Free College and Student Loan Forgiveness in the Democratic Debate

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., talk during in the first of two Democratic presidential primary debates hosted by CNN Tuesday, July 30, 2019, in the Fox Theatre in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Last night, education policy was front and center. But only higher education. Both Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have various proposals that aim at reducing the burden of college students and recent graduates. On the table are free college and student loan forgiveness.

Now, college tuition rates are insane. Some colleges are $73,000 for full cost of attendance. Yes, there are tuition discounts for merit and need, but lots of students pay full freight. That’s their sticker price. And some students do rack up significant amounts of debt, particularly if they tack on masters degrees, take a long time to graduate, and just make bad decisions.

You know that I’m highly sympathetic and have ranted about those issues for a while. But I’m worried about blank checks for college for a number of reasons.

It penalizes people who made hard choices to avoid debt: A school teacher who doesn’t take vacations but puts money in 529 accounts for her kids since birth. A college graduate who takes a boring job, rather than the dream job, to pay off the loans. A student who attends a community college for two years, before transferring to a four year college. The kid who goes to an in-state public college, solely because of cost.

It does nothing for students who can’t finish college, which may be even more of a serious crisis than debt.

It does nothing for students who need a degree from a trade school. Or don’t attend college at all, but still need training and employment support.

It does nothing to stop the cause of the problem – colleges. They are allowed to keep raising tuition, even at in-state public colleges, without any checks. Even, as they do in my state, waste buckets of cash on losing sports teams. And there is no pressure on them to improve quality. They keep replacing full time faculty with adjuncts.

There is no distinction between public and private colleges in their plans. A public college is a right, a private college is not.

As many have pointed out, it benefits the middle class without much trickle down help for working and lower class citizens.

Steve and I attended a grad school program that didn’t provide any funding for its grad students. Not even tuition. (Yes, majorly stupid, but let’s move on.)

I kept my loans manageable by working part-time, sometimes full time, at a policy institute at the same time as taking classes and writing a dissertation. I also taught a few classes. Steve taught a great deal, while doing his classwork. While students at other universities were building their CVs, we were ghost writing papers and teaching 50+ students at the Bronx Community College.

Even with all that, our combined student loan debt when we got married was over $75,000. We paid it off around my 50th birthday. We’re better off than most of our classmates, who were looking at bigger numbers. That debt was awful. It had a big impact on our careers and other life choices (children, homes). Grad school was a MAJOR financial train wreck. (I’m not even going to talk about the impact of beginning to save for retirement in your mid 30’s, rather than your 20’s.)

So, I am highly, HIGHLY sympathetic to anybody who wants to ease that burden on others. Yet, I’m not entirely happy with the current proposals, because they don’t check the colleges themselves, don’t distinguish between public and private colleges, penalize good behavior, and don’t help people who choose alternatives to college.

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44 thoughts on “Free College and Student Loan Forgiveness in the Democratic Debate

  1. Did you see the WSJ piece on people giving up guardianship of their kids in favor of poorer relatives for the purpose of getting financial aid?

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    1. Yeah, I want to do a standalone blog post on that. There’s a NYT article about middle class parents using special ed rules to get their kids more test time, too.

      I’ll get to it. That HuffPost article went viral this week and it’s been crazy around here. I have another article coming out tomorrow in another place. I have to do a newsletter.

      It’s all good, but it’s a lot particularly during summer with camp driving.

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    2. I saw that through labor contacts on Facebook. Holy mother of god I hope I never meet any of those greedy pricks in person or I’ll catch a case.

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  2. Both the Warren plan and the Sanders plan address many of your concerns re: insuring the aid goes towards the working-class people who need it, vs. the Dream Hoarders who don’t. Sanders addresses the issues of replacing faculty with adjuncts, administrator salaries, and nonacademic stuff like stadiums.

    “Trade school” almost always means “vocational program at community college”, which would be covered. Apprenticeships would not be covered because they don’t need to be—apprenticeships already have free tuition. (seriously—these are accredited through the Department of Education as well as the Department of Labor. Veterans in apprenticeships get G.I. Bill money during their apprenticeship). Depending on the Local, apprentices are either getting paid for their hours at work, or a combination of working hours and classroom hours (some Locals have periodic paid day-school in lieu of being on the jobsite).

    I’m completely ok with the more moderate proposals of free college only for those students coming from families with under $125,000 in household income—but it is important that room and board be included, not just tuition and fees (as currently proposed).

