seeking operate as more crucial to revenue generation and the corporate nature of the contemporary university.

If you're interested, I really highly recommend Kids These Days by Malcolm Harris because it connects capital-extraction strategies of higher education and this slice of the debt crisis to a full, persuasive view of current society with no shortage of rigorous analysis and presentation of more than a decade of under-disseminated research. It, however, doesn't draw happy conclusions after it's case is made ("The series of historical disasters that I’ve outlined, the one that characterizes this generation, is a big knot. There’s not a single thread we can pull to undo it, no one problem we can fix").

It's a bit unreasonable to say "read a whole [tightly paced, very good] book and get back to me", especially if this is something you're returning to now, so here is an essay, a classic of the genre from the same author which (though from 2011, a bit out of date), remains accurate and provides a good foundation going forward. But also: "If tuition has increased astronomically and the portion of money spent on instruction and student services has fallen, if the (at very least comparative) market value of a degree has dipped and most students can no longer afford to enjoy college as a period of intellectual adventure, then at least one more thing is clear: higher education, for-profit or not, has increasingly become a scam...When the housing bubble collapsed, the results (relatively good for most investors, bad for the government, worse for homeowners) were predictable but not foreordained. With the student-loan bubble, the resolution is much the same, and it’s decided in advance."

Much of the point of this whole thread is gawking / pointing / screaming about that very bubble and its increase in size and consequence. We're at the point where the moderate reform proposal needs to be a debt jubilee and a rewriting of student debt regulations...the solutions other than that are probably unpalatable to most (the horror of acceptance or the requirements of a deeper, more lasting change).
posted by Chipmazing at 12:56 PM on July 10 [24 favorites]


Tressie McMillan Cottom, professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, wrote the book on this. It's called Lower Ed, and is both excellent and stomach churning.
posted by JawnBigboote at 12:58 PM on July 10 [3 favorites]


Well, the three plumbers I know well are all making 6 figure salaries and have zero student loan debt.

These three plumbers are extreme outliers. According to the BLS, the median wage for plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters is about $52,590. The top ten percent earn more than $91,810. (The bottom ten percent earn less than $31,470.)

Electricians: $54,000 median and the top ten percent earn more than $92,000.

Carpenters: $45,000 median and the top ten percent earn more than $80,000

Auto mechanics: $43,000 median and the top ten percent earn more than $65,000.

Except for auto mechanics, these aren't bad wages, but even if they don't require a B.A., most require at least an apprenticeship and often some trade school. More importantly, the $100,000+ earners are extremely unusual in all these trades. No one should go into these trades expecting to earn that kind of salary, nor should they cite those outliers to encourage others to go into those trades. It's either uninformed or irresponsible.

If I were going to recommend a trade with good earnings, faster than average growth, and low credential requirements, I'd recommend elevator installation and repair, with a median salary of around $75,000 and the top ten percent earning more than $115,000. But in general, the idea that the trades are an untapped goldmine that Johnny College is too snooty to pursue is a myth. I can't find median salaries quickly, but the average starting salary for graduates of 4 year programs in 2015 was about $50,000. They're coming out with loans of course, but with (on average) more opportunities to increase their earnings and a greater likelihood of working longer and earning more.

Economic concerns are only part of it, of course. Most of the trades are physically taxing with a high risk of serious injury, both of which reduce average career length and lifetime earnings. Personally, I took my plumber grandfather's advice: Don't ever underestimate the benefits of indoor work with no heavy lifting.
posted by This time is different. at 12:58 PM on July 10 [27 favorites]


My nephew got a very good private (Catholic, JROTC) high school education, he speaks Latin and is a great musician, and he has chosen to enroll in a two-year program that's aimed at a career.

No frats, no dorm, no salad bars for him: he's got a little apartment (no Internet or cable!) in rural Staples, MN, and will be earning a Heavy Equipment Operations & Maintenance Diploma from Central Lakes College.

In the first month he'll get a CDL -- and last week he started the mandatory, random drug tests that the state requires for heavy equipment operators. Hey, it's Real Life, kids!

But the graduates are all basically guaranteed a job when they graduate, and he'll get right to work, and...he's really excited about it! His older sister is at a traditional four-year college, his little sister is thinking about the Coast Guard, and who knows for the youngest one? But for him, this is right, and also it saves him from tons of loans for a degree he doesn't particularly want.
posted by wenestvedt at 1:03 PM on July 10 [2 favorites]


But actually, yes, they are. I know many tradespeople, from carpenters to plumbers, tool and die repair people, electricians. They are *desperate* for good employees. Why? Because "nobody wants to be a plumber, they're all told to go to college and get a degree".

I want to clarify here that it's not like the trades couldn't take a lot more people than they currently take right now. But like, there are less than a million plumbers total in the US, and I'm not joking that the number of people who'd need to be able to make a living wage without college is on the order of one million per year, or about 1/3 of the graduating class, because roughly 2/3 of the current graduating class is college-bound and only about half of those finish in six years. Very rough estimates here but I'm talking about magnitude, not the specific number. This solution is fine for an individual, but it does not solve the student loan crisis. The trades could take thousands more people per year, sure. A hundred thousand new plumbers a year? Every year? Indefinitely? That is not going to be sustainable, even though demand definitely looks high right now.

My individual student loans are a thing that could have been better if I'd done some stuff differently, great. But I'm actually fine, even if my student loans are crazy. Societally, we are not fine, not because some individuals couldn't absolutely come up with better ways to manage college or other job training, but because those aren't things that work if two million kids a year were all doing everything "right" by those standards. All of those tricks are still great advice on an individual level! And worth talking about! But they aren't systemic fixes and all the linked stuff here is about the systemic problem.
posted by Sequence at 1:06 PM on July 10 [10 favorites]


Except for auto mechanics, these aren't bad wages, but even if they don't require a B.A., most require at least an apprenticeship and often some trade school

The huge difference, of course, being that those apprenticeships are paid, and often the schooling is as well.
posted by drezdn at 1:07 PM on July 10


I worry that it might be too much of a derail to debate exactly why college costs so much in the U.S. but for those interested I recommend the aptly named book Why Does College Cost So Much?.
posted by ElKevbo at 1:21 PM on July 10


There are tons and tons and tons of outside scholarships that yes, you have to really look for, and yes, you have to write another essay, but someone's going to win that money so you might as well try for it.

I spent a ton of time digging for scholarships before college (which was also before the internet, thanks) and finding tons and tons of scholarships that I did not qualify for. The scholarships I got were through my college, for doing well. They helped, but it still took me until after law school until I got through my undergrad debt.

The line about unclaimed scholarships may be technically true, but in practice it is not necessarily true for any given person.
posted by bile and syntax at 1:24 PM on July 10 [15 favorites]


This lowering was paid for by cuts in the instructional apparatus, since administrative positions and grant-seeking operate as more crucial to revenue generation and the corporate nature of the contemporary university.

I don't mean to be rude, but are we supposed to take this seriously? Way to go Jack Welch. Tell us again how the 'corporate nature of the contemporary university' has to result in cuts in the educational mission of the university, also known as cutting off your nose to spite your face.


