I’m 47 today. I’m at the peak of my earning potential. That being said, I don’t really care much about the $450 loan payment I have to make, relative to my earnings. I owe like $70,000, but this was after $14,000 of an undergraduate (I had an assload of scholarships) and $56,000 for 2 graduate degrees – which $10,000 more was subsidized through an employer for my MS in Cybersecurity and $5,000 more toward my MBA from another employer.
I was prudent in what I borrowed, and I did an ROI for each item I did. My graduate school completely helped my earning potential. I had very little family financial support in going to college – my mom tried and did everything she could, but it usually amounted to about $100 a month in food for me at the student union. Where she was of TREMENDOUS value in respects to my education was getting me out there for all kinds of scholarships, getting me to apply at places that we could afford based on what they were offering me, and picking a major (criminal justice to start, and switched to information systems later) that would have a strong ROI for my very inexpensive college. So her “financial” support of $100 a month was a drop in the bucket compared to the scholarships she helped me land. You don’t always need lots of money to go to college – but you need a lot of effort in the planning of how you will do it and you need to learn how to stretch a dollar. Unfortunately, the schools I wanted to go to as an undergrad (Villanova, Penn State, UPenn) were all too expensive for me. Later on, I did get to go to Villanova for grad school and taught by professors from Wharton (UPenn), so I did get a really high quality graduate education there! After all was said and done, I have 10 years of college and with it, did a lot of research on each school before I borrowed money to enroll.
Others aren’t so fortunate to have a mother like I did, and find themselves in heaps of debt, and want to blame others. I’m sorry. I feel bad for people who cannot pay this debt, but when people blame others for this, I call bullshit and I’m really pissed about it. I believe there is a way out for them. I believe there is a fair way out, for everyone – and a way to cap this type of thing from happening again.
But people are trying to buy your vote when promising to pay off your debt. They are doing this by reaching in the pockets of others to make you feel better.
Understand what you are doing
I didn’t have any kind of home ec in school where you balanced a check book or did home planning. “Home Ec” for us was a class where I learned to sew a pillow and make croissants in the oven when I was 13. I feel that every school in this country in like 10th grade needs to have a class for a few weeks about career planning.
First, what the hell do you want to do with your life? Some people are driven by art, poetry, and music. Others are savage businessmen-wannnabes. Others want to work in a factory for 40 years and get a solid union paying job. I think it is incumbent for our Department of Education to put a series of videos to watch that are required for all schooling at 10th grade and above. It might break down careers by type. Maybe you are an outdoors person and could never sit behind a desk. Maybe you are looking for a life of service to do good for others. Maybe you want to learn how to start a business. It would be fair for perhaps 40 hours of videos that everyone would have to watch in….
- Business (finance, accounting, entrepreneurship, banking, investing, sales, marketing, admin assistant)
- Trades (plumber, roofer, metal worker, electrician, construction)
- Services (military, police, fire, prison, probation, social worker)
- Health (doctor, nurse, dentist, dental hygienist, medical assistant, intake, medical records, psychology)
- Technology (support, programming, hardware, cyber, networking, telecommunications)
- Sciences (chemistry, physics, research, biology, meterology)
- Raw materials (mining, geology, drilling, oil, nat gas, commodities trading)
- Supply chain (smelting, refining, casting, manufacturing, logistics, transportation, warehousing)
- Arts/Entertainment (music, writing, art, poetry, literature, film making, communications)
- Education (teaching, child care, academia, research)
- Food/beverage/hotel (bar tenders, cooks, wait staff, hotel mgmt, chef, high end dining, running a restaurant)
- Outdoors (wildlife, animals, landscaping, pool maintenance, life guard, park guide, entertainment, fishing/crabbing, hunting/trapping)
- Homesteading – imagine a path that some I know have chosen. Living in a remote area, how to grow your own food, raise animals, taking care of land, home school children, farming, bush skills, survival skills, trading, wood working. Scouts might be a good path for this.
A VAST number of jobs are covered under these umbrellas. Your 15 year old can choose to watch as many of these series as they want. They could be 5 minute videos on 40 careers in each, where you interview someone from that job about what they do, what their hours of work are like, what they like and don’t like about the job, and what kind of education/skills you need to get there. Then, at the end of the segment, they can talk about what types of education/skills are needed, the costs, and what kinds of salaries they make according to department of labor stats.
The problem you run into is most parents push their kids to college. Many go and have no idea what to expect. They pick a major without really knowing what they do, what it’s like, etc. They go to a school that costs $40,000 per year, take some classes that are basic, do ok, but get lost in the college shuffle of parties and bad decision making. They are not passionate about the cause they have and before they know it, they are $80,000 in debt and living back in their parents’ houses.
