Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
The Student Loan Debt Crisis Is About to Get Worse (bloomberg.com)
222 points by petethomas on Oct 17, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 405 comments

I have strong mixed feelings about the student loan situation.

First I don't think you should have to incur a huge amount of debt to go to school, it's terrible.

At the same time I worked with a lot of students at a past job where we did internships and gave them experience and I was kind of shocked by their attitude about them, mostly by how much a victim they were of it all... while incurring more and more debt.

There was very much what I interpreted as a sort of "I was told I'd make a ton of money if I did X, and so I had to take out all these loans, and this sucks.". The level of victimization they felt was immense, like they had no choice but to sign on the dotted line.... and yet here were many of them seemingly choosing to keep at it incurring debt, not really curious about any other options / didn't want to do anything else. Many straight up didn't even have a job / many never had one ... this was kinda surprising to me as I never stopped working during school (to be clear I'm not saying anyone has to do it my way).

There was another attitude that they felt life was like "If I push button X" (that would be go to school) "Then I get Y" (job, money, etc) and if it didn't work that easily then it was just terrible.

Something needs to be done about the situation over all but it strikes me that many students perspective is way off as far as how the world works career wise (it's not push button get thing for most of us) and while they seem to feel they are victims... they also dive head long into the situation / debt and many don't acknowledge their own participation .... I worry that if participants aren't "participating" (with finances and even career) not much will change.

> The level of victimization they felt was immense, like they had no choice but to sign on the dotted line

We give children close to zero financial autonomy, no idea of work, of making money and losing it, then ask them to make one of the largest financial decisions of their lives at the age of 18. The background to this is a massive amount of messaging that your education is worth it.

It's not surprising they feel this way.

For the record, I didn't go the traditional college route, and I never had a penny of student debt, so if anyone has a right to feel smugly superior, it'd be me. However, I only avoided student debt by the dumb luck of making poorly thought out decisions that happened to work out in the end.

Yep, my perspective on this has long been that all the important positive adult influencers in many adolescents' lives are telling them things like: 1. Don't do drugs, 2. Practice safe sex or abstain, 3. Be honest and kind, 4. Work hard, 5. Go to college, and 6. It's worth incurring debt to do that. Then a few years later, it's "victimization" if you happened to do all the things the adults told you to do. The expectation seems to be that teenagers figure out for themselves which advice from adults is good and which is bad.

I agree. I only avoided student debt because I originally thought that I was going to get a doctorate, so it didn't matter if I went to a no-name state school with a good scholarship. I chose my path arbitrarily based on classes that were reasonably interesting in high school (which means I didn't even consider a large percentage of majors), and kind of expected things to "work out". I got one degree (econ) after 3 years and ditched, and then couldn't get a job and realized that a doctorate wasn't for me.

The second time around, I made way better choices, I was far more proactive about my education and internships, I chose a degree that fit me much better and was more financially appealing, and switched to another state school to maintain lower costs.

I lucked into my situation, too. If someone tried to tell me at 18 the lessons I'd later learn, I'm not sure I'd have listened.

Can an entire society perpetuate itself given that all members always make empirically bad decisions that work out in the end?

I recently discussed this with a person who was continuing to get student loans after already being under a mountain of debt and recognizing that their job prospects were not as lucrative as they hoped. I asked them why they were doubling down when it was obvious they were in a bad situation and making it worse. They said they had invested too much to choose another path.

This person has a bachelor's in economics and is about to finish a master's in finance. We conflate "an education" with "being educated" far too much.

I graduated 6 years ago with zero debt and no help from parents, because I actually looked into costs / benefits before starting school, picked a cheap school, and worked the whole time. I really don't know how we think it's acceptable for people to be 18 and not capable of making these decisions. You can vote and join the military, but you can't recognize financial servitude like this. They're being failed long before they get to college.

Perhaps moving too far in the direction of pushing all career training onto universities.

Long ago, if you wanted to become an attorney, you could go through an apprenticeship with a practicing attorney. Not many states still allow that, and I'm sure there are good reasons for requiring all aspiring lawyers to go to law school instead. But the old system did have one thing going for it: It kept the supply of lawyers from becoming completely detached from demand. As a great many people who who are trying to pay off their JDs on Starbucks pay can attest, the same is not true under the current system.

> Not many states still allow that, and I'm sure there are good reasons for requiring all aspiring lawyers to go to law school instead.

There isn't. Law is the same profession it was 150 years ago. (There are new tools, of course--electronic research, e-discovery, etc.--but you don't really learn to use them in law school anyway.) The JD requirement is just one instance of the larger capture of American society by academia.

Your point about supply and demand is astute. The JD requirement didn't replace the apprenticeship requirement, it supplemented it. Today, lawyer supply is still limited by the opportunities for new lawyers to go to trial, handle deals, etc.--nobody would hire a lawyer who has only academic or theoretical experience in those areas. But the winnowing process happens after a whole bunch of people have taken six figures in non-dischargeable debt.

> There isn't [a 'good reason[] for requiring all aspiring lawyers to go to law school instead.']

In my view, there are two good reasons.

First, the legal job positions that only require a mechanistic understanding of the law have been automated. The days of needing a "country lawyer" whose practice consisted of basic family law like wills are gone, thanks to LegalZoom and similar services. The jobs that were best filled by these people have been automated away. In the jobs that remain, it's not enough just to know the law, but you must learn to think in a legal/analytical way. This is not a skill that comes easily just from reading statutes and some case law under supervision.

Second, the size and complexity of the American legal regime, including the administrative state, has made it necessary for lawyers to (a) specialize; and (b) be able to issue-spot in areas well outside their expertise, to know when to look for help. Although a mergers and acquisitions attorney might be able to apprentice a young aspiring lawyer in that area, they're unlikely to be able to transfer all the latent knowledge they have of other areas of law. As an example, I have about a decade of experience in my practice areas, and would be wholly incapable of apprenticing an aspiring lawyer in the area of, say, commercial paper to the point of being able to pass the bar exam. The first requirement (depth in a specialty area) makes most practicing attorneys ill suited to train someone to standard in the second requirement (latent breadth).

Unless this has changed in the last two years and I've missed the news, Vermont, Virginia, California and Washington State allow anyone holding a BA to study under a licensed attorney for a specified period of time and sit for their respective state Bar exams following that period.

>nobody would hire a lawyer who has only academic or theoretical experience in those areas

Given the high cost of lawyers, and the general understanding that you avoid going to court as much as possible, as it can easily bankrupt you before achieving any good, its hard to imagine that's actually true. The current options are to pay a huge amount, or give up entirely; I'm sure there's a market for the middle ground (inexperienced but cheap lawyers), and a reason no one can access (eg regulation)

> I'm sure there's a market for the middle ground (inexperienced but cheap lawyers), and a reason no one can access (eg regulation)

There is no such regulation. A fresh graduate could theoretically argue a case in the Supreme Court--it just requires a pro forma application and payment of a $200 fee to be admitted to the Supreme Court bar. A JD you hire for $20/hour on Craigslist can, legally, represent you in almost any proceeding, as long as she is upfront with you about the fact of her inexperience (and is willing to shoulder the malpractice risk).

There is no market for inexperienced but cheap lawyers, at least for business litigation. If you're a plaintiff, you can get experienced lawyers to work on contingency. If you're a defendant, you have huge potential exposure if you lose the case. If you really have no money, the plaintiff will realize it can't get blood from a stone and will settle cheaply. It would be incredibly risky to roll the dice and try to fight with a lawyer who lacks experience.

> There is no market for inexperienced but cheap lawyers, at least for business litigation.

Caveat there - there's room in the boiler room, at least on the bigger cases.

Not exactly the kind of work kids dream of when they apply to law school, though.

Specifically only 4 states allow taking the Bar Exam without attending law school: California, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington. Only a tiny number of people successfully do that each year.


This is such an unrecognized part of the problem: overcredentialing. It's rampant: it's explicit in areas like healthcare and law, and implicit in the HR practices of many corporations.

We bitch about people going into debt, but turn around an are fine with companies being picky as hell about having a specific degree, as if that's everything about a person's ability or background. We also bitch about healthcare costs, but then act like the sky will fall if we start discussing the possibility of pharmacists, optometrists, or psychologists prescribing or offering more services. Your observation about law is equally astute.

I'm going to beat a dead horse until it rises from the grave, but this is the situation with liberal arts degrees as well: they're from a time when it was assumed that you could major in, say, philosophy, and take comp sci classes, do work in that area, and build up a career in comp sci without anyone questioning it. Now your local HR department uses that comp sci degree to screen you, as if you are your degree.

Everyone knows that these degrees are helpful but imperfect indicators, but we treat them as perfect indicators because it's easier to maintain the myth, and it benefits those who benefit from rent-seeking and overregulation.

They said they had invested too much to choose another path.

This person has a bachelor's in economics

Man, of all people that ought to know about the "sunk cost" fallacy...

This particular individual may have fallen prey to it. However, I think students in similar situations face something a bit more nuanced than the sunk cost fallacy.

If you accept that middle-income, professional jobs are decreasing relative to lower-income and higher-income positions, then many students with a non-trivial amount of debt are in a trap. For example, say you graduate with a B.A., $120K in debt, and the only job you can get out of school pays ~40K, but low upward mobility long-term (pay-wise).

Your options are (for this hypothetical):

(1) Take the ~40K job with low upward mobility long-term.

(2) Purchase a $120K graduate degree that offers a 65% chance at a six-figure job out of school (and high upward mobility long-term) and a 30% chance of a ~$60K job (and medium upward mobility long-term) and a 5% chance of ending up in outcome (1).

Which is more rational?

Now, we could get into questions of how well this maps to reality, or what the expected value of each outcome is, or how to even compute expected value in a situation with myriad messy variables and reductionist assumptions, etc. Regardless, I think we can say that if income and upward mobility resemble a barbell distribution more than a normal distribution, then we have defeasible justification for believing the following:

(Proposition) A non-trivial number of students face decision traps which lead to a choice less akin to the sunk cost fallacy than a non-confident choice when living between 'a rock and a hard place'.

At times, people will say something about having invested so much already that their decision is pretty much pre-determined even though they're attempting to convey having made a non-confident choice after being stuck between 'a rock and a hard place'.

Your number 2 scenario is dead wrong. The reason the person is in that scenario in the first place is because they mis-judged the payoff from having the first degree. The likelihood they misjudge the second degree is just as high.

In fact let's look at it: what's the probability that given your inability to gain one of the lucrative jobs at this level of education you can gain one with a higher level of eduction? Well we can speculate, a higher level of education can be sought for two reasons: you're acadmically gifted and genuinely want to get more education, or you're not academically gifted and you want the magic fairy wand to wave to get into Brothers and Brothers LLP. Well let's face it, you're in group number 2, and it's the people in group 1 who are the actual successful candidates. So given that your pay off looks way off. You won't get the top jobs - you're not good enough, you won't get the medium jobs - you're overqualified, and you won't get the cheap jobs - you can't afford to work for that amount.