Every person who thinks loans have anything at all to do with college affordability should be taking a look at our *current housing market* which is higher than the crash in 2008, has much tighter lending standards, and higher prices, and does it by neglecting 1/3 of the population who can't get a loan because they have bad credit (ie: are poor). Don't like college loans? The solution is to get rid of the subset of people who can't afford college. Way to go! You solved nothing and made lots of other things worse!
posted by The_Vegetables at 1:26 PM on July 10 [3 favorites]


All told, I'm very curious about how much of the average student loan debt is for living expenses, rather than tuition or related academic costs, and that's something that I don't see come up in discussion too often.

For me, it was a lot. I think I've always lived paycheck to paycheck, and being in school full-time means reducing the hours you can work (yes, I know people who have worked 40 hours in school, but it's not reasonable to expect that of anyone). I did usually work part-time while I was in school, and it was enough to pay for food, but not enough to cover everything. More working hours meant less study time and less sleep, and eventually I had to cut down on work because I was severely sleep-deprived. I was lucky to eventually get need-based grants that covered everything, but there were a few years where loans were an unfortunate necessity. Maybe I would have been better off to just walk away without a degree, but I was already in debt by then, and I made the decision to keep going.

I did actually consider the trades at one point, but it's a good thing I didn't do it, because it turns out there's a slight kink in my spine (which I discovered after wrecking my neck at my library job).
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 1:28 PM on July 10 [2 favorites]


I was incredibly lucky, personally, in that I was very skeptical of student debt as a high school student (grad. 2008, so the warnings were trickling down but the recession hadn't hit yet) and wanted to go to college somewhere that was as inexpensive as possible so I would have minimal debt. My mother kept threatening that no one was going to take care of me out in the big bad world after I turned eighteen, and I believed her, and I was lucky: I lived in Georgia at the time, whose HOPE program will pay the in-state tuition for any Georgia resident with a 3.0 or better GPA. So I did get through undergrad debt free. I am the only person I know for whom this is the case except a) my sister, whose tuition at UVA (~$160,000 all told, I think?) my parents were in fact willing to pay out the nose for, and b) friends who also went through the Georgia public college system and kept their grades up high.

Even so, I had to fight and fight hard as a seventeen-year-old to make the choice to prioritize financial value over name brand school. My parents eventually pressured me to apply to ten "better" schools, more braggable schools, in addition to the solid college flagstate I attended. We had fights over whether I should choose Emory over UGA, with me pushing for the one that wouldn't leave me owing anyone else, even though I was very clear that I would be moving on for post-graduate education of some form after my undergraduate degree and wanted to minimize debt.

I think some people here underestimate the craziness that some parents approach college decisions with, and how aggressively some parents get competitive about how "good" the schools are that their respective children go on to attend. It is absurd.
posted by sciatrix at 1:29 PM on July 10 [7 favorites]


Cooker girl: I don't know if it's because we're all exceptionally smart (not likely) or just lucky or what, but I'm part of a group of friends who's kids are going off to college at the same time and every single one of our kids was able to get scholarships (NOT loans) that cover most or all of four years of their educations.

Sorry, I don't mean to threadsit, but this came up while I was typing my other response. I wouldn't say "smart", but your cohort is very likely to be high-information. Knowing not only what institutions to seek out, what words to look for (need-blind, institutional grants), navigating FAFSA deadlines, smart approaches to Common App, but also knowing what to *ask* and who to *trust* to find out what you don't know is a form of savvy your children and the collective efforts of your should be very grateful for. It is also rare (we're approaching 100 need blind colleges in America! Which is incredible and also not even 2% of accredited colleges that will process financial aid documents next year).

This is how I made my money for the last few years before leaving, consulting with families to navigate the (American) college admission system. It's a pretty saturated competitive field, and we were often brought in by wealthy people alongside help from private school or well-funded public school college counselors. The market supports, basically, an expensive tutor for adults (sometimes starting in 10th grade) on how to advise and change their kids so as to maximize prestige / scholarships and minimize debt levels. I was most comfortable with 12 clients, and that represented a full-time 60+ hour a week job *with* staff our company offered that took care of the things I couldn't. Most families can't afford that, shouldn't have to, and most crucially *don't operate like this*. Instead, most mid-to-high information families (and so much rides on the entire family unit, itself a huge issue) benefit from holiday party advice, quick google searches, and invisible systems that have done a lot of the work for them (i.e. the number one thing that Harvard or Amherst recruit for is being the type of person who could get in to Amherst, which starts much earlier than your junior year college tour). They hold down full-time jobs, have been saving sometimes since before birth for their children's higher education, and even with all that preparation and focus its still a volatile system with seemingly opaque outcomes. Most people aren't from those families, a situation lenders and recruiters exploit relentlessly. *Exposure* is the name of the game for colleges, which is why University of Phoenix plasters its name everywhere or Temple University ends up full of some of the smartest kids from hundreds of miles around mostly through branding, even though they could have gotten far more scholarships / grants elsewhere. It's still a high trust environment, which leads to people just taking at face value anything they've read in sales brochures or heard in literal pitch meetings for the colleges (disguised as "informational sessions"). Plus, even savvy people don't make "perfect information" decisions, often weighing things like "how will you get home for Thanksgiving" or "this name will make your uncle feel proud" equally against questions that represent entire career paths, networks to access, or an additional five figures of debt.

I still find my comparatively small amount of debt overwhelming (its about a downpayment on an apartment) and I was granted six figures of aid through navigating a byzantine system and often the almost stochastic kindness of others. I had several people go to bat for me because I "reminded them of them" or a teen in their life. I had a man in a financial aid office take a pen out of my HAND when I was ready to sign for a loan he then talked me out of, which has saved me thousands. Which only ever made me think of all the people who didn't get those very coded advantages (how I look, how I talk, how I knew to dress). You did a great job for your kids under the current system, but I think the take-away from that has to be "I worked so hard and it was still luck -- this can't be the path", rather than a humble "if I can do it anyone can". Better to not have mine fields than hope people behind you watched very carefully how you got through.
posted by Chipmazing at 1:46 PM on July 10 [26 favorites]


nicebookrack: I work full-time at a salaried government position..

You (and anyone else with student debt and working for a government or non-profit) should check if you qualify for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.
posted by fings at 1:59 PM on July 10 [3 favorites]


So I went to an undergrad institution that made an art form of luring kids in with scholarships and then pulling the rug out. They handed out merit scholarships like candy to high school students with good grades and SAT scores. There was a catch though: if your GPA went below 3.0 at any point, you permanently lost your merit scholarship. Sounds tough but fair... except that many of the students with merit scholarships (myself included) were in engineering, and the first two years were designed as a “weed out” period, where all classes were very intense and graded very harshly by craggy old fashioned professors. I knew a lot of (smart) kids who got overwhelmed and had some Bs and Cs the first year or two. Now they faced an agonizing choice: take out loans to pay full 40-50k (in 2005) per year tuition, or transfer, or drop out. A bunch of them stayed and paid through the nose for that privilege.

My dad put the fear of god into me by threatening to make me live at home if my GPA ever fell below 3.5, and I was a minor, so he could. I had merit scholarships and need based financial aid that covered my entire tuition and part of my living expenses when I started, and I kept my merit scholarship. I worked 6 month internships to pay for all my living expenses. No help from my parents. Sounds great, right? I’M PULLING MYSELF UP BY MY FREAKING BOOTSTRAPS EVERYBODY! IM DOING IT. Except my tuition went up by 1-2k every year. And the money I made on my internships made me ineligible for the need based financial aid I had the first year. So. I ended up with 25k of loan debt after 5 years. After doing just about everything right. And I count myself really, really lucky that it’s only that much.
posted by permiechickie at 2:08 PM on July 10 [15 favorites]


The_Vegetables: I don't mean to be rude, but are we supposed to take this seriously?

