BEST SIXTEEN YEARS OF MY LIFE

Having recently sold an older but impeccable German sports car for a substantially cheaper and more practical Japanese econobox, I found myself in the odd position of having an amount of cash on hand greater than what would be necessary to escape the country on short notice. In the spirit of responsible adulthood I decided that it would make the most sense to close out my student loan debt. My student loan debt is old enough to drive; I graduated with my bachelor's degree in 1999 and the money owed for services long ago rendered has been more or less a permanent feature for my entire adult life. Now it's gone.

I had to borrow about $30,000 to cover my educational expenses between the time I graduated from high school in 1996 and from college in December of 1999 (grad school fortunately didn't cost anything except seven years of my life that I'll never get back). Combined with perhaps another $5000 run up on credit cards to cover my extravagant insistence on food and shelter and the earnings of various part-time forms of employment throughout, my college degree cost me around $35,000. As insecure and unsuccessful people tend to do, I'm always eager to point out that I wasn't on the Mommy and Daddy plan as most undergraduates are/were. I did the kind of shit that political candidate boast about in an attempt at authentic Common Man cred. There was more than one occasion on which I got 30 days of meals out of a 50 pound bag of rice. I probably have all the canceled rent checks in a box somewhere, and I can regale you with how hard it was to make some of them clear.

The point here is not that I'm a good person because we all know that's silly, nor is it to argue that hard work and self-reliance build character. I wouldn't recommend doing it that way to anyone, ever. It sucked. It was equal parts anxiety and fatigue and it was absolutely No Fun. If someone else would have offered to pay my bills I would have taken them up on it in a heartbeat. Anyone who claims otherwise, that they would never pass up the character-building opportunity it offers, is lying or very stupid. Instead, the point is that I managed to get out of a very good state university with a degree for a grand total of $35,000, give or take. What would the same thing cost today? Any way you look at it, my experience of being a normal person going to a normal school without a massive amount of outside financial support now sits on the boundary dividing unlikely and impossible.

If, instead of something like $12,000 per year the school had asked me for $25-30,000 per year as they do today, what would have been my options? There's no way I could pay that out of pocket. Assuming I borrowed it, my total debt at graduation would look more like $90,000-100,000 instead of $30,000. It took me long enough to pay back what I actually owed. How long would it take me, and at what cost to my other financial options in life, to pay off three times as much? Aside from the baseline cost of tuition and other class-related expenses like textbooks and fees, the cost of living in most college towns has gone through the roof as well. I dare you to find affordable housing (for students and non-students alike) in the proximity of your average big university. As an undergraduate I was able to rent studio/efficiency apartments for something like $400/month back in the late 1990s. That same apartment is, according to the property management company's website, a $900/month apartment 16 years later. And I bet it's still the same carpet.

When doing the math, the inescapable conclusion is that anyone who hopes to get a college degree today is in one of three situations. They could get a cheap online degree and find that it's worthless. They could borrow the money to pursue a more expensive and valuable degree and then graduate with a truly crushing and ludicrous amount of debt. Or they could have rich parents who pay for it, graduating with the ability to pursue opportunities rather than taking whatever shit job pays best in order to start chipping away at a six-figure loan balance.

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71 Responses to “BEST SIXTEEN YEARS OF MY LIFE”

  1. Andrew Says:

    I have no children, but if I did, they would damn sure go to college in Germany until the Germans wise up and close that gigantic loophole. :-)

  2. Eric S. Says:

    RE: 1st paragraph, I'm working on purchasing my 2nd, older German sportscar. I got rid of my 1999 BMW about 3.5 years ago and miss it so. This time I'm going all out and buying an old Stuttgart model.

    PS, I was 7 years ahead of you Ed and was lucky enough to escape with only $6K in debt. Plus, computer programming has been very good to my bank account if not my soul.

  3. Jon Says:

    Option 4, stop at an AA or AS.

    I suspect (and have suspected for a number of years) that the education bubble will burst and a lot of your qualified candidates won't come bearing papers. This is practical in the programming world where you can point to accomplishments in OSS in leu of a degree. I don't know how other fields are going to cope with it. But they'll have to figure something out and soon.

  4. rustonite Says:

    it's not really practical in the programming world anymore. the expectation is at least a BS, and if you want to be a manager a master's of some kind is necessary. there are exceptions, but they're either at startups (which are unstable situations) or giants like Google (which can afford to make mistakes in hiring).

    I have roughly $100,000 in student debt, but thanks to income based repayment, I'll probably pay less than Ed did.

  5. Guerrec Says:

    All the smart kids go to community college.
    Seriously, compared to when I was in college, the stigma has vanished.

    Also if you want to know why us millennials are hot to socialism and cool to capitalism, you need to look no further than the debt bondage even four years of instate tuition cost.

  6. Delbort Says:

    Of course, the usual hand-waving excuse of "trade school is always an option" applies, forgetting that in the rush to get out of funding state schools, the trade/vocational colleges get defunded even harder because nobody goes there except poor and/or brown people.

