The Unforgivable Sin of Student Loans


Em Carpenter

Em was one of those argumentative children who was sarcastically encouraged to become a lawyer, so she did. She is a proud life-long West Virginian, and, paradoxically, a liberal. In addition to writing about society, politics and culture, she enjoys cooking, podcasts, reading, and pretending to be a runner. She will correct your grammar. You can find her on Twitter.

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224 Responses

  1. Avatar Pinky says:

    “Another reason for the crisis is the soaring costs of tuition attributable in large part to the decrease in state funding to universities, which has fallen from around 75% to around 25%.”

    Could you confirm that stat? I suspect that it’s the percentage of state money that goes to universities, which would make it more a measure of Medicare expansion.Report

    • Avatar Michael Cain says:

      If you compare current state General Fund budgets to those from around 1970, two things jump out: Medicaid has gone from a small piece to a large one, and responsibility for a huge portion of K-12 education funding now falls to the state rather than local government. In my state, ~40% of the General Fund spending is K-12, and ~25% is Medicaid. We are not atypical.

      However, every time there’s a state budget crisis, the two areas of spending that are targeted for real cuts are higher ed and transportation. My state, as an example, made major cuts in per-student funding to higher ed during and immediately after the 2007-08 recession. Those have never been fully restored.Report

    • Avatar Em Carpenter says:

      It is in the link to regarding the student loan bubble.Report

  2. Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

    I put myself through college on a combination of Pell Grants and my own money, attending a community college as long as I could and then only transferring to a state university when I had to. Having had two daughters in college now, both public universities, I still believe a college education is affordable without loans, but kids have to accept the limits of their financial situation, not demand the moon, and work their asses off (I had two jobs for a good part of my time in college).

    I have come to believe that school loan programs are predatory in themselves. It is far too easy to borrow the money, and it’s far too tempting for students that find themselves in a tough financial situation. Schools steer students towards borrowing because it keeps the tuition dollars flowing, which makes them complicit.

    I have worked with several Millennial age coworkers who borrowed ridiculous sums of money because they were told by guidance counselors and financial aid officers that their long-term income would justify the loans in the short-term. When they end up in a entry level management position, not making the money they were promised by those same guidance counselors, they become desperate and angry about the slow pace of their advancement through the company. We have had many jump ship simply for better paying jobs because of their loans. I told both of my daughters that we would not borrow a cent for their education, even if it took them 10 years to graduate. Having that debt, like an anchor around their necks, severely limits opportunities after graduation.

    I will also second the need for more and more vocational training. I was doing things all over again, I would absolutely learn a trade either before or right after college.Report

    • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

      I think it’s also worth noting that while the author of the post has had financial success post college, there are many stories of people graduating with mediocre degrees that do not have the same potential or borrowing large sums of money and not graduating at all.Report

  3. Avatar InMD says:

    So what would you do at the federal level if you were given free reign? I’m not against federal loans necessarily but I do think the current system that essentially finances anything at whatever cost and with no real controls is a huge driver in increased costs. The dean of my law school actually resigned over this not long after I graduated. His view was that the law school was being used as a cash cow to subsidize other parts of the university. The state and board of regents had their dubious role in it, but the whole process is enabled by risk free (for the state and university, not the student) money.Report

    • Avatar PD Shaw says:

      Yes, I am not against public aid, but it somehow needs to not push costs higher. I’ve been touring colleges with our eldest, including my alma mater, where it particularly stands out the change in how many more services are provided, how many buildings have gone up, and how much recreational, dining and creative space is provided for free time. Most of these are public schools in various states and most have a lot of construction going on and joke about how constant it is. But again, back to my alma mater, the number of students attending is the same, the classrooms look the same, the dorm room looks the same. Yet, tuition increased three-times the rate of inflation since then.Report

      • Avatar InMD says:

        There’s certainly a lot of schizophrenia about what the purpose of these places is and should be. I haven’t even been out 15 years and my alma mater (UMD) and the surrounding area has changed in similar ways. There were already seeds of it when I was there.

        Are they catering to customers? Serving a civic minded mission? Producing workers for the economy? No one knows and I don’t think anyone is in the driver’s seat.Report

        • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

          I’m shocked that someone named InMD went to UMD.

          Not reallyReport

        • Avatar PD Shaw says:

          On every one of our college visits, there is a discernible pitch that amounts to, can you imagine yourself here? Can you imagine yourself enjoying a fortified smoothie at the rec center after a hard day of school? Can you imagine yourself driving this new sports car home today? What would your neighbors think?

          I’m not sure there is that much reason to visit colleges that isn’t based upon getting a “feel” for how comfortable the student would be there.Report

          • Avatar bookdragon says:

            I don’t know. Recent visits to a couple schools were worthwhile both for the “feel” of the campuses and getting to see the facilities – labs more than dorms or rec areas, though the balance of “hey look at this cool tech that even undergrads can work on/with” vs “hey look at our sports complex and greek life” was a big part of getting a sense of whether the campus culture would be a good fit.Report

  4. fillyjonk fillyjonk says:

    Some disjointed thoughts:

    – I was fortunate (privileged, some would say) to get three years at a good Public Ivy and not have to take out loans. I had a small scholarship, and some money for books (the church I belonged to had a scholarship program for textbooks), and my paternal grandparents’ estate (there’s the privilege) paid for much of it. But college was also cheaper in the late 80s than it is now, and I tried to live simply. I made it through grad school with a combination of being a TA (got my tuition and fees waived, plus a small stipend) and going to school close to where my parents lived, so I could live with them.

    – I now teach at a small regional public 4-year. We strive to be “affordable” and yet many of my students either work or take out loans or both. I’m not getting rich – six-figure incomes for profs are vanishingly rare on this campus; most full professors make mid five-figures. I admit I twitch when people talk about things like “campus consolidation” or “go entirely on-line” (many of our students do not want that, and throwing people without a lot of preparation from their rural high schools into an on-line environment where help can be hard to come by is not the best).

    – That said, we’ve had problems filling work-study positions, at least in past years. Why? Because we’re told “people would rather take out loans than work during their education.” I don’t know. (I also know that there are other local places that pay better than work study does). But I also once had a non-trad student say “I’m taking out loans but what can they do to me if I don’t pay them back? I’ll be retired before they’ve figured out I’ve defaulted” and maybe some of the loan mess is either “Manana thinking” or “well, if I have to default, it will take them long enough to find me that I can get out from under it”

    I dunno. I was raised with a pay-as-you-go mentality, and if it had come to it, I would have done work-study rather than take out loans, if I could have swung it that way (I have no idea if work study pays enough to cover tuition and living expenses).

    – A lot of our students go part-time, which doesn’t qualify for some forms of financial aid, but that’s another solution to having to work while at school.

    – I admit I get really, really annoyed when I hear people talking about “overpaid professors” and all the other crap that gets thrown at higher ed and I’ve growled, “Okay, then, shut ’em all down; good luck finding a nurse or doctor to tend to you in 15 years.” Yes, maybe some places people are teaching two classes a semester and pulling in six figures, but not here: I’m doing 4/3 and until recently was 4/3/2 and like I said, am making about $65K a year (a bit less than that now I don’t teach summers). A lot of us are TIRED and the snark doesn’t help.

    – Some of the issues with students having to take out loans, at least at state schools, can be laid at the feet of decreasing appropriations. We’ve been cut to below 30% of our costs being from state appropriations; we have to make it up in tuition, cost-savings*, or alternative schemes like renting out empty offices on campus (A speech therapist rents one, a state agency another)

    (*A couple years ago it was really bad; people who were untenured had to be “let go, not for cause” and the rest of us had to take furlough days which caused me a lot of emotional upset and I still have that fear now that my job may go away, even though I’m doing the best I possibly can and am following all the rules)Report

    • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

      “That said, we’ve had problems filling work-study positions, at least in past years. Why? Because we’re told “people would rather take out loans than work during their education.”

      I used to work with a guy that went to Indiana University, lived on campus, etc and took out tons of loans, plus credit cards for his education. I asked him if he also worked a lot and he said he had a part-time job one summer.


      Every time he didn’t get a promotion he lost his shit. Debt makes people crazy.Report

    • Avatar Pinky says:

      We need to teach financial literacy, particularly in the lower-income populations. We should do this because we should do it, but we should also do it because those are the people likely to be the first ones in their family ever to have the option of taking on large debt in their late teens.Report

      • Avatar George Turner says:

        Nolan Bushnell (founder of Atari) has many great interviews on Youtube about education and the coming collapse of brick-and-mortar universities. One thing he points out is that in days gone by, a person couldn’t get a bank loan until they were 21 because we didn’t think young people were mature enough to know what they were signing up for. And then all of the sudden we started pushing humongous bank loans on 17 year-olds to pay for college.Report

    • Avatar Em Carpenter says:

      Many law schools, including mine, actually prohibit students from working. I did anyway, because I had to support myself, but I could have been forced to quit if it had been discovered.

      I did have a work study in undergrad, pretty sure it was minimum wage or not much more, definitely did not cover tuition. I basically bought my groceries with it.

      I did not have parent support. Living at home was not an option for me after age 16. I had to pay for everything, except rent when I stayed at a house my grandmother owned. But that was 30 miles away, so I had my choice of transportation expenses or rent.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

      The problem with pay as you go as a mentality is that this is fine when the costs of tuition were low and wages were good. It was possible in the 1970s and into the 80s to pay for a public university with summer and part time jobs and even have some cash to spare.

      Now not so much.

      I’m not sure it is a good idea to have people do 10, 15, 20 year piecemeal educations as economic policy. Better to find a way to let them to do it in 4-5 years and then enter the work force.

      An overwhelming majority of students have student loans. This includes people from solidly upper-middle class families. Imagine if you needed to do 8 years to complete undergrad because pay as you go is gosh darn Calvinist-American and then do medical school. Do you need to do medical school as pay as you go? The U.S. wouldn’t have any doctors.Report

      • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

        “I’m not sure it is a good idea to have people do 10, 15, 20 year piecemeal educations as economic policy. Better to find a way to let them to do it in 4-5 years and then enter the work force.”

        I started college in 1993 and graduated with two bachelor degrees in 2003. I worked full-time for most of that 10 years, twice working a part-time job on top of that. One time I complained about how long it was taking to my grandfather. He reminded me that he started college in 1937, served in WWII, raised a family, had a career and finished his bachelor degree in 1975. I quit complaining after that.Report

        • Avatar InMD says:

          I get what you’re saying here but I think it’s unrealistic for most people. Yea there are ways you can be really diligent, game the system, and come out on top with a good degree and no or very little debt. But it seems counterproductive to set up a system that requires that. I know we’ve all got the morality play in our heads of the grievance studies major working at starbucks to pay back a small mortgage but there are real ripple effects across the economy.Report

          • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

            I’m not advocating people take the 10-year path. I think we need to tell kids it’s okay to go to community college, then attend their local university. And it’s really, really okay if you want to learn a trade and not get a degree and it doesn’t mean you are a dummy, especially when you will probably be making more than I do in my middle management position.

            And maybe find ways to sell off or get alternative revenue from all the facilities that were built with federal loan money so kids could have an amazing campus experience. Seriously, my alma mater has an off-campus apartment building for students that has a pool and a coffee shopReport

            • Avatar InMD says:

              I agree with all of that, though I still think we need to restructure the loans and create some cost controls. At the very least there needs to be more skin in the game on the university and state side.

              I have really conflicted feelings on community colleges. For people who understand what they are (that being a jumping off point) I think they’re wonderful. But then I have this nagging anecdata about people I’ve known who took years and years of part time classes but never got any kind of degree/certification or were able to transfer. One of my brothers is like this. Obviously a lot of it is on them and their own maturity issues but it seems to me like community colleges should exercise a heavy hand, maybe even a heavier hand than 4 year schools, to make sure people either stay on track or get out.Report

            • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

              The problem with the 10 year path is that colleges HATE it, and do a lot to make it difficult so as to discourage it.Report

        • Avatar dragonfrog says:

          A classmate of mine in university worked full time while studying. He often fell asleep in class. He wasn’t bored – quite the contrary, he was passionate about the subject. He was just so constantly exhausted that it was impossible for him to stay awake while sitting still for an hour in a warm room.