    The biggest reason people drop out of college is because they can’t juggle work, family, and school all at the same time—there aren’t enough hours in the day. Taking away the need to work so many hours at low wages in order to afford school will help tremendously. Taking away the outrageous cost of college vs. income ratio will help tremendously.

    I’m really tired of “bootstrap” arguments, since these days, the “bootstraps” are broken. These days, Directional State might as well be Harvard in terms of affordability vs. average income. And this, at the same time a four-year degree is pretty much the gate pass to anything other than a dead-end, low-wage, no-benefit job.

    Yeah…..it’s pitchforks and torches time.

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    1. “The biggest reason people drop out of college is because they can’t juggle work, family, and school all at the same time—there aren’t enough hours in the day. Taking away the need to work so many hours at low wages in order to afford school will help tremendously. Taking away the outrageous cost of college vs. income ratio will help tremendously.”

      All of this.

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  3. Here’s another reason to be leery: “Free college” (especially with financial aid for living expenses) encourages students to spend too many years in college and disincentivizes ever leaving school and working.

    Of course, it’s arguable that student loan deferments do exactly the same thing. Under the current system, the way to avoid paying for college is to keep going to college as long as you can. There are more than a few students today who are racking up new student loans because they want to avoid paying the old ones.

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  4. Some other issues:

    Not everybody is qualified for 4-year college, so not everybody should get wheelbarrows full of taxpayer cash to go to college. This is a very un-American thing to say, but people who can’t hack 4-year college work should not be receiving huge amounts of federal aid to keep failing at a 4-year college. If they’re flailing around academically, they should take a break or do community college until they get back on track and then and only then try again.

    I’m an old Russia hand, and I assure you that even the Soviets were not sending every Vlad, Sasha and Natasha to 5-year college. It was HARD to get into a Soviet 5-year college and you couldn’t just take any major you wanted to–as I understand it, there was a limited number of slots in each major, with brutal competition to get in and stay in.

    I have a nephew enjoying “free” German college. If he doesn’t pass his exams in a timely manner, he’ll have to leave his program.

    I understand that standards are hard to enforce (see Vietnam era grade inflation and Soviet cheating), but while it makes sense to have one of the two systems:

    –low standards, student mostly bears financial burden of failure (our system)
    –high standards, mostly state-funded (Soviet)

    it is nonsensical to have a state-funded system with low standards where the student can keep on drawing indefinitely on public largesse.

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  5. Also, let’s talk about K-12.

    If students from different socioeconomic backgrounds have profoundly different K-12 experiences, those differences are only going to be amplified at the college level. Some reasons:

    –shaky K-12 academic foundations
    –a less structured environment/less help figuring out how to cope with deadlines for major projects
    –much less adult oversight
    –parents who don’t understand how college works and hence can’t offer useful advice as to how to navigate the system

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  6. In no way would the details of a plan like these, to offer college to a broader array of students, influence my decision making (even, frankly, in the primary, since I think the details of the plans will always change).

    But, I am not enthusiastic about free college plans (especially ones that also include a cost of living). I think they could have the poor effect of funneling everyone to college, enriching colleges, especially ones that provide services to non-savvy students (i.e. consumers). I’ve said it before, but I worry about the living expenses precisely because college then becomes a means of surviving lean years, in addition to a means to learn. We already worry about that characteristic of some college experiences (“Paying for the Party”). That version of college life might work for those for whom the college doesn’t need to add value but free college, without stringent admissions/exmissions standards? I fear that provides little benefit, and that we would be better with a basic income. That at least wouldn’t enrich the pockets of snake oil education salesman — one could use the 1000/month to start a bakery or a garden or to learn on the job.

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    1. Living expenses are crucial if students are going to graduate. Full stop. Especially in the transition from community college to university. This is a real issue for working class parents like myself. We simply cannot afford to shoulder this burden ourselves. The cost of rent in a college town, even midwestern college towns, is astronomical compared with housing costs in our postapocalypse rust belt areas. (I’m not really being facetious. I live in the hood, but the whole city isn’t like that. But the couple-a places I come from? Definitely postapocalypse. Or as Lauren, the founder of Feministe once described the city where my dad still lives, “set design for Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Road’.” I’ve been stealing that line ever since. Wish you all could have seen the look on my daughter’s face the first time I drove her through there. A teenager who grew up in the hood and its schools….and she still wasn’t quite prepared for that.)