  7. Jack C Says:

    Unfortunately, being comfortably middle class neither qualifies you for need-based aid nor allows for the Mommy and Daddy plan. A handful of states in the South (as you know) have lotto-funded scholarships to state schools. A handful of the elite universities waive tuition entirely for those whose families make less than something like $100K or $150K. If you want to go to a smaller, private school in the Midwest or a state school in the Northeast, you're SOL. Most of my students at my small middling LAC in the Northeast are on the Mommy and Daddy plan, but a few are taking on that crushing debt you mentioned. So, basically, unless you're rich, middle-class with parents who saved up like crazy, or poor and among the top 0.001% of students in the country, you're screwed. Someone tell me again why Bernie Sanders' idea for free college education is crazy…

  8. Alan Says:

    Timely. I just paid off my student loans that dated back to 1983. But your thesis is missing the fourth, and most important option for a kid to get a college education: Need- or merit-based financial aid.

    Your post completely ignores the fact that most college students receive some form of assistance. For example, Harvard is completely free (including room, board, books, and incidental expenses) for kids from families that make less than $60,000 per year, while the University of California system does not charge tuition to families whose annual income is less than $80,000.

    The problem with the cost of education today isn't the price tag, it's unmet need. The shortfall for the average University of California student is over $5,000 per year. While tuition is expensive, it's reasonable compared to other world-class research universities. But it is imperative that every student receive sufficient financial aid to be able to attend. The system's failure to provide that is what's shameful.

  9. Greg Says:

    @jon – The problem is, as a friend of mine so astutely puts it, we live in a world where you need a BS/BA just to answer phones. However, I do agree with you that it's a crock of shit and any young person I encounter who has even a speck of interest in "traditional" work like carpentry or plumbing, I heartily endorse and encourage them to explore that particular path because when it's all said that done, those are the sorts of jobs that's never going to be outsourced and is still relatively well paid. At least according to all the brand new trucks I see driving around for plumbers, electricians, and assorted tradesmen.

    @rustonite – there are different types of startups — yes, early stage startups are extremely volatile but there are lots of young companies out there paying competitive rates that are stable and oftentimes, they look at experience more than a piece of paper.

    @ed – if Obama didn't pay off his student loans until he was in his 50s then neither should you! Although I suppose given the years you went to school, interest rates were probably sorta high but for a lot of people, the rate on their student loans will be the cheapest they will ever seen.

  10. My Truth Hurts Says:

    I can't wait for clueless baby boomers who have no idea how expensive college has become to chime in about how they don't understand why you didn't just pay it off with the money you earned from the minimum wage part time jobs you had as a student, just like they did.

  11. My Truth Hurts Says:

    @Greg a 4.5% rate on $35,000 worth of debt over 25 years is still too much fucking money to charge for a loan. Fuck off with this "cheapest ever seen" bullshit. At times the banks get 0% interest loans from the Fed. Fuck them too.

  12. My Truth Hurts Says:

    @Greg, sorry that sounded harsh, was not meaning to insult you, was just a figure of speech.

  13. Yinka Double Dare Says:

    " Need- or merit-based financial aid."

    The problem is that "need-based aid" in most cases takes the form of, you guessed it, loans. The Harvards and Stanfords have enormous endowments that allow them to make it free for lower incomes that actually manage to get in to those schools. But the state schools that are supposed to be somewhat reasonable are no longer even close to reasonable in most states.

    When I went, my parents could afford to pay for a state school via savings and investments they had been making for years. I had to figure out how to manage everything else if I wanted a better school. One, a pretty well-regarded school in my area of study, offered me scholarships that once some other scholarships I hustled for were added in brought me to a little under the state cost. The other, Northwestern, offered nothing but loans. Obviously, I did not go to Northwestern.

  14. Alan Says:

    @Yinka Double Dare: While many schools include loans as part of their financial aid packages, some do not, and virtually none have loans as their exclusive form of financial aid. As I noted, the University of California system offers tuition relief to poor and middle-class students; no loans are involved.

    Because each family's financial situation is different, it is hard to draw broad generalizations. But what is true across the board is that schools should offer financial aid packages that meet all financial need without crippling amounts of debt. Some schools do, some don't. But so long as people are focused on the sticker price, we'll never be able to have a discussion about this (IMO) more important issue.

  15. Patti Says:

    I agree with the previous poster – there is a substantial difference between the sticker price that everyone freaks out about that only the Foreign Nationals pay, and the cost that students actually pay. The discount rate at some colleges can be over 75%, and 50% is not unusual, even for schools with modest endowments. Something I discovered when I was negotiating my scholarship amounts for grad school. Spend some time with a school's financial records, and it's pretty surprising.

    And, cost of attendance for Illinois in late 90's – $10,500 (5250 a semester). Saved a little cash by living in a 4B apartment -$294 per bedroom with 4-7 people living there at any given time.

  16. Greg Says:

    @My Truth Hurts – lol, yeah, I'm with you. If it's a situation where you've got loose cash sitting around doing nothing and paying off the debt, obviously pay off the debt. I'm just of the mind that it's not 100% the case that it is prudent to pay off one's student loans early. Everybody's mileage will vary depending on a variety of factors, natch.

  17. Noskilz Says:

    It is rather appalling how much a college degree will cost a student, even at what passes for a reasonably affordable state university these days. I'm not sure how students can afford it, and I suspect many can't. It could be a pretty sure thing in terms of value twenty-something years ago, but now that seems a bit dicier.

    Not being able to land a viable job quickly enough can easily turn that qualification/opportunity into something of an albatross.

