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April 19 2019

What Did People Do Before There Were College Loans?

by Charlotte Hays

Quote of the Day:

Graduating from college debt-free is uncommon today: Two-thirds of the class of 2017 graduated with student loans averaging $28,650, according to The Institute for College Access and Success.

--"What Students Can Learn from the Days before Student Loans" at Nerd Wallet

Student loans didn't really exist before the 1960s, according to a must-read article over at Nerd Wallet.

And yet--people went to college, graduated, and launched careers and adult lives. Debt-free.

Here is what things were like in the early 1960s:

The average cost of tuition, fees, room and board for 1963-64 was $1,248, or $10,040 in 2017-18 dollars. By contrast, the average cost in 2017-18 was $23,835, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

“The cost of college then was significantly easier to pay for,” says Victoria Yuen, a policy analyst for postsecondary education at the Center for American Progress, an independent policy research organization. “Now, even with scholarships and grant support, it’s become very difficult for middle-class families to pay for college.”

But half a century ago, college wasn’t affordable for everyone. Those who couldn’t pay out-of-pocket didn’t go, says John Thelin, a University of Kentucky professor and author of “Going to College in the Sixties.”

The article makes the point that, yes, fewer people attended college in the early 1960s.

But it was possible for an ambitious student from a family that could not afford college to work her way through school:

That’s how Caroline Pickens of McLean, Virginia, met college costs when she enrolled in 1958. Growing up in a middle-class family in Wichita, Kansas, the most affordable option was Kansas State University, which she remembers was around $100 per semester for tuition, room and board.

“I worked in a bank every summer at minimum wage, which was $1 an hour,” says Pickens, who received a bachelor’s degree in history and secondary education and a master’s in European history at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. “I needed to do that in order to pay.”

In those days, colleges also offered “bursar jobs,” which were similar to the current federal work-study awards.

“It was possible to meet a lot of your annual college expenses with a summer job or working on campus during your academic year,” Thelin says.

Good luck on working your way through college today. It is simply not possible,given the high cost of obtaining a degree.

The article concludes that, while reducing college loan debt is possible (go two years to a community college, opt for federal loans that have income-driven repayment plans, etc.),  "graduating completely debt-free may not be realistic."

Sorry, but reducing killer college loan debt to merely life-changing college loan debt is not a very good solution.

The question we need to be asking is not, "How can I manage onerous loan debt?"

What we need to be asking is: Why is college so unrealistically expensive? What can be done about this? Are there alternatives to a four-year college?

I think we will very likely begin to ask the right questions. I invoke Stein's Law, formulated by the late economist Herb Stein: "If something cannot go on forever, it will stop."

The current situation with regard to college loan debt cannot go on forever.

I'm not even sure it can go on much longer.

One day, likely in the relatively near future, it will stop.

Finder's fee: Market Watch

 

 

 

 

 

 



Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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