Saturday, September 5, 2009

To the Economist who continues to jabber: "Borrowing for college is sensible"

To the economist who works for the College Board, the one who did such odd number crunching with her colleague, Patricia Steele that people in the education industry are all scratching their heads about the discrepancies in their findings because of this WSJ article, I have something to say to you. 

You continue to claim: "Borrowing for college is sensible."

At this juncture, that is flat wrong. Borrowing for college has been a death sentence for many people. I'm the one reading their stories. Recently, also asked people to share their student debt stories - they put out that request just a week ago. So far, they have received over 600 messages! Borrowing for college is about as sensible as putting a loaded gun to your head while drunk and feeling really angry about the outstanding loans you have for your education.

Moreover, Lauren Asher, the President of TICAS, has concerns about the the cost of community colleges. Many people think that attending community college is a "sensible" first step towards a degree.

Well, recently, Asher stated here, "people think of community college as affordable," however "[students] are having a harder time covering their living costs without borrowing."

On top of the rise in tuition, and Sandy Baum (said economist) refuses to ever acknowledge these real facts of life, living costs have gone up dramatically, etc. Moreover, middle class salaries have remained stagnant for well over 20 years. You know what makes that ridiculous? There are so many things that make that fact absurd, but here's just one: It used to be that one person was the wage earner (the traditional family -that was true for the most part), but now a household typically has two people earning money! And yet middle class salaries remain stagnant.

Many light years ago, I had been pursuing my Ph.D. and had planned on becoming a professor of Modern European cultural and intellectual history. It goes without saying, I believe in the value of higher education, but if things do not change in terms of the student lending crisis, and a person cannot afford to go to college, I would strongly advise them against going.

We - as a society who believes in credentials -  must change this corrupted system and help those who need it the most - students.


Anonymous said...

"people in the education industry are all scratching their heads about the discrepancies in their findings because of this WSJ article"

Who is scatching their heads? What are the discrepencies? Can you cite the people or the discrepencies?

"Borrowing for college is sensible." Are you claiming that all students who borrow money to attend college are *not* being sensible? How do you justify that conclusion?

Cryn Johannsen said...

No. You have it all wrong - person with familiar voice. I'm *saying* that they are being misled by a corrupt and predatory system. My followers know what I'm talking about . . .

Also, there are people scatching [sic] their heads about the disrepencies [sic] in these findings.

I think the College Board isn't looking too good within their own field, and competition may outdo them for future research bids. Just my two cents.

Anonymous said...

"My followers" . . . you sound like a cult leader. You still haven't listed any discrepencies and you didn't answer the questions. So if you assert that (1) when you believe their are "discrepencies" that you are (2) justified in equating yourself with "[all] people in the education industry," I would conclude that (3) you have an inflated sense of ego and the cult leader label isn't too far off. Care to counter?

What do you mean by "familiar voice?", the voice of reason?

Your assumption that you know who I am fits a pattern with you - the pattern of making false assumptions and engaging in faulty reasoning.

Cryn Johannsen said...

I only have one thing to say to you: when I referred to my "followers" I meant one simple thing - those who READ me. I do not consider myself a cult leader. I just am writing about things that people care about.

Conrad S. Bane said...


Ever heard of this newfangled interweb contraption called Twitter? I would encourage you to check it out, as it seems to be all the range among the youth today. If you do, you'll see, right there at the top, that the people that, uh, "follow," your tweets are called...(wait for it)..."followers." In fact, calling a group of people who read one's blog posts and tweets "followers" is the standrad nomenclature these days. Nothing really culty about it, just the hep, modern lingo.

Conrad S. Bane said...


I went back and re-read the articles that Ms. Johannsen references in her various posts, and the discrepancies were pretty obvious to me, but I'll point them out anyway.