(1) Your group number 2 describes a sizeable portion of law school graduates who actually do end up in six-figure corporate jobs, as well as a decent (though smaller) portion of medical school students. Unless, only those persons who obtain the six-figure jobs out of graduate school are academically gifted. This would mean, however, that sizeable portions of the graduating classes of many such schools (even just the elite ones) harbor non-academically-gifted students. That's not an indefensible position. However, it would be rather odd and not terribly convincing on its face, as presumably only the academically gifted could have arrived there in the first place.

(2) Even assuming your argument goes through successfully, it is irrelevant to whether the person committed the sunk cost fallacy, which is the issue under discussion. Now, you could argue that subjective assessments of expected value always track the true underlying expected value (i.e. the actual expected value for any individual's objective abilities). In that case, all non-academically-gifted students who chose further education would likely be committing the sunk cost fallacy. That's not the case though, and you know that. Or you should, because it is prima facie absurd.

(3) It is relatively uncontroversial that there is a substantive disconnect between the supply of graduates and the number of jobs paying a salary justifiably commensurate with the debt-levels we are seeing. This has a couple of knock-on effects. For example, an across the board devaluing of degrees, which unjustifiably increases hiring requirements for lucrative professional jobs, further exacerbating prestige whoring, etc. This turns high school seniors deciding to attend elite private schools into even greater gamblers as the cost of an initial degree rises. Maybe they are or maybe they aren't rational to take that gamble (Are gambles by definition irrational? If so, pick a different term.). However, after having taken that gamble and come up short, they don't automatically become irrational in taking it again. Or, at least, the irrationality wouldn't necessarily have anything to do with the sunk cost fallacy.

I've worked with dozens of economists during my career, and their inability to recognize sunk costs that are staring them in the face is astounding.

One might as well say that you just don't consider what life is like without a diploma, especially if you already have student debt.

So given that they'll just not even get back to zero net worth if they stop, the "better" option is to continue. Despite the negative dollar value standing next to it.

That's something that's just not considered here. When it comes to net worth, -$1000 has exactly the same consequences as -$99999999999 for that individual. So if you're going to be negative anyway, why not be as deep as possible ?

For society, that is a very negative outcome, but not for the individual. But the individual chooses (even in societies that like to pretend otherwise).

I think the nuisance in your point is really important. Particularly when you are talking about 22(ish) year old. They've essentially been fronted the money with no collateral so it's not real for a lot of them yet.

> That's something that's just not considered here. When it comes to net worth, -$1000 has exactly the same consequences as -$99999999999 for that individual. So if you're going to be negative anyway, why not be as deep as possible ?

I'm not sure I follow your point... -$1000 could be paid off in a month. -$99999999999 probably couldn't be paid off in 100k lifetimes.

I mean debt that you can't pay off for some reason. $1000 that you can't pay is the same as $100 million you can't pay.

That's one thing people keep forgetting about, for example, take population figures. Species specifically refuse to multiply unbounded. And that's weird the first time you realize that DNA contains a distributed regression algorithm that estimates to what size the population of it's species can grow under the current circumstances and then blocks reproduction, or enables asexual (or otherwise really fast) reproduction. Why ? Because if you get it wrong, population numbers will fluctuate.

And that seems "what's the problem ?". Well the problem is that there is a very special number, called "zero". And if the population of any species randomly fluctuates, it might randomly hit zero. And then it's over. There's no coming back from zero. Then you will realize that the number where that happens is not actually zero but can in fact be quite large a number and you see why fluctuation is an extremely undesirable property.

So for debt you can't pay, "zero" is the magic number. Once you cross it, your mission in life changes. It's no longer to get out of debt, but rather to get in as deep as you possibly can, while refusing any and all attempts to get back out (except of course to deceive others to let you get deeper in debt). That behavior by itself is the only thing that might get you back out of debt (just look at the president)

And in economics in general you should keep in mind that while individual humans are stupid, large groups of humans are incredibly good at finding optimal Nash Equilibria. If large numbers of people "randomly" or "out of stupidity" do something, fact of the matter is that the stupidity is yours, for not seeing the whole picture. Stupidity at large scale only exists at very short timeframes, if at all. Lots of people going into debt is not stupidity.

I don't just mean in relation to student debt. I'm talking about any sunk cost at any age.

The way they framed it suggests poor economic thinking, but it's not necessarily a fallacy to think that 2 years into a program means you should stick it out.

The way to think about it isn't that to leave would be to throw away 2 years of tuition, it's to consider whether the next 2 years of tuition is worth a 4 year degree. And the answer could easily be, yes, it absolutely is worth it.

Survivorship bias means only those blind to sunk costs make it through?

I would think that says something about the quality of their education[al institution], and perhaps why they're having trouble finding a lucrative job.

Yeah my own experience made me fear that a lot of students are there to pay (loans) and get their ticket punched (diploma) ....

I had plenty of experiences where I realized "dude can only do exactly what I say ...".

Hard to know if it is any worse or better than in the past, but man, it was disappointing to see.

When I read the Wealth of Nations I was struck by one of the passages where Smith basically says everyone under the age of 24 is worthless. That it doesn't matter what they do, send them to university, or send them to travel. But that they won't be useful in commerce until they're older. I'd assumed at the time that the lack of maturity was a modern problem problem due to coddling, but it's apparently at least a problem for 300 years (for at least the caste likely to read his book).

What struck me again later was finding out that 24 is the tipping point for the brain. That's about when the majority of brain matter is "gray" instead of "pink" (aka the process of myelination), which seems to be a biological rather than an environmental process. So this has likely been the case for a very long time (like 40,000 years or more).

I know a guy in his 40s who works part time and goes to school part time because as long as he is still in school, his loans don't come due.

He has no way to pay his loans, never will, and is unable to discharge them in bankruptcy.

Yeah, there is a "poor me" element to this. However bankruptcy laws exist for a reason, and denying people like him access to bankruptcy forces them into unproductive lives. That non-productivity makes all of us worse off in the long-run.

The lack of defaults on loans also takes away much of the incentive for the lenders to due any due diligence on the viability of your decision. They can lend and will get their money one way or another (except in extreme cases like your friend).

> The lack of defaults on loans also takes away much of the incentive for the lenders to due any due diligence on the viability of your decision.

Since private government-guaranteed loans were discontinued, most private student lending dried up, so “lenders” here basically refers to the federal government.

I've also heard of people staying in school like this for the health insurance.

You would hope an economics major would have learned the sunk cost fallacy.

Given the jobs situation without a diploma, perhaps we should also consider their alternatives:

cost of not continuing - very large chance of being screwed from that point for the rest of your life

cost of continuing - student debt, which at worst gets you into the above situation

So clearly, continuing is the better choice.

Secondly, as they say, when people have to choose between death now or death later, they choose later. No matter the strings attached.

> as they say, when people have to choose between death now or death later, they choose later. No matter the strings attached.

This is only even plausibly true for people who have no family members. That's nearly nobody.

Consider a traditional Chinese or Japanese official who is ordered to commit suicide. Generally the command is obeyed. On your model, such a command would never be obeyed -- you can always just not kill yourself, in which case you'll still die, but later than you would have.

I am almost reluctant to say this, as I'm almost jealous that you're able to think that. But fact is ... this is extremely naive.

Good on you that you think like this. Try to hold on to it and enjoy it, it won't last.

How much was it at this cheap school? (Although I think you meant affordable. :)

If it's not too personal: Which major/minor did you choose? Which school was it? Year of graduation? Would you recommend it to others? Any downsides to the school?

BYU. Current tuition is $5,620 for full-time semesters - it was about half that when I started 10 years ago. Cost of living nearby is also exceptionally low - I paid $600 / month for a 2-bedroom apartment 4 blocks from campus. Heavy discount if you're a contributing mormon, and of course the big down-side for most people is that almost everyone is. You don't have to be mormon, but it's a dry campus and absolutely not a party school. So most of the other non-mormons are either from a similarly conservative culture (muslims, usually, a few christians) or just recognize the bargain. Despite the general religiosity and political affiliation, the science classes were actually religion-free, a pleasant surprise, and treated evolution and climate change the way I'd expect at any other university.

Majored in computer science. There's a lot of student-friendly work nearby, especially for software people. I really couldn't stand the local culture and I'm even from a pretty conservative christian home, but I was there to get down to business so I worked as much as I could, maxed out credit hours I could take (12 - 18 credit hours all costs the same), and got out in 4 years with a solid education, no debt and enough savings to comfortably start my real adult life right away. A hard 4 years, but looking back it was clearly the right call compared to my peers. Tuition prices at other colleges have just never seemed worth it. Had I not gotten into BYU I would likely have tried to just get software jobs with no degree, or gone into a trade like welding.

> BYU. Current tuition is $5,620 for full-time semesters - it was about half that when I started 10 years ago.

Which indicates a huge part of the problem for a lot of people these days. It's a safe bet that the wages at the jobs you worked then haven't doubled in the last ten years, so someone merely wanting to replicate your path would need to work considerably more hours just to make their tuition payments.

Reliable, accredited colleges cheap enough that you can realistically work your way through them at the wages paid at the kinds of jobs typically open to inexperienced students are increasingly thin on the ground.

Yeah - costs are absolutely rising out of control, and I think the loan situation is a massive part of the problem. If your demand is fixed and people can forget about the costs until you've already been paid, why not raise prices? But I heard the same complaints back then from many of my peers, all that I know of are still in debt, and many got financial aid and misspent it. There's definitely a chronic and widespread problem of people not confronting the costs / benefits and deciding to seriously invest hard work and critical thinking into avoiding debt. If people can't do it at $2000 / semester in a very low-cost town, attending most major universities is just not even an option I'd recommend my kids even consider.

I agree. Too many students and their parents seem to engage in wishful thinking about college and not do due diligence when considering the costs. The schools have a financial conflict of interest: they get paid whether or not the student succeeds. Here are some conversations to start the process:

1) Does the student have a history of completing what they start? If not, consider a part-time trial at a community college with expectation of finishing with decent grades in courses that will transfer.

2) Will the student need remedial classes? The school gets paid but these courses do not satisfy graduation requirements. They do increase debt!

3) Does the student have a clear goal for a major? College is an expensive place to "find yourself."

4) What are the job prospects for that degree? How likely is it that the student will be high in the distribution of the graduates? Will the anticipated salary permit repayment of debt and self-support?

5) Are the time-to-graduate estimates realistic? A surprisingly low percentage of students complete a degree in 4 years. 5-6 is more common and results in more debt...

6) Has the student learned to live within budget? There are many distractions at college. Spring Break trips add cost...

Also to be fair $5,620 appears to be the tuition for LDS church members which likely means it's being subsidized. It looks like it's double for non-LDS students.


That page is annual, assuming you do full-time Fall / Winter and don't take classes during the summer. My numbers are per full-time semester, which is typically how tuition prices are listed (and how they are elsewhere on the website).

idk whether this is the case at BYU specifically, but in-state tuition at most state universities is going to be about that much per semester, and there are going to be many different grants available to a person who has no assets and a minimum wage job. any loans you end up taking in this position will have highly favorable terms subsidized by the us government.

> any loans you end up taking in this position will have highly favorable terms subsidized by the us government.