Nothing is FREE
I think it is very important that people understand means of paying for college. If a college is $40,000 and a max student loan you can take out is $10,000 – how are you funding the rest? There are other types of loans and grants to get, but what then happens is this cost of college continues to go vertical and the means of paying for these then end up bloating a student’s debt obligation. Someone I know got in over her head and was paying $1500 a month in student loans. So – I’m aware this debt can be soul crushing.
I believe that many people right now are calling for “free” education. I think they do not know what the word “free” means. Turns out, tax payers would have to fund these things. Instead of socializing this with taxes, we give students the option to thus pay for this education themselves. IF they don’t want it, fine. But to force someone else who didn’t go to college to pay for your college is….slightly unfair, and I’ll leave it at that.
I think it’s important that the DOL/DOE would put out this type of content. They can also say things like “by 2027, there will be a shortage of 100,000 electricians. This shortage is caused by a lot of the baby boomers retiring who were electricians and many of them owned their own businesses. Currently, a licensed electrician has to go to a trade school for 2 years, apprentice for 3 years, and could today be making $95,000 US median salary.” Likewise, when I was going to college, I was interested in law, and my counselor told me about the glut of lawyers that would be out there. This dissuaded me from law school, and I dodged a bullet on that. Many of these law schools are $200,000 or so and the only jobs many of them can get is an assistant DA job making $40k per year in small cities like mine. How are they supposed to pay off that loan, let alone the $100k from their undergrad? It seems the DOL needs to be able to forecast shortages and abundances for 4-6 years out so they can fill these gaps with students choosing those careers.
I think it’s also important for students to be educated on the GI bill, and what that can do for a student. I believe once a 4 year service is ended, the student should be able to then attend any 4 year state school in the country they qualify for, for a $0 tuition/room cost.
I think it also makes sense to identify critical shortages that are coming, and incentivize people into those types of careers. For example, perhaps we know Baltimore has a critical teacher shortage. Would it not make sense for them to then offer free education for a 4 year degree in teaching, if you fulfill a 6 year teaching contract upon completion. You can leave before the six years, but your debt would be paid off as you complete years of teaching. For example, half paid off at 4 years, 75% at 5 years, 100% at 6 years. The same for “Minneapolis is short on police” – they can take qualified people right out of the military or pay for police academy for top students who want to work in law enforcement.
The point here is that rather than have 40,000 people with useless poetry or gender studies degrees who have no career waiting for them and massive debt that you and I should not pay off, why not spend the time to reach out to 16-18 year olds to educate them about certain careers? Why not create programs to incentivize students to pick your city or town? “Omaha has a shortage of truckers and we can train you and sign you to a 10 year $100,000 per year contract to drive with our fleets”.
Ripping the band aid off
People need to understand the difference between “education” and “trade schools”. I was once asked to be part of designing a cybersecurity curriculum for a college. I was part of a form of steering committee that gave input. My master’s degree had a ton of writing, books, etc – but we also had weekly labs where we used these skills on tasks that were EXTREMELY relevant to job skills. For example, we had a few weeks on cryptology and a part about cracking passwords, and one of our labs was on using things like L0phtCrack. When many of us tried to advise this school about the importance of labs, there was strong pushback. They believed in the “education” and didn’t want to look like a “trade school”.
Meaning – they wanted to teach about cryptology – but any tools LIKE L0phtCrack might be obsolete in a year or two and that was a current tool, and not the education. All of us working in the field and educated by other schools could NOT get through to this person the importance of this.
This, is where you need to understand that an education is just that. A college is an educational institution. It’s not their job to get you a job. That’s on you. The service they provide is EDUCATION.
What YOU need to do is to interview schools. What is their job placement numbers? Are there a lot of jobs in that field of study? Do they have recent graduates you can talk to?
Here, if I’m the department of education, I’m only then providing subsidies and loans to specific majors at institutions. You can pay $40,000 per year at Brown to get a poetry degree, but don’t expect a Federal Student Loan to do so. You will use your family’s “old money” and thus loans would not be given for degrees that can be seen as “predatory” in nature – meaning – no real job demand for a specific major. If you turn out 30,000 graduates a year in gender studies, what the hell jobs are these people working?
I’m also capping how much I’m willing to allow an institution take for an individual. For example, $15,000 per year, max. If your school is charging $30,000 per year, you better drop the price or find internal aid to help the students.