Never rude to clarify when you're confused! Yes :)

It is bad to make the work of colleges not "teaching" and the focus not "learning", the evidence is piled to the point of teetering that administrative bloat and the incentives of the current revenue system means that schools will near-always respond to reforms by cutting instructional offerings and overworking + underpaying contingent teachers, rather than reducing expenses elsewhere. The loan system is unconscionable, and whether or not you view the educational system as an intrinsic good or just something good for the economy, the un-dischargeable system of federal loans should be scrapped, forgiven, and replaced with a system of public universities that are free for students and meet demand, with allowance for private colleges to compete as an alternative however they can (probably, in the case of legacy universities with enormous endowments, by also being free but just as selective in order to continue to play the game of global prestige, and probably in the case of others by offering an experience so worth the cost you'd choose it over a high quality, free education). Market pressures compel administrators to operate in the style of corporate management maximizing revenue; eliminate those pressures and you're unlikely to re-develop the level of corporatization that riddles college now.
posted by Chipmazing at 2:10 PM on July 10 [1 favorite]


I was applying to colleges/scholarships just when Fastweb and the like were coming online, and I remember clicking through that ginormous list and wondering the cost/benefit analysis of spending, oh, 20 hours writing essays and whatever else they wanted versus just working 20 hours at my part time job and saving the money. With no real way to calculate your chances of winning a scholarship, how do you reasonably decide whether your 20 hours are better spent earning 150 actual dollars to do laundry in college or the tiny chance of winning $5000?

I never did get a single random 'outside' scholarship like those on Fastweb and, no humblebrag, I had a very good slate of academic performance + clubs etc. But so did thousands of other graduates that year, and every year.
posted by nakedmolerats at 2:12 PM on July 10 [9 favorites]


I went to a University of California. To be frank, my university spent a lot of money for buildings that no one really wanted, while thousands of us are still going to class and teach and TA in buildings that literally had a whistleblower investigation for asbestos exposure, where they proceeded to do absolutely nothing about it. They also are the humanities and social sciences buildings. Fuck all of it.
posted by yueliang at 2:19 PM on July 10 [7 favorites]


I'm also gonna be blunt - I have no idea who got enough scholarships to cover all of their tuition unless they were upper middle class with college admission counselors. nakedmolerats also reflects my own experience and I remember just feeling so puzzled and insanely low, and not at all prepared to write that many essays and articulate myself in that way. It was already hard enough to write a college admissions essay - who the heck gets enough time and coaching and training to personally express themselves that many time for money?

And I'm someone who was identified as a creative writer and helped into going to a summer program for creative writing. Seriously.
posted by yueliang at 2:22 PM on July 10 [12 favorites]


Also, a lot of those types of scholarships are for hundreds, not thousands, of dollars. So they will buy you maybe a couple of textbooks, or a month of rent. But they won't make much of a dent in your overall financial load. I got a "travel grant" for a couple hundred when I did study abroad, and it was a whole lot of paperwork (on top of the rest of my paperwork) for something that covered 20% of my plane ticket. 2/10 would probably not apply again.
posted by witchen at 2:26 PM on July 10 [8 favorites]


I was completely covered by grants and scholarships once I got to my university, but that's because I was a low-income student and there were specific programs in place for people like me. I consider myself extremely lucky. It was when I went to school before that I was really screwed, and I don't know how much of a difference grants and scholarships would have made, but I knew people who were getting pretty generous aid I would have been eligible for if I'd known (like, enough to live on). I can only speak to my own experience with this, though. For low-income students like me, there's a catch-22 of being eligible for some hefty aid, but also generally not having the resources to know about it. I mean, I'm a high school dropout, I don't know what the fuck I'm doing. If I hadn't been automatically enrolled in the grant program, I would never have known about it. Like I said, I consider myself extremely lucky. I absolutely would not have my BA if not for that aid.

Noted that available grants and scholarships don't help everyone, and I imagine it's the worst if you're above the cutoff for the kind of aid I got, but still can't afford anything because of how stupidly expensive school is.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 2:37 PM on July 10


One more personal detail. Our daughter grew up without any interest in spending money (homeschooling for a while + no tv + lots of punk rock might help explain this), and was very worried about higher ed's costs. So she researched and concluded spending her first year or two at a community college was the wisest course of action.

And it worked well for her. Even though we live in a state (Vermont) with obscenely low support to public higher ed, which means CCs are more expensive than most other states', her costs were much lower. She thinks the experience was quite comparable to what she would have had at a public or private 4-year.

Mentioning this among academics or wealthier people usually kills any conversation.
posted by doctornemo at 3:14 PM on July 10 [5 favorites]


Also, a lot of those types of scholarships are for hundreds, not thousands, of dollars. So they will buy you maybe a couple of textbooks, or a month of rent. But they won't make much of a dent in your overall financial load.

I was talking with my mother the other day and she reminded me that when I received a small scholarship like this from my high school's booster club, they didn't send the check until after the deadlines for payment for my fall semester had passed. (We were talking about what an unbelievably stressful time that was - and this was pre-crash, in 2004.) I hope that other organizations would process things in a more timely manner than that, but if they didn't, what recourse would you have? Just hope that you can make the initial outlays and treat the smaller amounts as reimbursements if/when they trickle in?

I'm happy for the people who found that these kinds of small awards made a difference, but I can't imagine taking them seriously as a substitute - rather than a supplement - for more substantial financial aid. I seem to recall most of the scholarships in that Ben Kaplan book being one-time payments targeted at high school seniors applying to colleges, too - what about the next three years?
posted by Anita Bath at 3:15 PM on July 10 [2 favorites]


I haven't made payments on any of my loans for a decade. Seems to be working out so far.
posted by runcibleshaw at 3:28 PM on July 10


why do you think it's a scam?

If you ask the internet search engines to return articles about issues surrounding higher education with "scam" the resulting places you get sent will be:
0) ITT tech or other places shut down by government.
1) education is a commie plot due to Marx listing it in the manifesto. Doesn't matter if it is a good idea of good government - in the Commuist Manifesto ergo commie plot.
2) variations on debt slavery.
3) eventually about how education was to provide workers for the industrial revolution/military standards/something else and therefore you are dupe/victim of a scam.
4) variations on the themes about how the money/education system is just another way for the well off/X%ers to seperate their kids from the masses.


There are plenty of nice, nuanced, thoughtful discussions about how education is being run but the word 'scam' is going to slant the search terms.

Because there ARE problems with how education is run. And how places hire. But putting the word 'scam' is not gonna lead you to places like rethinking schools. Or the people mentioned upthread. And where is education expense a thing you should take on if the world is becoming a gig economy or fast pattern recogonition/AI is going to be used in place of human processing in the labor markets. (or heck the data from the 2008 recession and the grads who walked into THAT job market.) I don't envy people trying to make what should pass as an informed decision about taking on the student loan debt. How many people 20+ years post-education would say "by God I *DO* feel I was 100% informed before I took on that debt/education!"?