          I think it’s safe to say he was not getting the most out of the education he was compromising his health to afford. It’s a miracle he didn’t kill himself falling asleep at the wheel.Report

          • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

            I never had much of a problem working full-time while in college. The few semesters where I worked two jobs (my regular full-time job plus a paid internship) were rough though. Luckily I have never needed a lot of sleep, but I could see other people struggling in the same scenario. I was just lucky I guess that I could handle it.Report

          • fillyjonk fillyjonk says:

            Yes, I have gone during my teaching career from:

            – seeing students asleep in class and feeling (but not expressing) rage: “They don’t care about their educations! They must be partying!” (which would have been true of my alma mater, when I attended)

            – seeing students asleep in class and beating up on myself: “You’re boring and if you were a better teacher, they’d stay awake”

            – to a grudging “This really sucks but most of them are working graveyard shifts and what do you expect, they’re gonna fall asleep some times”

            I don’t know how, or if, we fix it. I know I couldn’t live on a (say) $10,000 a year salary or some such (professorial pay cuts have been proposed to “make college affordable”)

            It’s just….there’s so much broken in this world right now and I feel sad that I’m learning to live with and accept the brokenness as ‘the new normal.’

            At my uni we try to work with people who dropped out and return, or people wanting to take the long path, but some rules still wind up being inflexible and the ten-year path doesn’t work.

            We HAVE gone to online short-courses for some stuff but I have no idea how good they are, I don’t teach any of them and would prefer not to (and my areas of expertise are not the areas they would cover anyway)Report

        • Avatar Michael Cain says:

          I don’t think I could have made it through either my BS program (math/CS double major plus physics minor) or my MS (in an applied math field) on a stretched-out part-time basis.Report

          • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

            There were some semesters I literally only took one class because it was all I could afford. I wouldn’t advocate it for anyone, but I do think slowing down the pace a little might make people less inclined to take out loans. There were many times I was tempted to borrow the money so I could hurry up and be done.Report

            • Avatar Michael Cain says:

              My problem would have been along the lines of Numerical Analysis III requires a bunch of stuff from Calc II that was six years ago and the algorithms class that was three years ago. Granted that at the time I had a trick memory for certain kinds of math, but even it had limits.Report

              • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

                Well I should probably clarify that I did a dual degree program so I took all but one class required for my history degree* and then did my entire anthropology degree afterwards. The first one took about 8 years, due to financial stuff. I did the second one in 2 years because I was more financially stable and because many of my history classes met the social science elective requirements for the second degree.

                Also, History courses don’t build on each other that much. My archaeology stuff did, which is why I am glad I did that one second and much faster.

                * Thank god someone in the financial aid office told me to not finish my first degree before starting the second. If you do that, you lose your Pell grants.Report

            • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

              Br. Cain is right. The STEM degrees have a pretty tight progression. They expect the student to take X, and then take Y & Z within a year of taking X, because Y & Z build off of X heavily. If you need the first few weeks of class just to remember everything in X, you’ll be over your head before the midterms.Report

              • fillyjonk fillyjonk says:

                Also labs in STEM courses are a huge issue for people who try to work while in school, you can’t take afternoon shifts.

                I’d willingly teach labs in the morning but when we’ve tried them no one wants to sign up for an 8 am to 10 am lab either.Report

        • Avatar Doctor Jay says:

          My sister has an educational history more like that. It took a long time, and it was piecemeal. Ultimately, she got her degree and became a social worker, and she was very effective at it, in part because of her own personal history. Not that she ever did something terrible, but she had worked as a waitress and grocery checker for a long time, and knew the life.

          Yeah, I’m ok with piecemeal. I think we should support it. Freeloading is a possibility, for sure, but maybe we could step back and think about this differently?Report

  5. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Make student loans dischargable in bankruptcy. Make bankruptcy something that you can apply for once you are officially emancipated from your parents (that’s 21, right? Though with new insurance rules, it might be 26 now… whatever).

    Put the colleges on the hook for it. (I am open for it being “all of it”, I am also open for it being “half”. I’m 100% open to negotiation for anything between those two. Not really interested in arguments that it should be less than half, though.)

    There’s one hell of a grift going on and I have a suspicion that humanities degrees do not communicate today what humanities degrees communicated as recently as the mid-90’s. (And in the mid-90’s, professors hinted that humanities degrees were worth less than they were in the 80’s.)

    And, let me repeat myself, I HAVE NO PROBLEM WITH HUMANITIES DEGREES. I have one myself.

    But I got mine when I was able to pay for mine with a minimum wage job (plus tips) and I didn’t go to a small liberal arts college, I got mine from a commuter college. I paid around $6000/year for my college degree. I don’t think I overpaid.

    If colleges were still charging around $6000/year (sure, let’s adjust for inflation, why not?) for a humanities degree, I’d not see the argument that we need to change how loans are done.

    But the biggest problem is probably not the kid who graduates with $40,000 in debt. (I got that number from here.)

    It’s the kid who drops out halfway through with $20,000 in debt.

    If we only make “some college” dischargable in bankruptcy, maybe that’d fix everything.

    But what we’re doing now is unsustainable and it’s going to crash and it’s going to be awful.Report

    • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

      “If colleges were still charging around $6000/year…”

      My stepdaughter attends a regional campus of a big state university. Tuition is $7,000 per year. Totally reasonable and we love the school and the campus. We should also ask, how many fields even care where your degree came from? My degree could have been from WalMart and I still would have gotten opportunities because only about 27% of our local population has a degree.Report

      • fillyjonk fillyjonk says:

        I think we’re at about $8000 a year right now for tuition. (We try really hard to be affordable). This means we don’t have some of the perks other places do and some of the budgetary stuff for getting lab supplies and the like is a minor nightmare for professors. But our enrollment jumped this fall when we were one of, I think 2, state schools that didn’t jack up tuition.

        (Of course, books and room-and-board, if you take it, add about half again as much, but still)Report

        • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

          Yeah, while my stepdaughter’s college is very affordable, they only offer on-campus apartments, which doubles the cost to $14,000/year.Report

          • fillyjonk fillyjonk says:

            we have LOTS of commuters, which raises its own set of issues if someone has an unreliable old car (or an unreliable friend who drives them) or if the weather gets bad.

            I have friends teaching at more elite schools who are aghast at the volume of “make ups” I do, but you know? It happens. If a person’s car won’t start, it won’t start, and I’m not going to add to their misery by saying “Nope, sorry, you can’t take the exam.” (I do have requirements about how soon it needs to be made up).

            Yeah, I might get played some times but I’ve reached the point of saying “if someone’s lying to me, it’s THEIR soul, and they’ll eventually lie in a way that gets found out”

            But it does make me tired some times and I know I do more work than some of my peers by being accommodating.Report

            • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

              I’d say you are doing the right thing there. I had a wonky car for most of my time in college and every morning was a bit stressful.Report

              • fillyjonk fillyjonk says:

                what made me start doing it across the board was the student (earning As in two of my classes at the time) who called me up in tears because her car wasn’t starting, she lived a half hour away, and we had an exam that day.

                I’ve only had a few brief carless periods in places where I really needed one, not long enough to realize the full horror, but, yeah.Report

              • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

                I really liked my skeletal forensics professor in college, but then my grandfather passed away the day of a unit test. He said he was very sorry but no makeups. He was no longer one of my favorites after that.Report

      • Avatar bookdragon says:

        I don’t know where you live, but in-state tuition varies a lot by state. We’re in PA, which has one of the highest in-state tuition costs for public universities. Average annual in-state four year, public college tuition in Pennsylvania was $11,653/year last year and you only get that low an average by including community colleges (most of which don’t have the systems engineering or data analytics type of programs my daughter wants to pursue).

        Penn State main campus (listed as a ‘best value’ !) is ~$17,500/yr and that’s tuition only. You tack another ~$12k on for room and board. I can send her to universities out of state, and even some in Canada and Europe, for not much more. Fortunately we have money saved and she’ll have AP credits to cut down on some credit hour costs, but it’s still kind of outrageous. I went to a Big Ten school for 4 years for $40k total (including room and board). I had scholarships and worked as a TA ,undergrad RA, and co-opted, so left debt-free. I don’t see a lot of ways students in this state can manage that today.Report

        • Avatar George Turner says:

          A few days ago I was working with an engineering student from Pittsburg who is in Lexington because the Univ of Kentucky’s out of state tuition is cheaper than Pennsylvania’s in-state tuition. Another of our engineering student employees is also from Pennsylvania, perhaps for the same reason.

          You can send your child to the University of New Delhi for probably $1000 a semester, which includes tuition, an off-campus apartment, and food. One day they should start running ads during SEC football games. Throughout the South, dad’s will look over at their kids and say “Junior, how would you like to study abroad?”Report

        • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

          “…you only get that low an average by including community colleges (most of which don’t have the systems engineering or data analytics type of programs my daughter wants to pursue).”

          Can I ask why she couldn’t do two years of community college and then transfer? That was the path I took and it saved me thousands. I also just really enjoyed the community college experience. Smaller campus, smaller classes, etc.Report

          • Avatar George Turner says:

            One of the friends of the engineering student from Pittsburg did most of her first two years of college work at local community colleges, then transfered to Carnegie Mellon (which is really expensive).

            One of my former housemates took all the classes he could at our local community college, and like many others he said the quality of education was actually much higher there. He had real teachers interested in teaching instead of grad students, bored professors, or professors who barely spoke English. It was also, of course, vastly cheaper.Report

            • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

              “He had real teachers interested in teaching instead of grad students, bored professors, or professors who barely spoke English.”

              That was also my experience. Most of the professors that I remember most fondly were from community college, not university.

              We have a family member that was a dean at Roosevelt College in Chicago and now at Michigan State. Talking to him a couple of years ago at a family gathering I was surprised to hear him raving about the quality of community colleges. He said he often points high school students in that direction. He said he would rather them do 2 years of CC then transfer to his college, instead of trying to do it from the start and they have to drop out due to over-extending their finances.

              He was also careful to note that his pro-CC stance was predicated mostly on schools east of the Mississippi. I don’t have any facts to back this up, but have always heard west coast CCs are pretty bad.Report

          • Avatar bookdragon says:

            It’s not off the table, but there is an equation wrt cost at community colleges vs time to complete degree at university. Those CC close enough to home that she wouldn’t need $10-12K living expenses are in the $9k/year tuition range, and since they lack a bunch of the pre-req courses you need to take the degree program junior and senior level classes, going to a community college can wind up costing more for certain majors (such as her fields of interest – obviously for a business major or most liberal arts degrees this might be different). If you don’t have AP credits to get out of some general ed freshman classes, CC can be a good option for that, but (if she does as well with APs this year as last) she’ll go in with 16-20 credit hours covering those. So in our case, a semester or two at a CC to get remaining basic courses out of the way would likely be the best that could offer.

            However, that option is weighted by advice that generally it’s more difficult to get academic scholarships when transferring from a community college than when applying from high school. Since she got a top 5% SAT score and is in the top 10% of her class, she is in the running for some of those.

            So at this point, she’s applying to colleges in-state and a couple comparably priced out-of-state universities with the programs she’s interested in. We’ll see what they offer in terms of financial aid and then do the math and decide where to go from there.Report

            • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

              “…obviously for a business major or most liberal arts degrees this might be different).”

