Tuesday, February 23, 2021


Having worked very hard to put myself through college and then taking out loans to help my wife and children do the same, and then working many years to pay them off, I surely do not want to pay on other people’s loans as well. If Democrats follow through with their promises to “forgive” $1.5 trillion in student debt, I’ll be very pissed — and I won’t be alone.

A WWII vet I knew told me he could work his way through the University of Iowa just by working summers. His summer jobs paid all his tuition, books, and fees just prior to Pearl Harbor — and then he joined the Army Air Corps as an officer. Then he finished graduate school on the GI Bill and finally retired as a Professor of English at Boston University.

I too was able to pay my own way through college by working. My parents couldn’t afford to help me other than letting me live with them through my first year. After that I was on my own. I worked summers and also after school during the year, so it was harder for me than for my WWII friend. While my fellow students lived in frat houses and dorms, did sports and partied, I paid rent for a tenement apartment and worked full-time. Thus I finished undergraduate and graduate school with no debt.

By the time my own children were going to college, it had gotten more expensive. For many years I was writing checks for two daughters and my wife to earn degrees. I told the kids I could pay them what it cost for tuition, books, and fees at a state university in Maine but if they wanted to go somewhere else, they had to make up the difference. I worked three jobs; they all worked too, but it still wasn’t enough. I had to take out loans and so did they. 

For years after they had all finished I was still making payments — my last one about fifteen years ago I think. One daughter still has payments but then she chose to attend college out west. So, why have college costs gone up so much since my WWII friend and I went? Because they could. And why could they? Because government started “helping.” That began with Sputnik in 1957 when our federal government panicked and started lending money to promising STEM students to help Americans catch up to Soviet scientists. That program paid off all around, but subsequent student aid programs are what really drove up costs.

Those programs started in 1965 with the Higher Education Act. Other subsidies too numerous to mention piled on from there. Before government got involved, college tuition had remained fairly stable for decades. Ordinary people could work their way through as I did, but when virtually every student could get federally subsidized loans, colleges could get away with jacking up tuition and fees. In competition with each other to attract students, they added expensive frills unrelated to learning. In the fifty years between 1969 to 2019, the price of a college education in America went up over 3000%! Why? Because it could.

Maine is among the poorest states, usually competing with Alabama or Mississippi for the lowest per capita income in the country, yet the median salary for college president in Maine is almost $300,000 a year. When Senator Elizabeth Warren of neighboring Massachusetts ran for president, she complained about college costs, yet she made over $400,000 for teaching part-time at Harvard. Some claim she taught only one class, but her apologists like those at Politifact say: “[University] salaries are determined principally by research output and associated reputation, rather than the number of students the professor teaches,” and “she taught two classes, not one.”

While numbers for teaching staff have remained fairly stable over the past forty years, the number of university administrators has skyrocketed. So have their salaries — especially “diversity coordinators” who average over $103,000. There were no “diversity coordinators” when I went to college, but they’re everywhere now. The University of Michigan alone has nearly 100 working full time and one has a salary higher than President Biden’s.

With Covid 19 restrictions over the past year, few students actually attend classes, yet tuition charges have not gone down. I suspect salaries haven’t either. Academic rigor, however, has certainly been reduced from its already declining pre-Covid levels. As college costs have increased astronomically during my lifetime, academic standards has declined precipitously. As we pay more and get less, students, their parents, and taxpayers are suspecting college isn’t worth the cost anymore.

With the exception of STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering & Math] programs, and perhaps law school, many conclude that it isn’t. Government should consider eliminating grants and loans to students who want to study anything else — and never even think about forgiving loans already made.


Cover Charge said...

Joe in picture number 4 is wearing a red shirt, I suspect that's because he's a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Their color is red and members are supposed to wear Red on certain days or in public photos hence no uniform.

Peter said...

I too had to work to pay off college loans back in the day when they were fairly reasonable. That does not mean that I don't want others to now get relief just because I didn't get it myself. The cost of college today is ridiculous. Young people are being taken advantage of, preyed upon by a loan system that has schools, especially for-profit colleges, taking advantage of the student loan system by setting their tuition at the maximum amount undergrad students are legally allowed to borrow. It is our country's best interest to have educated students, that is why k-12 is free. Why is it not also in our best interest to have our young people college educated as well. And I agree that certain degrees should involve some out-of-pocket expense (Golf Management, Gender Studies, Biblical Studies) while more useful degrees (STEM) are totally free. Private Universities like Harvard just go along with a typical corporate-like operation, with the Warren's and the CEOs making silly money while the underlings and the backbone workers making little.

CaptDMO said...

"... k-12 is free..."
News to ME!

Kafir said...

When my son was about to go to college, I gave him the option of getting either a business or a STEM degree and I would pay his tuition. Otherwise, he had to pay his own way completely. He chose business and now has an MBA. Parents should take this approach more often.

Now, if he choses to work in some useless profession, that’s up to him, but at least he has a substantative degree to fall back on.

When students default on their loan, which fluctuates around 10%, that money has to be made up from somewhere. I assume the lending institution or the government guarantor is on the hook. That actually means the consumer or taxpayer.

For the government to flat out forgive billions in student loan debt is obscene pandering to those who didn’t make responsible choices. I’m totally against it.

CaptDMO said...

"...that is why k-12 is free"
That's news to ME!