Except for the fact that they are almost completely non-dischargeable, you mean.

yes they are nondischargeable in most cases, but good luck finding a private unsecured loan at anywhere near as low as the interest rate on a subsidized Stafford loan.

Same here. I went for a 3 years engineering study at a cheap as uni and worked the whole time. It taught me valuable lessons about personal responsibility.


What about this topic makes you feel so strongly that you created a throwaway just to flood the comments with spam and derision?

Are you saying that most students are critically evaluating their options differently? Because I think the article pretty clearly demonstrates that this problem should be known by any competent adult by now.

It's the "I did it this way, why couldn't others do it" mentality that's entirely unhelpful in these conversations.

What I think is unhelpful is the "I have to go to this college on this timetable and I have to get loans and I have to accept the terms that are offered to me and therefore it's everyone else's fault I'm in debt" mentality that persists despite how long it's been generally known to be a problem. If you think there's a better mentality, let's hear it - otherwise it's a known problem and people keep walking into it voluntarily and then calling it a crisis. Either it's worth it financially and it's not a crisis, or people need to stop taking the loans yesterday. No one owes you a degree that isn't worth the money.

Of course "everyone" knows its a problem, but your anecdote does nothing to help solve it. The issue is the cultural momentum around the idea that college is the first and nearly only gateway into the middle class. We need to be discussing how to correct this pervasive misconception, not patting ourselves on our backs because we didn't fall for it. And blaming students for falling for what seemingly every authority in society was telling them is a grave mistake.

The anecdote of me not making the mistake was 1 sentence out of 9. The rest of the post is about how people are unable to make what should be a fairly simple financial decision by the time they're 18, which is a statement well supported by the article and literally every statistic about student loan debt. And there's an anecdote about a graduate-level expert in finance not being able to do the same. My point is that the larger problem is that people are getting to age 18 without understanding the practical implications of compound interest, which should be secondary school level math at most. That's where I think we fix the problem. Clearer?

You'd be surprised by the lack of understanding of compound interest overall.

When talking about putting away money for a retirement plan, other 20-somethings I work with are deer-in-headlights about the little known fact that the rest of their non-working quality of life starts right where they're at now, not ten years down the road after the university, home ownership, car, and child-rearing costs are taken care of.

In total transparency, my parents taught my sister and I nothing about interest rates, and co-signed a good amount of money between the two of us. One of us is debt free, while the other is still struggling to pay down a 6.x% variable 55k note, has another house note around 150k, and a car note around 35k. We both have technical degrees and work in technical professions, so what went wrong?

When framed in that manner, those are points I agree with

Kids in the 60s were similarly entitled. Watch the Woodstock documentary to see a bunch of hippies trash a small town and leave the townspeople and federal gov't to keep them safe and foot the bill.

The difference is that a hippie who got bored with a commune could get a job and in less than a year had disposable income to pay for goods and services.

Now take a 20-something today who gets bored playing fortnite and decides to get a job. It's the same as the hippie, except a) they have something like 50K of debt (and rising), b) from day 1 their place of business starts getting telemarketer calls for student load consolidation, c) debt collectors call their employer in an attempt to intimate and harass them, d) at worst their wages are garnished to pay the interest on their loan, e) they are depressed because of a-e. (Aside: when that employee leaves the organization the debt consolidation telemarketers very quickly cease calling, which is super creepy.)

That last point about depression is key. Imagine the existential crisis of a hippie who must challenge their idealism and come to terms with the much more limited (yet realistic) freedom that comes when working for a living. Now for the fortnite player add a sense of interminable dread from a sea of debt that cannot be unloaded even in bankruptcy. The small joy of choosing what to do with the money one has saved is gone when one cannot save any money.

I can't think of any persuasive argument that says the hippies wouldn't have been swimming in debt if college had been funded that way in the 60s.

Upshot-- I can't figure out the source of your mixed feelings. If students today are entitled, they are no more entitled than previous generations of students who didn't deal with this kind of debt crisis.

Anyway, a critique of a human institution almost always involves humans who are not acting responsibly. If every institutional critique devolves into a discussion of how irresponsible a critical mass of the actors are, what's the point of doing the institutional critique?

I dislike the way you’re framing the conversation.

Maybe we take a 20-year old who worked really hard to move through college and get her degrees while working part time to cover at least food.

She was in fact told that degrees do guarantee jobs , as a part of the for-profit education sales pitch.

She is now facing an economy where every possible job has been outsourced, and wages have laughably low purchasing power, and that’s before you consider the costs of rent in locales where jobs are available.

It’s an employers market, in a post-crash (and of course pre-crash) economy where employers have “trimmed the fat” as much as possible and in many cases left their existing employees to cover for multiple jobs.

I can’t see any entitlement here apart from the expectation of livable wages set by the education industrial complex and the low unemployment numbers based on a gig economy and non-livable wages requiring holding multiple jobs to survive.

Lastly, are you using “hippie” in light of the government propaganda effort to paint anti-war activists as unclean, undisciplined and confused? Repeating the frame enforces it.

Excellent counterpoint. Malcom's Harris' "Kids These Days" goes into a lot of that. Not only the debt but psychology of how their perspectives are groomed in US society.


Your points about the entitlement of hippies is disingenuous. Max Yasgur wholeheartedly allowed Woodstock to happen on his property. Paid workers helped clean up the aftermath as well as volunteers.

Watch the documentary. In the middle of a townsperson telling the interviewer about how everyone is trespassing and making a mess of the town and its infrastructure, two hippies wander up onto his lawn. One of them asks,

"Is it okay if we use your telephone?"

To which the man answers that the phones are out. To which the hippie replies,


You might think this the source of the "Get off my lawn" and similar references people on HN use. I mean, what could be more of an embodiment of entitlement?

But what does this townsperson do? You should watch the documentary to find out. But I'll give you a hint-- it isn't to say, "Get off my lawn." Nor even, "I'm conflicted because on the one hand this is now a national disaster area, but on the other you knew that if you and 100,000 others come to a small town and stress the infrastructure there was a possibility that this could happen, and I wouldn't want to set a precedent of..."

I think your whole tangent here is drastically missing the mark, though.

The individual concert-goers didn't know there'd be far more people than expected and that local infrastructure and the organizer would be overwhelmed.

They saw there was a concert and decided to go, just like every other show anyone attends.

Upon arriving, they were stuck in a situation they didn't expect and which people don't expect when they head to a large event that's supposedly "official" .

At that point (gridlock, overwhelmed infrastructure), they're without any options beyond asking others for help, because they weren't prepared for a situation that shouldn't have happened. They came to attend a concert, not a survivalist retreat.

> c) debt collectors call their employer in an attempt to intimate and harass them

Aside: Unless something really odd is going on, I can't help but think you meant "intimidate"...

There's no possibility for oddities because intimate is a transitive verb. That would cause a syntax error.

Syntax errors are not allowed. Thus, in place of "intimate" I obviously meant `rm -rf /*`

Let me edit tha

As it turns out bombarding a generation with the idea that you just have to follow your dreams and have "passion" for your work (whatever that means), doesn't do so well when met with reality. Children/adolescents are presented with role models who are textbook examples of survivorship bias. Media is constantly bombarding them with unrealistic "inspirational" and success stories. Educational institutions have never been accused of being in-touch with reality, and chase growth with reckless abandon.

At the end of the day it falls to parents to educate their children. The assumption that the world at large has (or will ever have) your family's interests in mind is horribly naïve and negligent. Schools can mostly be trusted to educate in an academic sense, but reality is not best learned through an iPad.

How is following your dreams associated with the student debt crisis?

I would argue that most people in college are not following their dreams, but rather following a defined path.

The student debt crisis is not equal for all types of degrees; one of the many contributing factors for this is that student loans have (by regulation?) the same conditions for all majors. Some of those majors generally lead to a substantial increase in income that would enable the student to repay the loan, and some do not; some education is an investment into that student's future earning capacity, and some education is just spending that money for an expensive self-improvement hobby.

And where are all the people who wouldn't, or couldn't, take on the financial risk of going to college, moving to a major city or buying a house?

Is there some part of US society where they hire non-college graduates for a good career and bright future I don't know about? Because from what I hear even people who move to fairly large small cities with cash in hand get disappointed by the small city core, the career opportunities and rising housing costs.

As far as I know people aren't doing what they are doing because they are inspired, but because if they are going to get screwed over anyways they might as well try to have a say in how it happens.

Follow your passion is what previous generation (us) was told. This generation grew during recession and largely follows market. Most go for various bussines degrees.

Our parents generation went to school and got great jobs tho...

Go read The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman. Things changed greatly from when I got out of grad school in 1982 and when I was laid off from my job at the end of 2017. I worked for a company that had 65,000 employees in our city when I started and about 2000 when I left.

Many called Ross Perot a nutjob when he coined the phrase "The great sucking sound of jobs leaving the country." I watched it happen.

We also watched the ratio of the highest paid employee/ lowest paid full time employee skyrocket. I understand that there are high performing employees, but economies need a large middle class who have income to buy products (without running up debt) for the economy to prosper.

Now we see people trying to support families on what were after school jobs for high school students... Times changed when offshoring became easy...

Automation has eliminated a ton of jobs.

Look at the steel mills of the early 20th century. They had groups of people hoisting around huge pieces of steel on chains.

Look at a modern steel mills. All that hoisting is now done by heavy machinery control by one guy in an air conditioned operator cabin.

By offshoring or just the advancement of technology, those jobs are gone.

People just have to invent new ways to contribute to society - to say it’s “easier said than done” is understatement though; but there is really no other way.

Do you think that was the case for everyone?

Statistically speaking, yes, I believe that my parents' generation (in the US) could assume that college degree + hard work = good job. That's how we got into this mess: it was such a clear equation that going to college became a no-brainer for people who could do it, which inflated the value and in turn the cost of a degree.

I think the percentage was far higher than today.

Mostly after going to war first, right?


When my dad gradutated high school in the mid 1970's, you could get a decent job with a high school diploma. Not having a HS diploma meant you were flipping burgers, but you could still find work. My uncle lived with my father (and mother) while working on his GED, which really didn't give him HS diploma status but was good enough to find slightly better work.

College basically meant you could make sure you had a steady salary for life and could definitely find work. You had much more than the minimum schooling.

I’d say “follow your passion” means do a job you don’t mind doing.

I have a hard time reconciling the common meaning of passion with "don't mind doing". An entire generation was told that they should only work at something they love. Turns out not enough people love being a garbage man or cleaning up vomit for minimum wage for that to be an effective strategy at the societal level.

There's enough blame to go around. But a few people that somehow frequently escape blame seem to be parents, teachers, and advisors. This problem demonstrates they have a heavy influence on kids because I'm sure it ain't Hollywood action flicks and oscar bait, procedural crime dramas, or popstars telling kids they need to go to college. To some degree it is media but when it comes to home and school they're so sanctified that it's hard to criticize them other than to point out parents need more government aid or teachers need more funding. Seems to me like parents and teachers need to reevaluate what they're cramming into kids brains. I'd also say theres a culture problem with the suburban middle class that looks down on blue collar work. I think a lot of people here know what I'm talking about, the disgust bordering on contempt for the dirty, overweight fellows who get on their knees and backs and get their hands beat up. Understandably blue collar isn't for everyone but colleges are so saturated higher education is starting to become cost prohibitive in the long run.

