Saturday, October 2, 2010

Mr. J's Testimonial: "It's like I bought a house, but never moved in."

What does the American dream mean to you? This question has been answered by numerous American (and non-American) thinkers, writers, and historians for decades. None of the answers are the same because the American dream has changed over time.

David Kamp's article, "Rethinking the American Dream," which was published in Vanity Fair in April of 2009, offers brilliant analysis about this concept. It should come as no surprise to most of my readers that my understanding of this unique American ideal derives, at least in good measure, from the writings and speeches of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Martin Luther King Jr. Roosevelt's ambitious New Deal sought to turn this dream into a reality for millions of Americans. Kamp adds, "The Social Security Act of 1935 put this theory into practice." I think it's quite clear what MLK Jr.'s beliefs were when it came to the American Dream. Sadly, the notion has become corrupted, just as the operators of the machinery behind financing higher education have seized these systems for their own selfish gains. The operators are tucked away in so many nooks and crannies of this rusty old system, and some of them have even fooled themselves that they are doing good things for students, when in reality they are only providing oil for the worst of the machine runners. Not only are the machine operators destroying the entire higher education factory, they are eroding and devastating the dream of a proper education. Students who were once vital parts in this system have since become cogs. Until we band together and smash its structural flaws, more students will be crushed by it.

Mr. J. is one of those students who was treated like a cog. Here's what he had to say about education and the American dream.

CCJ: Where did you go to school? Why did you want to go to school?    

Mr. J: I went for undergrad  to Florida International University and received my B.S. in Psychology.  I wanted to go to school because I thought that I would never be able to make anything of my life without an education.  After I graduated, I went on to get my Master’s in counseling at St. Thomas University. If I knew then what I know now, I might have become a plumber or something more practical.  I had no idea that all of that education would be a ticket to debt, misery and uncertainty.  I am VERY disillusioned, and in so many ways.

CCJ: Are you the first person in your family who went to school? Tell us about your family's education background.

Mr. J: No. My father is an attorney and my siblings are all college graduates. 

CCJ: How much did you originally take out in loans? Do you only have federal loans?

Mr. J: Over  the course of seven years, I took out a total of approximately $189,000.  I went to a private graduate school, so it cost a lot more, and I thought it would mean something. As far as I know, I have only subsidized and unsubsidized student loans. I believe they are all federal.  Honestly, I do not even remember who the original lenders were, as the banks have changed so many times. Moreover, I graduated with my Master's in 1995.  I cannot seem to find an accurate, accountable paper trail going back to the original loans I took out. The loans have more than doubled due to interest and my inability to pay them.  Thank God, I am not in default.

CCJ: What is your profession?  Do you regret going to school to become what you are today?  

Mr. J: I am a licensed psychotherapist. I do not regret being what I am, as I do good work and help a lot of people.  But it has become increasingly difficult to make a decent living due to the recession. If I could go back in time, I would make different choices. Life has simply become too hard and burdensome.

CCJ: How does this debt affect your mood on a daily basis? 

Mr. J: I am not sure. I have become very adept at being in denial, but the human brain is a funny thing. I cannot allow myself to really grasp the enormity of the amount I owe at this point.  The way I cope with it is staying in deferment or forbearance for as long as possible and LOTS OF DENIAL!

CCJ: I think it's a shame that you have to rely upon the powerful tool of denial, just because you wished to pursue a degree to help others. That said, why do we need professionals like you? 

Mr. J: Americans are hurting. Life has become increasingly complex, and substance abuse rates are skyrocketing as a result of that. Therapists, in general, are caring, nurturing people who want to make a difference. We did not get into this field to become rich. We also did not get into this profession to become poverty-stricken and riddled with student loan debt. 

CCJ: I am intrigued by this comment you made about education. You said to me, 'it's like I bought a house but never moved in,' could you elaborate on this point? I think you're alluding to the American Dream, correct?

Mr. J: Well, with the amount that my loans have ballooned into, I could have bought a large home- perhaps a mansion. All I got was a piece of paper that allows me to say: 'I have a graduate degree.' The American dream is a fallacy and has become a nightmare. That ship has sailed. We cannot, uh, let's say, 'un-ring' the bell.  I think the American dream was a nice concept in theory but most people that I know have no idea what it really means now.

CCJ: That's a great point, and that's why I think we must reclaim the term, American dream, and define it according to a different set of principles. To dig deeper on this point, what is the meaning of the American Dream to you, and how is it connected to education?

 Mr. J: The American Dream is an old concept that no longer applies to things as they are today.  Clearly, the old adage that 'an education is your ticket to a happy life' was not only a lie, but a complete distortion of reality. I suppose this is more of a subjective idea-given one’s background and history. 

Mr. J. and others deserve to achieve the American Dream, and that's why we must radically restructure the way in which higher education is financed. Moreover, we must help those who are burdened with debt today. We are through waiting. If we wait, all of America will lose out. 




