Fordham GSAS: Grad. Life: Dying With Debt: Thoughts about Student Loans

Friday, June 14, 2013

Dying With Debt: Thoughts about Student Loans

   Here's a cheery blog post! In April, an article in The Chronicle explored the debt issues now faced by Baby Boomer graduate students, who enrolled in graduate school between 1987 and 2007. I've had it in my queue to write about for a few months now, but I think part of my hesitation was figuring out what I had to say about it. The article made me more than a bit sad. That sad emotion is evoked first by the haunting photo of Joan Roberts, a 63 year old double master's degree holder who now owes close to $200, 000 in debt.
photo credit: Bryan Thomas for The Chronicle
The problem doesn't just face Baby Boomers, though. All generations of graduate students are facing problems with debt. I know I will have a debt when I leave graduate school; after 8 years, it's almost impossible not to have at least a little bit. In most cities, you can't live solely on the stipend or fellowship, if you are lucky enough to have one, and even if you do, sometimes there's a time limit on when you can receive fellowship funds. So, students take out federal and private loans. At first, in the beginning, before you have to pay it back, it feels like you are getting "paid" to study -- the government will give me this money right now, investing in my brain? Okay! Only it's not an investment -- there's no risk here for the government. You must pay it back, no matter how your career turns out, no matter how much money you end up making. (And -- this is getting pretty dark -- student loans also survive bankruptcy.)  

      To help prevent these kinds of problems for coming generations, I think it is important for graduate students to think about loans for graduate school differently. I suggest that you must think about school loans in the same way one might think about a loan if starting a business. You have to be strategic, careful, committed, devoted, and ambitious. Like a young entrepreneur, you have to eat, sleep, and breathe your "business," and figure out ways to make a profit with the start-up money you were given.  The government is not a cash machine. 
    On the other hand, student loans have reasonable interest rates compared to other kinds of loans, so it may be a good calculated risk. But you must think of it as a risk, and you must plan plan plan, like a business, on how you will make good on that loan. This is especially true for grad students in the humanities, where there is no set professional track (contrasted with professional schools like law and med schools), and less and less opportunities to succeed in the traditional tenure track academic career path. Maybe in these days, when education doesn't seem to be helping graduate students to get jobs or make more money, the government should make you formulate some kind of "business plan" before you are approved for a student loan -- any thoughts on this?
      Check out the article here, and let me know what you think about these issues!
HAPPY FRIDAY! (Sorry for the doom and gloom.)


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