But the second part of your question/position is interesting.

What information was not provided to you prior to signing the loan paperwork, or what misdirection was given when you signed the acceptance letters?

The ITT Tech centric response would be claims/promises outside of the binding contract of the loan about earnings have been made as an enticement.

But the world in the US of A after WWII with "excess" energy production and little competition is a tad different than the 1970s, which is different than the 2000's data interconnection, which is different than the present 2018 and just around the corner 2020. Each of the generations along the way to now have their own past to point at and then offer the advice to someone who the State says 'you are 18 and therefore you are an adult not needing a guardian unless you are spendthrift or have a medical condition that you can't make decisions.'

The 'do what you love' statements made by 50+ year old self-selecting well off people on youtube videos combined with 18 year old hormones/engagement with the world via output from the entertainment industry with a dash of 'here's a chart of what you can make' makes for, err, interesting conditions. Now toss in agreeing to contracts seen as just the table-stakes to get something via click-though-terms-to-get-a-service .... thinking about the long term costs where you are feeling full of potentional and all you need is the validation of that with a hunk of paper after 4 years and just a bit of debt sure seems manageable.

About the only advice I think I can give that isn't bad for the soon to sign up for college debt is "Figure out how to love paperwork." You are gonna be doing a whole lot more than the people who came before ya.
posted by rough ashlar at 3:36 PM on July 10 [1 favorite]


permiechickie, were we college freshmen together? That is what my school did too.

I realized during the second semester, that I wasn't going to make the cut, and fell into a huge funk and stopped even trying. I was a smart kid and good enough at math to understand the consequences of compound interest, and I knew I wasn't keen enough on any major to really pound through, so I dropped out before I took any loans. Most of my peers did take the loans. I felt like a failure for years but I have done all right for myself, and as these stories have come out, I know I made the right choice, I feel fortunate.
posted by elizilla at 3:37 PM on July 10 [2 favorites]


fings, thanks for mentioning the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. I hope it's helpful for other people. I've applied to be certified for it. Nonetheless, the PSLF program forgives the balance of qualified loans "after you have made 120 qualifying monthly payments under a qualifying repayment plan while working full-time for a qualifying employer," which means me working underpaid at this employer (or maybe hopefully at another better-paying gov't employer) while still making loan payments for ten years.

Also, the PSFL would only pay for a fraction of my current loans, as loans borrowed before 2010 from the old Federal Family Education Loan Program aren't eligible for PSLF unless I "consolidate them into a Direct Consolidation Loan. However, only qualifying payments that you make on the new Direct Consolidation Loan can be counted toward the 120 payments required for PSLF. Any payments you made on the FFEL Program loans or Perkins Loans before you consolidated them don’t count."
posted by nicebookrack at 3:37 PM on July 10 [7 favorites]


Well, the three plumbers I know well are all making 6 figure salaries and have zero student loan debt.
These three plumbers are extreme outliers.


They may not be plumbers so much as business owners. And may of had parents who helped them get into that business. For all the pipe-dreams on YouTube/be your own boss click-ads there is a path to wealth via effective running of a business with employees.
posted by rough ashlar at 3:50 PM on July 10 [5 favorites]


I had a fun conversation today with a guy whose daughter got an AA in another state and is now attending college in this one, and he wanted to make sure like, today, that she wouldn't waste the family money taking classes she didn't need because nobody had a way to prove right now today what classes transferred to what. And I really just wished I could say things like "Just stay in your home state! It'll be a lot easier and cheaper if you do that! Transferring between different states has no guarantees as to what equals what anyway! Also it's probably not worth that much money!"

Sigh.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:00 PM on July 10 [2 favorites]


Every time these student debt threads come up and we hear about how living at home and going to community college is so much smarter than having the college experience to which earlier generations aspired, I am reminded of adamdschneider's mordant 2012 comment: "You could madlib this into some kind of boomer creed. I had it, but now that I have had it it is of course not important and you don't need it."
posted by Ralston McTodd at 4:26 PM on July 10 [18 favorites]


It's a double-whammy, because one the one hand people will give you a hard time if you didn't live frugally, eat naught but ramen and live with your parents while studying STEM at community college, and on the other hand people keep writing thinkpieces about the sad state of today's youth, with their extended adolescence and living at home instead of moving out at 18 and learning to be independent like we did, dammit.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 4:31 PM on July 10 [16 favorites]


I actually think it's a big problem if people don't get to live independently at some point during the 18-22 years, mostly because everyone I know who didn't at least move out from mom's briefly during those years has never moved out at all in their thirties (and some of them are terrible about working too) and doesn't seem like they can or want to either. But maybe it's different for the uh, snake people. If nobody's going to be able to afford to move out, then that's how life goes. Helicopter parenting is in and relying on parents for longer is either the new hot trend or what people are forced to do.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:44 PM on July 10 [1 favorite]


Nevermind that, at the time of enrolling, all your peers said it was your only option for a future... but now they say you should have done something different.

I graduated from law school in 2008, like three months before the collapse of Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns. I’d argue we were the last class to graduate with a widespread, relatively well-founded belief that Law was a good economic choice. We had made some pretty steep bets on ourselves and they had paid off.

I have whiplash from how fast America decided that we had made an obvious mistake, going to law school in 2005 when the economy was ticking along nicely. People who made gallows jokes about their 401k being a 201k told me I should have seen it coming. It was my own fault. Nobody promised me a career.
posted by gauche at 5:00 PM on July 10 [10 favorites]


Most of the trades are physically taxing with a high risk of serious injury, both of which reduce average career length and lifetime earnings. Personally, I took my plumber grandfather's advice: Don't ever underestimate the benefits of indoor work with no heavy lifting.

...and to those, in this thread and beyond, wondering how college and paying for it got so out of hand, this is the crux of it.

It does baffle me that there are so many young people going to college without much aim, let alone a goal. I would have loved to go to college. Purely for my own edification. To this day I can't dream of what I'd do with any degree that would have interested me. There was no way my parents could have afforded to send me. Even if they could have, I don't think I would have taken their money in good conscience. And there's no fucking way in hell I was going to take out loans to learn esoteric ideas and think complex thoughts, only to be stuck with debt, working a job that actually interested me and utilized my skills appropriately. My only regret is my stupid fucking high school fancied itself purely college prep, and offered absolutely no help to me as far as guidance goes. Worse than no help. They were a hindrance. It was all college, because college. And this was in 1985!

BTW, there are trades that don't involve climbing high tension towers or sticking your hands next to tree shredders. Sheesh. Physically taxing and risk of injury suits me far better than burnout and despair in some cubicle to service a student loan debt.
posted by 2N2222 at 5:17 PM on July 10 [3 favorites]


Why not go into the trades? Well
posted by The Whelk at 5:47 PM on July 10 [4 favorites]


As an aside, in case you need a bit of levity while you rip up that fucking loan statement and burn it in a hell fire for all of eternity, enjoy a bit of John Mulaney calling bullshit on the neverending alumni office letters that barely attempt to hide their GIVE US MORE MONEY! swindle:
"...In their letter they were like, 'Hey! It's been a while since you've given us money!' and I was like, 'Hey! It's been a while since you've housed and taught me! I thought our transaction was over? I gave you $120,000 and you gave me like a weird cinder block room with a Reservoir Dogs poster on it and the first real heartbreak of my life and probably HPV and then we called it a day...'"
posted by bologna on wry at 5:51 PM on July 10 [9 favorites]


My first university recently sent me a plaque honoring me for being a "40 under 40" alumni. Thing is that I didn't graduate from that university. They've just mixed me up with another Runcible Shaw.
posted by runcibleshaw at 5:55 PM on July 10 [3 favorites]


The elephant in the room here is really social class.

