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William Falk on College (The Week)

05/18/2012

My older daughter is already off at school, and the younger, a high school junior, has taken us on a tour of exciting collegiate options from North Carolina to Massachusetts. They all have exquisite campuses, exciting academic programs, and total annual costs exceeding…I am pausing here to breathe…$50,000 a year. Four times $50,000 is — I am trying to breathe more slowly and deeply — a crazy number, especially when multiplied by two kids. It sounds even crazier when I read the other day that 53 percent of college grads under the age of 25 either have no job, or are waiting tables, manning receptionist desks, or folding sweaters at the mall. [Interjection that I recently read that the number of food stamp recipients who also have masters degrees are tripled this year.] As Frank Bruni noted in The New York Times, college used to be a “synonym for success. We only had to go. We only had to graduate.” Now a diploma — especially in the liberal arts — guarantees nothing but a lot of debt.

Yes, I know. Education is not merely a means to a good job. You don’t have to convince me. In my college years, back in the less-competitive 70’s, I took classes in whatever I found intriguing — philosophy, psychology, English lit and astronomy, with little thought to anything as crass as making money. After graduating, I found an entry-level job at a newspaper anyway. (Agreeing to working nights and weekends helped.) Today, education experts say a liberal arts degree isn’t entirely useless — as long as it’s followed by a graduate degree. Kids with a simple B. A. will still be folding sweaters at the age of 33. So do the math: 2 kids x $50,000 a year x seven years = ???!!! I’m breathing deeply, this time into a brown paper bag. — William Falk, The Week, May 11 issue

The Federal student loan program became the latest battleground in the election campaign, as a 3.4 percent interest rate subsidy, set to expire in effect doubling the rate to 6.8 percent which would saddle 7 million undergraduates with nearly $3,000 in additional interest. Jordan Weissmann, of TheAtlantic.com aptly suggested we not mistake the extension of the subsidy for college affordability since tuition fees are at all time highes with total student debt at $1 trillion, with uncertain returns. As Frank Bruni suggests, subsidies would be better spent steering students towards degrees that will actually get them jobs.

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