Parents chime in about the student debt crisis
Folks, in my weekday column I chided parents for allowing their kids to take on too much college debt. Student debt, as you probably know, is becoming a presidential campaign issue.
I argued that adults were part of the student debt crisis because they didn’t say “no” when their children wanted to go to overpriced schools that the family couldn’t afford.
I got a lot of comments. So I’m breaking the usual Dear John format today by printing some of the e-mails I received, which have been shortened.
John: Well-written article about why parents let their kids go to colleges they can’t afford. Totally agree with you. I have a son with $154K in college loans who did not listen to me, and I cry when I think about it. D.S.
John: Education is nothing but a racket. I have a degree in economics and I now consider it all a lie … Colleges’ and universities’ biggest interest is having a monopoly on paper certificates certifying you are qualified. You cannot succeed without them. It is nothing more than a swindle. B.N.
John: You do realize that “kids” in college are legally adults and responsible for their own decisions. If you’re going to try and shift blame, it should be to the lenders. T.W.
John: My one daughter is quite independent and private and responsible. I drove her to the for-profit college to explore enrollment. She was not interested in me going inside to participate.
Long story short, she enrolled, signed all the papers and was not interested in any of my questions about loans, amounts and other minor details. I sighed and said: “Please answer one question. What if you quit?”
No answer. Ehhh! She quit. It’s been maybe 10 years now. Your article reminded me to ask her the details again, LOL. M.K.
John: The only thing you left out of your column about college debt is that parents have abdicated their role as guidance counselor during high school and college. They should be educating and guiding their children to see college as a place to gain knowledge, in a field they may enjoy … Something else you left out: They should tell their kids that they are on the four-year plan — none of the “find yourself” [stuff] over six or seven years on the bank’s dime. D.M.
John: I just read your article about parents and the student loan crisis. The majority of parents do not have the financial training to make sound decisions for themselves as well as their children.
In addition, student loans are particularly predatory in how interest is compounded. There should be guidance provided by the schools and student loan companies prior to taking on such commitments.
As for those who are upset if student loans were dismissed because they paid, etc., that is life. Laws change all the time.
Parents themselves are struggling financially. Plus a lot of parents aren’t even involved with their children. So I disagree about blaming them when the student loan companies have strong lobbies to benefit their own interests, which the common citizen cannot overcome. D.N.
John: Your article asserts that you put three kids in college without debt, and holds that up as a standard against which to measure the comparably more reckless behavior of parents who take on student debt.
But your article omits certain details that are necessary for an honest comparison:
I agree largely with your point, and I think that families are reassessing the wisdom of college degrees at all costs. But I don’t think it’s helpful to an honest debate about the causes and potential solutions to the student debt load in this country to entirely blame the borrowers. The bottom line is that a large chunk of that $1.5 trillion was stupidly borrowed, but also stupidly lent. B.P.
(B.P.: I agree. The lenders are definitely to blame as well. As are colleges, which are a partner with the lenders.
As for my kids, they all went to a very good state university about 10 years ago. They got a couple of scholarships, but mostly had to pay.
Basically, we told them, “Here’s the money we saved for you, make it last.” Two of the three got out in three years, and all had money left over, which we gave to them.
The one who didn’t graduate in three years needed to take a lot of science courses. So she was out in four.
And I’m not saying people shouldn’t take on debt for a college education. I’m just saying that they need to look at college like any other big-ticket item and buy what they can afford.)
John: You really seem to miss the bigger issue. All schools, including public, are increasing tuition at double-digit rates when most Americans have seen wages increasing at low single digits or even declining over the last 20 years. Do the math. E.G.
John: Well said about student loans. Related to that, if a parent saved up to buy their child Air Jordans, and then the next week the government gave everyone else those sneakers for free, don’t you think mom and dad would be a little annoyed? BTW, if student loan forgiveness is on the horizon when do we advise people to stop paying because all will be forgiven/forgotten? S.R.
John: I’m pushing back on a piece of your premise. I don’t know what your neighborhood looks like, but the area I live in is filled with signs of indulgent parents. A high-priced, low-value college education is just the cap on 18 years of McMansions when a smaller house would do; with your own car (likely new or nearly new) when an older car or the school bus would do; a gas card and car insurance paid; a cell phone, $100s for sports development … I could go on. The parents’ internal calculus is about indulging and avoiding being called a “bad parent.” J.K.