    It would be interesting to know if things are much better on the trade school front, because my suspicion is that many of the places booking ad time on local stations are much better at hooking students up with loans than training them for actual careers, but I may just be too cynical.

  18. Ed Says:

    I picked option 5 or 7. 4 years in the infantry, for which I received $25,000 toward law school and the US taxpayer (thanks) picked up my crushing undergrad student loan debt.

    Can't really recommend that in the age of endless wars.

  19. Anubis Bard Says:

    Well, I have a high school senior starting the process of applying for colleges. In a year I'll have a better sense of how the land lies nowadays. But I know I'm going to steer him away from debt peonage. Go with the best deal you can get even if you have to step down a notch – no place's reputation is worth a six figure debt in this economy.

  20. Jack the Cold Warrior Says:

    This Boomer is surprised that students aren't rioting like in the good old days of the 60's-70's. Good on them if they did.

    I graduated in 75 from a good State U. Costs: about $2500/yr tuition fees, books, board. Jr & Sr yr, had a ROTC scholarship that paid tuition, fees, books and $100/month towards board. I did have summer jobs, but didn't work during the academic year. Parents frankly indulged my sister and I since they both had degrees, both were WWII vets, and were not rich, but comfortable.

    The costs were low because the state and Feds put so much more into higher education. Sputnik in 57 scared the hell out of the U.S. and lots of Fed money helped HS and Colleges in science/math, with grants, National Defense Education loans and grants. The state and Feds probably built half the dorms, labs, new library and classroom buildings on our campus in the 58-73 time frame.

    But in NC during that time, Corporations paid the majority of the State and federal taxes. Not anymore. I would hate to try to do college these days.

    I think 2 things need to be done. One, as posts on G&T have pointed out previously, there are far too many admin people in colleges. Cut them by at least half.

    But the most important thing is to elect Bernie Saunders ( or someone like him) President and a progressive Congress that can pass his program, raises taxes back to the level they were after the JFK tax cuts. R's always throw that up as a good thing, but forget the highest bracket was 40%. Tax the Hedge fund managers the same, not that puny 15%.
    I've come a long way from a moderate/Conservative southern boy that stupidly voted for Nixon in 72. [ didn't vote for Jesse Helms, thank god!] Partly because of seeing how things worked in the Real World. Another was having something explode in my brain one evening when I was Staff Duty Officer for my unit on a cold German winter night. That happened when I picked up a Dog eared paperback in the SDO office of "Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, 1972" by Hunter S Thompson.

    Epiphany. Ever since I've been an FDR liberal. Always voted D for President and federal offices.

    This country desperately needs another New Deal, and Bernie is the only person running who has that platform.

  21. Kathleen Says:

    Its just sad. After going through a period after WWII up through about the 90s where lower and middle class children could attend a university at a relatively reasonable cost we have cycled back into an age of plutocracy, in so many ways, but especially in education. I was able to get through undergrad at a large state school in the early 80s with no debt and absolutely no family help. I sat out for a year to work and save, qualified for a Pell Grant, which are virtually non-existent today, worked part-time jobs and was an RA for two years. I did incur student loan debt from law school of about $40K, but that was fairly manageable. Today, unless you are some type of genius or come from money, you are not getting out of college without a ton of debt. I really don't understand how anyone does it these days.

  22. Rich Says:

    Fuck this country, and everyone who runs it.

  23. sluggo Says:

    So if I want to sell my house, who the fuck is going to be able to afford to buy it when they are already paying two mortgages for college. Fuck this country and the fuckers who run it.

  24. Robert Says:

    When I applied for my civil service job in 1984, it required a high school diploma.
    By the time I left in 2008, a bachelors degree was required. It struck me that I could not have qualified to apply for the job I was leaving. No college degree!

    My sons are more likely to require conservatorship than scholarship.

  25. Nunya Says:

    I'm a Gen X-er which means that I gone semi-fucked by changing educational funding policies. My parents divorced when I was 18 and my father hired a better lawyer. The "any college you can get into, we'll pay for it" promise evaporated and I was on my own.

    At the time, there was a policy of "expected parental contribution" that took your parents' combined income and spit out a number that they should pay for. Well, if your parents are greedy fucks, that isn't an acceptable factor.

    What did happen is that I worked 50 hours a week to pay for a hovel to live in and pay tuition. I took classes when my work schedule allowed them, mainly very early mornings and nights.

    I have heard people tell me how noble it was to work my way through school. No… fuck that. It wasn't noble. It was miserable. I had far less time to devote to my studies than most of my peers. I spent 4 years in a state of near total exhaustion, I lost 30 pounds that I could ill-afford to lose, contracted shingles and, in general, had a miserable fucking time of it.

    On the plus side, I left with only $12,000 in student loan debt plus $8,000 in credit card debt to cover books and materials.

    I paid it off in 6 years, mostly out of spite.

    If a college education is the new minimum standard, it better goddamn well be paid for. Have you ever heard anyone complain about the socialist requirement that public High School be free?

    Maybe our new enslaved Millennial friends will finally show up to vote in the next election. Oh, wait, you can't vote on Twitter? Fuck that!

  26. bad Jim Says:

    Boomer here. Berkeley '72: world class education more or less for free.

