Student Debt Problems

Students who borrowed (lots of) money to get degrees from “elite” schools—or from any school, come to that—now feel financially hobbled for life.

Recent film program graduates of Columbia University who took out federal student loans had a median debt of $181,000.
Yet two years after earning their master’s degrees, half of the borrowers were making less than $30,000 a year.

The universities share a measure of responsibility for these student debt problems. These schools should—and the reluctant should be required to—publish the mean and median salaries for each of the first five years of employment for each of the majors the schools offer. The schools also should be the ones making the loans to their students or underwriting private lenders’ loans to their students.

The Federal government shares a measure of responsibility for these student debt problems, also. The government should stop throwing money at the schools; that just encourages them to increase their tuition price to absorb the Federal dollars—at the immediate and direct expense to the students. Indeed, the Federal government should stop shipping money to the schools at all except for narrowly defined basic research projects, and those exceptions should be rare.

However, color me unsympathetic to the student borrowers’ plight; they bear the greatest responsibility for their situation. No one made them borrow such outlandish amounts. Even when I was in school the wage, etc, data were available; I just had to get off the couch to go get them. Today, it’s not even necessary to get off the couch: the pupils just have to bestir themselves enough to engage in some key clicks on their computerized device.

I’m especially unsympathetic to the students’ blame-shifting.

Matt Black graduated from Columbia in 2015 with an MFA in film and $233,000 in federal loans. …
Mr Black, a 36-year-old writer and producer in Los Angeles, said he grew up in a lower middle-class family in Oklahoma. He earns $60,000 in a good year and less than half that in dry stretches. The faculty at Columbia was stellar, he said, but he blamed the school for his “calamitous financial situation.”

Black needs to get a mirror and consult it. He was no child newly graduated from high school, blindly accepting the putative guidance counselor’s advice when he decided to take those loans. He was a grown adult man looking at graduate schools (he did shop around, looking at more than just Columbia, didn’t he?). No one made him take “the school’s” unvarnished word; no one made him not check for himself whether borrowing so much against a future salary he so easily could have learned was a good idea. No one made him take the loans. Indeed, no one made him decide to go to such an expensive school for his film MFA.

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