              That is unfortunate to hear. As a liberal arts major, I didn’t run into that. i think I had one class that didn’t transfer which was some silly elective I took for fun.Report

              • Avatar bookdragon says:

                Changing times. When I was an undergrad, engineering was a 4 year degree and most of the first 2 years could have easily been taken at a community college (if there were good community colleges near you – mileage varies considerably on those). Now, it’s generally 5 years due at least in part to the number of courses and difficulty in stacking the sequence of required classes.Report

            • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:


              then do the math and decide where to go from there

              This is key. You can do the math. My parents couldn’t. They had no idea how to evaluate schools or asses costs and aid. Ergo, neither did I. My two saving graces were marrying a woman who was (and still is) much better with money than I ever was, and being in the VA Voc Rehab program, which had education specialists who sat me down and held my hand through it all until they were comfortable I knew what I was doing.Report

              • Avatar bookdragon says:

                We can, though we still feel like we’re playing catch up with all the ways things have changed since we went to college. But just the fact that we both went to college and can work through doing the math is a huge advantage. It’s why a lot of colleges now have scholarships specifically set aside for first generation students whose parents really have no idea how to advise or help them with the process.Report

        • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

          I went to UW-Madison in the late 90’s (Graduated with the BS in 2000), and spent about $4K-$5K per year in resident tuition and fees (well, the VA did, Voc Rehab and all that, but I still read the bill every semester). Just checked and today it’s $10.5K/yr just for resident tuition. So the cost doubled in 20 years, which seems a bit high, but not unreasonable for a public Ivy.

          Still, I am glad I started a 529 for Bug. In 12 years, he should have enough in there that how school is getting paid won’t be an issue.Report

          • Avatar bookdragon says:

            I’d advise adding as much as you can now to maximize interest earned. We started 529s for both kids as soon as possible, but even religiously putting more than a car payment in every month, we’re still short. We can cover 4 years tuition for in-state and some out of state, but once you add room and board, which comes out to more than I paid for 4 years tuition + room and board, we’re still a bit short.

            Of course, we wound up in a state where the in-state tuition is high. If I weren’t tied to my job b/c I can’t trust our govt not to eliminate protections for people with pre-existing conditions, I might have looked for a job in VA before the oldest started high school. You need a year or more residency to qualify for in-state there, but it’s very reasonable and there several very good public universities (including 2 we’re applying to b/c they are top listed for her field of interest and out-of-state tuition isn’t that much worse than in-state for PA).Report

            • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

              $200/mo goes in. After next year, it will probably go higher, but we have a few things to finish paying off first.Report

            • Avatar PD Shaw says:

              YMMV, but I have not found my 529 investments to have a rate of return that was noticeable, and most of it must have been lost in the 2008/2009 crash. But my state’s tax deduction seems generous.

              Unfortunately, while these plans were developed to encourage the middle class to save for college, 70% of 529 accounts are held by families with incomes greater than $200,000. So on one hand, saving is a good alternative to borrowing, but on the other, at least some states are assisting in tax avoidance strategies for the wealthy.

              We’re not wealthy, but both my wife and I had our undergraduate (but not graduate) degrees paid for by our parents. My dad’s college was paid for by his dad, and his dad went to college on the GI Bill following WWII. So we would like to pass on the cost of the college education we received; anything more will be on them.Report

              • Avatar bookdragon says:

                Careful on calling $200k wealthy. For people living in DC, that means being able to afford a two bedroom 900 sq ft condo. ditto for San Fran and a lot of NYC and other places too. But FAFSA doesn’t take cost of living into account, only household income as a function of national averages, so for a lot of “wealthy” middle class people 529s aren’t so much a tax write off as the only way outsdie of huge loans to have money for college since their kids will not be eligible for financial aid.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                The 83rd percentile isn’t the 99th, that’s for sure.Report

              • Avatar bookdragon says:

                I’m not saying it isn’t above average income, but when you’re talking about college costs, it is discouraging to think that you make too much to afford to send you kids to college… even though you have very little savings or disposable income because the cost of living where you are is so high.

                There’s a huge difference between a household income of $200k in central Iowa vs in San Francisco. And its worse for people making $70k in high cost areas, because that is just enough above national average to mean very little aid even though you’re barely hanging on financially.Report

              • Avatar PD Shaw says:

                Personally, wealthier than me is the important part, but $200k is well within the top 5% in my state, so the state income tax benefits tend to go to the top 5%. Other states may have more restrictive tax policies.Report

              • Avatar bookdragon says:

                It’s top 5% in my state, but PA has a huge range on that plot due to Pittsburgh and Philly vs Pennsyltucky. However, $200k is still well off here, and I wouldn’t complain.

                My point was more because I know people who live in high cost areas who make ~$200k but have less than I do at the end of the month despite living pretty frugally because of the cost of everything, especially rent, though they live in what to me seems like a shoebox. I mean there are ways around it, but they involve the kind of commutes that mean you only see your kid for about an hour on week nights.Report

      • Avatar Em Carpenter says:

        My school is at around $8K per year now for tuition. Of course, that does not include books, room and board, or any living expenses. The school’s website estimates the cost of attendance at $23K per year.Report

        • Avatar George Turner says:

          The other day I was working with a 17-year old home schooled student and I asked her why she could get a high-school diploma from mom but couldn’t get a masters degree or PhD from dad. She thought the question was hilariously ridiculous because of course nobody can do that. But that’s what they used to say about high school diplomas.

          So if a professor can mint PhD’s, why can’t he cut out all the nonsense costs his university imposes and educate his daughter directly?Report

          • Avatar Em Carpenter says:

            Because her future employment prospects will not accept “my dad taught me” as sufficient proof of education.
            I guess they could apply some sort of competence testing like they do for homeschoolers?Report

            • Avatar George Turner says:

              But oddly, employers frequently hire “my dad taught me” employees because they know who smart dad is, and how smart his kids are. ^_^

              As an obvious example, nobody is ever going to weigh the college sheepskins of Ivanka, Eric, and Donald Trump Jr as high as the fact that they were personally educated, honed, and refined by the master, Donald Trump. But of course they are the exception that proves the rule.

              But this goes back to something Nolan Bushnell has brought up about online degrees that aren’t directly part of existing brick-and-mortar universities. Everyone currently employed in hiring people has a conventional degree, and are thus likely to be fully invested in maintaining the existing education system. If you’ve paid $100K for your degree, and went through years of grinding through our current system, would you hire someone whose degree came from a website?

              That’s the big hurdle Bushnell sees in changing the status quo. Perhaps people with website degrees will found start-ups and hire people with other website degrees, and then we’ll have a parallel system for a while. A lot of hiring in the tech sector is done without college degrees because some of the brightest tech geeks are pulled right out of high school or college. Bill Gates in an obvious example of skipping out early.Report

          • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

            My boss recently told me that he got his GED after his freshman year of college. He explained that he applied and was accepted at his college during his junior year of high school. Once he was in, he just dropped out of high school and started working at a diesel plant full-time in order to have money for his tuition. He started college at the normal age of 18 and then when he was back home during the summer, he took the GED test and easily passed.

            Not advocating this approach, but it demonstrated he gamed the system to make the financial stuff work.Report

        • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

          “The school’s website estimates the cost of attendance at $23K per year.”

          One of the biggest issues I see is the need to go away to school. When I was in high school I knew I couldn’t afford to live on campus anywhere and I wasn’t a good enough student to get a scholarship, so I made my peace with going to college locally. I don’t know WV very well but here in KY there are colleges within reasonable driving distance of just about everyone.Report

          • Avatar Em Carpenter says:

            Sure. I didn’t go away, though. WVU is less than 30 miles from the house I grew up in… but I couldn’t live in that house, and I couldn’t have afforded transportation if I had. I didn’t have a car or anyone who was going to drive me.

            I speak only for myself in saying I did not make a mistake, debt or no.
            Everyone has different circumstances, and everyone lives with the consequences of their choices, but I just knew in my heart it was then or never. I was going to get out of where I was and going to college, or I was going nowhere.Report

            • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

              As you say, everyone has their own situations and choices to make. If we’re talking about college at a national level though, I strongly believe we need to be changing the stories we tell high school kids.Report

              • Avatar Em Carpenter says:

                I don’t disagree there. Honestly, back then community college was a joke. It’s where you went if you weren’t good enough to get into “real” college. I would have been embarrassed to go, and that’s dumb and I hope kids don’t feel that way anymore.

                Also, I think a lot of kids are so looking forward to the romanticized college experience. And there is something to be said for it as well.Report

              • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

                After attending a private prep school with a lot of well-off kids, I was also embarrassed to go to CC, until I eventually got to university and realized I was easily just as prepared as my classmates, if not more so.

                My wife went away to school, to a very expensive southern private university. She had this amazing experience on a beautiful campus and made all these close friends she still sees regularly. As our girls got older I had to ‘gently’ remind her to lower their expectations. We were fortunate that we could also give them the on-campus experience, but it was at State U, not the Country Club of the South.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

                Since I started as an adult transfer (Navy to CC to Uni), and I was married, my college experience was vastly different from many of my peers. No drunken parties, no casual sex, etc. I have many good friends & memories from that time, but for me, it was never meant to be a wonderful romanticized experience. It was a way out of grinding poverty, and that was something that was never far from my mind.

                I think that romantic ideal is a lie we really need to stop telling our kids, and Universities need to stop trying to peddle.Report

              • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

                “…it was never meant to be a wonderful romanticized experience. It was a way out of grinding poverty, and that was something that was never far from my mind.”

                This. It’s also why I think we would be so much better off if we re-started the WPA, taught kids a trade and encouraged them to spend a few years building stuff. College might be a lot different if all of the freshmen were 22 and had just spent 4 years fixing bridges.Report

              • Avatar Jesse says:

                See, and I was actually agreeing with you for once, then you had to go back to this typical backwards conservatism.

                I see no reason why somebody like myself or some other poor smart kid needs to be miserable for years doing manual labor work simply to receive an education, simply to appease outdated views of what “real work” is, such as yours.Report

              • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

                I think your impulse to disagree with me is overriding your good sense here…

                Firstly, I work behind a computer most of the day, so who am I to decide what real work is? I have done both manual and non-manual jobs. One of my favorites? Slinging sandwiches in a deli. One of my least favorite? Being a logistical analysis for two years for twice the money.

                #1 I wouldn’t require kids work in the WPA. Completely optional, like the Peace Corps.

                #2 I wouldn’t allow them to earn college tuition by doing it. This is’t the GI Bill. They get a wage and skills.

                This is just something that I think would improve the country and make sure kids are a bit more mature when they start college. It would also probably push some away from college when they realize how much they could make with the skills they just acquired.

                “I see no reason why somebody like myself or some other poor smart kid needs to be miserable for years doing manual labor work…”

                Sounds like you have a chip on your shoulder. Some people like manual work. At times I have.Report

              • Avatar Jesse says:

                “Sounds like you have a chip on your shoulder. Some people like manual work. At times I have.”

                That’s fine, if you want too – but I see no reason to block kids from going to school at 18 because of some absurd notion that going to work for four years make you mature.

                Speaking personally, as somebody who was working through most of college, and has a working class background, I found just as many non-responsible people working full-time, not going to college, and then just blowing their weekly check and such. Shockingly, there was no magical increase of matureness because they spend three years hanging drywall instead of going to college.Report

              • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

                “…but I see no reason to block kids from going to school at 18…”

                Can you point to the place where I suggested that?Report

              • Avatar Jesse says:

                “College might be a lot different if all of the freshmen were 22 and had just spent 4 years fixing bridges.”Report

              • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

                If it will help you sleep at night, I’ll revise that to most of the freshmen. I wouldn’t want to force anyone to do manual labor if they don’t want to.Report

              • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

                Yeah but this is Mike. Everyone is telling him why his idea doesn’t work and he is still arguing it blue to his face.Report

              • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

                Everyone? Are you sure Saul?Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

                Here’s the thing. I’ve done a lot of interviews over the years, and except for a very few notable exceptions, every interviewer was more interested in my Navy experience and training, or in my IT background (the job I had while in school) than in my education.

                When every fresh face walking into your interview room has a great transcript from a great school, and maybe a couple of internships or part time jobs, they all start to blend together. Having that diverse background makes one stand out, and signals things employers like to see.