    But wait, there's more! I inherited the family home, a big house in a beach town in Southern California, worth a bit less than $2M, assessed value about $90k. So I'm a "taxpayer" (the term used to be used to signify those who paid property tax) but not obliged to contribute much to the commonwealth.

    The world we want is the one I grew up in, with everyone contributing to the common cause and considering kids as a crop to be fed and tended and from whom the future could be expected, an investment that delivered the internet and biotech.

    Maybe we've outsourced the future.

  27. Nunya Says:

    As an aside, I can't help but think that it's intentional that middle and upper middle class people receive very little in visual help from the government. I understand that they may not need it but I have witnessed the frustration as people fork over $1,500/month for daycare and people making less pay $15.

    There's something about the SWAG model (Stuff We All Get) like Social Security and Medicare that enjoy wide support. Perhaps a free-for-all public university system might remind people that their tax dollars actually benefit them.

    The current model hoses the middle class and creates resentment against the poor… exactly as intended, I imagine.

  28. Nunya Says:

    bay Jim,

    I'm happy for the luck you were born into but holy shit… My family hails from California and also shared in the Proposition 13 "fuck the future" bill. My father owns 8 houses whose property taxes were fixed in time from the time he purchased them. His neighbors pay literally 20 times what he does for the sin of being born later.

    Perhaps the best gift you can do is to vote against your own self-interest and convince your Boomer friends to repeal Proposition 13 and start giving back just a small portion of the outlandish benefits you received at the expense of future generations.

    I'm a Gen X-er and feel like I got a shittier deal than my parents did, I am absolutely horrified at how fucked the newly minted graduate of today is.

  29. Katydid Says:

    Hey, Nunya; I was in pretty much the same boat as you. My parents didn't divorce, but their approach toward helping me with college was "we've got ours, screw you"–or, as my Baby Boomer father put it, "Our parents didn't pay for our college" (because when they went, tuition was free for in-state residents, books were cheap, and both of them commuted). In the early-mid 1980s, it's true, colleges expected middle-class and above parents to help pay for college. Like you, my college years were an exhausted nightmare of 60 hours a week of multiple crappy jobs stitched together to support roughly 15 hours of classtime a week. If it weren't for my computer lab and night watchman jobs allowing me to study and write papers, I might not have gotten through, because all my other concurrent jobs (veterinary technician, teacher of English as a Second Language to adult learners, lifeguard at college pool, etc. etc.) required me to actually pay attention to them. I managed to graduate without debt, but my college years were a blur and I really can't tell you anything I learned. Had someone offered to help pay my way, I would have done just about anything in return.

  30. Talisker Says:

    Aside from being a crappy deal for individuals, it's poor allocation of human resources.

    50 years ago, the best and brightest graduates might have gone to work for NASA. Today, they'll go to either Wall Street or Silicon Valley. The former actively destroys productivity; the latter is focused on making shiny consumer toys and the latest taxi-summoning app. Neither one is addressing much more serious (but less immediately profitable) issues like climate change or antibiotic resistance.

    Graduates do this in part out of greed, but also because of the crushing burden of student loan debt.

  31. Dave Dell Says:

    This blog has, in past postings, written of college administrative bloat. I wonder if the data exists to compare an undergraduate student to administration ratio from the early 80's to that ratio today.

  32. Safety Man! Says:

    I don't know about you guys, but my interest rate on my federal loans for grad school is something like 6.8%. So please, tell me to my face how much the government is doing me a favor and these are the best interest rates I'll see in my life.

  33. Deggjr Says:

    Somewhat tangential, but I can understand why students paying 30k a year for college might have a sense of entitlement. If I paid that much I too would expect equivalent value in return.

    Our children graduated debt free because I got lucky in the business world. Our children's strategy seems to be to not have children.

  34. oiojes Says:

    My son starts college next month. We've managed to scrape and scrimp and save the last twenty years so that he will come out with a manageable debt load. Having a couple of scholarships didn't hurt. Whether he'll come out with a character building experience or not is up to him.

    What's more interesting to me is college loans are bad debt. It does nothing but shore up the university industry and while that is important, the tuition/fees side of things no longer shores up Big U's contribution to society. Big U's contributions such as research, etc., are underwritten by other sources.

    Then the kid comes out of school ready to make money (contributing back to the society by productivity, taxes and purchase) and uses up a lot of that contributive power paying back this loan. It's burden on the ex-student and a burden on us– we're not getting the ex-student's monetary contribution to society. It's going to finance institutions.

    This is a place where public money works.

  35. WyldPirate Says:

    My situation was much like many here. Out of high school in '77 and worked the summer before going off to dirt cheap sout her State Uni at Ford Motor Company plant in Tennessee. Made $11.50/hr base with crazy amounts of overtime. Nearly flunked out of school the first year and decided to grow up and worked another 1.5 years from 78 through the end of 79 at the same Ford plant until the economy tanked and was laid off. Here's the sweet part, though. Due to the strength of the UAW, I drew my full base pay and benefits for an entire year and then unemployment for nine months while I went back to school part time. Had enough left to completely fund my undergrad while going the ROTC route to develop some discipline. At the time, tuition and fees were probably less than 2G/year.