      Not making living expenses part of the package deal for college is giving a hearty “fuck you” to students from the working class. It’s adding insult to injury.

      I’m really angry that the only public support for working class young people is to steer them into being cannon fodder. Then they can get room and board, but otherwise….nahh. They sure as shit can’t get a job that actually makes ends meet.

      What I want: for my daughter to have a decent life. I want her to have a path to get there, and that realistic option available within her working-years lifetime is “college”. You know it and I know it. No, being a boutique hipster urban tomato farmer or cupcake baker is not a realistic option, even with a pittance “basic income” that doesn’t even come close to making basic ends meet, let alone being enough to take out a business loan. You know it and I know it. People who have a four-year degree have significantly larger lifetime earnings, are less likely to be unemployed, are highly likely to receive health insurance, retirement benefits and paid leave, are more likely to get and stay married, tend to have better physical and mental health…a whole constellation of benefits. You know it and I know it. Almost all the jobs available to people without a college degree suck. You know it and I know it.

      Free college is an answer. It is a solution to a very real, very immediate dilemma. So far, no one is offering any other solutions that provide anywhere near the same positive results. (fuck the “basic income”, but that’s a rant for another time). This is the only train leaving the station. It’s this or get left behind.

      So you better have an answer for my daughter, and the many millions just like her, other than “Tough shit, kid. You get left behind. You get left behind, so my kid can get on board.” That is not an answer that today’s young people are going to accept. Gen X put up with far more than our fair share of bullshit, because we at least had some early memories of a more hopeful time. Our kids do not have that—they’ve never known anything but neofeudalism. They aren’t satisifed with platitudes and promises—like dinner, it’s on the table or it’s a lie. “Thoughts and prayers” ain’t cuttin’ it.

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  7. OK, lots to respond to here, but very little time. I’ll do my best. Will come back later with more…

    A four year college is free for students who qualify for a Pell Loan (about under $70K family income) with good grades. Colleges like Harvard and Columbia pay for everything for those students, including housing and food and books.

    Who isn’t getting enough money? Students whose families make just a dollar over that Pell Grant cut off. Working class kids. My article today at the 74 focuses in on one of those students. Still, she made it by going to a community college first and then qualifying for lots of aid at an in-state public college. https://www.the74million.org/article/too-few-guidance-counselors-too-little-information-why-community-college-might-be-the-best-path-for-high-school-graduates-but-theyll-never-know-it/

    Students drop out of college for lots of reasons. Some for financial reasons, but that is not the biggest factor. Many need more support from the college, because they don’t have a background that will help them navigate higher ed. Others have very complicated lives and need a more flexible system that will let them take breaks. Others have just had a crappy K-12 education.

    Some people say that it’s better to spend the money on K-12 schools, so kids can thrive in college.

    Living expenses is a huge problem for kids in community colleges. Community colleges have low cost tuition, but students can’t afford to go full time and finish quickly, because they have to pay the rent and buy food. That’s why so many kids in community college have to go to food pantries. And wrote about that here. https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/01/the-hidden-hunger-on-college-campuses/424047/

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  8. As for the WSJ article, it stressed that the maneuver was not illegal. IANAL, but I worry that attempts to close that loophole will hurt people who change guardianship of minors for good reasons, such as protecting children from dangerous family members, or to provide a better home environment. One friend gave up her child to get her state mental health services, which simply weren’t available on the private market.

    I know people who could have afforded to pay for their children’s college, but didn’t. One relative could easily have paid for his children; instead, he bought stuff. The loans the children took out are causing stress today, decades later. This relative “lived larger” than he should have. I believe he should have bought less stuff, and paid more tuition, but he didn’t make that decision.

    Any number of children of divorce face the problem of parents (is it biased of me to think it’s usually fathers?) who won’t pay for college, although the formulas assume they will. https://www.insidehighered.com/quicktakes/2018/08/29/study-children-divorce-less-likely-earn-degree

    From searching for “children of divorce and college,” it seems that which parent has custody (of the kid and/or the 529) can make a huge difference in financial aid awards. States differ in parents’ responsibility for college costs (many don’t require it.)

    A different issue: this was allegedly a tactic thought up by one private college advising outfit. Is there any legal oversight of this business at all? How many other loony things are happening across the country?

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  9. “lots of students pay full freight.”