Lastly – I think it’s important that ANY major a college has, also has their department chair create an “employment” track. This department head would then define the types of jobs that degree could do, and track trends with those majors to post to all students of those tracks. Additionally, there should be job boards available to students to identify internship/training opportunities for their last year of school so they can start working day 1 out of school with the training needed.
Schools will have two tracks – education and vocation. For example, philosophy, poetry, and gender studies may be in the education route. None of these would be available for any kind of federal or state funding. All other majors would be under the “vocation” majors and the school would have more or less the ability to take new students as freshman and not only get them the education they needed, but partner with local companies to get these students experience in that field for when they graduate.
Paying it back
I believe the above, or something like the above – can go a long way to stopping the problem from happening down the road – but where are we now?
What if we have all of these people with massive debt? I see some options
- Remove all interest, now. I owe $70k. Instead of paying back 30 years at 6% interest or the like, you can pay it back over 15 years with zero percent interest. That would take my $450 payment down to $388, but it is all coming off of the principal. I get $75 back in my pocket or so, but this cuts the cost of my loan in half. It also prevents anyone from having to pay for MY loan
- Widen the GI Bill. There’s a lot of 25-35 year olds right now who owe a shit ton of money. Offer to pay it off for a 4 or 6 year commitment to the military. It doesn’t mean you would be infantry. Consider you have a college degree – you can now be an officer, or perhaps be a warrant officer. You can take your education and pick an MOS which might get you experience in what your field was. At the end of your service, no loans.
- Provide programs like stated above. I know with the Federal service, for specific jobs, they can pay up to $60,000 of your student loans off over 6 years. Why not do this, today, for a lot of jobs hurting for people?
- If you did NOT finish your schooling, perhaps you can get that loan restructured over 30 years, no interest. Instead of paying off 3.33% this year, perhaps it’s .5%. As the years go on, this payment goes up by perhaps .2%. By the time year 20-30 comes around, you should be able to easily make these payments.
- Trade schools recruit – perhaps we KNOW there is a shortage of truckers. You had one year of college and owe $35,000. Why not look to learn a trade to then help get high paying jobs to help pay off these loans and learn a skill in the process?
I have gone to “brick and mortar” schools as well as online. I can see a world where a lot more of these classes are moved online. I don’t see why you need an English 101 class in a private school with 20 kids and a PhD. I just don’t. Many of these basic classes can be easily recorded and provided to thousands of students with a TA proctoring 30 students per class. The future of education is going there.
I say this because it makes a lot of sense to start scaling out these things to make the COST of education cheaper. Now, could this be FREE? I could see how you could do a freshman year of college through a national university which is open to anyone who wants to take it. You could educate thousands of people like this – people unsure if they want to do a 4 year degree, those who want to return to college at a later life but have a family and a job during the day, soldiers across the world, and even recovering drug addicts and incarcerated individuals who want to turn their lives around. You could have 30 credits like this, and these could be transferrable to any 4 year college that receives federal funding. This would eliminate all of these people who are borderline who go to college for a year and lose their shit.
You could also potentially see local community colleges further subsidized by their local communities. Imagine taking 2 years at a local community college for criminal justice? You can then enroll in the police academy then or transfer to a 4 year school for your last 2 years. No cost for your first 2 years of school.
More ROTC programs should be made available to individuals. I think there’s a ton of jobs in the military that have nothing to do with a gun, and it makes a lot of sense for people to recruit based on this. While certain branches need you to be a soldier first, you get that – but if you want to go to college for computer science and cyber security, you should be able to thus work out of college in cyber defense.
Lastly with this, many companies offer tuition reimbursement. Why wouldn’t you take them up on this? It stands to reason that if something like this is being offered to you, you are perhaps foolish for not taking them up on it.
I don’t think good, decent, hardworking Americans that could never afford college should have to pay one cent for someone who made really bad financial decision. Likewise, I don’t believe in a form of “blanket amnesty” for people who made poor financial decisions. I think there are a lot of programs out there that could be expanded out to help people pay for college – and I also believe young adults need much better education at 16-18 to understand what they might want to do with their lives. While many people change their mind 1-2 years into college, it also makes sense for a lot of basic math-type classes be provided for a first year of college online for students to see if this is something for them. Local communities can bolster education programs with their community colleges, police academies, and fire academies to get young people into their employ. Lastly, there are a lot of things that can be done in the military which does not involve front-line combat and thus millions of Americans have no idea that there’s a lot of things they CAN do in the military without firing a weapon.
I think it is dangerous to use the word “free” – as everything has a cost.