    After undergrad, I did 4 years active duty as an officer in the Army and left when ex-wife said it's either her or the military. Big mistake number one. Went to grad school for MS in North Carolina and tuition was dirt cheap. Got through that and even turned down research jobs in 1992 in the pharmaceutical industry making about 50K to pursue a PhD because believed the screaming bullshit of the early 90s about shortages of faculty and biomedical research. Mistake number two.

    Got through PhD program in 6.5 years between Montgomery GI bill and 10K in student loans. Stipend at mediocre doctoral program was never more than 11K out of which we had to pay or tuition, fees and insurance. During this period, I began to realize that there was an overabundance of PhDs being produced by the huge influx of foreign students and postdoc in the biological sciences and nearly quit, but finished anyway. That was probably mistake three.

    Off to postdoc hell in 1999 which was disastrous and paid roughly 1/3 of what I made 3 days out of high school in 1977 at Ford. Floundered as a postdoc as a 13 year relationship with a medical student/intern-resident/fellow crashed. Sucked watching her get raises every year funded by Medicare while my shitty NIH fellowship which started at 75% decreased to half hers before we crashed and burned in 2004

    Did an adjunct job for 5 years at old grad school until economy tanked in 2009 and most of adjuncts, including me, were kicked to the curb in August 2009. Oddly enough, although nearly 200 were canned, I am not aware of a single one of the tenured faculty who had SOs with adjunct gigs who were. After being canned, I promptly had a heart attack and bypass 3 months after losing my job and didn't get back to work until 2011 teaching at a small community college in the armpit of North America until 2011. That gig ended this past spring as enrollment crashed by 45% in four years as students who were functionally illiterate and never should have been admitted blew through more restrictive Pell grant requirements.

    I am sitting here today on pins and needles awaiting a decision as a finalist for a teaching gig at a community college. If I get it, it means uprooting and moving 250 miles in two weeks. If I don't, it means shitcanning the last of my possessions, shopping for a tent and a comfy dry spot under an underpass to pitch the tent.

    I suppose I sound bitter as hell. No doubt I've made bad choices. I get pissed every time I talk to my 80 year old father who is living very well after 44 years at Ford on his pension, SS, 401Ks, IRAS he maxed out for years and who can't write a coherent sentence say I don't understand why you can't get a decent job. It is what it is, though. I have never had a job as good as I had three days out of high school. With every degree I have gone backwards financially and have had less job security.

    I keep waiting for people to get pissed and revolt given what has happened in the US over the past 40 years. It's going to take a another crash that exceeds the Great Recession though. There is no doubt that more folks have to realize that the American Dream is really the American nightmare for so many. It's not going to happen until more of the boomers are dead or suffering, though.

  36. Benny Lava Says:

    Dave, just google growth in college administration

  37. Kathy K. Says:

    We are about to start the exciting period of having two boys in college at the one time. The eldest is in a PLA college in NC – scholarships pay for roughly half of it, we pay the other $20,000. The first year and a half we did this by ourselves, his 4th semester and this new year will include loans for him. The younger one is going to a state college in a different state, but he qualifies for a neat reciprocity thing (although we're still trying to work out if we've ended up with a better deal, because it changed his scholarships). We didn't put any money away when the kids were younger, and everyone I know with young kids these days I encourage them to at least start. We're middle-class and lucky, which is about what you need these days. We don't qualify for any grants or anything, because we make 'too much', but it sure doesn't feel that way most of the time.

  38. Chicagojon Says:

    My son's 21 months old and I'm mostly convinced that he won't pay for college. We're saving anyway, but I'm confident that the system must break enough for free schooling to be very widespread and able to provide a suitable education that anyone can excel at. Will be interesting to see.

  39. Emerson Dameron Says:

    My feelings on the current college situation echo my questions about west coast real estate prices.

    Who can afford this shit? Who are the people who *aren't* getting priced out right now? Who supplys the demand? Who thinks this is a sweet deal?

    My experience was a lot like Nunya's, and now those seem like the salad days. This new generation is supposed to be so spoiled, but my tuition and rent were a fucking cakewalk compared to what I would face now.

  40. Skippper Says:

    Debt peonage has been the plan for about 80 years now. First it was home mortgages. The so-called "American Dream" was devised back in the late '30s as a way to keep unions under control. The thinking was — and the corporatists weren't shy about saying it out loud — that if a worker had a mortgage to meet, he couldn't strike. It also limited mobility, because to take a job outside of town, you had to first sell the house so you could move the family. It worked pretty well.

    In many countries, people rent houses. Or at least that's the way it was until the corporatists set their sights on destroying the European middle class. Then, they sold them the bill of goods how home ownership is good for you.

    College debt peonage is the new wrinkle. Once you're up to your earlobes in debt, you'll take whatever job you can get so you can pay off the loans. Then, you'll do what they tell you and keep your mouth shut so you don't get fired (laid off, downsized, whatever they're calling it this month).

    Now, the new tactic, in case anyone hasn't been paying attention is the disappearance of real jobs. I'm old enough to remember the days when you got a decent job, you worked hard, you kept your nose clean, and you worked until retirement at the same place.

    These days, the idea of a real job is a vanishing illusion. About 30 percent of workers these days are what are known as "contingent workers." They're also known as "statement of work" workers, or as the corporatists refer to them, SOWs. At some companies now, SOWs make up 50 percent of the work force.