The saddest part to me is: Finance is purposefully something not taught in most high schools.

As soon as you are legally allowed to be bound to a contract, our own government swoops in and tries to steal your future life savings before you even have the knowledge to know what's happening.

It's predatory lending at it's finest. And the loans come directly from the government. AND they're the only loans you CAN'T default on.

I wonder if any government in history has ever been good to its people. But, man, does it really seem like governments now are really fucking the 90% over.

> I wonder if any government in history has ever been good to its people. But, man, does it really seem like governments now are really fucking the 90% over.

Getting off topic, but I'm from the Nordics, grown-up, and still have this naïve view that governments are for the people and aim to do the best for all citizens. It not all roses here either, but I'm quite happy to pay my share of taxes to keep the civil society running.

Over in the U.S. it seems like people hate taxes because they don't want other people to get "their" money and in the meantime they're happy to watch the entire infrastructure of the country fall apart, as long as poor people are miserable, prisons are filled to the rafters and the military gets like half the government's budget (for freedom, support our troops, rah rah rah) it's all good.

It's infuriating. You like civilization? Pay some goddamn taxes. But alas.

What boggles my mind is when I was helping my mom at a parent teacher conference, I engaged in a conversation with another parent who was complaining about the education tax. "I thought public school was supposed to be free!" she argued.

Education being broken is a vicious cycle.

Taxes are utilized notoriously inefficiently in the US. It's not unreasonable to want them to be lowered and used more efficiently, or to even simply prefer having less services.

> Taxes are utilized notoriously inefficiently in the US.

I've wondered about this: is this "conventional wisdom", or are there actual cross-country comparison studies?

Healthcare spending per capita is a big one.

Gov't spending in this sector is the only efficient form of spending happening.

Insurance companies and hospitals are being as inefficient and wasteful as possible because it makes them more money.

If US taxes went towards keeping civil society running instead of paying for our military being a "world police", maybe people here would be happier.

It'd be nice if the companies that did business here had to pay taxes as well.

> Something needs to be done about the situation over all but it strikes me that many students perspective is way off as far as how the world works career wise

That is to be expected for young people right? So these young people rely on authority figures to give them advice, all of which beat the drum of "go to college, it's the only way".

Why do we expect these young people to be wiser then these authority figures in their lives?

Although this was almost two decades ago, that was not the advice we were given at my school. It was more along the lines of "what do you want to do? there are trade schools, community colleges, and state colleges depending on what motivates you".

Of course, very few parents didn't want their kids to go into higher education of some kind, and I think for about 99% of parents with college education, their children going to college was already a forgone conclusion for them.

I wouldn't put the blame entirely on the parents or the kids though- practically every school I've seen advertises job placement numbers; don't forget about the lawsuits over law schools artificially inflating their numbers to get more students. If you're a parent seeing that, why wouldn't you push your kid into college?

This is wildly dependent on where you grow up and in what group.

In my upper-middle-income family and peer group, not going to college was unthinkable. Debt wasn't really a consideration since few of our parents were struggling with debt and we based our future expectations on their past. Then it turned out the game had changed dramatically in 25 years.

I had a couple lower-middle/upper-lower income friends, for them college was much more of a goal than a given, but also one that they were very aware of costs/risks around. But not one that didn't seem worth the upside.

From what I've read of people growing up in poverty, it's very different there. Many people check out well before the end of high school, and college is seen as something for other people that's not a realistic option for most.

Sadly, this doesn't seem to be the case from my experience. In my city the best magnet elementary/middle schools are already asking kids where they want to go to college. The best high schools in my city have "college prep" at the end of their names for a reason.

Community college, especially in larger cities, definitely is underrated.

edit: redundent wording.

There's a vicious cycle to Community College that I don't think can be readily overcome. Essentially boiling down to network effects. It can't be overstated how much you gimp your career (and to a lesser extent life) by isolating yourself from top performers. From who you're eating lunch with, to the research presentations you can sit in on, to the companies that come in person to recruit; there are huge advantages to going to a top university that are tough to put a dollar amount to. Telling high performers "I guess you're too poor to benefit from these resources" seems to be counter productive (both to them and to the rest of society that could benefit from exposure to their ideas).

> Although this was almost two decades ago, that was not the advice we were given at my school. It was more along the lines of "what do you want to do? there are trade schools, community colleges, and state colleges depending on what motivates you".

So, uhhh... It sounds like you got exactly the experience you're claiming you didn't get, but are blind to the alternative: That more schooling (even a trade school) wasn't the only option.

Not for me, and I graduated in the early 2000s. While community college was highly suggested as a way to start, we didn't have any in the town I went to. College was very heavily pushed.

Going with your premise: Who are the authority figures young people are listening to?

The options are take a big financial risk and acquire credentials that are known door openers to better paying labor markets.

Or take a big life risk and unknown, likely pass up the ability to take student loans (for the small aspects of benefits they do extend), and risk a long term disadvantage at accessing the same higher paying markets.

It's no surprise there is a lot of bad feelings about this choice, especially when other first world nations have this mostly sorted out.

On top of that, as a society, it would be far cheaper for us to fund this on a social basis (by public funding low/no cost tuitions for public universities - with closed loop cost controls) instead of an individual account basis (with loans and an open-loop tuition inflation mechanism).

> here were many of them seemingly choosing to keep at it incurring debt

FTA: "Delinquency is at crisis levels for borrowers, particularly for borrowers of color, borrowers who have gone to a for-profit and borrowers who didn’t ultimately obtain a degree,”

As counterintuitive as it sounds, it wouldn't make sense for these individuals to quit and do something else unless that something else is also obtaining a degree, preferably from an institution that is not for-profit.

It's true though, if you want a job with great earning potential, you do need to go to college. Not going to college will limit your earning potential over time significantly. And since the cost of college has scaled even faster than income you do need to take on all that debt; a dollar invested today is worth more than a dollar invested tomorrow.

An article which covers this in significant detail from about 8 days ago: "The Bermuda Triangle of Wealth"


It is hard to tell these kids what the chance of success is on the statement "If I did X, I would get Y", because it totally depends on what their chosen industry and other factors like the student's intelligence, personality, looks, work ethic.

"If get a journalism degree, I could be a side-line reporter for the NFL on TV " compare that to: "If I get an IT or CS degree, I could make over $15/hour in an IT department at a company."

My point is that there are a whole lot of careers that fall into the middle of these extremes. And just googling the average salary for those careers may not give you the full story. Maybe only the top 10% of architects make good money, so the average is OK. If that is the case, you cannot give broad advice to people. You don't want to tell the people who would be in the top 10% not to be architects and you don't want to tell the bottom 10% that they should go for it. How do you even know unless you are in the industry yourself and know the person well?

Generally speaking, people vastly underestimate how difficult it is to get a good job. Even people with 5-10 years of experience and an MBA will have major difficulty getting a good job if their career isn't laser focused towards a high demand field. I think this is something that needs to be explained to people when they're in high school. I feel one of the primary classes in k-12 should be Job/Career studies.

I think people from past generations underestimate how difficult it is to get a good job.

Everyone from my millennial cohort fully understands how long and difficult the job hunt can be. Also how completely dehumanized and demoralizing the process sometimes is. Even the smarter of my cohort fully plan to spend at least several weeks tailoring their resume and at least 6 months for the actual job hunt.

And it's very common for it to take longer.

This leads to some other nasty 2-nd order effects, like, for example, people being too afraid to negotiate with their employer for better conditions - for fear of having to endure the job hunt again.

> The level of victimization they felt was immense

These are 17-18 year old kids we're talking about...so it IS possible that they felt like they had no choice.

I'd like to see the Department of Education publish some basic statistics for each college and major showing how many graduates get a job in their chosen field within a year, average starting salary, and average total loan balance at graduation. At least then prospective borrowers would have some realistic data to evaluate whether an investment in education makes sense from a financial standpoint.

They do publish information of that sort, beginning during the Obama administration:



Under Obama, the DoE started in that direction with it's rating system which covered more dimensions but only at an institution rather than individual major level.

The present administration seems to be more interested in rolling back rather than building on the Obama-era accountability efforts, though.

The problem with your critique is that for all of the authority figures in these student's lives it was "push button, receive career". To sit on top of a high horse making (I assume just from the demographics of this site) in the top 1% of income fails to acknowledge the shear amount of luck that goes into success here.

Even students that "worked non stop" are likely graduating with debt unless they had external assistance (either parents or scholarships or both) and even having done everything "correct" there's a high probability the only option after graduating is a job you hate in a career unrelated to your major (this is as applicable to S(T)EM as it is to humanities in my experience. The previous generation got everything for nothing then pulled up the ladder on the rest of us, don't act surprised when people are a bit salty.

> There was another attitude that they felt life was like "If I push button X" (that would be go to school) "Then I get Y" (job, money, etc) and if it didn't work that easily then it was just terrible.

It's kind of amazing that this is still being perpetuated. When I graduated high school 20 years ago, this was the mantra. Even then, it was a bullshit line. I got a degree in graphic design after high school, and there was a large portion of that class who did not find work in that field. I was near the top of our class, and I struggled to get interviews.

While it is ultimately an 18 year old's job to make this decision, parents and administrators are apparently still shoving "college solves all problems" down the throats of high school students. Is it because they don't know what else to tell these kids?

Yes, I believe that's half the issue.

Anecdote time. Say Shameless Joe A quit college, got a physical labor job at ok-ish wages, worked his way vigorously through the ranks, and fought each step of the way to secure a better future for his next-of-kin, which in his mind was bypassing the 4-Noon, tough labor conditions he had to endure. He is absolutely going to recommend college, or the military. Others who graduated in his frame of reference got to the six figures quicker.

Say there's Successful Joe B, who graduated from college, got that nice position at the too-big-to-fail company, in a time where the pension and the wrist-watch at 25 years was still a thing. Successful Joe is going to insist Maybe Successful Mark that 'college is the one true way to fulfill all his dreams and desires', despite what those dreams and desires are, because it worked in his frame of reference.

Are both wrong for hypothesizing the rational decision to insist on higher education in this light? No, I don't think so.

But. Now let's look at the money.

Shameless Joe A isn't going to help Most Likely Successful Luke with college. Luke knows this, hopefully. Luke is then forced into figuring out how to make it happen, if it's even possible. Likely Successful Luke is now responsible for funding his education. If he's a white male with parents who make decent enough money, who have some college experience, Luke realizes pretty quickly he is seriously screwed. Luke will likely a) insist / fight on not going to college, b) join the military and have them foot the bill, or c) accept fate, and be smart about his financial choices. Even with help from the state, rising education costs will put Luke in debt at least a bit right out the gates.