 A prosperous America, means that people are living and growing, loving and nurturing one another within the walls of American homes. Without inhabitants in homes, the American Dream will dissolve, as will the hallowed ideals of the United States of America.

 



  

 
 
What does the American dream mean to you? This question has been answered by numerous American (and non-American) thinkers, writers, and historians for decades. None of the answers are the same because the American dream has changed over time.

David Kamp's article, "Rethinking the American Dream," which was published in Vanity Fair in April of 2009, offers brilliant analysis about this concept. It should come as no surprise to most of my readers that my understanding of this unique American ideal derives, at least in good measure, from the writings and speeches of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Martin Luther King Jr. Roosevelt's ambitious New Deal sought to turn this dream into a reality for millions of Americans. Kamp adds, "The Social Security Act of 1935 put this theory into practice." I think it's quite clear what MLK Jr.'s beliefs were when it came to the American Dream. Sadly, the notion has become corrupted, just as the operators of the machinery behind financing higher education have seized these systems for their own selfish gains. The operators are tucked away in so many nooks and crannies of this rusty old system, and some of them have even fooled themselves that they are doing good things for students, when in reality they are only providing oil for the worst of the machine runners. Not only are the machine operators destroying the entire higher education factory, they are eroding and devastating the dream of a proper education. Students who were once vital parts in this system have since become cogs. Until we band together and smash its structural flaws, more students will be crushed by it.

Mr. J. is one of those students who was treated like a cog. Here's what he had to say about education and the American dream.

CCJ: Where did you go to school? Why did you want to go to school?    

Mr. J: I went for undergrad  to Florida International University and received my B.S. in Psychology.  I wanted to go to school because I thought that I would never be able to make anything of my life without an education.  After I graduated, I went on to get my Master’s in counseling at St. Thomas University. If I knew then what I know now, I might have become a plumber or something more practical.  I had no idea that all of that education would be a ticket to debt, misery and uncertainty.  I am VERY disillusioned, and in so many ways.

CCJ: Are you the first person in your family who went to school? Tell us about your family's education background.

Mr. J: No. My father is an attorney and my siblings are all college graduates. 

CCJ: How much did you originally take out in loans? Do you only have federal loans?

Mr. J: Over  the course of seven years, I took out a total of approximately $189,000.  I went to a private graduate school, so it cost a lot more, and I thought it would mean something. As far as I know, I have only subsidized and unsubsidized student loans. I believe they are all federal.  Honestly, I do not even remember who the original lenders were, as the banks have changed so many times. Moreover, I graduated with my Master's in 1995.  I cannot seem to find an accurate, accountable paper trail going back to the original loans I took out. The loans have more than doubled due to interest and my inability to pay them.  Thank God, I am not in default.

CCJ: What is your profession?  Do you regret going to school to become what you are today?  

Mr. J: I am a licensed psychotherapist. I do not regret being what I am, as I do good work and help a lot of people.  But it has become increasingly difficult to make a decent living due to the recession. If I could go back in time, I would make different choices. Life has simply become too hard and burdensome.

CCJ: How does this debt affect your mood on a daily basis? 

Mr. J: I am not sure. I have become very adept at being in denial, but the human brain is a funny thing. I cannot allow myself to really grasp the enormity of the amount I owe at this point.  The way I cope with it is staying in deferment or forbearance for as long as possible and LOTS OF DENIAL!

CCJ: I think it's a shame that you have to rely upon the powerful tool of denial, just because you wished to pursue a degree to help others. That said, why do we need professionals like you? 

Mr. J: Americans are hurting. Life has become increasingly complex, and substance abuse rates are skyrocketing as a result of that. Therapists, in general, are caring, nurturing people who want to make a difference. We did not get into this field to become rich. We also did not get into this profession to become poverty-stricken and riddled with student loan debt. 

CCJ: I am intrigued by this comment you made about education. You said to me, 'it's like I bought a house but never moved in,' could you elaborate on this point? I think you're alluding to the American Dream, correct?

Mr. J: Well, with the amount that my loans have ballooned into, I could have bought a large home- perhaps a mansion. All I got was a piece of paper that allows me to say: 'I have a graduate degree.' The American dream is a fallacy and has become a nightmare. That ship has sailed. We cannot, uh, let's say, 'un-ring' the bell.  I think the American dream was a nice concept in theory but most people that I know have no idea what it really means now.

CCJ: That's a great point, and that's why I think we must reclaim the term, American dream, and define it according to a different set of principles. To dig deeper on this point, what is the meaning of the American Dream to you, and how is it connected to education?

 Mr. J: The American Dream is an old concept that no longer applies to things as they are today.  Clearly, the old adage that 'an education is your ticket to a happy life' was not only a lie, but a complete distortion of reality. I suppose this is more of a subjective idea-given one’s background and history. 