    Academics need look no further than the adjunct faculty phenomenon. Instructors are brought in at scab wages and are slowly replacing full-time faculty. If you cross someone in the administration, you're just not on the schedule next semester.

    In the workaday world, you're hired for a project or a task within a project. When the task or project is over, you're back on the street scrambling for another "task." They say the young 'uns like it, and maybe they do. It's kind of exciting when you're 25, but when you're 50, the scrambling starts to get a bit old. I have two friends who are locked into that scenario now. Also, you're constantly being underbid by eager-beaver kids who will work for far less than you need — and what 35-year-old hiring manager is going to hire someone his father's age?

    But, you can't even get your resume looked at unless you have a college degree — and that means a mountain of college debt to guarantee that you continue to scramble as fast as you can.

    I urged my nephew to forget college and become a locksmith. People always need locksmiths and when they need them, they really need them. You can name your own price. And if you feel the urge to move, you pack up your tools in the back of the van and head for greener pastures. They need them everywhere. He didn't listen.

  41. Chicagojon Says:

    Shoutout to the $315 studio apartment in downstate IL I lived in ~1994. My landlord was a Jamaican immigrant that mowed lawns when he came to the US, then hired a couple people to mow lawns with him, then hired fleets of people to mow lawns, then started buying crappy student housing. By the time I rented from him (25~35 years into his project) he had the better part of a dozen buildings. I still have nightmares about the roaches…but that place was cheap and ingrained my obsession with pre-rinsing dirty dishes.

  42. Templar Says:

    Dave, the numbers on college administrators as a percentage of "faculty" does exist. Lawyers, Guns and Money ran a post that the administrators now outnumber teaching faculty at US schools.

  43. Emerson Dameron Says:

    Somewhat OT, but I'd like for Ed to see it if he hasn't.
    http://slatestarcodex.com/2015/07/28/non-dual-awareness/

  44. anotherbozo Says:

    Relatedly (I am never totally on topic), I've been listening to Bernie Sanders espousing "free higher education," citing the socialist governments of Germany and Scandanavia who provide that, and I have only recently realized that, hey, that's exactly what I got at Berkeley in the 60's. This was before Governor Reagan, before the California legislature got overrun with neo-cons, and the state system was free for all who qualified. Do I feel I benefited from a momentary, meritocratic fluke in our plutocracy? I do. Do I hate the bastards who continually dumped on the best state university system in the country, so that Berkeley now has 2/3 the budget it once did AND has to charge tuition of at least $10,000 per year? I do.
    Sadly I benefited from the closest we've come to a level playing field (for whites, anyway). Coming up in the 50s and 60s was akin to being Mr. Magoo (dated reference, I know) waltzing his way through a hazardous construction site in a total happenstance of good timing.
    I said "sadly" because I know this country can function decently, and I know it beyond the merely theoretical. Now, if I live long enough I'll see Bangladesh submerge and California go down in flames. Am I just another old fart talking about the "good old days?" They weren't wonderful days, no mistake, but opportunities for us lower-middle-class types lasted just long enough for me to make it through. Debtless.

  45. JustRuss Says:

    I can't see how we can pretend to be a meritocracy and The Land of Opportunity when higher education is prohibitively expensive for most of the population. But then, we are really good at pretending.

  46. Jado Says:

    After financially flaming out 2.5 years into a 5 year Architecture program, I came home for 3 years to work off the debt that kept me from registering for for classes. I had 10,000 in loans at that time. Then I went to night school for 2 years before jumping to Engineering, and again financially flaming out. 5 years of paying off tuition debts let me register again, and 7 more years of night school financed 85% by my company under a now-discontinued tuition reimbursement program until I finally got my BS. I got out with 18,000 in loans, but thanks to my wonderful wife's earning potential and a refinance during the height of the housing bubble where some loon decided our house was worth double what we were paying for it, we disposed of my loans.

    My company paid over 27,000 for me to go to school. While it was ridiculously difficult at the time (full time work and night school), it was a cake-walk compared to what it would be now.

    I got sooooo lucky.

    My kids are totally screwed….

  47. Jado Says:

    PS – it took me 19 years to get a bachelors degree. Longer than it took me to be born and graduate high school, and I was only able to do it because i got lucky.

    We need free college

  48. democommie Says:

    My total college expenditures were <$2K. Otoh, I didn't get a degree. I think that the money was well spent–as it stopped at that low figure.

  49. schmitt trigger Says:

    How do you pay for tuition?

    Becoming a stripper or a porn star?

    It worked for Miriam weeks, a.k.a Belle Knox.

  50. mojidoji Says:

    This:

    My landlord was a Jamaican immigrant that mowed lawns when he came to the US, then hired a couple people to mow lawns with him, then hired fleets of people to mow lawns

    Not this:

    I had to borrow about $30,000 to cover my educational expenses

  51. Kevin NYC Says:

    I have been putting into a 529 plan for ten years and my son will have about $100,000. he is 15. should be fine for a state school.. he can work and get a loan or a scholarship for whatever more he needs…

    I guess if he goes to law school I would help..

  52. Robert Says:

    I don't come here for heartwarming, upbeat stories. But these first person accounts – gaaah.