Successful Joe B is smart. He set aside a nice fat account for Maybe Successful Mark, and it's grown gradually over the years. Mark is looking at minimal impact to his bottom line given that this fund is huge - books, tuition, and 4 years living-on-campus huge, as long as it's expended through his university account. Mark is flying high as a kite - no debt! Mark after graduating with the same degree as Luke now has options: a) rapidly go into debt to get all the things, or b) see the gift-horse he received for what it is, and attempt to avoid debt at all costs.

At the end of the day there is advice and choice. Developing a sense of scrutiny and critical thinking is the aim of education. If either Luke or Mark don't develop that sense, they've expended resource for nothing, and should've avoided higher education altogether.


Anecdotally, I've noticed some of this as well. When I took a leave-of-absence from my degree, some college students flat-out ignored me when I mentioned it. I find it ironic that institutions who are supposed to broaden peoples' minds still gravitate towards their own tribes/cliques.

</end rant>

Realistically though, they really did have no choice but to take out expensive loans for the best school they could get into. Long term, choosing to go to e.g. a cheaper community college or not attending college at all costs much more than loans do (as long as the student works hard during college).

Part of the problem is that high school doesn't teach students a lot of the things they really should know for the real world. For the most part, the first two years of college are spent covering topics my parents learned in high school. The average student doesn't get to the real meat of their degree until their third or fourth year, which I think is a real problem.

But somehow this is how it works. Except in extraordinary cases, this is the path young people need to take to get a decent job.

On your first point I really don't think this is true in CA with community colleges providing a solid (relatively easy) path to the UCs. I was able to go from a local CC to a local UC and because of that I was able to finish with no debt. This lack of debt has afforded me a great deal of flexibility after college which has so far worked out well for me. Things would have been way different if I had a bunch of debt hanging over me.

Another positive about CCs is since they are so cheap you can actually take your time a find the right major for you. I tried a bunch of different stuff before something stuck and with the exception of opportunity costs that extra exploration cost me about $500. I consider that a pretty good deal.

To your first point, this might be the case if your choice is an Ivy League school or a state school. But for the average student, the choice is between a state school and a private university nobody outside of the region has ever heard of.

More years of schooling is correlated with higher wages, so they are not wrong. the correlation only breaks down between masters vs. phd

well how are they supposed to know better? they're kids. it's on us (their parent's generation) to educate them about "how the world works career wise"

I've seen that as well.

I went to school for Computer Engineering and paid for the first three years of my education with financial aid and student loans.

Then I got an internship that paid well, lived frugally, stopped taking loans, and paid off my loans with my income. I graduated with no debt.

Of course, I was fortunate that I was able to get financial aid and that I was getting a degree in something that could land me an internship that paid well.

As with UI, the defaults do matter for decision-making of individuals.

And I think that a sane and successful society should help its citizens to do smart decisions.

Well - that shows that it really was a mistake to promote these loans and build the whole higher education around them.

I know people going into debt for private highschool for their kids.

This seems like an interesting and wide-open market since they are taking on traditional debt instead of getting some kind of education-focused loan product.

Imagine being told your entire life that you need to go to college full time to get a good job, and you have to focus on your coursework. Then this attitude you describe makes sense.

Honestly I think your position is only held by insanely privileged and narcissistic Baby Boomers or the 1 in 10000 devs that got a job at Google without a degree.

You seem to imagine that a generation of kids should be happy going to trade school and working as plumbers.

I know for a fact that at the vast majority of Fortune 500 companies you aren't even getting past the HR screen without a degree. What are those people supposed to do?

>You seem to imagine that a generation of kids should be happy going to trade school and working as plumbers.

We tell every kid to go to college, but the reality is that many of them simply aren't cut out for it. They _should_ be developing a trade skill, but they don't, so they end up with a near useless degree (or not even that), a mountain of debt, and no real skills to speak of.

What's wrong with being a plumber, or an electrician, or a carpenter? They are absolutely required functions and I imagine many degree holders aren't entirely happy with their shitty office jobs paying less than they would make on a job site.

There is nothing wrong about being a plumber, electrician, carpenter etc, except when your dad is a carpenter, and you see him breaking his knees all day, while the media is flooded by young, good-looking people making twice what he makes working in an air-conditioned building with a gym and bean bags chairs.

Then everyone wants to do it, and suddenly big companies get their pick ivy league applicants, Podunk U gets a pile of cash for selling a dream, and the young adult is left on the hook.

You ell what we want and what we can have are often very different things. This has been true literally since the dawn of time, so I'm not sure what your point is.

Problem is people who dont have the IQ or talent to work at Google are constantly told they do in school.

Then reality hits and the debt doesnt go away.

I can't ever recall a single professor giving me or any other student any sort of positive reinforcement about "special" job opportunities upon graduation. Students might tell these lies to each other, but I doubt there are many universities where professors are willing to blow that kind of smoke up their students' collective asses.

A lot of my school was like that, but it wasn't really the teachers' faults. Job opportunities in the field I went to school for tend to be primarily with government organizations or work that is funded by government grants or other such things.

Pretty much for the 20 years prior to me going to school, it was a great field to get into. I looked into success rates for previous graduating classes, checked out available positions and starting salaries. Worked for a few years before going to school to save a bit of money. Made, what I thought was, a fairly decent plan ended up taking out loans and going to school.

The first year was great, everything seemed positive for prospects after school me and just about everyone else got summer jobs in a related field. Then the government changed and suddenly funding for science and the environment was gone. We got to spend the rest of the time in school getting visits from federal and provincial departments telling us about all the awesome opportunities we would have had...if it had been last year...instead they told us they'd been cutting positions and we'd be lucky if we'd get hired sometime.in the next ten years.

We also got to go to a lot of different places where they showed us the work they used to do, when they were still getting money.

By the end I think less than half the people I went to school with ended up getting jobs in the field. I worked for a few years doing it, but wasn't making enough to really live or pay my loans back so I had to look for something different.

What’s the SAT percentile after which we tell students, “You probably should be considering a trade school instead.”?

agree. it annoys me when people say that college is a bad deal. ok. so what is the alternative, and no, installing WordPress templates on Freelancer is not a good one.

Not all college degrees are created equal. Not all college experiences are created equally. Not all college prices are created equally.

Going to a specific college for a specific degree can be a really bad choice, while going to another for a different degree can quickly pay off. What high school graduates need is the ability to make these sorts of judgments.

For starters, they should consider getting two degrees in a 4 year period. Many students take more than 4 years to get a single degree which significantly increases loans while having less job prospects. By aiming at two degrees, a person can choose to learn something that fulfills them while also finding something they are decent at that they can tolerate for making a living if their dream job doesn't materialize.

Second, consider that some degrees are far less valuable unless you go past the undergraduate level, and so they need to take into account the cost of earning a graduate degree to see if it will pay off or not.

Third, consider scholarship offers and out of state/in state tuition costs. The cheapest college is rarely the best, but a university that will require 10k loans a year is likely to be a far better deal than one that requires 50k loans a year.

Fourth, learn to network and build references while in college.

All of these are things high schools could be better teaching their students about that would make what ever college they eventually pick a much better deal.

> For starters, they should consider getting two degrees in a 4 year period. Many students take more than 4 years to get a single degree which significantly increases loans while having less job prospects.

I think quadrupling the work load of a student is only going to pan out with extremely talented individuals. This sounds entirely too unrealistic to be practical advice.

It won't be quadrupling the work load. It will be going from 15 credit hours to 20 credit hours. An increase of 33%, 50% being the upper limit for degrees with the least bit of cross over. This is because each degree will share the same general requirements and will count as each other's electives. Of course this won't work out for every combination nor for every degree program.

It will require a few things. For starters, from the first semester the student will need to know what degrees they are aiming for and plan accordingly with their advisers. It will require sacrificing some of the fun of college for a more practical approach. It will require giving up any hope of having no classes on a Friday. That's not about being talented though, but about discipline.

If the student will be taking out possible $100,000 or more and they can't do this, then they need to evaluate what they are about to do. Are they about to risk life long debt for an education or for a college experience? If they don't know if what they are studying is what they want to do, should they really be paying someone to teach them how to do it?

Also, if following their passion is something that is extremely difficult for them to learn, then perhaps college is not the right path for them to follow that passion. There has to be some realism on focusing on what you are good at.

This is all much easier when high schools adequately prepare people for college. I wonder how much of the increasing problems at the college level are a result of high schools providing educations of lowering adequacy.

at US universities, it's more like 1.5X the workload or less. There are typically large numbers of general or elective course requirements that can satisfy requirements for 2 or more degrees simultaneously.

Evaluate your skills. What you have to offer and make a realistic choice.

They can go to local universities that are within their means for starters. I find that invariably those in the worse debt are the ones who go to a super expensive private university in a distant state without the means to pay for it. And they always choose a degree which has a poor career prognosis.

Inevitably in these sorts of threads the meme of "bad decisions from humanities majors" comes up but never any supporting data. Best I can tell there aren't that many english, etc majors graduating to account for the amount of student debt being generated. The unfortunate truth is a technology degree is just as likely to leave you with debt and no options (especially if you "go to local university far from a tech hub").

Source for enrollment in humanities falling https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2015/01/26/where-have-al...

Here's some direct comparison of default rates - https://assets.rbl.ms/18240752/980x.png (from https://bigthink.com/stephen-johnson/what-kind-of-student-is...) shows a significantly higher rate of student loan defaults in the arts/humanities fields.

It is worth noting that the difference between selective schools and nonselective schools is even larger; so going "somewhere" to get a shitty degree seems to be not a good idea as well.

I didn't read it as saying not to get a degree - but to do so without such a large amount of debt. There are many ways to do this.

I did it via the military. There are other options - that's just one.

Do they scale? If a large number of people actually all together tried something else, would it work?

Doesn't this line of reasoning assume that right now there is a big misallocation and some are way over capacity while others have lots of space capacity? I would assume that whatever the current situation, capacity distribution is about equal to how it is. So any big shifts would not be possible short and even medium term. And if the needed shift happens, would the result, the new equilibrium, really be different, or would we still have a similar situation, just with he pieces shuffled around?

The problem with solutions that individuals like to come up with is that they only work for individuals. I try to always imagine my idea(s) on a large scale, what if everybody really does it? Lots and lots of "good advice" does not actually scale. When you change only a few things the big picture remains constant, so many of those ideas work. But as soon as there are large scale changes there are feedback effects and the context changes too, what used to be a constant environment will have changed too.

That's the problem: free college doesn't scale. A place like Germany, which has about half the college enrollment figures than the US (~6-7% for the US, 3-4% for Germany) has excess capacity and even lets some foreigners study for free. The US is in the opposite end of the supply : demand ratio.

Ultimately I think the crux of the problem is that in the United States a lack of a college education is seen as a serious character flaw. A lot of Americans understand this, but I think it's important to illustrate this for non-Americans. A lack of a college education is seen a such a flaw that it automatically invalidates the prospect of marriage for many people [1]. Democrats (and I count myself among them) often tout the fact that they regularly win most of the vote among college educated voters - how this is supposed to be a positive unless one views the opinions of non-college educated as lesser is a mystery to me. Outside of low-class neighborhoods, a child failing to get admitted to university is an embarrassment. I personally don't agree with these things, and they're likely far from universal, but I do think they illustrate

The result, I think, is a large segment of the population taking on debt to get an education that won't actually yield much of a return in the labor market. And the messed up thing is that in a way they are making a sound choice because the stigma of being uneducated is so strong. Whereas in many places like the aforementioned Germany getting an apprenticeship and becoming a skilled worker is respected. I've heard stories about this shifting and the requirements to attending gymnasium (the college-bound educational track) are loosening, but it's still probably nowhere near the level as in America.