                There is value in having done things before starting college, both for the student attending college, and the job seeker afterwards.Report

              • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

                I agree with this. Diversity is good. We should make it possible to be a non-traditional student but:

                1, I disagree with Mike on morality here. I think it is a sign of a liberal, civilized, and humane society/economy that provides for its citizens to receive an education;

                2. I don’t necessarily think a few years of doing shit work at 18-22 is good character building;

                3. Unlike others, I have no problems with 18 year olds who want to study the arts and the humanities. But I’m of the school of thought that if you are 18 and dream of being a hedge fund manager instead of a poet or a painter, you are kind of doing 18 wrong;

                4. People will spend most of their lives working. What is horrible about giving some free time when they are young?

                5. A lot of people on this subject do sound a bit of out time and refuse to look at current realities. “I did this in 1975 or 1996. Why can’t you do it today?” is not very convincing argumentation. Things change.

                6. The race issue LeeEsq and InMD concurred on is the elephant in the room as it is for everything in the United States;

                7. I’m not that threatened by 18-22 year olds engaging in hyperbole but lots of people seemingly are.Report

              • Avatar Maribou says:

                @saul-degraw Learning how to fix bridges / build things is not “shit work”, whatever else one may say to its benefit or detriment.

                I’ve done some kinds of manual labor and I sucked at it and didn’t find it enjoyable… but I’ve done other kinds of manual labor and been a genius at it and loved what I was doing. Even at the jobs where my bosses were really stupid about how to run things so that people didn’t end up aching at the end of the day.

                If nothing else, if everyone had to at least try some very concrete jobs (of whatever kind) between 18-22 [which I don’t advocate, mostly because I don’t like blanket advocating anything], fewer people would, in later life, refer to good, honest, enjoyable work that other people do that *isn’t* shit work, as such.

                There are shit jobs. There are probably shit jobs fixing bridges. But in general, speaking as someone whose brother-in-law used to build bridges, it’s not shit work.

                Particularly not when one is young and healthy and one’s body will cooperate. It might be *more* humane to have younguns doing most of that kind of work and olderuns doing stuff that is less hard on bodies…Report

              • Avatar Jesse says:

                @maribou, I think people building bridges should be well paid unionized folks who want to do the work because they enjoy it or at the very worst, they prefer it over working inside.

                But, for myself, I’d still consider it ‘shit work’ for me because even if it was a highly paid unionized job, I’d go work at The Gap or Target before I spent all day working outside.

                Also, I question why our example of a “real job” is a building bridges? Why isn’t it being a health care worker or some other type of service job?

                Which goes back to Saul’s point that for folks like Mike and others, this is a moral proposition, that kids should have to earn their college, just like he had too, as opposed to it being part of society, like in most of the First World.

                If somebody wants to go work building a bridge from 18-21 instead of going to college, great! But, I want that to be their choice, not some outdated view that it’ll build character, morality, or maturity.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

                What’s wrong with being a bridge building apprentice for a year, or a health care intern, etc.?

                What we could ask is that companies and governments make room for kids to get a feel for the real world before going back to school.Report

              • Avatar Maribou says:

                “Also, I question why our example of a “real job” is a building bridges? ”

                Dude, if you look upthread I also pushed back against that example as some kind of Ur example and suggested a broader focus – I just want the job to be concrete.** Being a health care worker or some other type of service job is also likely to be concrete, and to satisfy my outdated views about character, morality and maturity.

                For me, it has nothing even to do with those jobs giving them those skills, but more with using the physical assets they have while they have them, making sure they don’t get sheltered away from having to deal with concrete things much at all, and letting them … simmer a bit before they tackle college. In a useful, rather than a drifting, way.

                Perhaps if I had more trouble picking school learning back up after years away at a time, I’d feel differently.

                **ie doing stuff with stuff all day – my own best manual labor skill (far from the only) is shelving books, and believe me, when you’re doing it 8-10 hours a day without doing anything else, it’s very, very very manualReport

              • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

                “Which goes back to Saul’s point that for folks like Mike and others, this is a moral proposition, that kids should have to earn their college, just like he had too, as opposed to it being part of society, like in most of the First World.

                If somebody wants to go work building a bridge from 18-21 instead of going to college, great! But, I want that to be their choice, not some outdated view that it’ll build character, morality, or maturity.”

                Jesse – I already said that i would not make it mandatory and maybe you need a history lesson. The WPA wasn’t mandatory either. I also explicitly said I wouldn’t tie it to college. You work, you get a wage and experience. My goal is actually to reduce the number of kids going to college just because they think that is what they are supposed to do AND take care of some infrastructure needs in the country. Seriously though, it’s like you are ignoring have of my comments and just making up a story.Report

              • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

                I don’t think building bridges is shit work but my comment was not meant to go off of Mike’s original comment. I meant it to mean any work that was dull, low-paid, low-benefit, and repetitive.

                Mike’s proposition is a moral one that I disagree with firmly. It isn’t my worldview. And I do find it interesting that there is a cultural aspect to this debate that we seem to be avoiding.

                I also find the praise of physical labor as virtuous above all other labor to be anti-intellectual. There is a distinct anti-intellectualism in the idea that 18 year olds should be doing manual and/or boring labor instead of studying Art History or Shakespeare’s sonnets or biology or history, etc. I’m not for that.Report

              • Avatar Maribou says:


                The idea that the jobs mentioned / proposed in these threads so far are dull and low benefit is one you are putting on them, not one inherent in them. That’s my point. The pay is inherent in the age group, and the repetition is a blessing for many, including some of the most intellectually gifted people you’ll find.

                And I was far more intellectually free – should say *am* far more intellectually free – and spent a lot more time in liberal arts exploration of the sort you hold dear, in the years where I was doing manual labor and customer/public service than in the years where school was my main focus. Spart of the reason it took me so long to even get a master’s degree – not because I was anti-intellectual but because I tend to resent giving so much of my intellect over to even the best of teachers to direct.

                I’m avoiding some “cultural aspect” to the debate for 2 reasons:
                1) I think it’s BS and it’s really a class divide
                2) I’m as culturally elite / educated / etc as anyone else you want to put me up against. With all due respect, I suspect I have a deeper vein of intellectuality and obsession with learning even than *you* do, albeit of a less exclusive nature, and as such I find it really frustrating when you assume that people who extol manual labor don’t have that kind of background. I don’t think the lines here are being drawn according to who has the most experience with culture and cultural learning. they *do* seem to be being drawn according to who has the most experience with manual labor and technical skills – insofar as lines are even being drawn, which I think is way less than you seem to think except when people are responding to you and your phrases like “shit work”…Report

              • Have you ever stopped to consider that maybe, just maybe, the praise of physical labor as virtuous is itself a kind of pushback against a widespread attitude of superiority and assumption that intellectual pursuits are better/more moral than physical ones?Report

              • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

                Saul – You seem like the kind of kid that would have went to a Montessori school, but if not, I assume you are at least familiar with self-directed learning? I was studying History for years before I took my first college class. My grandparents had a kick-ass National Geographic collection and we had a sweet Encyclopedia Britannica set at home. If a kid wants to do something with their hands for a few years, maybe see some of the country and learn a new skill in the process, they can surely take some books along with them…right? I regularly read history books on my lunch breaks and (shockingly) I still learn things!Report

              • Avatar Maribou says:

                “You seem like the kind of kid that would have went to a Montessori school.”

                Hey, don’t make me (totally non-seriously) fight you over Montessori schools. I went to one for two years pre-K and I credit it for 40 percent of my entire K-12 academic success. (My mom gets about 30 percent, mostly for stuff she did before I ever started K-12, and I will split the other 30 percent with three or four teachers I had in the traditional system who were really great.)

                Somehow Montessori has ended up lumped in with Waldorf and the like as upper-middle-class but the one I went to was need-blind in the middle of the countryside, there was no upper middle class to attend (and only about 20 students). Who knows how they were making enough money to survive, but many Montessori schools – more than half, from what I remember researching when I got curious in my late 20s – are similar.Report

              • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

                I really don’t have a problem with Montessori schools. they are a bit hippy dippy for my tastes (I like slightly more structure) but I was mostly just being snarky with Saul and wanted to make sure he understood people could learn things without a professor there to spoon feed it to them.Report

              • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

                I went to public school. The Montessori school jibe sounds suspiciously close to a dog whistle.Report

              • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

                I stand corrected.

                Lots of Montessori schools are public. Clearly you aren’t familiar with them, so it’s a good thing I asked. This is a good link for self-directed education. You might see the potential there for college-age kids to still learn things while doing shit work building bridges.Report

              • Avatar greginak says:

                Well there is actually early 20th century art that glorifies the working man and physical labor and is Art.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

                I’m actually undecided here, between the idea of craft labor and intellectual labor.
                I think I am just having a hard time separating my own interests and loves from What Ought To Be.

                Frank Lloyd Wright famously had his students at Taliesin do manual construction labor as part of their studies on the belief that it helped them understand how buildings go together, and I would have leapt at the chance to do construction as part of my architectural degree.

                But I know this isn’t the path everyone can or should take part in.
                And it is further complicated by the fact that what we know as “work” is rapidly changing.
                Not just manual labor, but intellectual labor is also changing.

                Ironically, my labor as an architect is changing. The mathematical , cognitive labor that we consider “higher” and more praiseworthy is now mostly done by algorithm.

                I used to draw with a pencil, as an intern under an old architect who used a slide rule, where I made 2 dimensional works of art that represented buildings;
                Now I am a craftsman building virtual 3 dimensional models of buildings, stick by stick, wall by wall. The software handles all the math and calculation.

                And of course the work of other professions is undergoing radical change as well.

                All of which is a long winded way of saying I just don’t know what the best course is for young people since I have no way of knowing what they will face.Report

              • Avatar Maribou says:

                @chip I think “both” is the best course. but then I would.Report

              • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

                I agree with Maribou. The answer is ‘both’.

                I like the idea of a WPA because it’s a big program that encourages kids to experience and explore other options.Report

              • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

                I just don’t have any William Morris romanticism for the kind of shopcraft and soulcraft worldview. Nor do I like its pseudo-populism/socialism while only being able to make things that really rich people could afford. And maybe I’m just more abstract but I don’t get why intellectual work is supposed to be alienating but building a chair isn’t.

                If someone wants to work outside that’s fine! If someone wants to do physical work that is fine. But Jesse points out above that he has no desire to work outside, A lot of this discussions are indirect fights about whether one kind of work is more moral or superior than another. This is silly to me.Report

              • Avatar Maribou says:

                “This is silly to me.”

                Hey, you were the one that decided to call some set of jobs “shit work.” Without that, there’s not much conflict.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

                You were the one who started it. Mike gave an example of an outdoor, manual labor job, but never said that was the only kind that would accomplish the goals he had in mind. You and Jesse were the ones who went all elitist.Report

              • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

                “A lot of this discussions are indirect fights about whether one kind of work is more moral or superior than another.”

                I have to concur with Maribou here – you and Jesse started this discussion by saying that certain kinds of labor were ‘shit work’. Weren’t you saying something recently about arguing until someone was blue in the face? If you want to backtrack on your thoughts about manual labor, feel free.Report

              • Avatar FortyTwo says:

                I spent a few years in construction before getting a civil engineering degree. It has been a great help in my career, not for getting a job, but for having more understanding of how my plans would be built. I’m also of the “manual labor is good” persuasion.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

                One of the ideas that gets unchallenged when we modern people talk about work, is the premise that cognitive labor is of a greater value and prestige than manual labor.

                We assume for instance that a lawyer or engineer who solves problems of logic is somehow doing work that has a greater value and deserving of higher status than the carpenter or mechanic who fashions things with his hands.

                I am finding that cognitive work is slowly being absorbed by technology; For instance, a century ago, an architect would have used trigonometry, geometry and arithmetic in his daily life; Today no architect does- all that is now invisibly inside software.