It seems to me the "discrepancies" she sees are less about the numbers (or facts) than about their interpretations, and in the case of the USNWR article (quoting sources from the College Board), a total lack of context. For example, both the WSJ and USNWR point out that 2/3 of students take on debt, and that debt averages around $20k (actually, $20k according to the CB, $23k according to Mark Kantrowitz as quoted in the WSJ). But look at the article titles. USNWR: Is Student Debt Really a Problem? The obvious implication is that no, it's not, and the people quoted in the article claim that "Most people would say that [$20k] is a reasonable amount of debt to take on for a baccalaureate degree." On the other hand, the WSJ article, titled "Student Debt Grows Dramatically," looks at essentially the same numbers but provides a little context to them. For instance, it points out that only 12 years ago, the average borrowed was $13k. It also mentions that tuition is growing at twice the rate of inflation, and while it doesn't explain that middle-class income has remained stagnant for 25 years, for those who are aware of these things (like Ms. Johannsen's readers), it's obvious that the loan burden on most people is, indeed, a problem. The WSJ article goes on to point out that "[a] growing body of research suggests that tough loan payments are affecting major life decisions by recent graduates, forcing them to put off traditional milestones." To me there are obvious discrepancies in the tone, context, and implications of the student loan problem as presented in the two articles (and I've only mentioned the most obvious).

Rob Applebaum said...

Conrad: Very well said. It is abundantly clear that the College Board put out a report to paint as rosey a picture as possible about the student lending situation in America today. As an organization representing colleges and universities, as well as a former lender itself, they have an obvious motive in maintaining the status quo. As Cryn has rightly pointed out in many locations previously, and as you stated, data can be interpreted in many different ways, particularly in the absence of context. That is precisely what Patricia Steele and Sandy Baum did with their report. They used data from 2007-2008, ignoring the fact that there was an intervening economic meltdown and they limited their study to undergraduate debt only. In a defensive response to such criticism, Ms. Steele has accused me of being misinformed because the data only comes out every 4 years and, therefore, she couldn't possibly have used more current data. Well, that's a nice try, Pat, but I have news for you: it renders your entire analysis utterly useless and it was more than a little disingenuous to ignore those shortcomings. The Emperor has no clothes and we ALL see that.

The subsequent study that came from the DOE and which was reported on by the WSJ was a much more comprehensive analysis that took present realities into account. The DOE is not a university in danger of losing its cash cow, thus they have an easier time remaining faithful to the truth.

Conrad S. Bane said...


I wanted to mention a couple of other things, that I couldn't squeeze into my previous comments (stupid character limit).

1. The failure of the USNWR article to disclose the CB's status as a lender (until 2007) creates a giant hidden discrepancy - we're obviously getting quotes from people representing an institution that is still profiting from the student loan business - of course they're going to tell us that the average debt is manageable.

2. How do the folks at the CB define manageable? If someone is making their payments on time, does that mean they are successfully managing their debt? What if, to make those payments, they live in their parents' basement, work two jobs, fail to pay other debts like medical or credit card bills (which is indeed the case for a lot of people)? Again, the USNWR article leaves so many questions unasked.

3. I don't see Ms. Johannsen as identifying herself with ALL people in the ed business; rather, I think she was using a rhetorical flourish, quite common to informal media such as these, to emphasize that yes, a lot (dare I say most) of the people in that biz would agree that student loan debt IS a problem.

4. Another issue ignored by the USNWR article (but discussed in the WSJ) is the rapid rise in tuition costs. The WSJ article proposed a theory, one that the College Board would probably not like to acknowledge (the implication being that a rise in borrowing is good for the higher ed biz, and good for the College Board, the customer be damned).

Anonymous said...

Cryn/Conrad/Rob - are you advocating that all student loan debt should be forgiven for all students regardless of subsequent income or ability to pay? I'm reading through your blogs, and I want to make sure I understand your position. You think that (1) all student loan debt should be forgiven (current and former students), and (2) all students in the future should be able to attend institutions of their choice for free, with all higher education costs paid for by the government. Is that your basic position? I'm trying to understand your position.

FYI - I work in finance and I find the similarities and differences between the student loan market and the home mortgage market very interesting. That's how I ended up on this blog.

Rob Applebaum said...

Yes, Patricia, that's what I'm advocating for. Your feigned ignorance aside, what I've proposed in terms of student loan forgiveness is an economic stimulus plan and, as such, it doesn't make much sense to place limitations on whose loans should be forgiven. The more capital freed up, the quicker consumer spending can begin to revitalize the economy.

Recognizing the moral hazard inherent in my proposal, and to avoid creating a future bubble like the one that's on the verge of popping, I'm also advocating a complete overhaul of how we finance higher education in this country. I realize that puts your position at the College Board in a precarious spot - sorry about that - but I'm focused on the bigger picture, not my own self-interests.