John: I have an answer for why parents let their kids go into debt for college.
It’s because most of the kids that took out those loans were children of immigrant parents that didn’t go to college. So most of these kids are first-generation students learning as they go on what to do.
I am a first-generation graduate that didn’t know anything related to loans or even scholarships until after I started college. I was able to educate both my sisters so they have overall less debt to take on.
But I had to take on some pretty serious debt. I was fortunate enough to find a job quickly out of college and pay down my debt.
What should be done is educate kids during their junior and senior years of high school about real options on how to afford college beyond student loans. From getting a job and how to save to finding as many scholarships as possible throughout their college career so there is less dependence on student loans. J.P.
John: You’re spot on. My last of three graduated last year and none are in debt.
In my opinion, we keep talking about the students’ loans. But I don’t think enough is being said about the outrageous cost of college. There is no reason for colleges to charge what they do. It’s not like the professors are making $200K. And the majority of classes are taught by Teaching Assistants, not to mention the billions in endowments colleges they have. J.I.
John: My kids graduated without debt from private schools.
In retrospect, it wouldn’t have been the worst thing for them to have had a little student debt (maybe $10,000 or less) to teach responsibility, although both have done well.
As for me, I took the scenic route 50 years ago, combining work with school and the Army Reserves. It didn’t hurt to work! J.P.
John: I’m really offended by your student loan debt disaster article which is pretty much calling parents out as “stupid.” But then again, you may have a point. I, stupid, took out Parent Plus loans to pay for my only child’s education and financially ruined my life. Thank you for putting my stupidity in perspective for me. Lost my home. My car. Barely make ends meet. Yup, stupid. P.D.
John: Your article is right on and the one aspect of this student loan debt that no one seems to want to discuss!
How can an adult saddle themselves and their children with this kind of debt knowing how difficult it is to find good entry level positions. Now add to this scenario the possibility of a broken marriage (after all the debt has been signed and cosigned) and it is pure tragedy. I have witnessed this first hand.
Senior year in high school I showed my daughter a map of the glorious state of Virginia and said “pick from here.” Used the payment plan at the school and worked two jobs. She graduated with zero student loan debt. M.M.
John: It’s not fair to blame parents for kids going to college and taking out huge student loans. K-12 educators are to blame also. From the time I was in 3rd grade every teacher i ever had pushed the myth that you have to go to college to get a good job. I got the grades, got accepted to some of the best universities on the East Coast and took out loans. When I enrolled at Boston University, every professor I had spoke about working at Goldman Sachs or Deloitte, like it was a foregone conclusion. I got the grades, graduated and couldn’t get a job at H&R block (I was an accounting major). There is a disconnect between the skills society actually values and what we force kids to focus on. In my middle-class NY town, focusing on the trades in the early 2000s would have been taboo. Now welders make 100K a year. I can’t only blame my parents, I blame teachers and guidance counselors and the hundreds of people that asked me what college I was going to as a senior. G.H.
John: I just read your article on student loans. I am somewhat confused about your assertion that parents can control the choices of their children that are over 18 years old. Secondly, not all parents can even offer a home for their children to live in, never mind helping with college debt.
All three of my children just graduated in May. They worked hard, had their own apartments, hustled internships during schooling, and made it happen.
All three of them landed first-time jobs with salaries over $200,000 and approximately $50,000 in debt. A 4:1 ratio is a manageable amount of debt. In fact, when I finished my studies in 1986, my ratio of salary to debt was 4:3. However, my field was so lucrative that I doubled my salary in the first five years.
The problem is not the debt, but whether the student’s chosen field of study is lucrative enough to pay such bills. We no longer have the freedom to be History majors.
I am now entering my 4th and final profession at age 58 as a teacher. I have no debt but have one bachelor’s degree and 3 Master’s degrees. Entry-level pay for a teacher is about $40,000 and young graduates owe about $50,000. But, you see, these kids are limited to small step increases in salary as the job is controlled by the local government.
So, as I see it, parents cannot control children over 18. Hopefully, we have taught them to be prudent with their decisions. That means forecasting your bills compared to your likely gain from a college degree.
And, not everyone needs to go to college. D.O.
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