                I used to enjoy woodworking, and just for fun, built furniture using only hand tools- saws, planes, chisels- and it made me think constantly about Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, how the interplay between our muscles and our objects has a degree of intelligence that isn’t measured by IQ tests.Report

              • Avatar Dark Matter says:

                We assume for instance that a lawyer or engineer who solves problems of logic is somehow doing work that has a greater value and deserving of higher status than the carpenter or mechanic who fashions things with his hands.

                Assume? Mostly this is a market, supply/demand thing.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

                1) Hey, you know me, I place self interest over morality any day.

                2) Perhaps we should define ‘shit work’ here. The last time I did something I consider even remotely resembling ‘shit work’ for a paycheck, I was cleaning up the local butcher shop. And just to be clear, cleaning up a butcher shop sounds gross (it is), but it requires a considerable amount of attention to detail, because the state inspector comes by once a week, and if you missed something, you can be damn sure s/he won’t.

                3) It might, but I wouldn’t count on it.

                4) Wasn’t everything up until their 18th birthday pretty much ‘free time’? Ideally, anyway. Lots of kids have to start working awful young to at worst, help support the family, and at best just pay for the things they need. And lets be honest, unless you are suggesting that we allow a taxpayer subsidized Rumspringa, until you have kids, everything from 18 on is full of free time. If you are working so much you don’t have any free time, perhaps there are some life choices you should be looking at.

                5) Agreed. It’d be nice if we could go back to school being that affordable. Maybe we should look at Jaybirds idea of dischargable debt?Report

              • Avatar Maribou says:

                @jesse @mike-dwyer If we think about how much money the WPA put into non-manual labor jobs (eg the arts), there might be a way to bridge the difference….Report

              • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

                As much as I agree with you, adore WPA-era art and absolutely see value in funding it…that’s an impossible ask in our current political climate.Report

              • Avatar Maribou says:

                @mike-dwyer I find you can get a lot more money for artistic endeavors these days if you find a way to dress them up as marketing public services, gentrification projects, etc.

                I’ll admit I fear what the current political climate would *do* to those jobs, but probably not more than I fear what the current political climate would do to the solid trades-apprentice jobs that they *ought* to put in in the fields you are talking about…Report

              • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

                I really don’t want to politicize this comment thread since everyone is (mostly) getting along nicely. I will just say that I think you are right that the current environment is hostile to some of those ideas on both sides of the aisle.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

                That’s just what Hitler would say.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                The problem with Hitler wasn’t that his art school education wouldn’t have been paid for.

                It’s that he couldn’t get in in the first place.

                Making it easier to be accepted to art school won’t have the solutions you hope it will.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        We should also ask, how many fields even care where your degree came from?

        The ones at the very tippy tippy top. Also, when you’re first getting into the field, going to a good school (and being a member of a good fraternity/sorority) can give you one hell of a leg up over other people and have you jump ahead in the line.

        I imagine that, after that, *WHAT* you get your degree in is most important.

        Electrical Engineering (or any degree that obviously has weed-out courses) would put you ahead of the line of someone who has a degree in Marionette Arts (or any degree that does not obviously have weed-out courses).

        And, after that, having a degree puts you ahead of the line of someone who has “some college”.

        And “some college” puts you ahead of “High School Diploma”.

        And “High School Diploma” puts you ahead of “GED”.

        I’ll tell this story again:

        I have friends in management (until recently, I would have said that I know three people without degrees) at a small manufacturing company who tell me that they would hire a person with a year or two of experience as assistant manager of a Domino’s, Pizza Hut, or McDonald’s before they would hire a person with a bachelor’s degree in “Business” (let alone (whatever) Studies).

        They say this because, and I’ll try to recreate the rant for you:

        “I know that the guy who worked as an assistant manager at Pizza Hut had to deal with all three delivery drivers calling in sick on a Friday night because there was a party, I know that the guy who worked as an assistant manager at Domino’s had to deal with screaming customers at the same time as stoned line cooks at the same time as the phone ringing, I know that the guy who worked as an assistant manager at McDonald’s knows how to tell time, how to count, how to shower, and how to deal with both people who tell him what to do and people that he has to order around. The guy with a degree? I don’t know anything about him except that he can probably outdrink me.”

        I don’t know how representative this is but I was impressed by the rant and it was given to me at a point in his life when he did not (yet) have his (night school) college degree.Report

        • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

          “…they would hire a person with a year or two of experience as assistant manager of a Domino’s, Pizza Hut, or McDonald’s before they would hire a person with a bachelor’s degree in “Business” (let alone (whatever) Studies).”

          Based on my experience working with a lot of folks with business degrees, I would say your friend is absolutely correct.

          I also often marvel at how no one actually cares about your college grades. When I graduated I thought I would routinely be sending out transcripts to future employers. I think I have been asked to provide a transcript once, which was when I was applying to substitute teach. They didn’t actually care about my grades, just wanted proof I had at least 80 hours of college credits.Report

          • Avatar Maribou says:

            @mike-dwyer Ironically enough, the local public colleges (both regular and community college varieties) are the *only* jobs that have ever asked for my transcripts and weighed the grades in hiring. This fancy private college I work at now did not care one whit, they were far more interested in my work experience (and in fact have allowed me to shift my job desc and others in my dept to not have the bachelor’s be a stone-cold requirement any more, if there is equivalent experience).

            Occasionally jobs want proof of diploma of some sort, but that’s a different thing, as you note.Report

          • Avatar Pinky says:

            I don’t know if college grades were ever an indicator of knowledge, but they’re definitely not viewed that way now. And that’s not even addressing the question of the relationship between knowledge of course material and potential ability in a given field.

            Employers simply can’t make assumptions about a candidate based on his transcripts. Maybe if they know the particular school, or they think they do because of its reputation. An out-of-state school with moderate name recognition? Unlikely. If I’m interviewing a programmer who graduated from UCLA, what do I know? I’ve heard of the school, but I don’t know its reputation in anything but football. I don’t know anything about its computer department, much less about the particular teachers he had, or the grad students who probably taught the courses, or the grading policy those grad students followed.Report

            • Avatar Em Carpenter says:

              @four4thefire has a good piece on Medium about the varied and valid paths through education, and how grades don’t tell the story. Worth a read.

              This Is Us, In Transcript FormReport

            • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

              I think my three years as an archaeologist opened more doors than anything. People get intrigued when they see it on my resume even though it was pretty unglamorous. And also my prep school. It pays to stay in your hometown sometimes.Report

              • Avatar Pinky says:

                “I sat in a classroom, then worked in an office.”
                “I sat in a classroom, then worked in an office.”
                “I sat in a classroom, then fought The Mummy, then worked in an office.”Report

        • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

          These are anecdotes and not data. There are always going to be some stories like this but they are outliers in the general country.Report

          • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

            “There are always going to be some stories like this but they are outliers in the general country.”

            I disagree. Saul, I hate to tell you this man, but based on reading hundreds of your comments over the years, I don’t think you exactly have your thumb on the pulse of middle America. Most Americans work boring little jobs, in boring little companies and we just want people that are competent.Report

            • And beyond that, a lot of Americans simply want boring little jobs in boring little companies and don’t really feel too awfully let down that they’re not lighting the world on fire.


              One time on Ally McBeal they had an episode devoted to how terrible Ally felt for the poor secretary and the upshot was that the secretary was actually happy in her life and liked her job and didn’t need to be a high powered lawyer to feel good about herself. This was an entirely foreign concept to Ally.Report

              • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:


                I like, not love, my job but it’s comfortable, nice pay, etc. What it does allow me to do is have a lot of fun outside of work. I have a million hobbies, travel, read, watch TV…sometimes I even take in a theater show (I’m more cultured than Saul probably thinks 😉 It’s awesome to love your job and I have had those moments too. For right now, I’m good with ‘like’.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            These are anecdotes and not data.

            That’s certainly true.

            There are always going to be some stories like this but they are outliers in the general country.

            I’d need to see some data before I reach conclusions about whether my experiences are outliers.Report

        • Avatar bookdragon says:

          For an assistant management position in that kind of work I’d totally agree with that. In fact for a lot of positions that normally look for a business degree, experience is worth a lot more than classes.

          Honestly in engineering and most STEM professions it’s worth more too, but you can’t get relevant experience without having the educational background to be able to function effectively in a starting position where you can gain the experience.Report

    • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:


      Yes, to all of it.

      Part of the reason loans were not dischargable was because it got banks on board without steep requirements or co-signers. The other part was because people figured the schools would do a lot of the filtering out of risky debtors. If a student won’t be able to cut it at HYPS, they won’t need the big loan amounts, and if they can, they’ll be able to repay.

      I don’t think the people at the time expected the for-profit scam schools, or that a bad enough financial crisis would put enough smaller school close enough to the edge that they’d lower admissions standards just to get people paying some tuition so they could weather the storm.

      So yeah, dischargable loans, and put the school on the hook for a significant amount of the bad debt, and a lot of the problem will go away. Of course, it’ll also reduce the ability of people to get loans for education, but the fact that people can get loans so easily is a big part of the problem. Much of that could be mitigated by requiring all schools accepting federal loans to have more robust part time programs.Report

    • Put the colleges on the hook for it. (I am open for it being “all of it”, I am also open for it being “half”. I’m 100% open to negotiation for anything between those two. Not really interested in arguments that it should be less than half, though.)

      I’m inclined to think a much lesser measure, say 5% or 10%, could do the trick, and might be easier to implement.Report

  6. Avatar Doctor Jay says:

    I just want to note that when I went through college (in the 70s), tuition for me (at the University of Washington, go Huskies!) was about $600/year, half of what Em cites.

    This made a big difference in my life. I only worked during the summer, except for one quarter, and that sucked. I don’t think working and going to school is a good idea, frankly. I’m not gonna pull up that drawbridge on other people, but my opinion isn’t the one that’s got its way.

    I don’t think we can push the student loan thing any farther, since all those programs rely on incentives to get private lenders to underwrite the loans. It’s not the government loaning you the money. So, for instance, if we let the loans go away during bankruptcy, nobody would write them in the first place.

    As it turns out, Forbes reported that 96 individuals have had their loans forgiven under the PSLF program. That’s what, $20 million? If you were to make a bar chart of total government expenditures, you could see the difference if that money were taken away. If it were all paid in one year’s taxes (presumably, it’s been paid over the last 20 years), it would be about 10 cents.

    And yet we get really excited about the freeloading.Report

    • Avatar Em Carpenter says:

      As it turns out, Forbes reported that 96 individuals have had their loans forgiven under the PSLF program. That’s what, $20 million?

      I highly doubt $200,000 is a typical student loan debt. My guess is that is probably closer to 5-10 million being generous.Report

      • Avatar Doctor Jay says:

        Well, yikes.

        Thanks for the correction.

        I’m a bit flummoxed, though. I put my daughter through school, just recently. It cost me about $200,000. If I estimate tuition at 50K/year, that comes to 200K for the thing.

        Where is the disparity coming from? What am I missing?Report

  7. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    I feel like whenever we debate student loans here or anywhere else, it just becomes another example of how stark political polarization is and a fight about what we need or want as a country. Like all political polarization fights, it becomes an issue of cultural resentments as well.

    Things I have seen here and other places when people talk about having the government pay for college, is that it is called a government benefit to the middle class or the upper-middle class. Most of the people who make this charge are generally white guys and generally have sympathies to the white working class. The WWC features heavily in debates about how the Democratic Party should move forward or not. But there is a strong edge in the complaints of “Why should a C plus student need to pay for the nerds to go to college?”

    My side is that low or free tuition is a universal benefit to the economy that all citizens should have access to. Again the Democratic Party has plenty of voters who never went to college, their children might not go to college too. Most Americans never go to college but you never really see working class, people of color complain “why should we have to pay for kids to go to college?” Most of them seem to want low or free tuition for their kids to get beyond their current circumstances.

    This is curious to me. Why is this such a hot button issue? I’d guess possibly that a lot of people of color never got to be Old Economy Steve but plenty of WWC folks want their kids to be able to be Old Economy Steve and that is a non-possibility anymore.

