They are a dime a dozen now. You dont have to look far (maybe in the mirror) to see another story of someone up to their eyeballs in college debt and not necessarily enjoying sufficient income to get a handle on it. Im sure weve all heard (or experienced) the tragic stories.
Peter Coy analyzes many aspects of this looming crisis in his recent article, Debt For Life (Bloomberg Businessweek 9/10/129/16/12, pp. 6171). The piece was fairly extensive and I just want to highlight some significant points Coy makes. Coy touches on the incredible importance of students thinking through the entire college decision before enrollment:
Many students are incurring heavy debts for an education (ethnomusicology, theater arts) that just isnt worth it from a strictly financial viewpoint. (Money isnt everything, but try telling that to the collection agency.) (p. 62)
Coy emphasizes the need for more accountabilityfelt accountabilityon the part of colleges when it comes to federally guaranteed student loans:
Colleges should suffer more pain when federal loans go bad, argues Alex Pollock, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. That would make them more careful about raising prices and encouraging students to take out government loans. Better disclosure would help, too. (p. 63)
The opportunity for colleges to be more intentional about reducing the financial burden upon students is very important. This could work with many institutions of higher learning, but not necessarily all:
Some of the nations wealthiest universitiesand some smaller schools such as North Carolinas Davidson Collegehave eased the burden on students by replacing all loans with grants in financial-aid packages. Thats noble, but not a realistic solution for all of higher education. (p. 63)
Many challenges abound, as Coy so well describes. This problem isnt going away overnight. The truth is it will likely get worse before it gets better. Nevertheless, I believe the two most important dynamics to remember as a student considers higher education are these:
1Education does pay! Once you have earned an academic credential, no person and no circumstance can ever take that away from you. That is a badge of accomplishment that will remain a positive contributor throughout your career and it will add to your lifetime income.
2More wisdom is needed! Just because education does pay is no excuse for students to dive blindly into any academic program without first running at least a rudimentary cost/benefit analysis. Going to college can be accomplished in many smart ways or in many dumb ways. Wisdom dictates we choose the smart ways.
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