Mr. J. and others deserve to achieve the American Dream, and that's why we must radically restructure the way in which higher education is financed. Moreover, we must help those who are burdened with debt today. We are through waiting. If we wait, all of America will lose out. 




 A prosperous America, means that people are living and growing, loving and nurturing one another within the walls of American homes. Without inhabitants in homes, the American Dream will dissolve, as will the hallowed ideals of the United States of America.

 



  

 
 

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

This guy borrowed $189,000 to attend two crappy private schools and doesn't even know who his lenders are or have the paper trail for the loans and we are supposed to feel sorry for him? Seriously? How exactly is he the victim here? Did he ever do any diligence to see if his ultimate profession would provide the income necessary to repay these loans?

I borrowed $90,000 to get a degree from a top law school back in '97 - signing all those promissory notes clearly focused me on getting and keeping a good job to insure that could repay the money. I don't understand how people can blindly sign notes for huge amounts and just merrily think that it will all work out.

C. Cryn Johannsen said...

Thanks for understanding how this problem is systemic. I appreciate it. Way to go. Way to be concerned about your fellow Americans and their struggles. Keep up the great work!

J-Dogged said...

Anonymous: in a world where post-graduate institutions regularly rig their employment data and the federal government seems more like a willing accomplice than a friend to student/lender in smoking out misleading advertising, how can you hold students accountable for not doing "due diligence?" Due diligence found me a US Dept of Labor projection that the median attorney was projected to make 70k when I got out. That isn't the case. What more do you expect students to do? Independent market research to double-check the US government and the charts they were shown ad nauseum in high school?

gail said...

It's really difficult to keep a job when your employer goes bankrupt! I know exactly who my lenders were and I also know they told me my pymts would be 1/2 what they are. I didn't "blindly" sign anything. I was decieved and blatently lied to. Does that give you any kind of an understanding? BTW, no one is asking you to feel sorry for them!

Anonymous said...

In response to the Anonymous in the first post; I finished Dental school with $220K in debt; I have barely anything left in my pocket after I make my payments according the repayment schedule. I cannot even pre-pay the principal: I don't have any money left and I make $150K per year.

Anonymous said...

This is the first poster again - I totally agree that many people are being scammed by higher education these days, but this particular person doesn't seem like the poster boy to use - he can't even keep track of all the loans and lenders, so its unlikely that he was paying much attention to the debt he was incurring when he got into this mess. If this guy said that he realized the debt he was taking on and carefully kept track of it, but believed that based on employment and income stats his school provided, he thought it would be managable, then I could see him as the poster boy for being scammed by higher education.

I am all for proper disclosure of "real" employment stats and mandatory disclosures to try to empower people to make reasonable decisions.

I saw the same garbage employment stats that were in US news and the other law school guides when I enrolled in law school and I never believed the data that showed that lower ranked law schools has starting salaries and percentage employed at graduation that were almost what the top 14 schools had - while I wasn't from a family of lawyers, it just didn't seem possible to think that 3rd and 4th tier schools would have stats like the top schools.

Personally I think the government is a big part of the problem - schools would never be able to charge the tuition that they get if the government weren't there guaranteeing the loans. Look at the areas of the economy that are the biggest basket cases today - housing, health care and education - each one has had massive government intervention over the last 50 years.

Anonymous said...

To 4:32

You sound like a reasonable person.

There is nothing that I appreciate more and applaud than a success story. It is inspiration for all of us.

And it sounds like you have done well.

I hope you can be won over to the cause.

People have to discuss these things honestly, and suspend their moral judgements.

People from all walks of life are caught up in the Student Loan Haul sein Net. Even US military Veterans.

Read the stories on Alan Collinges Site.
Robert Applebaum is still active I think, and he used to post the horror stories as well.

A poster person is a very hard thing to find. People are never perfect, and if one looks hard enough, there is always some way to find fault with anyone.

With all of the conflicting motives and agendas that exist in the world , how does one analyze a life, with all of its twists and turns, in the end?

And I do seriously mean to say an entire adult life, because Student Loans are carried from post- adolescence to the grave, for many people.

Are all debtors irresponsible and to be blamed?

Some more than others?

And all of those who have paid their loans off are of course to be commended. Which further adds to the shame for the rest of us that have not.

The most shameful thing is to be told by a Veteran or a Taxpayer that they are mad at the studet loan debtor.

Such a system!

But what is the hardest thing to impress upon the minds of the people making the moral judgements, is that they are, at the same time, helping to make Al Lord and others extremely rich.

Therein lies the cunning of the banks:
Play the taxpayer against the debtor while they rake in enormous profits, entirely invisible and unseen.

Anonymous said...

To a bank, it's like Mr. J took out a loan but never repaid it.