The trades are hiring. My god, are the trades hiring! If you are committed to putting in hard work that involves your hands, you not only can get a job, you can often get paid for being trained to do a job.

But we still have in our heads that office workers, that people who do 'work with their minds' are better, inherently purer, than people who do work with their hands, and that is what makes more people who are physically capable of doing it turn away from well paid manual labor. It's not about the money - it's about what other people will say. You want to make money? Train to be a boiler inspector. It's decent employment as stable as any other employment and sometimes more so. It's just not white-collar employment. Plumbers, for example, make way more money than staff at a nonprofit, and yet there are tons of starry-eyed interns lining up every year to have a chance at the latter, and few indeed willing to do the former.

The Whelk is correct that the trade unions which act more as guilds than unions allow only limited applicants at a time. But that doesn't mean you can't learn to do the work. You don't have to be a member of a trade union to learn to be a carpenter.
posted by corb at 6:05 PM on July 10 [7 favorites]


corb: You don't have to be a member of a trade union to learn to be a carpenter.

You don't have to, no, but you may not get the chance to unless you Know A Guy who can get you into the apprenctice program -- and there's the rub: there are gatekeepers for blue-collar training just as there are for the white-collar training (i.e., college).
posted by wenestvedt at 6:11 PM on July 10 [14 favorites]


Or, indeed, you may have never known it was an option until long after you're saddled with debt and a career you don't like.
posted by ragtag at 6:15 PM on July 10 [7 favorites]


In some trades you can't get hired unless you're in the union, and not all trades have paid apprenticeships (or apprenticeships at all). When I first moved to my city I couldn't join my IATSE local because I needed to do some unpaid labour and I couldn't afford to go three months without an income. There were some other barriers as well, like needing to be sponsored by several people already in the local.

The other thing about the trades is that universities have gotten involved in the education of some trades (design, business, new media, art), and now employers in those areas want new hires to have a degree; the traditional diploma or associate's degree has been devalued.
posted by Stonkle at 6:30 PM on July 10 [4 favorites]


I came from a trade family and the trades were never, ever, ever presented as an option for me. Because I'm a woman. So I went to college, because those are the only two options I ever saw: trades, or college. And since I, a woman, clearly couldn't go into trades, I went to college.

Now, I think it was ultimately the right choice for me. But I do wonder how much of this is gendered. We encourage kids to go to college pretty equally across genders... I'm not sure if the same can be said of trades.
posted by brook horse at 6:31 PM on July 10 [21 favorites]


I have whiplash from how fast America decided that we had made an obvious mistake

People made a choice based on the data they had. Now the 40%-ish of people with law degrees weren't using 'em 1 year in at that time. But if your target was Big Law you were already in the top %ages anyway and were going to ignore the people who never pass the bar as not your fate.

And how would you know the pincer moves of legalzoom, contract reading "AI", "AI" applied to discovery with the Enron corpus being a training tool, and people outsourcing law to other nations was going to be nibbling at the margins of law? Sure the state bars can bitch about things like Polisis being the unlicenced practice of law but given the high cost associated with using the profession a holding action VS price pressure looks to be about all that can be expected.

The past is what the future will reflect was not a bad call in 2005. It is not a bad call to make now but what elements of the past is going to repeat for 2020 and beyond?

Meanwhile - yesterday on the youtubes this got posted and at the end pimps for online education.
posted by rough ashlar at 6:37 PM on July 10 [1 favorite]


But I do wonder how much of this is gendered

A lot.

Seriously, people blithely suggesting trades, please think about what that environment might be like a for a woman in her early twenties for, like, a second.

Not that finance or law firms are uh great for women, but they don’t show you the full extent of their crappiness until you’re already in.
posted by schadenfrau at 6:41 PM on July 10 [32 favorites]


Seriously, people blithely suggesting trades, please think about what that environment might be like a for a woman in her early twenties for, like, a second.

Or, in some areas of the US, for someone with brown skin.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 7:10 PM on July 10 [23 favorites]


It's almost like there's problems with our higher education system AND with the trades. Personally, I'm quite happy to have huge amounts of debt to avoid the kind of work that left most of my family with bad backs, bad knees, and no savings.
posted by runcibleshaw at 7:24 PM on July 10 [9 favorites]


We’re told over and over there’s more jobs then people to fill them!

Yeah the job situation is so great some people have two or three.

Wages have been stagant for 40 years as cost of living has increased and access to predatory debt has become common. A minimum wage can’t afford rent in any state in the US. Skyrocketing student debt is just part of that and getting a non degree job isn’t some magic bullet, again, ask my relatives with the bad backs from a lifetime of waitressing and no healthcare to cover it.

Skyrocketing student debt is one of the many symptoms of the sickness in our society and none of it has to do with so,eome’s individual choice. Being told that somehow, if you just did the right aa Bb ababa button pressing at just the right time you’d have a way to not starve to death or have negative income feels, at the very least, insulting.

(My mom told me my backup plan could be just join the civic service like the other half of my family did but hey guess what they lowered taxes and gutted the base and now no one is hiring)
posted by The Whelk at 7:43 PM on July 10 [22 favorites]


I worked the trades when I was young. Hot, boring, dangerous. There's no way that I could move a ton of rock or spend a day under a sink now. No way to retire after making $56k a year for 30 years either. I wouldn't recommend the trades unless you can get a union or government gig. Those are harder to come by.

As a society we sent our money up the ladder and we are blaming the people at the bottom.

All of the "Just do X" amount to a pump-and-dump. Everybody jumps on job X. In 4 years there is a huge glut of X workers, and the pay collapses. People who do X are told, "You shoulda done Y!".
posted by pdoege at 8:28 PM on July 10 [19 favorites]


The massive amount of money involved is one of the primary reasons why some of us were so opposed to DeVos's nomination as Secretary of Education.

For example: the Gainful Employment rule. This was supposed to be a data-driven way to check if students were getting good-paying jobs compared to their debt, on a program-by-program basis. It had been cooking since 2009, but the schools were going to be forced to post warnings and such last year, and they could have been cut off from student loans right about now. If you're the geeky sort, you can still check out the data from November 2016. Look at all those "FAIL" flags in the D/E spreadsheet: it was going to be a for-profit-school bloodbath this fall. Let's just say there's been a slight delay in implementation.
posted by netowl at 8:29 PM on July 10 [5 favorites]


yeah "Learn to code" sounds an awful like lot like "we want to depress the wages of coders"
posted by The Whelk at 8:29 PM on July 10 [20 favorites]


The trades are hiring. My god, are the trades hiring! If you are committed to putting in hard work that involves your hands, you not only can get a job, you can often get paid for being trained to do a job.

