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September 3 2019

Students Should Do the Math Before Borrowing

by Arrah Massimini

The New Yorker recently ran a feature entitled “Student Debt Is Transforming the American Family,” about the plight of an N.Y.U. college grad named Kimberly.  Kimberly, it seems, always dreamed of an exciting life in New York City; and enjoyed watching the TV show “Felicity”, a fictionalized version of N.Y.U.  Additionally, Kimberly grew up “regaled with stories about her mother’s short, glamorous-sounding stint waitressing in Times Square.” But Kimberly and her middle-class parents are now struggling under the weight of her student loans, after completing a degree in anthropology at her dream school, New York University. 

N.Y.U. currently charges $50,000 a year in tuition.  (The in-state university I attended, where I also earned a degree in Anthropology, cost me $18,000 for four years of tuition, not including scholarship money.)

Middle school level math students can calculate the effects of compound interest. The United States Department of Education gives borrowers and prospective borrowers on their website the ability to calculate student loan payments, and necessary gross household income to pay them; for free without a download.  Why were Kimberly and her parents not prepared for her eventual student loan payments?  The concept of debtors repaying a loan is hardly novel.

My state university degrees and life in a mid-sized city in Kansas may, to east coast eyes may be lacking in “excitement.”  But I can afford my family what I consider a high standard of living.  Devoid of student loans or consumer debt of any kind.

My reaction to Kimberly’s dream of New York City and anthropology is two-fold.  Do you also dream of living in semi-permanent bankruptcy, for a chance at a job in a field that may never pay enough to support yourself?  Much less, support a family and service your student loans?  But more important, where were your folks when you were deciding to go into debt at an early age?!  Young people are often impractical and idealistic.  It is part of being a young person.  But it’s part of a parent to guide one’s children.  

My husband and I have opened 529s to pay our own daughters’ college expenses.  We save with the intent that our girls will attend in-state, public universities.  Also, we will not pay for beer pong, or degrees not applicable to the marketplace.  Sorry/not sorry kids.  Money from Mom comes with strings attached.

It should be unnecessary to point out that social science degrees severely limit one’s employment opportunities and may never lead to a job that pays enough to service large debts. My advice for folks interested in studying Anthropology?  Go to a public library.  Pick up a copy of National Geographic.  Read all about it!  For free.  

 

 





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