September 27 2012

Today’s College Debtors Question the Notion that College is a “Golden Ticket”

Vicki E. Alger

By now it’s conventional wisdom that “college pays.” But at what cost? Businessweek recently tallied the figures:

In 2010 student debt exceeded credit-card debt for the first time. In 2011 it surpassed auto loans. In March, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced that student debt had passed $1 trillion. It grew by $300 billion from the third quarter of 2008 even as other forms of debt shrank by $1.6 trillion, according to a separate tabulation by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Stats like these are causing some college debtors to rethink prevailing wisdom. After years of waiting tables and taking a job outside his immediate field, college graduate Michael DiPietro, 25, of Brooklyn, still doesn’t know how he’ll repay his $100,000 fashion and arts BA.  “I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s an obsolete idea that a college education is like your golden ticket,” he said. “It’s an idea that an older generation holds on to.”

It’s true. Current and prospective college students have to think long and hard about spending well into the six-figure range for degrees that won’t guarantee them jobs with the earning potential to repay their loans. But it’s certainly worth asking college officials why the heck a fashion—or any other—degree costs so darn much. Poor productivity and soaring administrative costs have a lot to do with it.

With student debt growing at about $3,000 per second, more college students, parents, and taxpayers are demanding a commensurate value for their hard-earned and borrowed dollars. As Businessweek explained:

Ten years is considered a reasonable period to repay one’s student loans, but many students take 20 or 25 years under extended repayment plans. The New York Fed found that in the first quarter of 2012, people 60 and older were responsible for $43 billion in student loans. It’s not clear how much is from their own studies and how much because they co-signed on their children’s loans, but whatever the case it’s no way to head into retirement.

It’s also no way to make college more affordable—although tinkering with student loan rates seems the preferred “solution” for Education Secretary Arne Duncan and too many members of Congress. Last April during a White House press briefing, Duncan said, “Obviously if you have no [college] debt that’s maybe the best situation, but this is not bad debt to have. In fact, it’s very good debt to have.”

That’s fine for Mr. Duncan who doesn’t have to pay the bills and is in a job with a base salary of nearly $180,000. The rest of us need to be savvier college education consumers.

 

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