That, on average, will have lower lifetime earnings and higher risk of injury and death than what someone who is committed to putting in hard work could earn, on average, with a Bachelor's. If you want to be a plumber or carpenter or electrician or elevator technician, by god go be one. It's valuable work that should come with better pay and working conditions than it does, and I (unlike Mike Rowe and his legion of Republican Facebook uncles) will fight alongside of you for both of them. But the reason people are going to college instead of trade school isn't because nobody has ever told them that the trades are hiring or because they're just a bunch of idiots who don't like money. It's because it's physically taxing work with pay that ranges from not great to so-so, and a four year degree, on average, gives them better prospects even after accounting for loans.

To be clear, this isn't a defense of the current system, just a rejection of the mythology of the trades as some sort of unknown or underappreciated opportunity for financial security. Every person is different! Circumstances vary! But in aggregate, the trades are, at best, a not terrible option out of a bunch of mediocre options for snake people (or whatever we're calling the next generation).
posted by This time is different. at 10:45 PM on July 10 [10 favorites]


The other always hiring! position that was presented for me as a teenager was the military, of course. The military-industrial complex is enormous and it is always hungry for workers. I wasn't personally encouraged to sign up for officer training as a teenager--it was immediately evident that I had neither the physical fitness nor, frankly, the correct temperament for the job, rather like my father in that latter respect--but my sister certainly was encouraged to look into ROTC to pay for her nursing training, and I was heavily shoved in the direction of the Department of Defense in a civilian capacity. Both my parents paid for college that way, and many members of my extended family have served in various military branches, and I have several friends who work for military-industrial contractors. And even if ROTC isn't an option, well, recruiters will promise you a reward in a hot second for enlisting in an incredibly predatory fashion.

I...look, put it this way, if you get injured we treat vets like shit. All that 'oh respect the troops' bullshit mysteriously does not extend to bothering to fund and organize a VA that gives two wet shits about anyone who comes home injured or develops any kind of disability, inside or outside of combat. GI benefits have also been cut since my parents were in school, but military scholarships are still probably more attainable than most sorts. If you can make yourself useful, ideally in tech, contracting isn't so bad, I guess. My friends in that complex aren't being squeezed as badly as my friends in civil service--overworked, underpaid, looking to do anything else--or my friends in public education, who have been limping along chronically understaffed and yet mysteriously unable to hire additional workers for years now. There's always plenty of money for military projects, and there's a lot of overflow waste slopping around.

There is something incredibly fucked up about setting up a volunteer military system with incentives such that it becomes the only predictable, stable place to land for an increasingly precarious existence for young people.
posted by sciatrix at 7:58 AM on July 11 [12 favorites]


I'd like to say that I am INCREDIBLY over people blaming the student loan crisis on the debtors. First of all, it is unreasonable to expect a 16-year -old child to conduct a market study to predict the labor market four to five years in the future to determine the best job to pursue (which professional economists cannot do), determine which program has the best pipeline to that profession (which that information is intentionally obfuscated and muddled with advertisements), crunch the numbers like a CPA to cost/benefit attending, and ignore all bad information from authority figures if they are feeding bad advice to them ("just get a degree you enjoy!"). A child is not prepared to invest six figures wisely. At the time a child is expected to make this decision, they are barely allowed to watch a rated R movie in a theater.

Oh and by the way even if it was these kids' fault, that doesn't fucking matter now. The crisis is here and something bad is going to happen.

For my HOT TAKE on a better way to proceed, you have to align the interests of students and universities. This is a case of perverse incentives. The student wants to get the education and qualification to become gainfully employed, but the university gets their money whether this happens or not. Take a page from Friedman's book - higher ed institutes don't charge anything up front, but get a percentage of each student's pre-tax income for ten years. Don't involve the banks at all on the students' end. Make the university invested in ensuring a good income for their students. Or hell, if you want to make an argument for "the academy" and the value of education that is not necessarily marketable, how about we let the institute eat the cost of furthering that goal rather than naive kids?
posted by FakeFreyja at 8:11 AM on July 11 [10 favorites]


I was definitely a for-real adult, not a naïve child, when I took out high-interest federal loans to go to law school.

I was even aware of the bimodal salary distribution for lawyers, but figured that if I didn't land the kind of job that'd allow me to pay off my loans, I would be able to find a job that would allow me to qualify for public service loan forgiveness with ten years of payments. I didn't account for the upcoming crash that would funnel all the better law grads into the public service jobs I was hoping I'd get. I didn't realize my public university's law school would increase its tuition and fees every year. I didn't know I wouldn't be able to find summer employment lucrative enough to make a dent in my living expenses during school. I didn't expect that I'd have such a hard time finding a decent job after law school, or that even when I did find a decent job, the pay wouldn't be enough for me to touch the ever-expanding principal on my loans. I didn't anticipate that I'd be unable to refinance my loans at a reasonable interest rate while the federal funds rate was pegged at zero for nine years straight.

I'll be making monthly payments via income-based repayment until the late 2030s, when I'll have a $1M+ tax liability when the loans are forgiven. Should be interesting.
posted by asperity at 9:17 AM on July 11 [9 favorites]


There is something incredibly fucked up about setting up a volunteer military system with incentives such that it becomes the only predictable, stable place to land for an increasingly precarious existence for young people.

Correct me if I’m wrong but isn’t this called the “Economic draft”? There’s no official draft but if the military is the only “always hiring” institution then it becomes a de facto draft of poor and working class teens?
posted by The Whelk at 9:57 AM on July 11 [8 favorites]


I wasn't aware of the name, but that is the general effect, yeah.
posted by sciatrix at 10:17 AM on July 11


For those who plan to take advantage of non-public-service student loan forgiveness and are worried about the future tax liability, note two things:
(1) Tax laws can change -- federal student loan discharge/forgiveness on account of death or disability was taxable until an exemption was added in the 2017 tax bill (the proposal had bipartisan support). We can add exemptions for other types of student loan forgiveness too. The Ways and Means committee is marking up a dozen new tax bills right now, so if your rep is on the committee, ask them how they plan to address the issue (the relevant provision is 26 USC Sec. 108(f) or Internal Revenue Code Sec. 108(f)).
(2) There is an existing insolvency exclusion - income from debt forgiveness is excluded to the extent that the total liabilities of the taxpayer immediately before the forgiveness exceed the fair market value of the taxpayer's assets. Many people do not know about this.
posted by melissasaurus at 10:21 AM on July 11 [3 favorites]


I went to a University of California.

i think about this quote (via a Communiqué from an Absent Future) on occasion:
In the midst of the current crisis, which will be long and protracted, many on the left want to return to the golden age of public education. They naïvely imagine that the crisis of the present is an opportunity to demand the return of the past. But social programs that depended upon high profit rates and vigorous economic growth are gone. We cannot be tempted to make futile grabs at the irretrievable while ignoring the obvious fact that there can be no autonomous "public university" in a capitalist society. The university is subject to the real crisis of capitalism, and capital does not require liberal education programs. The function of the university has always been to reproduce the working class by training future workers according to the changing needs of capital. The crisis of the university today is the crisis of the reproduction of the working class, the crisis of a period in which capital no longer needs us as workers. We cannot free the university from the exigencies of the market by calling for the return of the public education system. We live out the terminus of the very market logic upon which that system was founded. The only autonomy we can hope to attain exists beyond capitalism.