1. https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/nov/10/dating-...

I don't understand your very low college enrollment figures.

Also, if you look at Germany, there are "Universität", "Hochschule" - but also "Fachhochschule".

Enrollment is at almost 60% - according to the text on the right that's the share of those who begin a study on the entire population born in the respective year: https://de.statista.com/statistik/daten/studie/72005/umfrage...

The enrollment rates I provided are the percentage of the total population that are enrolled in university. It is important to consider the fact that the US population is younger by a considerable margin as compared to Germany. Even if the degree attainment rates aren't very far off, the percentage of population enrolled in university can be significantly different due to that age difference.

These statistics are from an Economist article, which I can try and track down if I have the time.

Edit: Didn't track down the economist article, but here are sources on US and German enrollment rates:

https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=372 reports 19.9 million students. About 6 to 6.2% of the US population.

https://www.uni-bonn.de/studying/international-students/coun... reports 2.8 million germany university students. About 3.4% of the population.

I don't see that those enrollment rates are of use for the discussion, that they show anything useful. Especially given the difference in cost and the high number of (paying) international students supporting the US system.

Not to mention that Germany has an extensive professional education system ("Facharbeiter" to "Meister") that he US does not have, so what's the point of only looking at one part of the education system?

I would not even be sure if we are actually counting the same thing on both sides. When the US means "higher education", not all institutions are MIT and Harvard grade. Is all that you counted in your number actually comparable to what Germans mean when we count higher (university) education? See my 2nd paragraph, is some of that kind of education possibly counted in your US number, while in German it is a whole extra branch?

The enrollment rates are absolutely central to the discussion. Demand is drastically higher in the US - partly due to a young population, partly due to the strong social stigma of not having a university education. Higher demand creates higher costs.

The figures given are for all postsecondary education. I'm not sure why this is a controversial statistic. The younger US population would mean that even if the same percentage of graduating secondary school students go on to university, the US enrollment percentages would still by higher. Coupled with a higher percentage of students that seek university degrees after finishing secondary education (~70% for the US as compared to ~50% for Germany as per some quick Google searches) and a total enrollment figure of twice the rate of Germany is about what one would expect.

> I'm not sure why this is a controversial statistic.

Did anybody here dispute the statistics? I must have missed that.

I think you ignored about 2/3 of what I wrote (yes, I edited my comment, if you used a notification service you may have missed it)...

>You seem to imagine that a generation of kids should be happy going to trade school and working as plumbers.

Not at all.

This has to be a troll.

What’s interesting is the proportion of people without any college education at Google has increased over time as well. So we have teams where you have 14 percent of the team made up of people who’ve never gone to college.


14% of people at Google still represents a slim portion of the tech workforce. I tried to search for how many software developers don't have a university degree. I did find that 40-50% don't have a CS or CS-related degree, but all I found was a Quora post saying 3% don't have degrees at all - and this was an un-sourced post that didn't share any methodology so we should take it with a grain of salt.

If more students approached school like a business investment, where the goal is to cut costs as much as one possibly could. You would then see more people go to community college for general hours and then transfer to a public state school and finish their bachelors degree.

My 50,000 foot view of the problem is that it is far to easy to obtain a huge sum of money to go to school for a career with no job prospects. My solution would be to factor in degree and ability to repay, making loans much harder to get.

Getting educated should not be a business decision, because there is a higher purpose to education.

if you want to get educated, read a book or take some initiative and learn something for yourself: join a book club or take continuing education classes.

The purpose of a degree is just to make it easier for highering managers and HR to sort through the thousands of applicants. For the person getting a degree, the purpose is to get a good job and earn more money, so yes, it should be evaluated just like a business decision.

Yeah... but make no mistake, people go to make money, not for some kind of 'higher purpose'.

Human history has pretty much always been the smart tricking the stupid into being their slaves. Nothing has changed except the terminology.

You should always be asking yourself who you are a slave to.

It's telling that the first people in history to get wages were slaves who rented themselves out when their master had nothing for them to do. Maybe they feel like slaves to the system because they are.

I was discussing student loans and value of a college education with friends the other day. We were discussing whether or not I would recommend college to someone today. My conclusion is that TODAY I would still as long as that person has the means to do so without any loans.

But, then we started discussing whether I would push my children to go. My answer is that I hope I don't need to. Even though I have some amount of college savings for my kids, I don't think it will be enough to let them choose their school freely and I would much rather that money go towards starting them out in their career or family or whatever they choose.

My hope is that when it is time for them to start their adult life that there will either be enough cheap or free alternative forms of education or that the stigma of not having a degree will have lessened. Realistically, I don't think the situation will have changed in that time.

My own experience is complicated because I took out loans--which I greatly regret--but also likely have my career to thank for it. I had a full-tuition scholarship to the school of my choice, but opted to go to another school my parents wanted me at; when I eventually transferred back to my original choice I had lost the scholarship. If I had to do it again today I would definitely start with a 2 year local college education and then work hard through the remaining years to finish debt-free.

The main reasons to get a degree are:

-. To show you can complete a big, multi year project that’s full of doing stuff you don’t like

-. To get past HR screenings

-. If you ever want a chance to reach Executive level jobs, you need to have a degree, for the perception of nothing else.

This debate has been going on for a long time, despite this being presented as a recent thing, and it always comes down to those things. While the tech-minded here might want to see it from a strictly educational standpoint, these are human/societal reasons that are quite important.

I don't have a degree and I'm 10+ years deep into my career. What has started to stand out for me in recent years is that there are holes in my experience that my college-educated peers don't have to deal with. Granted I never had to deal with student loans so I guess there's a tradeoff. But the problem with these education "holes" is that they hit you right out of left field when you least expect it.

My mom is a music teacher, and she finds that she often will get new students who were previously self-taught with blind spots. Ideally, one of the main perks of school, which is difficult if not impossible to get with auto-didacticism, is that you get continuous feedback from someone who knows what common mistakes look like.

My technical background is largely from reading books and manuals on my own, but I'm under no delusion that I would benefit greatly from some more formal instruction for certain topics, if nothing else because then I would have someone challenge me immediately when I'm wrong.

What do you feel are the gaps in your education? Do you think taking an online course would help with them?

I suggest learning a little about data structures and algorithms, each are typically one semester courses in undergrad. You might supplement it with operating systems and distributed computing, though data structures should be a primary focus.

I've tried and failed going back school enough times to know it doesn't work for me. Certification courses & clinics have proven worthwhile in the past though.

Could you provide some examples?

I can provide some examples for him as a self-educated dev:

* What is big O

* What is value type vs pointer/reference

* How does the internet work

* Binary search trees, tries, graphs - u wut m8 (Thankfully, there's this: https://medium.com/basecs/archive/2017/01)

* Basic cryptography, hashing, etc

* DNS, IPs, HTTP, etc

* TCP, UDP, etc (I still don't know these)

* Stack, heap, queue, malloc (Again, very little exposure to this without learning a low level language.)

* How modern computers work

* Logic gates, clocks, memory, (actual) binary math

* Wifi basics (actual physical data transmission)

* Linux

I can go on and on and on, but these are things you don't pick up at work unless you go out of your way to learn how they work.

Regarding the parent post - I have a very generous training budget. And guess where I will never spend it? At the best University in my state. I got a degree in something other than Comp Sci, and 95% of the classes were useless and way-too-drawn-out. So, you might not be as behind as you think.

A pretty-smart co-worker of mine with a Comp Sci degree said he didn't figure out the point of object oriented programming until he got his first Java job.

This is only related to other comments in this thread, but I do feel that formal education is oversold, and particularly to people who are from poor families with no guidance trying to have a shot at life.

I have a CS degree, but I learned basically all of the above on my own. In some cases I also had a class later that taught it, but for most of the networking stuff it wasn't even taught in school.

If you're self-taught and worried about your CS fundamentals, there's a really simple algorithm to get an education better than any CS student at roughly 1/100th of the price:

1. Look up some famous university like Stanford or MIT.

2. Download the course syllabus for the course you're interested in off their website. (Nowadays you can often get the full course, including all the lectures and handouts.)

3. Buy the textbook. When I was in school you could pull shenanigans like buying the European version of the textbook for 1/4 the price or (if you live in a college town) buying the textbook, reading it, and returning it before courses are finalized, but these loopholes have probably been mostly closed. There's now a thriving used-textbook market online that didn't exist when I went to school, though.

4. Read the textbook. Do some of the exercises. Implement the algorithms.

Incidentally, this is largely what CS students do for homework. Most of them kinda gloss over it because it's required, though, while if you're doing this because you really love the material, you've got a big advantage.

I've interviewed people with degrees that don't know about many of these questions. In fact I make it a point that if someone puts something like "TCP/IP" or "networking" in the laundry-list of skills/knowledge they have, I ask them a basic question about it -- and a depressingly large amount of time people can't even explain the difference between TCP and UDP.

I've also worked with people who can explain what big-O is and yet they'll write completely inefficient nested loops and N+1 SELECT queries, and then wonder why everything is slow in production even though it works great in dev.

Comp Sci can teach you theory and concepts, but as they say: there's no substitute for experience.

Self taught programmer and I'm strong in all these areas. You can read three books and know all of this. It does not require a college education. In fact the TCP/IP stack and Linux I learned back in high school just by reading two books. It wasn't hard. The Data structures and algorithms I picked up a few years later when I was about college age. Again, you can read books about this stuff. It's not that hard.

If anything, a self-study program with a list of books to read and skills to master would save many self taught / self motivated people quite a bit of time, but its absence is by no means a show stopper.

What three books? (Especially interested in data transfer protocols - I got a little bit into it for game development, but never found anything resembling a good source).

I learned a lot of these things from taking Harvard's CS50 online, reading the blog posts I linked (and doing problems), and I would imagine this book (https://bigmachine.io/products/the-imposters-handbook/) would help out - a friend recommended it, but I never got around to it.


^Covers logic gates and the basics of how a computer is built to an incredible degree, but it's VERY time intensive. Still, I really recommend it.

These days CS50 lectures are online. The TCP/IP and Linux books I can't recall. That was some 20+ years ago. I think the TCP/IP/Protocols book was from Sams and the Linux book(s) were from O'Reilly. Algorithms/Data was The Algorithm Design Manual by Skiena. Cracking the Coding Interview is great too. Crypto was just a bunch of reading online, I haven't found a good book on that I would recommend, same for data transfer protocols. I didn't just read three books, I'm saying, 20/20 hindsight I could have read about 3 books to garner most of the stuff I didn't learn by skipping college.

Maybe some of us self taught developers should get together and curate a clear path for CS knowledge and ancillary helpful things.

