Today’s New York Times has a long front-page feature on student loan debt. Nothing really new here that anyone paying attention doesn’t already know, though there are a couple of brush strokes in the article that ought to provoke more than the usual chin-pulling among enlightened Times readers. One of them is the first example, Marlene Griffith, who graduates today from Ohio Northern University after having taken on $120,000 in debt to earn a degree in marketing, and is having to work two restaurant jobs and live with her parents to afford the monthly payments on her student loans.
“As an 18-year-old, it sounded like a good fit to me, and the school really sold it,” said Ms. Griffith, a marketing major. “I knew a private school would cost a lot of money. But when I graduate, I’m going to owe like $900 a month. No one told me that.”
Stop right there. “No one told me that”??? Is secondary education nowadays so bad that you can’t figure out the monthly principal and interest cost of a loan? Maybe my primary education was superior (though it was in a public school), but I learned how to do this, and the perils of compound interest on debt, in the seventh grade. And why don’t our “consumer-friendly” regulators requiring student loan vendors to provide a monthly cost estimate as all mortgage lenders are required to do?
On the other side of the coin is a generation of college executives who deserve the fiscal-educational equivalent of keel-hauling.
“I readily admit it,” said E. Gordon Gee, the president of Ohio State University, who has also served as president of Vanderbilt and Brown, among others. “I didn’t think a lot about costs. I do not think we have given significant thought to the impact of college costs on families.”
Easy for Mr. Gee-Whiz to say, with his $2 million pay package at Ohio State. But remember, for Times readers it’s private-sector CEOs of major corporations that employ tens of thousands of people and do multi-billions in sales that are overpaid, and don’t you forget it. Seems to me there’s some easy budget items to cut starting in the executive suites of most colleges and universities.
Of course, economists and many parents say that the only thing worse than graduating with lots of debt is not going to college at all, since study after study has shown that graduates earn more over a lifetime. And most college students in the United States manage to eventually pay back their student loans.
I wonder if this will remain true of the current generation of students graduating now. Especially if they’ve spent time in any of the courses the Fiscal Times identified as the ten craziest college classes that cost big bucks, such as “Lady Gaga and the Sociology of Fame” at the University of South Carolina (course cost: $3,150 for out of state students); or “The Phallus” at Occidental College (course cost: $5,370); or “DJ History, Culture, and Technique” at New York University (course cost: $4,636). I’ll bet our own Scott Johnson could teach a better music class for half that amount. As for the various “oppression studies” departments like black studies, womens’ studies, etc, well I guess the irony is lost on all the folks who take out loans to study these rotten fields. Oops—I forgot; we’re not supposed to say that.
The cushioned world of higher education—the industrial-education complex anyone?—deserves to collapse flatter and harder than the housing sector. And it probably will.