What this means for our struggle is that we can't go backward. The old student struggles are the relics of a vanished world. In the 1960s, as the post-war boom was just beginning to unravel, radicals within the confines of the university understood that another world was possible. Fed up with technocratic management, wanting to break the chains of a conformist society, and rejecting alienated work as unnecessary in an age of abundance, students tried to align themselves with radical sections of the working class. But their mode of radicalization, too tenuously connected to the economic logic of capitalism, prevented that alignment from taking hold. Because their resistance to the Vietnam war focalized critique upon capitalism as a colonial war-machine, but insufficiently upon its exploitation of domestic labor, students were easily split off from a working class facing different problems. In the twilight era of the post-war boom, the university was not subsumed by capital to the degree that it is now, and students were not as intensively proletarianized by debt and a devastated labor market.

That is why our struggle is fundamentally different. The poverty of student life has become terminal: there is no promised exit. If the economic crisis of the 1970s emerged to break the back of the political crisis of the 1960s, the fact that today the economic crisis precedes the coming political uprising means we may finally supersede the cooptation and neutralization of those past struggles. There will be no return to normal.
posted by kliuless at 10:32 AM on July 11 [4 favorites]


Tax laws can change

Yep. I always figure, well, maybe I'll teach the horse to talk.
posted by asperity at 10:34 AM on July 11 [2 favorites]


What would happen if we changed the law back so that new student debt was dischargeable in bankruptcy? (thinking of not the best approach, but choosing among politically likely-ish ones).

I would guess that lenders would get a lot more cautious ⇒ fewer students would qualify for loans ⇒ tuition prices might come down (constrained by the lack of state funding though). I think this would make the students who *did* get the loans better off two or three times: filtered for rich backgrounds to start with, less competition for college places, less competition for degree-requiring jobs. The students who would have had debts without degrees would probably also be better off. But given the likely attributes of students who would have gotten loans and degrees but didn't in the new regime, maybe we'd be hardening socioeconomic barriers even more.

And I can't guess what would happen to the job market; how long would it take employers to quit using "any BA" as a screen?

I also can't guess how useful college education currently is for actual getting stuff done, because its use as a class filter dominates discussions even inside most of academia, IME.
posted by clew at 10:50 AM on July 11


Skyrocketing student debt is one of the many symptoms of the sickness in our society and none of it has to do with so,eome’s individual choice. Being told that somehow, if you just did the right aa Bb ababa button pressing at just the right time you’d have a way to not starve to death or have negative income feels, at the very least, insulting.

I agree with you that the enormity of student debt is a symptom of the sickness in our society - and I get how it can feel like saying 'ha ha, you should have made a better choice'. But my frustration, at least, is mostly with a subset of those who received student loans, who are willing and eager to accept the benefits of those student loans, but at the same time, bemoan the debt which in itself is a significant privilege while other people are significantly worse off around them.

I don't, by and large (though there are certainly some great exceptions, you are absolutely included), see the massive group of student loan debtors challenging the system of gatekeeping and discriminatory 'any BA' employment that demands college graduates for positions that a college degree is not necessary to perform. I don't, by and large, see them voting to stand or actually standing in solidarity with their less credentialed colleagues. I see them looking for and accepting that employment, despite the fact that they are only able to obtain that employment because someone, somewhere, thought they were a good credit risk - a possibility generally not even open to large amounts of the working poor whose parents were also poor. I see them defending those higher salaries because they have a degree, whether or not the degree actually was necessary at all for the work they are performing. I see them zealously defending their class differences while denying that they see them at all.

Like - we could join together on abolishing the credit system being used for the essentials of life, and then it doesn't matter why you got the debt or how it came or why you couldn't pay it. We don't have to touch the 'student debt' crisis to address the real problem - defaulting kills your credit and credit in the current US is necessary for life. But so many other things also kill your credit unfairly. Evictions kill your credit, even if it wasn't your fault and you had a genuine emergency and the landlords were assholes. Being late with utilities kills your credit.

And I guess seeing people be concerned just with student debt - the debt of the professional class - feels like more of the same, when professional employees are like 'nah, I don't want to unionize with the janitors' or whatever.
posted by corb at 11:00 AM on July 11 [7 favorites]


neverending alumni office letters that barely attempt to hide their GIVE US MORE MONEY! swindle

My school's alumni office started calling me several times a week to ask for donations TWO MONTHS BEFORE I graduated! I was like, this money would be coming directly from the aid I received. I would literally just be forfeiting some of my financial aid so the class of 2018 could have a plaque somewhere. This was a public school! So many backwards priorities in the UC system (including, yes, fancy buildings on one part of campus, while others are literally crumbling).
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 11:02 AM on July 11 [2 favorites]


Like - we could join together on abolishing the credit system being used for the essentials of life, and then it doesn't matter why you got the debt or how it came or why you couldn't pay it. We don't have to touch the 'student debt' crisis to address the real problem - defaulting kills your credit and credit in the current US is necessary for life.

It's a thread about student debt. The laws that apply to student debt are different than the laws that apply to other types of debts. We don't have to address every issue with credit in this country in order to address the problem of student debt, which is the subject of this thread, and which is governed by a set of unique - and changeable - legal circumstances.
posted by melissasaurus at 11:12 AM on July 11 [10 favorites]


Am I in the right place for the ritual flagellation of the Liberal Arts degree-holders, who absolutely deserve their penury for the crime of getting an education outside of the STEM fields that corporations will employ? I hope I'm not too late.

It's so weird to see the rhetoric on education turn itself upside down in my lifetime. When I was a kid in the 80s, the people around me insisted we had the unique freedom to choose our destinies, unlike in SOVIET RUSSIA, where the government could decide you'd have to be an electrician, no matter how much you wanted to compose symphonies, because what the State needed was wiring, not music. Even in the 90s, people repeated that while European nations may have free universities, that was only because they filtered out most of the populace before high school, funneling everyone but the most exceptional geniuses into inescapable and restrictive job training programs. Only in the US could a decent, yet not stellar, student have the chance to break into white-collar professionalism through a college degree. We had the system that rewarded individualism, ambition, and talent. Sure, it may cost a bit more, but that was good debt, because it creates so much social mobility. Capitalism is the greatest way of organizing society because it gives you the freedom to follow your dreams!

Now unless you tailor your education exactly and only to whichever jobs are going to be in demand in ten years or so, you're either entitled, stupid, or both. Thought you could make a living wage teaching, writing, or working in the public sector (and maybe even bootstrap yourself into a semi-middle-class life like many people did between the end of WWII and the 90s)? Lol. Moron. You obviously should have chucked away your fancy books and just focused on learning a trade, no matter how ill-suited you'd be for that work. The humanities are only for the people who can afford them, and that won't ever be you. Should you dare to try to step out of your place, richly deserved socio-economic ruin awaits. That's the price we all know you should pay for wanting to learn anything beyond exactly what you need to know to generate profit for your boss. Capitalism is the best way of organizing a society because it allows you to follow your dreams as long as those dreams are about increasing shareholder value!