    Do you have any idea how prevalent this actually is? My experience (n=2) with private colleges (one not selective, one selective but non Ivy) is that virtually no one pays the sticker price. Even the students from clearly rich families get merit aid. I have searched and not found reliable numbers for who actually pays the list price–my sense it’s like hospital pricing: they print it but almost never collect it.

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    1. We have been paying sticker price. I finally weaseled work study and subsidized federal loans out of them as well as a $1500 grant last year when my husband was unemployed. On the other hand, both kids have 6-figure 529s thanks to inheritance*, so I kind of don’t blame the college for wanting the money put aside for exactly this reason. That said, I am really hoping to get some financial aid next year when we have two in college. We’ve been a little stretched thin.

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    2. Do you have any idea how prevalent this actually is? My experience (n=2) with private colleges (one not selective, one selective but non Ivy) is that virtually no one pays the sticker price.

      It varies by college. Not all private schools are alike and the basis for many incorrect observations and intellectually dishonest arguments are to take an anecdote about one or two schools and portray it as representative.

      There are some schools for whom the sticker price is part of their business model where there is little or no discounting. Examples of these schools are NYU, USC, and GWU. These schools make a business out of seeking out those students who want to have the big city experience and are willing to pay for it. Some of them have been doing this forever. (When I was looking at colleges, USC was referred to as “University of Spoiled Children” in my Southern California circles and was well known for catering to two demographics: People who wanted to go to film school and rich kids who wanted to go to private school but were too dumb to get into Stanford.) Others are more recent in their transformation. (NYU and GWU were commuter schools who decided they could upscale by going after rich kids and not-so-rich kids with poor judgement who wanted the Manhattan or DC college experience and were willing to pay for it.) These schools charge full sticker price and don’t really discount, convincing students who can’t otherwise pay for it to take out massive loans instead.

      As an aside, when you read all those “woe-is-me” stories of people who are living under $200K student loan debts in the NYT, count how many of them are NYU graduates. A surprisingly high percentage due to the fact that there NYT and these graduates are proximate to each other and so these stories write themselves. They don’t mention that NYU is especially ruthless in exploiting first generation college students who fall for the “go to the best school you can and take out loans to pay for it” line not realizing that NYU is just a glorified former commuter school that offers the Manhattan playground experience and charges a premium for it and that they would be better off in the honors program at their flagship state school or taking a near full-ride merit scholarship at a regional liberal arts college.

      At the other end of the spectrum are the Ivies and the nationally ranked liberal arts schools, who mostly have need-blind admissions and do discount. The richest (such as Princeton) have ditched loans altogether. At the big three Ivies, if you have a median household income or even slightly higher, you can expect to pay zero. They could quite easily afford to charge less tuition if they followed the NYU/USC/GWU model but instead the tuition at these places is set at the high level that they can capture higher tuition from those who can afford to pay and use it to subsidize higher financial aid awards for the rest.

      So how many actually pay full freight? Well, when I was on the faculty at a NESCAC school I saw some data one year. At the time they had a $63K full cost of attendance in 2019 dollars with need-blind admissions and a guarantee to meet full need, although I believe loans were a part of that. With this, 60% of the students were on financial aid, so 40% were paying full sticker.

      Who were these 40%? Well, I’ve heard the model that is and was followed is that when calculating need and financial aid, they expect a student to contribute 100% of their income and 50% of their savings per year and their parents to pay 20-30% of their income and 6% of their non-retirement savings per year. That’s the number they will subtract from the full price to determine need. (This varies by school, of course. For instance, state schools will understandably be stingier about aid to non-residents.) If you do the math, this means that paying full freight started at a household income of $180K-300K assuming no savings and somewhat less with. This would put such a household in the 90-98th percentile of household income so this is a sign of the upper-class nature of this school’s student body.

      Is this a reasonable expectation for people of this income level. As I’ve said before, I say yes. There is no reason people at this income level can’t save for college, unless they have already spent the money on other discretionary goods as well, in which case the college is right to say “Why should we give you this money when you’ve already spent it on a home remodel and a vacation and a private high school?”

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  10. I keep meaning to write a piece against free college on CT, but I find the ideological character of the responses I get when I broach the subject so irritating that I’m not sure its worth it. A flavor can be gotten in the exchanges I I’ll link to (and Laura, if you don’t like this, please don’t approve the comment!!). But the truth is that bj is right not to take them into account — not only will the details change, I don’t believe any candidate will implement free public college and I am sure that Warren doesn’t even want to. What worries me is just this: if their (Sanders and Warren, in particular) policies in the one area I actually know a lot about are so bad what does that mean about their other policies?