    You also see a lot of anecdotes like the ones Jaybird has above. But these are still exceptions to rules.Report

    • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

      Saul – this comment really bums me out. Em didn’t really get political in the OP and I don’t see anyone doing it here in the comments. I have never felt like the discussion of higher education breaks down neatly along party lines. I am a HUGE believer in Pell grants and took advantage of them myself. I also really, really dislike school loans in general. I am a fierce proponent of higher education and also think we should be encouraging more kids to skip college and enter the trades.

      I think you want to see polarization when it doesn’t really exist. And even though Jaybird and several others (myself included) are telling anecdotal stories, I think there is a lot of truth to them.Report

      • Avatar jason says:

        Higher ed issues don’t break down neatly on party lines, mostly because both parties have bad policies. It was republicans (W, I think) who lessened funding to Pell Grants while encouraging loans, and made it impossible to ditch loans through bankruptcy. I don’t think Obama changed things much.
        Conservative media types tend to push the “ivory tower” BS line a lot, and they tend to find the extreme examples of “college student or professor” wackiness to hold up as norms. And in this thread, I already see the generational “millennial” attacks. I’ve taught college students for almost twenty years, and while millennial (and all students) have their problems, they’re nowhere near as awful as most old fuddy duddy’s think they are–I say this as an old fuddy duddy, myself.
        Of course my experiences and observations are anecdotal, but I think there is a lot of truth to them.Report

      • Avatar Jesse says:

        ” I also really, really dislike school loans in general. I am a fierce proponent of higher education and also think we should be encouraging more kids to skip college and enter the trades.”

        You see, in theory, I’m all for this, and if the admissions were run by you, me, Jaybird, and Saul, it’d work fine. But, in reality, what would happen in this system, in 2018 America is, Austin Smith, Madison Vanderbilt, and Jenny Cheng still all get pushed into college by their parents and their upper middle class school system, even if they would be better off in the trades, while Maria, Tyreke, and Najma all get pushed to the trades, even though they can all do college work.Report

        • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

          I agree. I know lots of rich kids that wasted their parents’ money on failed college attempts and lots of lower class kids that would have put that opportunity to good use. I used to threaten my girls over their grades by telling them I would ask their principle to tell me which kid in their school had the most potential and the most need and I would put them through college instead.

          Add to that, try to convince your teenage daughter that being a welder/plumber/carpenter/electrician/machinist/etc is a noble profession that will give them a nice life. Maybe lower class teenage girls would be more okay with it but both of mine looked at me like I told them it would also be cool to shave their heads.Report

          • Avatar Jesse says:

            Probably because nobody how noble it is, they’d be miserable doing it.

            Speaking personally, if you gave me the choice of making US median salary for a plumber ($56k) as a plumber or $30-$35k as a low level office drone, I’ll the latter every day of the week, because I’d despise getting up in the morning and it’s not because I think less of plumbers – it’s because I know I myself would hate doing it..Report

            • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

              I think just because YOU would rather not do it, doesn’t mean a lot of people would make that same choice. The main problem with the trades as I see it is that girls see it as a rough group, mostly men and it’s intimidating. If I knew anything about the business I would seriously consider starting a trade company that encouraged women to work there, guaranteed they would be treated well with zero tolerance for shenanigans, and hire men to work beside them who cared about diversity in the industry. I think that company would do well and get a lot of contracts because of that culture.Report

              • Avatar Slade the Leveller says:

                That’s probably a good idea for any male dominated profession. There’s gold in them thar hills!Report

              • Avatar Jesse says:

                I have no problems with pushing trade jobs to people in high school, but the truth is, no matter how financially viable they might be, a large chunk of the population will never be OK with doing manual work, not because of any issues of class, but because it’s manual work.

                Plus, when it comes to a job, the culture of that job does matter.

                If I’m a 19 year old woman from a middle class suburban background, I can easily see, even if there are no issues with sexual discrimination or harassment at all with the job, why they’d prefer to spend their working hours alongside people like them instead of a bunch of middle aged working class dudes they have zero connection with.Report

              • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

                “… a large chunk of the population will never be OK with doing manual work, not because of any issues of class, but because it’s manual work.”

                Luckily, the trades are becoming increasingly ‘we rely on badass technology and you need to be pretty smart to use it’ so maybe that idea will start to go away.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

                First job I had after the Navy was as a stone cutter. I’d use a vacuum hoist to lift massive blocks of stone onto a cutting table, center the piece on the table with the hoist and some crow bars, then spend maybe 20 minutes taking measurements and planning out how to maximize the number of pieces I could cut from the block to fill the order. Then another 10 minutes programming the three cutting heads of the CNC saw.

                Then I’d sit on my ass for 2 hours reading a book while I kept an eye on the saw, and occasionally sprayed the slab down.

                Terrible job at $12/hour, so much manual effort. Honestly, if the owner of the company hadn’t been using the place as a personal ATM while he remodeled his house, it might have stayed afloat a lot longer.Report

              • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

                My company is just starting to dip our toes into the waters of 3D printing for just-in-time inventory. I’m hopeful it creates some well-paying technical jobs down the road.Report

              • I am really curious about what some of the people commenting in this thread even think “manual labor” actually entails.

                I mean do you think it’s like “Mongo work real hard today, Mongo break many heavy rocks with big hammer, Mongo need beer money”??

                I am only partially joking.

                Trade careers require a lot of math and higher level reasoning skills (and this has always been true, it’s not a result of new technology). Welders, plumbers, electricians, construction workers, mechanics, tile layers, etc use their brains allllll day long and you may be surprised to learn that even in service jobs there’s a lot of intellect required. Just to get the certification for many of these jobs you have to be able to do some pretty challenging mental tasks.

                It is not a tragedy that any of these guys are doing this stuff rather than being a Shakesperiean scholar. It’s really not. They haven’t failed at life because they work with their hands. It doesn’t reflect badly on our society because we haven’t “nurtured” these human minds. Their minds ARE being nurtured, even if not everyone understands exactly what it is they do.Report

              • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

                “I am really curious about what some of the people commenting in this thread even think “manual labor” actually entails.”

                Good point Kristin. My dad had to calculate things all day long with weird angles and also using the right temps for his welder, etc. He ran circles around me in the math department and yet he also had to carry heavy things from Point A to Point B throughout the day and came home covered in sweat and dust.

                When I was doing archaeology we also spent a lot of time carrying heavy things from Point A to Point B (shovels of dirt, buckets of dirt, wheelbarrows of dirt…just a lot of dirt in general). We were on our knees all day long, hunched over a hole in the ground. Exposed to the elements, etc. Not really that much different than landscaping except for we all had degrees and talked theory while we were digging. It was some of the hardest physical stuff I have ever done and I was working right next to people with PhDs.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

                My first few years at Boeing I would regularly spend 12 hour shifts crawling over, into, and through the engine nacelles of the 777, 747-8, 737 -8 & -9, and the 787; taking hundreds of exceptionally precise gap and step measurements so we could update our drag models and make sure they matched the current state of the art of precision fit. It was long, hand cramping difficult work that required one to reach into tiny places while cramped and bent into small spaces.

                I had my MS at the time. I loved doing it. It got me out of the office and onto the thing I was doing engineering on. An education doesn’t save one from doing difficult physical work. Hell, ask anyone in medicine.Report

              • Avatar bookdragon says:

                Amen to this. I’ve hand layed up composite cylinders, applied the vacuum bags and spent hours monitoring a touchy aging autoclave. Also cut up cadavers and sawed bone into samples for testing. The experimental work, even when it’s messy or tedious, is still great.

                But maybe loving the hands on physical part is an engineering thing.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

                We engineers are just awesome that way.Report

          • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

            I have a friend (a woman I used to date on and off when we were teens) who is a welder down in TX. She rides a Harley, has a bitchin’ welding mask (decorated like a scary Japanese helmet), and seems to be living a rather comfortable life.

            Hell, back before my accident made the trades an unworkable option, I had every intention of going to Dive school in the Navy, and if that didn’t work, I was a qualified turbine technician. I had options.Report

            • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

              My dad was a sheet metal worker (welder) and always pounded it into our heads that we were going to go to college and make good money. If I was a welder now I would probably be making an additional $20K/year. Times change…Report

              • Avatar bookdragon says:

                My great-grandfather was the foreman at a steel mill. My grandfather loved working with hands – any car with its hood up anywhere attracted him like a magnet – but his dad wanted him to work *anywhere* but at the mill.

                Grampap was stubborn and went to work at the mill anyway. And his dad assigned him to shovel slag until he agreed to go to night school and get a 2 year degree as a mechanical designer.

                …after which he went back to the mill and worked as draftsman and eventually became a supervisor. Things that put his family in a much better position once the mills started laying off and closing.

                Times do change and it’s tough to predict how they will change. In a lot of ways, some college strikes me as good simply because it gives you a chance to see (some) of the range of possibilities and have the groundwork to pick up new skills and career paths if necessary.

                That said, a younger member of the extended family dropped put of two different colleges but learned how to use CAD, got into additive manufacturing and is doing pretty well for himself now. So college isn’t the only path and more high schools should foster an awareness of other career paths. But primarily they should foster curiosity and an interest in learning new things. No matter if you are on a college or trades career path, those will serve you well.Report

        • Avatar LeeEsq says:

          Race makes the entire college is not for everyone really doffixukt. Another issue is that you can have very intense tracking in European countries because the welfare state, mandatory paid vacations, and better trade unions make going into the trades or non-college path much more viable. You can live a better life without a college degree elsewhere because of this.Report

          • Avatar InMD says:

            When I say college isn’t for everyone I usually mean people who need safe spaces from scary ideas and literature. I kid, I kid.

            Seriously though this is why I think what we can learn from Europe is very limited on this subject. The German education system is excellent but would be unworkable here for all kinds of social and economic reasons. They’re starting from a completely different baseline.Report

            • Avatar LeeEsq says:

              Even geography can make the German system unworkable. There are many places without enough people to effectively carry out tracking.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          But, in reality, what would happen in this system, in 2018 America is, Austin Smith, Madison Vanderbilt, and Jenny Cheng still all get pushed into college by their parents and their upper middle class school system, even if they would be better off in the trades, while Maria, Tyreke, and Najma all get pushed to the trades, even though they can all do college work.

          College was a system that, once upon a time, was a meritocracy (as far as these things go in a racist society, etc).

          The system was quickly captured and turned into a system that divvies out social capital according to the people who captured it.

          Ironically, this has resulted in some weird pathologies.
          Foremost is the whole “is a college degree worth as much as it used to be?” question that hides behind the “is a college degree worth the debt you have to take on to get it?” question.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      My side is that low or free tuition is a universal benefit to the economy that all citizens should have access to.

      Sure. And what will the college look like?

      Or is it more likely to look like Pikes Peak Community College?

      Because, and here’s my thought, a low or free tuition to college will apply to schools that are like Pikes Peak Community College and Oberlin will still be able to command a steep, steep tuition.

      And a degree from PPCC will, effectively, signal little more than “High School Diploma Plus”.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      Is “make student loans dischargable in bankruptcy” a left-wing position or a right-wing position?Report

  8. Avatar Aaron David says:

    I actually encouraged my son to take out loans. Not the huge, pay-for-everything-go-to-Germany-woo-hoo-spring-break loans, but enough that he had a stake in the game. Because this was his education, his future, his life. And everything that went into it was going to affect him in the end. So, his mother and I got together with him, looked at the costs of colleges, what majors generally pay, what the two of us were going to cover, scholarships on offer, the reputation of schools and went from there.

    Now that he has graduated, he is living a life that he wants with a repayment schedule that he doesn’t love but can manage. If we were rich it might have been different, but we weren’t.Report

    • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

      Some of my distrust of loans is A) I was a financial dummy in my youth and B) My stepdaughter has no ability to see beyond the next 6 months. She would sign away her life if it meant getting what she wanted short-term.Report

      • Avatar Aaron David says:

        And those are all healthy distrusts of loans, would that more people had them. My point was not that loans are inherently bad, but that they are often mismanaged.

