Saturday, October 30, 2010

Reading, Writing and Debtor's Prison

Studies have shown time and time again that those who are able to attain a college education out earn those who do not by a substantial margin over the course of their working life. So, it would seem that it would behoove high school graduates to run full bore to the nearest institution of higher learning to say, "Sign me up!"

Unfortunately, it's not that simple anymore. Sadly, a college education is becoming financially out of reach for a growing number of people. According to a story on NPR, "The cost of going to a public college has increased by 24 percent in the past five years. The cost of private school is up 17 percent." The reporter tries to soften the blow by arguing that aid and scholarships have increased too, but the sticker price remains way, way too high!

The adjusted cost per year to attend a private college is $21,020 and $16,140 for an in-state student at a public university. If a student matriculates in 4 years (these days it often takes 5, 6 or more), those figures jump to $84,080/private school and $64,560/public school.

Either way you cut it, that's a huge chunk of change! (For the sake of comparison, it cost me LESS THAN $16,000 to earn two bachelors and one masters degree.)

Even if a person lucks out and is able to find a living wage job or better in this miserable economy, he or she still is looking at a decade or more to pay back the principle WITH interest. If a person is NOT so lucky -- and far more individuals will fall into this category than the other -- it represents a financial burden that literally can swallow up a person.

What about all those college graduates who end up in service-oriented minimum wage jobs? They will quickly discover they have enough trouble making it from month-to-month! Paying back college loans simply will get jettisoned from the minuscule budget and -- before you know it -- that prized degree will lead to falling credit scores which, in some cases, can remove you from the pool for better jobs.

Democracies do not function adequately if the citizens are not well-informed and well-educated (think Tea Party times one million...unless, of course, you ARE a member of the Tea Party, then you probably can't count that high*). By placing quality education beyond the reach of more and more Americans, we are moving away from the concept of a robust democracy and we are doing so at great peril.

*I'm sorry, I couldn't help it.


  1. what is "adjusted cost per year" include? ie, is that just tuition, or does that include room & board also? i think many of the ivy league schools charge $25-30k/year in tuition alone. and some are in the heart of high-cost-of-living cities to boot, so the real cost of surviving could easily be $40-50k/year.

    but a majority of students get financial aid of some sort, including some scholarships and stipends and grants that do not need to be paid back, unlike loans which do.

    unfortunately, the gov't programs to give aid to students over the last few decades have been used by universities to jack up their prices, knowing that the gov't would indirectly foot the bill. in fact, i've seen some surprising statistics about a large number of these student aid programs going to for-profit universities like university of phoenix. apparently a non-neglible number of students at these universities get the pell grants (?) that don't need to be paid back, and then drop the classes very early in the semester. in other words, some places and people have gamed the system, and the gov't agencies overseeing the programs have turned a blind eye to the abuse.

    also, too often the "you'll make more money" argument is used indiscriminately, not pointing out that not all majors do quite so well. engineering or science or business degrees, (plus grad degrees of law, medicine, and business) probably provide the bulk of the "lifetime earnings gains". unfortunately, too many don't pay attention to that, and get an expensive degree in social work, or anthropology, or communications, or medieval literature, or sacred music, or physical education, or whatever, and never really look at the earning power of that degree in the world, until they're in for a rude awakening upon graduation.

    universities selling out their students to let credit card companies set up booths on campus for kickbacks shows what the real purpose of universities has become.

    however, there are still some ways thru. my ex-girlfriend was japanese, and went to grad school in the US (in journalism). first year was paid by rotary scholarship. second year she was a teaching assistant for japanese language class, which gave her in-state tuition (huge savings), health insurance, plus a stipend that is non-taxable. i figured out that effectively she was being paid $25/hour with the benefits she received, altho the actual cash part of that was only about $8/hr. there are a large number of teaching assistant positions on that campus, and i assume others as well.


  2. SGL,
    "Adjusted cost per year" is a good question! It's interesting to note that the reporter didn't spell that out very well.

    Your other points are spot on as well.


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