    Anyway, here’s my take on the debt relief idea:
    http://crookedtimber.org/2019/06/25/sanders-debt-relief-plan-what-could-you-do-with-1-6-trillion/
    and here’s an aside about Warren’s college plan:
    http://crookedtimber.org/2019/05/06/is-warrens-college-plan-progressive/

    (As I say, Laura, feel free to not approve, or delete!)

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    1. Harry, this suggests that you are a Buttigieg fan? At least, he gave a one-sentence response to the debt cancellation plans asking why it was fair to make burger flippers pay for the nice college experiences of the upper middle class. And that’s a lot of my view, along with hostility to having professors and administrators having a good old time giving courses which lead straight to ‘barista’, and with a whole lot more debt than would have been incurred by going to a coffee house without paying student debt along with it.

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  11. dave — I’m not a Buttigieg fan in general (in fact I’m not a fan of any of them), but I think he gets this about right. And, that there is nothing progressive at all about the Sanders and Warren higher ed policies; quite the contrary. These policies will help them in the primaries, but I don’t think they’ll serve them at all well in the general — I assume if Warren is the candidate she’ll find a way to back pedal on this!

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    1. She’ll have to back pedal on the loan forgiveness, but I really hate seeing candidates putting forward policies that they have no intension of keeping.

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  12. Steve and I attended a grad school program that didn’t provide any funding for its grad students. Not even tuition. (Yes, majorly stupid, but let’s move on.)…

    Let’s not move on. I would be strongly against any student loan forgiveness proposal that forgave these sorts of loans.

    Of course, I am also of the opinion that accreditation should be removed from all PhD programs that don’t guarantee five years of support or have a six year or less average time to degree completion.

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      1. Just curious. Why?…Why are we letting some people off the hook for loans, but not others?

        Several reasons:

        1. Unlike other student debt holders (and especially those with for-profit undergraduate and pre-professional debt) I don’t view PhD graduates as innocent victims of anything. I went to graduate school at the same time that you did and *it was well known* that you don’t pay to go to graduate school for a PhD. It was also *well known* that the academic job market had been going belly up and was going to get worse. Well known, at least, to those who wanted to see. People who are going to graduate school for a PhD are not only already well-educated but are also going to school *to be smart people as a profession.* I expect them to be able to do due diligence about incurring debt to this end and view paying off this sort of debt to be near the last on a long list of things that we should be deploying government resources towards.

        When I say all this was well-known I really mean that it was well-known at my undergraduate SLAC among the faculty who were individually advising us on graduate school and among the tightly-knit alumni network of recent graduates who were in grad school and communicating the lay of the land. So, maybe there is some value in going to a small liberal arts college after all that you didn’t consider in your recent articles on the subject…

        2. As you mention yourself in your article, we are overproducing PhDs already. (Sort of) The idea that this debt may be forgiven will only encourage more people to incur such debt and further contribute to the oversupply of PhDs. Why would this be good public policy.

        Furthermore, your article points out the oversupply of PhDs, but does not make a distinction among the individual degrees themselves. Indeed, in the area I am most familiar with (mathematics) the academic employment rate for graduates of Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Chicago, and MIT (for instance) must certainly approach 100% and the academic employment rate for graduates of the next 10 top programs is probably almost as high. The difficulties are mostly suffered by students who are at lower ranked PhD programs that should probably be scaled back in the first place. Anyone who goes to one of these programs should certainly go only if they don’t take on debt to do so and so we should not be encouraging this debt to exist by offering debt forgiveness.

        (That said, with the recent data science craze, any recent mathematics PhD willing to leave academia should be perfectly employable…)

        3. Many of the PhD students I know who took on debt were not unsupported, but rather took out student loans because they didn’t want to live in cockroach-infested group houses and eat pasta for five years but rather wanted to live more of the high life and used this debt to supplement their stipend. Why on earth should we subsidize *that* decision?

        I do realize that there are many doctoral students who need(ed) that extra money to support families, etc, and that taking a harder line towards that debt will mean that some people will have less opportunity to go to grad school. So be it. Getting a PhD, like pursuing a career as an artist or a musician, should be viewed as a risky luxury good, not a necessity.