    I'm living on SSDI (AIDS and depression) and am feeling like a very lucky man indeed. As a child of a disabled veteran, I got my educational fees paid by the State while attending UC Berkeley, got a stipend (not much, but more than nothing) and a work-study job at the library. I can't imagine anyone getting a deal like that here in today's modern world of the future.

  53. quixote Says:

    Since I'm "in the life," I know exactly what today's college students go through. I watch talented students fall asleep in class and get mediocre grades because they have to work half the night as cocktail waitresses or grocery shelf stockers. They'll never get the future they could have had if they could have focused on studying.

    I'm in biology, so I'm talking about pre-meds and our future cardiologists and neurosurgeons. Under our current system, they almost all come from the narrow pool of the wealthiest 10% or so. No, you're not getting excellent medical care. Those students disappeared into insurance adjusting or some damn thing that would pay the bills.

    And the same goes for teachers. Yes, women have a few more options besides nurse, secretary, or teacher these days. But another huge factor is that nobody can afford the idealism of teaching on the crappy pay administrators allow to trickle down. So your kids get taught by people worrying about the rent, while everybody who knows nothing about teaching tells them they're doing their jobs all wrong.

    The real value of stories from Ye Olde Days, like anotherbozo's, is that it says the way of free education and no loans is not merely possible. It's been done, for God's sake. We know how to do this. It's very simple. You tax the wealthy and the corporations and invest in humans for the future.

    Oh, wait, did I say "tax"? What was I thinking? That's totally out of the question.

  54. Scotius Says:

    @schmitt trigger
    "How do you pay for tuition?

    Becoming a stripper or a porn star?"

    Or even better, straight up prostitution:
    https://www.seekingarrangement.com/

  55. greenergood Says:

    I started college in 1974 – lower-tier liberal arts college in western NY state – loved it – lots of good learning, how to ask questions rather than just being fed answers. Parents were born in the Bronx, moved to the suburbs, paid first year, then I paid for all living expenses after that, they paid tuition – maybe @ $8,000?. I'm sure it was a sacrifice, but never discussed – I thinkg they were too proud. Parents were first people in their families to go to college – became teacher and accountant. Couldn't understand a child studying anthropology and religous studies – 'how can you get a job?' But worked 40+ hours a week, while going to college full-time – exhausting – waitressing, Drunken Donuts, dispatching, security guard, pouring concrete in the summer, picking fruit, cleaning professors' houses, cleaning dorm toilets – my parents were ashamed of me – but as a sheltered 'middle-class' person, I learned what very many American jobs consist of. The hedge fund folks and bankers and IT people haven't a clue how important the layer of people 'beneath' them sustain their comfortable lives. It was an eye-opener to me 40 years ago and I've never forgotten it. Now lucky to live in a country with a socialised health servce (though threatened) and working from home as a freelance editor – no pension, no paid holidays, but totally thankful for the medical. Until the US works out a better health plan, there will be so many problems.

  56. greenergood Says:

    PS the point I meant to make about my previous post was that ALL the jobs that I worked at when I was in college were STUDENT jobs – there were a few more, like window cleaning and pruning fruit trees in the winter at the Cornell Ag Station – but all of these jobs are now jobs for GROWN-UPS, not students, but people that have kids and responsibilities. So the grown-ups are paid shit, and the college people have no chance to find out what REAL work really means – and everybody loses, except for the oligarchs – I mean the US ones …

  57. Kevin Says:

    At the (Catholic) university I went to, back in the early-mid 80's, the tuition was around $8000. I just looked on their website, and I see that for the 2014-2015 school year, it was almost $44000. Incredible.

  58. Katydid Says:

    Tuition for the state university I went to in 1984 per semester: $800 (rose to $2,000 by the time I graduated 4 years later). Current tution for the fall semester (for my youngest): $7,000 once you add up all the stupid fees.

  59. Barry Says:

    Kevin NYC Says:

    "I guess if he goes to law school I would help.."

    Go to the Lawyers, Guns and Money blog, and ask whether that would be helping or hurting.

    TD;DR Law school is an almost 100% losing proposition except for those who go to the top 14 ('T14') schools, and for a lot of those students, as well.

    I would be a far better thing to give him a stake for starting a business. The odds of failure are still high, but if he loses all of the money he won't have to explain away a JD for the rest of his career.

  60. sheila in nc Says:

    I attended an Ivy League school in the early 70's. My dad showed me the check he wrote for the first semester's tuition, room and board: $3300. (He was making the point that it was a lot and that I had responsibilities not to piss away my opportunity.) I had some savings from summer jobs, and I had a not-demanding student job, but I was free to use those funds for my own expenses. Both my parents were college-educated (dad had advanced degree) and were committed to providing education for their children. (Although I am sure that my dad sometimes asked himself why he was putting out for a fancy degree just for a daughter rather than a son!)
    So it was pretty much a given when my husband and I got married that we would save whatever it took so our kids could attend the college of their choice on our dime.
    One possible side-effect of the current college affordability crisis: too many parents are chasing pipe dreams of athletic scholarships. Our daughter played soccer and tennis in college, and went on to be a varsity college tennis athlete at a small but highly regarded LAC in the midwest (Division III, so no athletic scholarships, but tennis probably helped to get her admitted). I can't tell you how many parents we've encountered who believe that their investments in training, coaching, leagues and tournaments for their athletic offspring are going to result in not having to pay college tuition. Of course they either end up getting little or nothing, or the kid has to attend some horrible institution in order to command the free ride.

