Commencement time brings plenty of reflections on the worth of a four-year degree. The Wire already brought you the debate
about the class of 2010's gloomy job prospects. Over at The New York
Times, however, one piece has jump-started an even less cheerful discussion.
The topic: college graduates hopelessly mired in debts way out of
proportion to their earning potential.
- Look What Too Many Loans Can Do Ron Lieber
tells the story of Cortney Munna, a 26-year-old NYU graduate who is
$100,000 in debt after procuring loans from both Sallie Mae and
Citibank to finance her degree in religious and women's studies. "What
was Citi thinking," asks Lieber, "handing over $40,000 to an
undergraduate who had already amassed debt well into the five figures?"
But he notes that, in fact, it's often a college's "financial aid
office ... [that] has the best picture of what students like Ms. Munna
are up against." While there are a number of problems with making this
office responsible for delivering the grim message--i.e. to head to a
state school instead--he maintains that financial aid workers
might be the best people to do it.
- 'Don't Go Into Debt for Harvard College,' counsels brooklynbadboy
at Daily Kos, who wishes he'd "gone to Brooklyn College or City College
and saved the debt load for my professional studies." Instead, he urges
students, "go into debt for Harvard Law School."
- How to
Calculate Munna, points out The Washington Independent's Annie Lowrey,
"is a photographer's assistant, and has no intention of going into a
high-paying career in a field like finance." Thus, argues Lowrey,
"where a college diploma makes no difference in her earning potential
in her chosen career, remaining in a pricey institution--New York
University is the fourth most expensive out of the nation's 1,800
private colleges--might not have been the right choice." She says this
particular story is a good at "making the argument others are loath to
make," which is that it's sometimes worth it to drop out and go to a
- Professors Saying 'Follow Your Bliss' Rod Dreher,
now glad his father made him enroll in a cheaper school, says though
professors' go-for-it talks are understandable, "that kind of advice
borders on malpractice." Loans can "straightjacket" a student's "future
and freedom of movement," he says--"thinking emotionally" can be a real
- How to Solve the Student Loan Problem Daniel Bennett of Forbes analyzes the pros and cons of making student loans eligible for bankruptcy declarations like other forms of debt. One suggestion he
has to get rid of some of the risk problems: "hold colleges accountable ... instead of the taxpayers taking the
hit when student loans go sour, colleges should absorb the loss, or at
least a portion of it." One positive effect:
incentivize colleges to focus on providing educational value and help
their students launch a career--knowing that if they fail in their
mission, there are real consequences. Maybe then colleges would be more
attentive to helping their students succeed.
- The Case for College Accountability Daily Finance's Zac Bissonnette
concurs, and argues prior to Lieber's New York Times
piece that "Many colleges ... are signing naive students up for levels of
loan debt that are destined for failure." When the financial aid
offices do this, he argues, "the schools should at the very least share
in the financial fallout."
Want to add to this story? Let us know in comments
or send an email to the author at
hhorn at theatlantic dot com.
You can share ideas for stories on the Open Wire.