How about instead of consigning people to the poorhouse for having unprofitable talents, we take a serious look at how conditions have changed. Everything costs more, especially education. Wages haven't kept up. Anything that hasn't been privatized for profit has been strangled by a thousand budgetary cuts. Lots of people who had the (mis?)fortune of becoming adults at the turn of the millennium were assured that a wave of retirements would guarantee good-paying jobs in all kinds of fields as Boomers aged. But uh-oh! The jobs that let the Boomers into comfortable middle-class lives are either gone, "right-sized," or now performed by 4 unpaid interns. You need at least a Bachelors to even answer phones at some places, for which you'll make maybe $0.50 above minimum wage. If you don't have that Bachelors, your application will be filtered out by gatekeeping software before a human eye ever sees it. Oh but that degree you need to get in the door doesn't give you access to upward mobility after that, because everyone who answers the phones also has one. Plus no way is the company you work for going to teach you the skills you need to move into a higher-paid tier. You have to do that (and pay for it) all on your own. Once you have a job that provides barely enough to scrape by, an ill-timed layoff or recession can kick you back down the ladder several rungs.

Or you can always skip the degree and get a job, probably in food-service or retail, with even less opportunity for promotion, raises, or stability. Your pay will probably top-out in a year or so, and after that you'll continue to earn the same wage (with a few extra pennies for cost-of-living-increases every five years or so) for the rest of your working life while inflation shrinks the actual value of that wage. For a lot of people, this second choice also means you stay in an economically stagnating small town where it's impossible to earn enough to move to any area that offers slightly higher pay.

It's a completely different landscape than it was even 20 years ago. Colleges and universities still haven't caught up to these realities. As a result, the system perpetuated itself on the assumption that the underlying economic conditions would remain the same as they were when any college degree was your ticket to permanent membership in the middle class. An awful lot of us were being prepared for a world that wouldn't exist by the time we graduated.

Maybe there should be a solution aimed at a combination of debt relief, reducing credentialism, funding the public sector, raising wages, and actually controlling higher ed costs in a way that doesn't jeopardize the front-line work of educating (caps on executive pay & limits on funds for athletics, luxury construction, and recruitment). Trade schools are great if you want to do them, but telling everyone who didn't come from wealth and wanted to pursue some form of academics that they have no choice but to go into trades doesn't seem like a solution. After all, once upon a time, people were told not to aspire to intellectual or cultural knowledge because of their race or gender, and the world was a poorer place for having denied those talents. No, I don't think anyone should look down on trades. I also can't accept the premise that people reject working in trades solely on the basis of believing themselves "too good" for those fields. Trade work has its own aptitude requirements, and not everyone is able to meet them. I fully support expansion of training in the trades, but that's not the panacea for the student debt problem.

Post-secondary education, like a lot of other things our taxes used to pay for, has fallen victim to the run-everything-like-a-business ideology. There are profits to be made in every stage of education now. We're getting our pockets turned-inside out to have a chance of sustaining ourselves in this economy. Wouldn't it make more sense to go after the pickpockets?
posted by Kitty Stardust at 1:00 PM on July 11 [22 favorites]


When I was a kid in the 80s, the people around me insisted we had the unique freedom to choose our destinies, unlike in SOVIET RUSSIA, where the government could decide you'd have to be an electrician, no matter how much you wanted to compose symphonies, because what the State needed was wiring, not music. [...] unless you tailor your education exactly and only to whichever jobs are going to be in demand in ten years or so, you're either entitled, stupid, or both.

I see those statements as two sides of the same coin, and pretty quintessentially American—which is to say: an unforgiving iron fist of Dire Consequences inside a velvet glove of Freedom. You have the freedom to try and be whatever you want, which includes the unique freedom of becoming a vague stain on life's floor if it doesn't pan out.

There are a lot of people who are very, very wed to that idea, and apparently they vote.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:51 PM on July 11 [5 favorites]


And I guess seeing people be concerned just with student debt - the debt of the professional class - feels like more of the same, when professional employees are like 'nah, I don't want to unionize with the janitors' or whatever.

This is a legitimate concern even if the thread is about student debt. However, the people affected most by student debt are the ones who took on debt that never resulted in any employment-boosting credentials at all, even if those debts are smaller than my horrifyingly large law school debt load. (It's not any sort of immediate problem for me as long as income-based repayment exists. I don't want to file for bankruptcy. I would like to refinance at a lower interest rate while retaining the protections that come with federal student loans, so that I wouldn't immediately default if I lose my job.)

It's a very good thing that some of the victims of for-profit school scams have been able to have their loans forgiven. (I don't have the heart to check on whether that's still happening in the current regime.) Same for anyone who used their GI Bill benefits on worthless scam college credits: they ought to have another chance at it. The people who are most vulnerable here are not the people usually described as professional class.
posted by asperity at 3:11 PM on July 11 [2 favorites]


When did anyone in this thread ever say they wouldn't want to unionize with the janitors? When did anyone say they were too good for the trades? I'm not seeing the straw man version of myself and other debtors that's being constructed here.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 5:03 PM on July 11 [6 favorites]


Sorry for being curt. To be clear, there is a major class component to this as there is with everything, and there is certainly a class component that may discourage people from certain professions. I was explicitly told that being a carpenter would be beneath me when I was younger, so I don't think that's not an issue. But in this thread, on this site, of all places, I don't think that's what's playing out. I don't think the issue is that people are only sympathetic to their own needs, and portraying this thread as if it's the upper class selfishly wringing their hands leaves a sour taste in my mouth. I don't mean to imply that the mass of student debt voters are pure as driven snow, but we're also a huge proportion of the country, especially Millennials like me who have seen rising costs and diminished job prospects. As much as there is a class component, there is also a generational component, and it is extremely frustrating to be saddled with enormous debt and then painted with a very broad and unfavorable brush for being concerned about it.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 5:23 PM on July 11 [8 favorites]


It's a very good thing that some of the victims of for-profit school scams have been able to have their loans forgiven. (I don't have the heart to check on whether that's still happening in the current regime.)

I got my debt to Corinthian Colleges forgiven. I got a whole shiny paralegal degree, racked up about $12k in debt, and got it all wiped out due to Corinthian's fraud conviction. The conviction hit a short while after I graduated; it took me a bit more than a year to get through the forgiveness process.

It was surprisingly easy, but took a long time. I didn't expect it to work, but I figured, sure, I can fill out this form asking "tell us about how the school defrauded you - did they promise you something and not deliver?" And I said, sure; they showed me statistics about hiring rates and pay levels that turned out to be fake, and I even asked for more details and they said they'd get them to me and never did. (This is entirely separate from the time I threatened to file suit with the DoE over them not releasing their list of required books, and only selling them in bundles rather than individually.) (Result of that: I got free books for that class.)

DeVos put an end to that system; newer students being screwed over by for-profit scam schools can't use the relief option that I had. Theoretically, it can be revived under a different administration, including repayment of interest and so on. But that doesn't help anyone who's broke now.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 10:58 PM on July 11 [3 favorites]


Well THIS is a "new" twist. A social gathering because you are in student loan debt. Prepare to be sad at The Baffler. (search for AA meeting to get straight to the sad.)
posted by rough ashlar at 11:37 AM on July 15 [3 favorites]


A social gathering because you are in student loan debt.

Boomers: "Now that we've gotten cheap, taxpayer-funded educations, let's put entire generations into debt peonage!"

Also Boomers: "Oh no why are all these young people becoming socialists? Someone who is good at class consciousness help me budget this, my bourgeoisie is dying!"
posted by Kitty Stardust at 12:48 PM on July 25 [2 favorites]


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