Anonymous said...

First poster again -

I understand that its hard to find the perfect "poster boy" but that is why its even more important to do so.

Reasonable people look at the person in the story and try to determine how they wound up in the mess they are in. If it looks like they are at fault, they will blame the person and not the system that allowed them to bury themselves in debt.

Its similar to the housing mess - when I read stories about the "victims" they always seem to be people who bought far more than they could afford and then got home equity loans for even more and pissed away the money on toys. When they then cry about losing "their" house, its comic - these people never had any real money invested in the house. Clearly the banks should have never given them the money, but most objective observers look at the debtors and say - why did they borrow so far beyond their means?

Student borrowers are obviously much different from home borrowers - they are usually just kids and they are putting their trust in colleges and guidance counselors - people you don't expect to rip you off or steer you into a life of debt.

When I read stories about people who claim that realtors or mortgage brokers ripped them off, I can only wonder why they put trust in these people in the first place - these people obviously only get paid if you get into debt. Its now clear that the same is true for students looking to advice from the education industry.

As far as me being a sucess story - its really a matter of timing. I had the good fortune to graduate law school in '97. I am sure I would be in the same situation as many of you if I had graduated in 2008 or 2009. While I worked hard and went to a top school, the sheer decrease in the hiring by large law firms (first year hiring has been cut by 2/3rds by many firms) probably would have killed my chance to get the kind of job that can pay off the debts I would have racked up.

C. Cryn Johannsen said...

I am careful about the stories I choose. There are plenty of "reasonable" people who would be sympathetic about this situation, but you are not one of those people. You initially posted in a disparaging tone and then back-tracked. You are on the side of a system that is broken and corrupt, and you will continue to remain unconvinced. Luckily, not everyone is like you, and they understand that this is a crisis. Thanks again for your insights.

Anonymous said...

I don't know Cryn:

Back tracking can mean a person is thinking things over too.

1:52 says after all, that he has had some luck along the way in the last paragraph, or he'd be in a financial jam too.

I really don't understand housing so much, having never purchased a home, and not likely to do so now because of Student loan debt.

I have to read everything over again on this post, and will get back.

C. Cryn Johannsen said...

@ Anonymous Oct, 4, you may be correct. However, it is important that I defend debtors, and that means if people jump on them and say rude things about the 'crappy' schools they attended and so forth, I need to respond. It took me months to convince this person to share his story, so I'm not going to let him be ripped apart that easily. Plus, that's a judgmental way of looking at it. This isn't about finding a 'poster boy' or 'poster girl.' Why not? Because these stories must be understood collectively, and if this poster bothered to read all the other stories they might understand that. Indeed, that's what the first poster isn't getting. I spend every waking moment reading story after story after story from these debtors. They are all unique and important to me. But they also paint a devastating picture about the student lending crisis as a whole.actua As I said, I am careful about the stories I choose to post here, and I want to make sure to portray the person and the overall situation in the most honest of ways. Instead of getting snippy about one particular person and their own responsibility in this matter (and for the record, we are all about taking responsibility), why don't we actually speak about the systemic problems? Now that's a novel idea, isn't it? Responsibility on the end of the lenders has not been taken, and for some reason we're fine with that in the U.S. That goes for corruption in so many facets of business. I mean, look at the banks. Look at the foreclosure mess. Look at the health care system. The country is a wreck, because we continue to bow to corporate interests at the expense of our citizens. I'm still at a loss to understand why. Sure. Sure. Sure. You'll tell me it's all about money. Perhaps that's the case. But if it is, then I'll be even more cynical than I already am. This criticism is no different. Americans LOVE to bash the person who was taken advantage of. They love it. That's because we're in a era of blaming the victim. Sure, you can argue that this guy isn't a victim, but I beg to differ. Why on earth does he owe that much money? Why are we standing by and allowing this type of usury to occur? We're all responsible for this system. It's broken. This is not about name calling, and I make a point to not go after specific people on the other side (I have, granted, criticized Albert Lord, but that's because he's a particularly sullen and nasty fellow). But the point is to acknowledge that a system that once worked does not work anymore. That's what we need to be talking about. It's shame that so few Americans have the capability of thinking sociologically about these problems. Of course these stories are personal. That's important to me, but they are telling a grander narrative about the student lending crisis, and that's what will be the backbone of my book - testimonials from the indentured educated class.

Anonymous said...

This is Oct. 4, 2:55 again:

Understood.

You pose the question:
"Why on earth does he owe that much money?"

It is such a simple question, yet so alarming because so many people are in the same situation, myself included.

The critics can bash one debtor.
But then they will have to explain the next one, and the next one, and the next one......


I know of a couple that owns a home. They both work blue collar jobs and have minimal education. One is a janitor/maintenance superintendant and the other a practical nurse.

I really envy them.