        4. The reason I differentiate between grad school debt and undergraduate student debt, aside from my deeply held belief that PhD students should know better, is that we have a public interest in educating more people at the post-secondary level and so fixing the college affordability problem, especially for low and middle income students, is a reasonable thing to do. On the other hand, we don’t have a societal need to improve access to resources doctoral programs.

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    1. It was not well known in the late 80s/early 90s that the academic job market was going to drop like it did.

      Oh come now, of course it was.

      For instance, in 1992/3 the Mathematical Association of America published a job search diary by Edward Aboufadel from the 1991/92 academic year illustrating just how bad it was. So, anyone who was professionally active at that time should have known what was coming down. This was my first year of graduate school and the experiences that the graduating PhDs had corroborated this. I knew, then, from the first year of graduate school, what the dismal state of academic employment was. Anyone who was paying attention would have known the same thing.

      When I mentioned this to grad students I knew in History and Philosophy they said that that had been the state of their field for several years.

      So,

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      1. I was in a political science department at the time. There was a modest strain of optimism for the market to improve because of the large cohort of elderly professors. There were lots of warnings about how you needed publications before you went on the market, but it was expected that people who finished with a couple of good publications and the recommendation of the right people would be able to get a tenure-track job or a post-doc with some prestige. This was largely the case.

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      2. I was in a PhD PSCI program a bit later and I agree with MH about what students were hearing. And frankly that’s probably what students are still hearing. If you are coming out of a top 10 school with a few publications you are set. That’s very different than going to a program where you are unfunded. My professors in the late 90s (at a SLAC) knew not to recommend that students do that. And, of course, now that I’m a professor (at a SLAC) I tell my students the same thing. But PSCI is a bit different; lots of things you can do with the PhD that aren’t related to teaching. Jay is absolutely right that the ranking of the program that you go to matters immensely. I had a friend coming out of a second-tier program with tons of publications who couldn’t get anything. I was coming out of an Ivy with only an R&R at that point and had lots of attention from SLACs. The fact that I went to an SLAC as an undergrad helped me get a foot in the door at other SLACs and that, to me, always seems like the dirty secret of SLAC hiring. They like to hire people who have gone to SLACs because otherwise how can you possibly understand what we do at an SLAC (#sarcasm).

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      3. My parents, who do not have college degrees, were extremely worried when I said I was going to grad school. They referred to tropes like the PhD driving a cab and how you won’t get a job, and it’s all publish or perish. So when I hear people insist that no one could have known, it just sounds like self serving bullshit.

        Like Jay, I also knew that you don’t pay for grad school and again, my parents didn’t go to college. I just don’t understand how my family knew that, but the so called educated people didn’t.

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      4. It’s not actually possible to live without doing things everyone knows you aren’t supposed to do because there’s nothing left to do. Everyone thinks of sensitivity for warnings and nobody considers specificity.

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  13. I’m just generally not enthused about debt forgiveness. And I agree with Laura about candidates with policies they have no intention to keep. Still, I’ve always maintained that one necessary qualification for being US President is that I don’t like or trust the person in question.

    On the job market: I wrote off to numerous grad schools in 1985 to ask for their materials and information. One department (the only one I was really excited about attending) wrote back with its stuff, and a covering letter saying that their advice was that, because the job market in philosophy was so bad, no-one should go into debt for grad school, and they admitted very few people. No-one else said anything. I think it was unreasonable to think that the kind of people who have to go into debt for grad school (ie the not super rich) should have known that you shouldn’t do that. Sure, you might get this knowledge from fancy small liberal arts colleges but, even then, they cost a lot more than public institutions, and were actually more exclusive than they are now. More generally, young people do not understand debt well…. I’m on the other side — I actually saved money when I was an undergraduate, which was incredibly stupid, and which I regret — I was irrationally averse to debt and irrationally discounted the present relative to the future, and my overall wellbeing suffered. (I’m still opposed to debt relief for other reasons that you can find in the links if you want…)

    I didn’t apply to the department that discouraged me. Ironically, that same department offered me a tenure track job in 1992, and I’ve been there since.

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    1. Also,

      3. Top tier SLACs are far more exclusive then they are now. I am sure that I would not have been admitted to mine today with the grades I had in high school, but that’s another story…

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      1. Sorry, for “Top tier SLACs are far more exclusive then they are now.” I meant top tier slags are far more exclusive now than they were then. Fast typing/slow thinking…

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      2. I thing that slags are, by definition, not exclusive….

        Sorry, what I meant by them becoming less exclusive is that they enroll more low income kids (the top tier ones), not that they are easier to get into — they’re much harder, I agree.