        I have a mortgage, not for some insane amount, but for an amount that my wife and I can easily handle, even if something drastic (and unthinkable) happens. But this allows us to buy a house and increase our financial health overall. This is managed debt. College loans need to be looked at the same way. Yes, they can be dangerous, but they can also be quite beneficial. Financial literacy is something that needs to be handled much better in this country, at every level.

        I also want to add that getting a degree over a course of a decade might just be a better deal. And that working while going to school part-time, especially in stem type fields, would be very beneficial. This is how apprenticeships are generally handled (you work with a mentor during the day, and attend classes at night) and it works quite well, as every player in the system understands what the student is doing. And the field knowledge is fantastic.Report

    • Avatar Pinky says:

      That’s really interesting.Report

    • Avatar Slade the Leveller says:

      My solution was to have my 2 write me a check for 25% of their bank accounts at the start of each school year. Summer jobs were required. All told, I probably collected about $15K over the course of 6 years. Of course, I laid out 120.Report

  9. Avatar Aaron David says:

    Also, I grew up in a small coastal college town and in the late ’70’s or early ’80’s the town instituted a policy of severely limited growth, which in turn caused the price of student off-campus housing to skyrocket and on-campus housing couldn’t handle demand as it was never designed for post freshmen living. So, another cost born by students, which raises the cost of getting a degree.Report

    • Avatar InMD says:

      This has been one of the interesting things I’ve seen in my old college town. I don’t think there were any restrictions on building but the old run down houses and small apartments people used to pile into have slowly been replaced with privately owned high rises, all of which are much pricier.Report

      • Avatar Aaron David says:

        Yeah, I lived in a DUMP of a house about four blocks from the Uni, but it was so cheap, in a very expensive town (600/mo for a four bedroom) that we had people begging to live there.

        It burned down before I left.Report

  10. Avatar Slade the Leveller says:


    My undergrad time ended in ’86, minimal student loans were taken, though state (IL) aid was easily gotten and plentiful. I’ll bet my entire B.A. was <$10K out of pocket.

    I finished a M.A. in '88, for which I borrowed the entire tuition (~$10K).

    My 2 kids finished college debt free through a combination of generous aid, parents who were diligent savers, and summer jobs. They were also required to have work study jobs, which were limited to 10 hours/wk, which was enough to keep them in pocket money. At the start of each school year I had them write me a check for 25% of their savings, which was their contribution for the year. The understanding with them was that my cash contribution was 50% me and 50% a loan to them, to be repaid upon employment. Forgiveness of the loan was our graduation present to them, about $30K for each.

    Comparisons from era to era are generally useless due to the vast disparity in costs. Here is a good analysis of historical pricing.

    What worries this liberal arts degree holder is the increasingly widespread view of college as a trade school. Majors are picked based on post-graduation employment prospects, rather than as a course of interesting scholarship. Speaking as one who never directly used his degree, this is a cause for concern.Report

    • Avatar Aaron David says:

      When I was in school, and the wife also, in the late ’80’s early ’90’s the trend was just get a degree, it doesn’t matter what it is in. Thus my wife has a degree in German and now is very rusty in the language. She is a very high-level HR administrator for a top 10 engineering school, and she constantly complains about having a useless degree, one that doesn’t interest her anymore (her minor was Art History which she still loves.)

      None of that says she shouldn’t have gotten the degree, and there have been times when dealing with faculty that the foreign language helps, but I don’t think it is as cut and dried on a trade/scholarship divide. We need both going forward and the fact that there is room for both with our wide range of universities is very nice.Report

    • Avatar PD Shaw says:

      U of IL tuition for 1985-86 was $1,314; room and board was $3,100. I was in high school at that time, making about $1,750 from summer jobs according to Social Security, but I also probably made a few hundred from odd jobs for relatives. As school got so much more expensive, the need for education to pay for itself becomes more important.Report

  11. Avatar Em Carpenter says:

    I appreciate the thoughtful discussion here.
    Would anyone care to give their thoughts on the PSLF program and it’s current situation? That’s really what drove me to write this piece.Report

    • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

      Sounds like a bait & switch. I’m curious how the Obama admin let that one fall through the cracks?Report

    • Avatar j r says:

      Would anyone care to give their thoughts on the PSLF program and it’s current situation? That’s really what drove me to write this piece.

      I went ~85k into debt to get my graduate degree and then went to work for the government. I made OK money, but servicing that debt obviously took a good chunk of my take home pay. I made minimum payments thinking that if I stayed in the official sector for ten years, I could apply for loan forgiveness. But I admit that I always had reservations in the back of my mind about the program. Mostly, I made minimum payments, because I wanted more of my income for other things.

      I think it sucks that the U.S. government made promises to a bunch of people that it now appears to be breaking. At the risk of sounding callous though, the U.S. government has been breaking promises since there has been a U.S. government. We should be used to this. I shouldn’t have borrowed so much knowing roughly what my pay would be after school. And I shouldn’t have been making minimum payments hoping that Uncle Sam came through. After five years, I got a private sector job and got married and my wife and I consolidated households and paid a pretty big stock of combined grad school debt in a couple of years. Now, we’re both free of all debt and it feels great. Grad school worked out for us, but there’s going to be a lot of folks for whom it may not. Again, this sucks, but there are ways to limit your exposure to the short end of the stick and we should probably be doing what we can to teach people those ways so fewer of them end up on the losing end of broken promises.

      More importantly, I don’t think it’s possible or even advisable to speak about those broken promises in isolation. Just like I don’t think it’s advisable to try to tell a story of lower relative levels of government subsidies driving higher tuition costs. This is all connected. We have continuously made a series of choices that increases our future liabilities while having nonsense political conversations about who is going to pay instead of maybe spending some time thinking critically about the ROI. Of course the government made a bunch of broken promises. We asked them to.Report

      • Avatar Dark Matter says:

        Of course the government made a bunch of broken promises. We asked them to.


        We have continuously made a series of choices that increases our future liabilities while having nonsense political conversations about who is going to pay instead of maybe spending some time thinking critically about the ROI.

        Also agreed. However expecting the gov to pay attention to ROI is probably a bridge too far.

        The gov pays attention to politics. We made unrealistic entitlement promises for political reasons. We’re cutting education because it’s a choice between that and various other entitlements, including pensions and healthcare.Report

  12. Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

    Saul / Jesse,

    I’m going to leave this here for both of you…

    I’m (again) trying to not be political here but I can’t help but marvel at how two of the site’s most liberal commenters are poo-pooing the idea of reinstating perhaps the most successful program ever created by the Democratic party. I don’t think your troubling opinions are a discredit to the Left though. I think maybe you are just a bit elitist (Saul) and not inclined towards physical labor (Jesse).

    I gave the example of bridge-building, which you two ran with, even though I thought two proud liberals would understand the history of the WPA more. So here’s what WPA accomplished:

    The WPA built traditional infrastructure of the New Deal such as roads, bridges, schools, courthouses, hospitals, sidewalks, waterworks, and post-offices, but also constructed museums, swimming pools, parks, community centers, playgrounds, coliseums, markets, fairgrounds, tennis courts, zoos, botanical gardens, auditoriums, waterfronts, city halls, gyms, and university unions. Most of these are still in use today. The amount of infrastructure projects of the WPA included 40,000 new and 85,000 improved buildings. These new buildings included 5,900 new schools; 9,300 new auditoriums, gyms, and recreational buildings; 1,000 new libraries; 7,000 new dormitories; and 900 new armories. In addition, infrastructure projects included 2,302 stadiums, grandstands, and bleachers; 52 fairgrounds and rodeo grounds; 1,686 parks covering 75,152 acres; 3,185 playgrounds; 3,026 athletic fields; 805 swimming pools; 1,817 handball courts; 10,070 tennis courts; 2,261 horseshoe pits; 1,101 ice-skating areas; 138 outdoor theatres; 254 golf courses; and 65 ski jumps.

    In addition to the public works projects, there was also Federal Project Number One, which Maribou eluded to. I do believe it would be harder to get this part of the WPA implemented today, but at least there is precedent for it.

    In its prime, Federal Project Number One employed up to 40,000 writers, musicians, artists and actors…the Federal Writers’ project had around 6,500 people on the WPA payroll. Many people benefitted from these programs and some FWP writers became famous, such as John Steinbeck and Zora Neale Hurston.

    When I suggest a new WPA it’s because A) I am a fan of its accomplishments B) It probably helped us win WWII C) We all benefit from the WPA because so many of their projects still exist and D) Our infrastructure needs it.

    Building all of those things that I talked about is not just brute labor. There are skills that come with that. Build a new school, someone has to learn how to wire it for high speed internet. Help build a new park and you might work with urban planners, landscape designers, etc. That experience might lead to careers in those fields. When I was an archaeologist, we did survey work for public projects all the time. (although I will say to Jesse, it was physically hard, so probably not for you). So let me reiterate one more time: I would compare it to the Peace Corp or America Corp. Completely voluntary and not really tied to college. I never in this thread suggested that people would toil for their higher education, so any assumptions you are making there seem to be your own hangups about ‘shit work’.

    I will also add that America’s infrastructure currently has a D+ rating, so you might want to think about how that might affect both of you personally if we don’t do something about it. having lots of free time when you are 18-22 sounds pretty cool I guess, but not all of us agree that is a worthwhile goal.Report

    • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

      Let me also add that many, many future engineers, project managers, etc would love the kind of real-world experience that would come with these jobs. Those are not physical careers in the trades.Report

    • Avatar Jesse says:

      I have no problem w/ the WPA being reinstated and a massive infrastructure buildout, @mike-dwyer. Zero issues with that at all, as long it’s done by well paid union labor, including many of the people who have currently lost jobs due to globalization et al.

      I do have a problem with it being pushed as a way to make those damn 19 year old kids more mature than you believe you should be, when in reality, based on past things you’ve said about your interactions with younger people, some of them simply have different values about work than you do.

      Also, again the dismissive swipe that somebody going to college full time has “lots of free time” as opposed to real Americans who work during college or right after they graduate high school. I worked full time when I went to college. I would’ve much preferred to not have worked, even if I lost all the supposed fantastic character building I got from working at a Pizza Hut.Report

      • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

        I would never, ever, ever suggest a massive WPA reinstatement to funnel money into union coffers and ultimately the DNC.

        College campuses have drawn in millions of American teens who are not a good fit with the lure of easy student loans and a narrative that college is the only path to financial success. I want to kill two birds with one stone by showing them a different path and improving our country. And yes, being older and a bit more mature when they actually go to college is not a bad thing. It would also probably focus their efforts much more because they had 4 years to think about what they wanted to do with their lives instead of trying to decide on a major at 20.

        And the reference to free time was a direct response to Saul who seems to feel kids need more free time, I guess to write poetry or think deep thoughts. Good on you for working during college.Report

        • Avatar bookdragon says:

          Mike Dwyer: I would never, ever, ever suggest a massive WPA reinstatement to funnel money into union coffers and ultimately the DNC.

          ?? Last I checked unions were bastions of WWC …you know the group leaning most GOP…

          Why exactly could the GOP not instate a new WPA to help address our infrastructure problems and provide good jobs for unemployed and underemployed working class people, as well as entry level/training opportunities for young people not headed for college? That sounds like the sort of win-win that should make sense for conservatives, esp since it both makes sense from an economic standpoint and a political one since it would buy the loyalty of an important constituency.Report

          • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

            I would love to see a new WPA…just not one in bed with the unions.Report

            • Avatar bookdragon says:


              I realize ‘union’ is a dirty word to conservatives, but coming as I do from steelworkers and coal miners, I can never view them that way. There is plenty to criticize, as there is with any large organization, but without them we go back to unsafe working conditions, ‘company towns’, and laborers who are treated little better than serfs.Report

              • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

                I do understand all of the history with unions, the necessity in the early 20th century and like many conservatives I’m much more agreeable towards trade unions rather than the bigger service unions and the Teamsters.

