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August 19 2019

Would You Borrow $58,000 to Take Theater Courses at NYU?

by Charlotte Hays

Melissa Lockert seemed to have what many indebted college grads would consider a manageable level of student loan debt in 2006 when she took a job at a nonprofit. Her debt was $23,000.

She was making regular payments and, as she told Market Watch’s James Wellemeyer, “felt good.”

Then Melissa decided she wanted to study theatre at New York University’s Tisch School of Arts. It was, she said, her “dream school.”

But studying theatre required another loan:

She was offered over $80,000 in loans to cover tuition and rent, but she chose to only take on $58,000 for tuition. “The higher number scared me. I had savings and worked multiple jobs on the side in order to pay rent,” she said.

Should someone who is working multiple jobs to pay the rent take a $58,000 loan? More to the point, should any lender offer somebody in this situation such a loan?

Lockert graduated from NYU in 2011 with $68,000 in debt and no job offers. It was not a comfortable way to live:

“I was panicking,” Lockert said. “I had done everything millennials were told to do. I had gotten a master’s degree and gone to a prestigious school.”

Stop here. I don’t know who was advising Lockert, but why would anybody who knows about finances advise a young person to go to a school she can’t afford without taking on staggering debt?

Was the “prestigious school” going to launch Ms. Lockert in a career in the theatre (low-paying, by the way, unless you reach the pinnacle)?

The Market Watch story deals with the psychological effect of college loan debt, and that is certainly worth considering. But why not go back to the root problem? The root of the problem is that people are willing to go into debt at a tender age for an education that might not be as beneficial as they have been led to believe. I bet I would have done something like that if college had been as almost universally unaffordable in my day.

Lockert recalls:

The debt soon began to weigh on her mental health. “I’ve had mental-health issues in the past, but this made me feel so low and guilty. I was depressed and cried every single day,” she said.

Realizing she couldn’t pay rent in New York without a stable job, she moved to Portland, Ore. where her partner at the time lived. In Portland, she worked temporary jobs for $10 to $12 an hour and ended up on food stamps.

“I didn’t make a bad decision per se. I went to a good school. But at that point, I felt so aimless,” she said.

She made the decision that our society encourages. Per se.  In fact, she made the decision, no doubt encouraged by lenders and other adults, that put her on food stamps.

Much of the story is taken up with the mental health aspects of college loan debt. And I don’t doubt that it is every bit as bad as it is depicted.

Lockert sought counseling and eventually was able to pay off the debt. She must be talented because she pulled in $60, 000 a year with a blog on indebtedness. She made her last payment in 2015.

Just wondering: how meaningful, in retrospect, were those theatre courses at NYU?

The theatre is great, buy season tickets, but think long and heard before borrowing $58, 0000 to take theatre courses. Life would have had a lot less drama without that debt.

 





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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