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  14. I think it was unreasonable to think that the kind of people who have to go into debt for grad school (ie the not super rich) should have known that you shouldn’t do that. Sure, you might get this knowledge from fancy small liberal arts colleges but, even then, they cost a lot more than public institutions, and were actually more exclusive than they are now.

    1. I did not go into debt for graduate school and I was not “super rich.” In fact, I had some modest student loans (mid four figures) from undergrad that I paid off while I was a graduate student. I was able to go to grad school without debt or family support because (a) I lived frugally and (b) I took the very good advice from my undergraduate faculty that you should never, *ever* go to grad school without a promise of full support for the duration of the program.

    2. It is true that you got this advice from going to a SLAC and this is one of the value-adds of this sort of school, but I maintain that this is not the only place this advice is readily available. The faculty of the honors college at my graduate institution gave the same advice to students they were writing letters of recommendation for and, indeed, anybody who was going to graduate school was soliciting these recommendations and thus had access to people who could provide the same counsel.

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  15. Sigh. Too much to respond to here. Let me do my best.

    First of all, I don’t really want to get into the details of our grad school fiasco. We’re over it. Basically, not a single person in our undergrad schools or grad schools told us that there were no jobs and that it wasn’t worth ROI. Steve with his degree in modern European history had zero chance of finding a job, but I did. There was more demands for jobs in my field. But with all the work that I did in grad school, I only finished right as I was in the process of starting a family. We couldn’t move, because Steve’s job was better than mine and I wanted help from the extended family when raising babies. Whatever.

    Secondly, every single college and grad school should be upfront on Day One about job outcomes, grad rates, student loan debt, average retention rates, and so on. If they aren’t freely and publicly providing that information, then they should no receive a cent of gov’t money for any reason and should not have special tax status. There are definite concerns around fraud around certain programs. (Looking at NYU)

    Thirdly, loan forgiveness is being proposed/enacted for several reasons. A) We’ve forgiven loans of students attending for-profit schools, because they were essentially a fraud. Trump University and all that. B) Because millennials are having trouble starting families/buying homes, because of debt. C) Students may not be attending college, because of the high costs.

    Do we forgive loans of people who made bad educational decisions? If Jay doesn’t want to pay back the loans of PhD students, should we pay off the loans of students who went to SLACs instead of public schools? Of people who majored in puppetry? Of people who spent six years in their undergrad schools, because they were drunk half the time? Of people who attended schools that are basically a party in a box?

    I think the best way to go to make sure that every student in the country has the path towards a BA with little to no debt by controlling the costs, making sure that they are properly prepared to attend and graduate from a 4-year college, and offering great alternatives at community colleges.

    Off topic:
    I interviewed a community college president last week. He figured out that 10 percent of the 18-24 year olds in his county were not in school or working full time. He created a variety of short term certification programs for jobs in the area that paid over $40K per year. Tuition was than $1,000. Some programs were done in a month. No entry exams. You know how many students applied? 40. That’s it. In the whole county. WTF?

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    1. “You know how many students applied? 40. That’s it. In the whole county. WTF?”

      Sounds like he needs a communications professional, someone who understands the policy world but also the struggles that parents are going through and the media landscape of higher education for getting the message out. Know anyone like that?

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    2. What’s the incidence of disabled people in his county? https://www.disabled-world.com/disability/statistics/age-type.php#da

      Americans with disabilities are one of the largest minority groups in the United States. The tables below show the amount of the U.S. population with a disability with the statistics listed by age and general classification of disability including; hearing, vision, cognitive, ambulatory, self-care, and independent living difficulties.

      The US Social Security Administration (SSA), defines disability in terms of an individual’s inability to perform substantial gainful activity (SGA), by which it means “work paying minimum wage or better”. The agency pairs SGA with a list of medical conditions that qualify individuals for disability benefits.
      Quick Facts

      The American Community Survey (ACS) estimates the overall rate of people with disabilities in the US population in 2015 was 12.6%.

      So, it’s quite possible that the 10% who are not in school nor working full time are disabled.

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      1. Actually, I’m fairly sure that the 10% are disabled, have substance abuse problems, young children, are ELL, or are working off the books.

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  16. Graduate students are fine, but if they get more money, more of them might keep trying to live by me and they park like assholes. The rest of the locals park like assholes too, but they tend to live in households with only two cars so it’s manageable.

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