"Maybe some of us self taught developers should get together and curate a clear path for CS knowledge and ancillary helpful things."

I wouldn't mind spending some time contributing to something like that. There is an endless amount of material to read and classes to take, but narrowing it down and prioritizing is the hard part.

Please share the 3 books that taught you everything on this list. Not being sarcastic, I would love to have them.

Given the timeline he mentioned, the TCP/IP one may have been "Inside TCP/IP". It was an extremely valuable reference at one time, but it's a bit dated now. I'm just about to finally give away my copy.

You wouldn't happen to have a good suggestion to replace it?

You might try the two-volume "TCP/IP Illustrated" set, although I haven't personally read those. Otherwise, no, as far as I know there was never an edition of "Inside TCP/IP" published after 1997, and no book exactly took its place.

Which is a real shame.

If you just want to get a good sense of UDP, ICMP, TCP/IP, datagram headers, and a handful of older protocols (like FTP), "Inside TCP/IP" is still valuable.

I can second this. Self taught programmer and I am weak in all of the above areas. My math skills (only high school math) are also especially weak which has really bitten me in graphics based jobs (simulation) where I have had to calculate view rotations and similar in 3d. I am lucky enough to have made it to the 6 figure club but I probably could have been here a decade ago with the right education. Also imposter syndrome has been a major limiter at times.

I started college (Comp E) and didn't finish and I, can vouch for the fact that the classes I didn't take would have taught me nearly everything on your list (aside from the last 2).

FWIW, I learned all these things on my own, including object oriented programming. My blind spot was SQL, and thankfully I learned that in school. I preferred lower level coding and I had to be pushed to see that the performance overhead of SQL was not important compared with the productivity benefits.

You can get past HR screening without a degree, experience still often matters more - and in my opinion, a 22-23 year old proving they can do multi year projects is of dubious value - what it is useful for is showing that you know how to learn.

I have no degree, but have a boat load of experience in my chosen field, with a couple of notable exceptions, this alone is enough to get my foot in the door. The notable exceptions are government roles, and government contracts with private companies, they want someone who has a degree in any engineering discipline.

I never had trouble finding tech work without a degree. I did however find the door to more interesting jobs was generally closed without one, and that door opened after I went back to school and finished a BS.

I find the doors which are closed by not having a degree to be ones I probably wouldn't have enjoyed. I have no degree and have had Phd's reporting to me, in Silicon Valley.

Some prefer to be the PhDs.

Sure, but it'll be harder. Most places have a stack of resumes for positions, guess who gets weeded out first?

Am I the only one around here who actually learned things in college? I would certainly not be as good at my job nor as aware of things outside my primary skill had I not gone to college.

You missed the biggest reason:

- Networking with people all assumed to be at or above a bar dictated by the college acceptance committee.

This is point is huge, given how spread out the US is many students may have never had that kind of opportunity. The things you learn from your peers, all naturally aligned in the community are orders of magnitude more than what you learn in class and can't easily be replaced by online resources.

Your points are important but at the same time it's inaccurate to discount the educational component. Good universities instill a sense of intellectual rigor in their students that carries across many fields--reading critically, expressing arguments clearly, and perhaps most of understanding what "good enough" really means when working on solutions to difficult problems.

I’m not trying to discount the educational component, just trying to blunt the inevitable replies about how you can learn the same material on your own. The point I’m making is that there are other benefits outside of the education that you can’t do on your own.

Thinking back to group projects, I can honestly say that most of the college graduates whose educations I am most acquainted with cannot complete moderately sized semester-long projects that they don't like without substantial outside help and constant prodding.

The project I’m talking about is the degree itself, not group projects in any particular class.

I'd add:

-. To easily identify a group of friends/peers with common interests and culture.

Probably not worth the egregiously high tuitions now, but I've talked with several other alums from my college and we agree that easily the greatest benefit from college has been networking-related / social ties.

That's honestly probably the biggest reason for why people are so set on sending their kids to elite institutions- in many cases the pedagogy might not necessarily be better than cheaper alternatives (e.g., state schools), but there's a higher likelihood of rubbing shoulders with other influential characters.

Likewise, I would suggest that it's more valuable for someone coming from a lower income/social status background to go to a good school than for someone who comes from higher - those people either already know influential people, or have the financial resources necessary to do things like attend conferences or just up and move to where those people are.

I'd agree with that. Whenever people cite Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg as college dropout successes, they tend to overlook the substantial cultural and social capital these leaders had already accrued as students at Lakeside, Homestead, and Phillips Exeter.

Every reason you cited can be had by starting in community college. If I were advising a graduating senior today, I'd advise them to consider a gap year and to go the community college route. You can still get a degree from the most prestigious state schools while paying a small fraction of what you'd otherwise pay for your first two years of school.

Since price is becoming an issue, prioritize junior/senior years since those result in the degree and look to economize for freshman/sophomore.

Those human societal reasons need to change.


I don't disagree, but if you're saying a change needs to be made I think the onus on you is to propose what the change should be and why it would be beneficial overall.

I would personally recommend 4-year college to someone (assuming their family isn't rich) today if that person has a concrete plan for using the degree to enter a lucrative field. Engineering? Yes, go to college. Corporate-track marketing/accounting/finance/whatever? Yes, go to to college. History/English/I don't know what I want to do? No, you're wasting your money. For everyone else, trade schools, community college programs, and similar "alternatives" should be a starting place to get you pointed in the right direction, then you can decide if pursuing an expensive diploma is worth it later.

Is this view counter to the original intent of college to create a class of people who are well-educated in the humanities as well as the sciences? Yes, but today's cost of education is just too out of control and salaries for most jobs too low for that noble idea to be practical.

It's silly to say that a student should only go to college if they can afford to do it with no loans. I think a large part of the "student loan" problem is that we don't talk about income enough. It is completely reasonable for a comp sci major from a good school to graduate with $75k in loans ($900 payments). That will not be a burden for them. Likewise, a $20k student loan ($300 payments) should be manageable for someone who makes $40k a year. The issue is when the person who only real prospects pay $40k a year and they have $75k in loans.

I was admitted to a relatively competitive university's (<10% acceptance rate) computer science program, but it would mean I would have to take on just over 100k of debt. After the first year I chose to transfer to a local community college to earn an associates, and then trasnfer to a state school. I was hired after my associates, got my bachelors paid for and completed it online, and graduated with no debt. I'm extremely happy I made the change, rather than paying 100k for a bachelor. Sure, I could've afforded it, but instead I was able to purchase a car in cash and buy a house pretty much straight out of school. I wouldn't recommend anyone go into debt for a bachelor; in my opinion the money could be better spent elsewhere, and it is unlikely to make a significant difference in position/pay having a name brand degree rather than something from a state school

I take a lot of pride in my liberal arts education and how it shaped my world view. I would never in a thousand years trade it in for a car and a house... And it cost less too.

Ok... lots of state school offer liberal arts programs so not sure what point you're trying to make there. I would hope that it cost a lot less than a house, but I still think going into debt for a bachelors is a bad idea. I'm gaining equity every month rather than paying hundreds of dollars for a degree that provides little to no benefits over what you can get from a state school without taking on debt. Also, my house has appreciated 46.5% since I purchased it which is another financial benefit I would not have had I stayed at the expensive university

I'm sorry I wasn't clear. You are making the world out to be a false dichotomy, either you spend $100k or 0 for a college education. One means you are broke and the other means you can buy a fancy car and a house. My point is that it is a spectrum. My schooling cost me $50k. I got a small, liberal arts environment in a cool city with access to a variety of internships. State schools around me did not offer that combination. A) I enjoyed my schooling and I don't mind paying $500/month in loans for it and B) it didn't cost $100k and C) I find it nuts that you are bragging about the fact you got to buy a car because you didn't have student loans.

Cant live in a degree or drive it to work, how you feel about things and their actual value might need some perspective shifting.

Funny, no one has ever asked me whether or not I own a brand new car or own my own house in a job interview. However, every interview has asked me about my college education.

Maybe you are the one who needs to reevaluate their priorities.

Revisit this thought 20 years from now when you finally finish paying off that loan and still have no place to sleep.

Who are you angry at? My loans will be paid off in less than four years from now (7 total) and possibly as little as two more years (if I can figure out how to not eat out so much...). My college education was a fantastic investment.

I am not angry at all. I watched people around me in the same situation as you, job right out of school with a good payment plan have life happen and suddenly that 4 yr plan turned into 20.

That was with much much lower debt than anyone I see today having.

All I can say is that my repayment plan is speeding up and not slowing down.

Good. I truly wish you the best. Some folks do great. Looking back on my 5 decades more dont.

No one should owe 75k for a bachelors, and having educational loans take up 20% of your post-tax income for a decade is beyond ridiculous.

Minimum student loan payments are fixed while your income should grow. What starts out as 20% of your first paycheck won't be 20% by year five.

"Should" being a huge keyword there. Labor wage growth in general has barely kept up with inflation, on average. The software industry bubbles have kept it largely immune to this and overall still seems to be seeing relatively strong wage growth in certain cities and sectors, but there's no guarantee that will continue.

Not to mention that with the time value of money, 20% of your first paycheck isn't just immediately a lot (which it is), it's also a potentially much larger chunk of long term savings and investments potential.

But the main argument here remains that a lot of the complaints are the overall slow delay in people with student loan debt engaging with other economic concerns (buying homes, starting families, etc), and all you've done is exactly illuminate why it is considered such a crisis, people are rationally waiting for that "year five" when student loan payments are less than 20% (or whatever high water mark) of their income, rather than starting bigger projects earlier than that.

Those wage growth numbers discussed are an average. It would be very strange to have someone not have any significant raises between year 0 of their career and year 10.

On a bell curve there are as many people below the average as there are above it. Given the overall wage growth in software industry it's very easy to assume that has largely propped the average up over the last couple decades of statistics and that there are lots of people in other industries that have suffered wage loss more than wage growth.

You could argue that wages do not follow a bell-curve distribution, but there isn't a distribution out there without people falling at or below the average. "Significant raises" in one's career seems to be the outlier statistic, not the norm.

I agree with everything you just said, but its also an average across age groups. It would not surprise me to see many 40year old workers getting 1% yearly raises for the rest of their career. What would surprise me is if there are a significant number of 25 year olds only making 1% raises until they are 35. Most industries will pay a premium for an individual with ten years of experience over someone with no experience (a recent graduate).

My continued disagreement is with "most industries". I think software, especially in "tech hubs" like Silicon Valley has been extremely privileged in raises and I think that colors a false perception of other industries here.

Historically, it seems to be a nice privileged outlier for white collar positions, at most; blue collar work has rarely paid a premium for any individual, much less for experience, and in general has worked very hard to avoid thinking of labor in terms of individuals.

Anecdotally, I've yet to see this "significant raise" for ten years of experience in my own career, and among peers I've straw-polled neither have they. Some have only gotten that cost of living raise through complicated job hopping. Admittedly, I've prioritized overall standard of living over raw income for most of my career to date. I could be doing better, but I'm doing alright.