  61. sheila in nc Says:

    Sorry — I meant soccer and tennis in high school. Bad editing.

  62. Katydid Says:

    @Barry: one of my yoga teachers graduated law school and couldn't get work, so she went and got yoga teacher training.

    @Sheila: I was astounded at the people who thought nothing of dropping $20,000 – $30,000 a year for 12 years on special coaching, clinics, tournaments, etc. in the hopes of getting a college scholarship for their child, who by the time they reached college age, were completely burned on on the sport. I lost a friend by pointing out that if she put $20k/year for 10 years into a college fund, her child could go to just about any school and the friend wouldn't have to quit her job to spend her days managing her child's basketball "career".

  63. Greg Says:

    @Katydid – in your friend's defense, they were probably throwing all that money at their kids' sporting career not so much to get that sweet sweet full athletic scholarship to Duke but rather in hopes that little johnny could get an NBA career out of it.

  64. Katydid Says:

    @Greg, I would agree with you, except it seemed to go for all sports; soccer, tennis, baseball, football, cheerleading. One co-worker drove her child to a special league two (small) states away three times a week for a special clinic for cheerleading, all in the hopes of landing a college scholarship. The money spent on gasoline and tolls was likely far more than the full cost to the in-state university.

  65. Steve in the ATL Says:

    Sports aren't worth it except for a tiny, tiny elite group, with the lone exception of girls' golf. Almost any girl who has her own set of clubs can get somewhere with that.

  66. Jon Says:

    Just a quick response to the idea that programmers still need a BS/MS: Yes, companies still expect it, but they shouldn't, given the practicality of the industry. Programmers are largely self-taught (you have to be when the entire industry changes every 1-2 years), and because of OSS it's possible to display experience and skill without holding a degree. Corporations are slowing coming to realize this, and not just startups or mammoths like Google. My own company is a somewhat prestigious defense contractor who has prided itself on the number of PhDs it employs, and yet two of my department members (of about 30) hold a GED and no further university education. Because they were able to demonstrate their accomplishments in the OSS world, we were able to hire them.

    I don't know how this would work for someone like a CPA. Surely you can learn the math on your own, but how do you prove to a potential employer that you're a good candidate?

    Anyway, food for thought as more and more teenagers are faced with what amounts to no choice at all when it comes to obtaining a degree from a four year institution.

  67. Interrobang Says:

    I went to university in Canada in the mid-to-late 1990s (started my MA after a year off in 1998). My parents paid for my undergrad. With tuition having been deregulated, a lot of parents can't do that these days. I scraped by in graduate school on two part-time jobs and a bunch of bursaries, plus $13K in loans, but I wasn't hurting for money, either. I sure as hell wouldn't want to be graduating with ~10x that in debt!

    That said, I managed to graduate and start looking for jobs in the IT field just as the dot-com boom was busting.

  68. College is unaffordable because it is necessary | Phil Ebersole's Blog Says:

    […] Best Sixteen Years of My Life on Gin and Tacos. […]

  69. Joseppi Says:

    Well undergrad loan limits are 57,500. Grad limits are 138,500, unless you attend grad school the chances of one getting a six figure student loan debt are low…you can get private loans for undrgrad tho but they won't lend you 100k. If you are a dependent student the limit is 31k for undergrads. Not sure where your figures come from but they aren't real. Plus look at your earning potential to pay back any loans as compared to a high school diploma. #stoppostingstupidshit.

  70. democommie Says:

    #stoppostingstupidshit.

    According to this:

    https://wfefs.wellsfargo.com/terms/TodaysRatesFilterServlet

    With interest rates that vary from a low of 3.17% to 11.49% for a student borrowing $57,500, on his won and one who won't start paying it back until after they graduate, they monthly nut would be in the range of $463.11 to $1,018.38* for 180 months. That's a nontrivial amount of money, anywhere in that range for someone who graduates with a BA or BS.

    Add an additional $138,500. for graduate loans @ low of 3.22% to a high of 10.61% and you're looking at another payment, for 180 months, at $1007.17 to $2005.34.

    These two loan amounts totalling $196K would require a net monthly payment of $1470.28 to $3023.72 for a grand total of $264,650.40 to $544,269.60**.

    The local BOCES program in Oswego County turns out people with apprentice/entry level skills in nursing, welding, auto body/engine repair, food service/culinary arts and other trades for lower overall costs and offers more financial assistance.

    Considering that plumbers, pipe fitters, welders and the like make a good deal more money than most teachers, for some number of years, I'd say that they are further ahead, all else being equal.

    You're free to disagree but pulling numbers out of the air won't win you any arguments here.

    "https://wfefs.wellsfargo.com/terms/TodaysRatesFilterServlet"

    * If my extensions from the first table on the page I linked to are correct.

    ** The totals are again assuming that my math is right, it's not my strong suit.

  71. Joseppi Says:

    That's Wells Fargo a private lender not the primary source of financial aid,not the U.S. Department of education so again figures are off. Plus thanks to Mr. Obama you can utilize the loan forgiveness program, after 25 years you are done paying. Not to mention they have income based repayment options so your payments could not be 300-400-500 a month. Studentloans.gov….my teaching is over.