                What triggers my spidey sense is when I suggest an enormous infrastructure and jobs program and a liberal (Jesse) immediately wants to unionize it. It feels too much like a power grab. The WPA had divisions built-in to deal with the inevitable corruption and graff that comes from government spending, and I don’t see any reason why the government could not build worker protections (safety, hiring practices, wages) into a new WPA.Report

              • Avatar Jesse says:

                Well, Mike, in my perfect world, there would be annual union elections in every workplace with more than 10 non-family employees who would become part of large sectoral bargaining units that would have the power to actually have leverage against giant corporaitons, but as management, I understand why you’re against more democratic control of the workplace.

                As for the rest, I see no reason why nurses, fast food workers, or casino workers need collective representation any less than somebody in a trade union. But again, I don’t have any special positive feelings toward one kind of worker – I think all of labor should have collective bargaining.Report

              • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

                “…as management, I understand why you’re against more democratic control of the workplace.”

                I have been in a union twice and disliked both experiences greatly. I would not use ‘democratic’ to describe a process where someone forces me to give them some of my paycheck and then donates it to politicians I do not like. I also do not see anything democratic about someone getting a position over me simply because they have more seniority.

                My company is not unionized but I was an hourly for 13 years before I went over to the dark side. During that time I was never interested in a union for all of the reasons outlined above.

                As I said, me advocating a massive government-spending program and you immediately wanting to unionize it sounds more like a cash grab for the DNC. No thanks.Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

                Speaking of Union shenanigansReport

        • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

          IIRC, HS shop classes have been one of the victims of PS budget cuts (right up there with art & music, but never athletics).Report

          • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

            Yes, and this kills me. My dad taught me what he could, but losing him at 21 left a huge knowledge gap on my side. Woodwork especially does not come natural to me but I really enjoy it. Everything takes me twice as long and some materials get wasted, but I take a few baby steps with every project. I think shop class would have helped tremendously with that.Report

        • Avatar Jesse says:

          “College campuses have drawn in millions of American teens who are not a good fit with the lure of easy student loans and a narrative that college is the only path to financial success.”

          I mean, whether you like it or not, or how much anti-college folks like to push against it, there still is a college premium. Now, I don’t really care about that, anymore than I would’ve cared about studies about a “high school premium” whenever we made that basically universal.

          As for the rest, it’s basic anti-elitist sneering against the idea somebody might spend time having deep thoughts as opposed to being a good little worker and immediately adding GDP to the economy, so you can immediately be too stressed about paying bills to have “deep thoughts or write poetry.”

          I think a world where everybody, poor, middle class, or rich immediately doesn’t have to add value to the economy when they become an adult is a positive thing. The idea of a gap year in other parts of the First World isn’t perfect and obviously tilted to the more well off, but I bet somebody coming from the median income family in Australia or Europe has a better chance of traveling the world during that gap year a bit as opposed to somebody in the US.Report

          • Avatar Maribou says:

            @jesse You are making “the rest” up based on very very thin evidence.

            And by doing so you’re conveying some sneering about the idea that a person could spend time having deep thoughts AND doing a hard / low-paying job.

            I can only imagine it’s not your intention, but it’s happening.

            And from what I’ve seen, people coming from median income families in the US quite often take a gap year and travel. They often work while they travel, or volunteer, but so do kids from Australia and Europe.

            The trend I’ve seen is more and more students taking a gap year in the middle of their college studies, or before graduate school – not “i can’t afford school” or dropping out, but just “yeah, if I don’t take a year off I will have zero motivation to continue”, with full developed plans to come back….

            That feels newer to me.Report

          • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

            “…it’s basic anti-elitist sneering against the idea somebody might spend time having deep thoughts as opposed to being a good little worker and immediately adding GDP to the economy, so you can immediately be too stressed about paying bills to have “deep thoughts or write poetry.”

            This isn’t a binary choice Jesse. You can do both. I worked two jobs and went to college i.e. thought deep thoughts. And you’d be amazed how many deep thoughts I had while doing very boring assembly line work. I mean, music alone is full of stories of people composing songs in their head while doing menial tasks.

            I’m beginning to think you have some personal experience with being ‘too stressed out’ by work to do anything intellectual or creative and it is influencing your responses here. If i am right about that, I am sorry you had that experience, but I honestly don’t think that’s the norm for most people. Lots of people do very hard jobs and blow off steam in very creative and productive ways. Some of those are tasks are physical, like hobby woodwork and some are intellectual like arguing with people on political websites. It really is possible to do both!Report

        • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

          Who made you the king? Why are you allowed to decide who is and who is not a good fit for college?Report

          • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

            Saul, are you having reading comprehension issues? Where did Mike say he wants to decide that, or for anyone other than the potential student to decide that?

            Seriously, thousands of kids take on tens of thousands of dollars of debt each, every year, only to drop out without a degree, because they were not a good fit for college. Maybe if they had seen a different path to success early on, they might not have that debt.Report

          • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

            Saul, seriously – this is bonkers. Oscar explains my position below better than I could. I just want to provide people with more options and create an environment where more people see that a non-college path is okay.

            Even the original WPA, in the middle of the Great Depression, didn’t force people to join its programs. It was optional (although being hungry and needing money certainly motivated some people). I would never advocate forced work. I would never advocate some period of service like Israel and the IDF. And as I previously noted, the WPA had plenty of opportunities for people that don’t like to get their hands dirty. I’m sure they would need fancy lawyer types too.

            And while you may think the fetishization of manual crafts (William Morris-type stuff) is problematic, these kinds of movements happen regularly as a response to modernization. I mean, I love my smartphone and my laptop and a nice hotel room, but I also really love my tools and camping outside. I find I need the balance. If you don’t I am certainly not judging you, but I also don’t think you should judge others who DO feel that way.Report

  13. Avatar Maribou says:

    @em-carpenter Just wanted to note here that despite me having gone happily into the somewhat off-topic weeds of reviving the WPA, I really did enjoy this piece.

    I too was in some sense saved by my higher ed opportunities, including loans, despite my persistent ambivalence about college in general terms and for myself especially.

    I have no idea how I would’ve gotten out and stayed out of my toxic family situation, let alone had half the career success I’ve had, without the debts I incurred, be they financial or more philosophical in nature. (I paid not a red cent for my master’s degree, loaned or otherwise – when I think about what my obligations are to the world, that certainly figures in.)Report

    • (I paid not a red cent for my master’s degree, loaned or otherwise – when I think about what my obligations are to the world, that certainly figures in.)

      While I certainly didn’t have the toxic family situation, and while I did pay more, I do have quite a number of obligations to the world, and one reason for them is the way below cost education I received.Report

      • Avatar Maribou says:

        @gabriel Oh yeah, and to be clear I paid a significant (though far more affordable) amount for my undergrad, and worked my way through, so I don’t feel nearly as much obligation for that, at least not 20 years out.

        But a free-except-for-book-costs postgraduate degree? Oh yeah, I owe the world something big for that one.Report

  14. Another reason for the crisis is the soaring costs of tuition attributable in large part to the decrease in state funding to universities, which has fallen from around 75% to around 25%.

    Beware of this stat, because it’s kind of BSey. It’s not that state support has fallen that dramatically (it has, but mostly because it has grown so dramatically by 2008); it’s that other funding — private and federal — have increase enormously. This is a classic garbage stat designed to conceal important information.

    The big problem is the universities are growing their budgets by leaps and bounds — mainly by laying on oceans of administrators. Faculty hires have been flat for 25 years. Many classes are taught by adjuncts or graduate students who are paid very little. This is one of the big concerns I have with my industry: we are becoming top-heavy on salary and supported by predatory loan system. It’s not right. And it can’t last.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq says:

      A bunch of people who really wanted to earn handsome salaries figured out that universities receive near unlimited amounts of money through student loans and other methods. They used the administration of universities as a way to access this money in the form of salaries.Report

      • Avatar jason says:

        Yes to both of you–My institution answers the question, “How many more administrators do we need?” with “One more than we already have.”
        Assistant deans, executive directors, special executive directing assistants, emperor’s royal guard, and Grand Moff Tarkin’s drain the budget without performing the core mission of the institution: teaching students.Report

        • Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

          See, that right there is the problem. You think the mission is to perform the traditional process of teaching students. But see, you are wrong. The mission is to provide educational community members with a holistic university lifestyle experience.

          Or some such shit, I was starting to just slap buzzwords on at the end there.Report

          • Avatar Maribou says:

            The funny thing is that even the holistic university lifestyle experience is not all that expensive compared to the bureaucracy….

            Though there is some argument to be made that part of the problem is healthcare costs for all those employees, which have skyrocketed in the last 50 years. At least, I used to hear that argument when it came time to discuss the salary increase pool for the relatively underpaid rank and file (have not heard it lately, rather the converse, which I appreciate).Report

          • Avatar LeeEsq says:

            A holistic university experience sounds like something you see in a costume drama set sometime in the late 19th or early 20th century at Oxbridge. There is nothing that happens like this in the modern world. I want my money back.Report

        • Avatar LeeEsq says:

          To be fair, in the Anglophone world teaching students was usually a secondary goal of universities. The main previous goal was to be a finishing school for the children of the wealthy.Report

    • Avatar Aaron David says:

      One of the things that gets missed in the talk about administrators and the needs of campus is that many of the admin people that have been added over the last couple decades (but by no means all) are due to the increased numbers of laws and regulations that have been handled at the federal and state level. All EEO laws need someone to make sure that they are being administered fairly. All Title 9 provisions. And so on. We say we want something to be done, and then enact a law to deal with it, it will cost the university a warm body as now we have added to the workload.

      These compliance costs are real and very expensive. For at the same time, these newer initiatives sit atop the old power structure of the university. And with the unique dual governance of most universities – Academic Senate vs. Admin – you have gridlock worse than our federal gov’t. Which meant that the traditional way of handling each new requirement was to simply through money at it because no one would ever allow their fiefdom to get smaller.

      This was OK when money was easy to come by for higher education, but as others have alluded here, those days have passed. But many of those internal practices have hung on. Often each individual college will have its own HR dept. with its own practices, along with a general Uni HR to handle campus-wide employees*. While they should be merged and practices standardized, no Dean will give up their own team that handles things just as they want them. And yes, this is very expensive, an expense that comes at the cost of education.

      *Most of my knowledge comes from the UC system.Report

  15. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Austin Allred is one of the guys I follow on twitter and he is setting up a coding academy that works more like this:

    You go to his school and take his classes.
    If you get hired at a new job that pays at least $50,000/year afterwards, his school is entitled to a piece of your salary.
    Here’s from the “About” page:

    There are no up-front costs required to attend Lambda School; we only get paid when you do. Once you’re earning at least $50k per year you’ll pay back 17% of your income for the first two years.

    Total tuition possible is capped at a maximum of $30k, so no matter how much you’re getting paid the most you could possibly pay is $30k.

    Alternatively, you may opt to pay a tuition of $20k up-front with no income-based repayment.

    (For the record, 17% of 50,000 is 8,500.)

    There’s part of me that gets upset reading that. There’s another part that says “that’s brilliant”.

    And there’s yet another part that says “holy cow… this sort of thing will upend the current system.”Report

  16. Avatar Dark Matter says:

    Student loans are an easily abused tool, but a useful one.

    My 2nd daughter is a senior in high school. Her best friend has grades that are ok but not great and she’s applying to high level places that won’t take her and also won’t give her scholarships. She wants to be a doctor but that’s unrealistic for multiple reasons.

    I can envision her stuck with $100k of student loans in 5 years with little to show for it. No, that’s too soft. I expect her to do something like this.

    I’m not sure how society educates her on fiscal common sense. Her mother has none (we’ve known the family for years) so it’d be going against everything she’s experienced for her entire life. My daughter has talked to her about this occasionally and she really doesn’t want to know/hear these things.Report