It does very much look from my cynical point of view that industries that will pay a premium for individuals with experience are few, and increasingly disappearing/extinct in an overall marketplace that hasn't respected labor in decades. The only guaranteed "industry" in current American economics with significant raises of any sort is the C-Suite fraternity. Software has been very fortunate to keep getting good table scraps, with luck, in tech hubs, before cost of living and work/life balance are adjusted for. Lawyers and Doctors with collective effort have done okay protecting their wage gains. I don't think there are many other industries beyond those that can claim the same, even (and maybe especially) adjusting the averages for age.

Lots of professionals earn 1-2% raises their entire career. I'd say it's the norm, and also the reason that job-hopping is seen as the best way to increase your salary.

the problem is that lots of careers that require degrees don't have 75k ceilings

If you owe $75k for a bachelors that isn't a STEM degree from a top tier school, you're Doing It Wrong™.

agree. when you break-down the math, it's not that big of a big deal.

What's silly is to ever allow an institution to take 10% or more of your earnings. Unless they're doing 10% of the work for you, they're not entitled to any claim to the earnings. All that does is perpetuate the gatekeeper fallacy that somehow you need to "pay your dues (to the institution)"

My plan for my (13-year old) daughter is community college, then a state school for a four year degree, which I should have enough savings for. But, more important than the amount of debt, is which major, which is the great elephant in the room. There is a huge investment in degree programs that don't increase your salary, and this fact is routinely buried by doing the analysis on all majors combined. For some majors, taking out loans to get a degree is still a good deal, and for others it clearly is not. It's like asking if a mortgage is a good idea in order to buy a house, without reference to where the house is and what shape it's in.

The possibility to go to University in some European city for almost $0 in tuition is almost never discussed. Stay there 4-5 years, get the equivalent of a Bachelor+MSc and then come home in the US debt-free.

Would you suggest your kids to think of that possibility? If not why? Language barriers? Far from Home?

The main problem is that if you are thinking of getting a job in the U.S., many employers don't have the experience in rating non-U.S. degrees, so will view them with suspicion at best. My wife had this experience when she tried to get jobs based on her Eastern-European degree (from a very reputable University there).

That being said, we definitely are keeping that in mind for our kids (though we are financially planning for school here).

Also something to consider if you might go for a Master's or above in the US. I worked in admissions in a graduate-level only film school and there were definitely issues with someone's BA being "good enough" for the school. I didn't directly validate anything but I assume there was a master list somewhere for those whose jobs it was to qualify the degrees.

A couple of questions:

Is tuition really free for non-residents? How do they avoid getting flooded with students?

How do you pay for living expenses? I don't believe they'll be able to work (at least, as a non-EU citizen) and living expenses aren't cheap.

I honestly had never considered this. Siblings to this comment make good points both ways, but regardless I think it could be a very interesting opportunity for my children to not only obtain an education at a low cost, but to also--and just as important, IMO--get another view of the world.

It would probably be cheaper to just have the kid stay at home and pay the (relatively) nominal tuition for the local state university.

A college degree is used as a way to filter out applicants, the same as a high school diploma is sometimes used. It can be used to show some level of maturity and intelligence. It's not a golden standard, but for the amount of applicants per job, something needs to be a standard.

Some higher paying jobs are asking for master's degrees. Also, my brother can directly attribute his income increase to obtaining an MBA.

Is it worth it? An extra US$10k per year for X years of work? Better job stability? These are the decisions that need to be made, and not every career needs a degree.

> It can be used to show some level of maturity and intelligence.

In what measurable way? I'd argue that more intelligent person finds a way to learn something without it costing them.

There are always exceptions to every rule, but what is your current process for hiring people? How to you take a list of 100-200 applicants and trim it down into a manageable list?

I'm retired now, but in my previous career most jobs required minimum years of relevant experience, with a degree able to substitute for some or all of those years, depending.

I would suggest, that of you can obtain a college education with less than 30-40k in loans (ideally no more than 20k), its probably a fair value still. What the degree is in, is also a compounding factor - but almost any degree with some commercial or governmental value will make paying back 20k pretty easy.

The issue is, its very hard to get a four year degree for that cost.

The median for all borrowers was $17,000 in 2017; the median for bachelors was $25,000. (http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/08/24/5-facts-abou...)

"Relatively few with student loan debt have six-figure balances. Only 7% of current borrowers have at least $100,000 in outstanding debt, which corresponds to 1% of the adult population. Balances of $100,000 or more are most common among postgraduate degree holders. Of those with a postgraduate degree and outstanding debt, 23% reported owing $100,000 or more."

How many of them are failed students, or people going for a two year degree?

how is it hard? pretty much every state university costs $10-12k a year, so you're looking at $48k total if you somehow manage not to apply/qualify for any grants whatsoever. it's even cheaper if you go to community college for the first two years.

> as long as that person has the means to do so without any loans

Which is true for very, very few of the people actually going to college. Which means your advice is essentially "no" for the vast majority of people who would ask.

Yes, that's a good point. I should probably be more flexible. I agree with many other that a very small student loan burden to close the gap between scholarships, grants, work, and going to affordable state schools is also totally reasonable in my mind.

That's rough that your parents pushed you to go to a different college w/out that free tuition incentive. Budget was a huge factor for me in choosing a college and heavily influenced me to stay in-state and public, where tuition wasn't high and there were plenty of scholarships. If I were to do it again the only thing deterring me from going 2-year first was the group of colleagues I met in my first week of college, in which we're still friends to this day. I imagine it would have been harder to find friends coming in as a Junior.

I shouldn't give my parents too hard of a time. I had a half-tuition scholarship to the other school. It was also a religious, private school and so there's that aspect as well. They would not have disowned me or been too upset had I made the choice to go to my first choice, but as a kid it's hard to not want to do everything you can to please your family. Ultimately, it was still painful to matriculate.

> the stigma of not having a degree will have lessened.

This is already the case in my eyes, where having a degree is a net negative unless in conversation I hear it's actually being used and is returning above median income.

Statistically, that just isn't possible for all holders, meaning any time I hear someone has a degree, it's a coin flip whether or not that means anything at all.

On a separate note, as far as the article is concern I think we're already beyond there. Anecdotally, all of the degree holders within my wife's circle don't have a plan to pay them off. Which means student loans are the new mortgage, and if and when they plan on obtaining a mortgage, they won't pay that off either.

I have people very close to me that have no plans to pay off their mortgages, which means the loaners are just consuming payments indefinitely.

The latest scare to me was learning that community colleges are catching up to universities in terms of the absurdity in cost. I was absolutely floored when I learned what it cost to just obtain a two-year degree.

There's more to university than 1:1 degree to salary analysis. Though there's definitely a failing to effectively double-down on this understanding early on in a student's career.

For example, one aspect of university is that it's a four-year gauntlet that not everyone can finish.

Another aspect is that there's more to life than work. I have a philosophy degree but also taught myself to program. I don't regret my degree, though easy to say when I have lucrative skills. But I have a problem people calling it worthless just because there is no obvious degree-to-job pipeline for philosophy.

The key is that I knew that going in. Well, everyone does know these things going in to some level, but the end can seem so far away that it's hard to really internalize the consequences when you're still putting around university.

The problem is coming out of uni with $60k debt which creates the, then, natural analysis of "so how did university equip you to deal with this burden?" And I think that's what leads us to scenarios where we're lopping off the heads of degrees that don't warrant the debt.

There is a big difference between "don't feel forced to get that luxury product, it's ok to go without if you can't afford it" and "the product is literally worthless".

Nobody is saying the second thing.

In all honestly, I went to a school of minor prestige (not ivy, but similar echelon in my field) and I have had a lot of opportunities come my way based on that. Not through alumni networking or word of mouth, just name checking the school and program has opened quite a few doors for me in my career.

That being said, I don’t think the college experience itself made me uniquely better or more prepared than my peers... and in reality a lot of my peers who’ve skipped college all-together were perhaps MORE prepared for “real work” than me. All tallied up, I agree that I’d like a future where college isn’t a requirement like it seemed to be for me.

> Statistically, that just isn't possible for all holders, meaning any time I hear someone has a degree, it's a coin flip

Those are nowhere near equivalent conditions.

> Anecdotally, all of the degree holders within my wife's circle don't have a plan to pay them off.

Even at high-default colleges and universities, the default and delinquency rates are below 10%.

At "good" colleges and universities the rates typically hover in the 1%-3% range.

I wouldn't be surprised to hear that there are strongly connected clusters of people who are delinquent on their student loans (e.g., majors with poor job prospects or certain types of social groups that value partying over studying).

But the fact remains: your wife's social group is extraordinarily unrepresentative.

> I have people very close to me that have no plans to pay off their mortgages, which means the loaners are just consuming payments indefinitely.

I know a lot of people who purchased houses they never intended to pay off because they knew they were only staying in the region for 5-10 years. They all saved money compared to renting and were able to sell their houses for purchase price or higher.

The bank charged lower rent than the landlords. That's all.

This strategy makes less sense if the bank is insisting on a higher down-payment or if you plan on staying in the same city for 15+ years, of course.

But the "rent vs. mortgage" decision is always extremely personal. Without knowing your friend's situation and 5-10 year career plans, it's impossible to know if he's being irresponsible or savvy.

> The latest scare to me was learning that community colleges are catching up to universities in terms of the absurdity in cost.

Citation sorely needed. I can't find a single CC system that comes even close to costing as much as the stat's university system, even at tiny branch campuses.

Also, in many states CC is free for students who do "well" in high school (and "well" here is a pretty low bar, in many states you don't even need a 3.0 gpa in non-honors courses for a full ride at CCs...).

The state university I go to costs a full 700% more than the CC I work at ($600/credit hour vs $81/credit hour in-state). That is a big gap to bridge.

Who doesn't plan to pay off their mortgage? What does that even mean? It's a 10-30 year debt, not a car lease. You don't really have the option of not paying it off unless you want to get foreclosed on and have a really hard time finding a place to rent.

I believe the GP meant that these people do not intend to stay in the same home beyond the life of the mortgage. So yes, they pay off the original loan when they sell, but they immediately turn around and take out another.

I don't agree with the GP on much of anything they said there, but that's my take on it. Maybe they meant interest only loans? I don't know why anyone would take out an interest only loan for a primary residence they intend to live in for some time, but I'm guessing here.

Do you understand how mortgages work? You can't just not pay it off. There are minimum payments and if you don't meet them you will likely get your house foreclosed on. If you keep paying for the whole 30 year term you will by default pay it off. So what exactly are you talking about?

This new account has already posted more than one uncivil comment to HN. That usually signals trollage, so I'm banning it until we get some indication that you've read the guidelines and want to use HN as intended. If you have and do, you're welcome to email us at hn@ycombinator.com.


People like to trade up houses or refinance these days. It’s not at all unusual to reach retirement with a mortgage still in play.

It doesn't work that way anymore, so I'm not sure what world you live in; there are banks that provide indefinite mortgages which leave you literally paying nothing but interest and never principal.

There are certainly mortgages which only require the payment of the interest, rather than the principal:


But even with interest-only mortgages you don't pay indefinitely - either a) you switch to paying down the principal after a specific number of years or b) the loan-balance becomes due.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact