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The college experience is still pretty worthwhile, but the consequences of taking out loans in order to attend college are gettin uglier.

My wife and I are both working in service fields - I am a teacher, and she is a counselor. We are both good at what we do. But we are at our income ceilings. We are paying as much in student loan payments as we are in housing costs. some of my colleagues will be in debt for the rest of their lives.

Going to college is not the same straightforward decision it used to be.




"Going to college is not the same straightforward decision it used to be."

Honestly, (and you've basically said this), taking out significant loans to go to college is not the same straightforward decision it used to be.

I understand that for some people it's simply not possible to go to college without taking on debt. I don't think this is the case for the vast majority of people. If someone would have made 18 year old me more aware of the burden that not going to a state school and working a job or two during my four years was going to be, I would have been a lot less likely to do it. Sure, I had fun, and I ended up without a lot of debt anyway, but it wasn't worth paying interest on for the better part of a decade.

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"Honestly, (and you've basically said this), taking out significant loans to go to college is not the same straightforward decision it used to be."

One reason I returned to Europe.

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I think I could've also gone to a state school and come out with less debt. Ultimately it worked out, but I have to imagine there are plenty of people for whom it did not work out. Even if your degree is worthless in practice (because of circumstance, career, etc), at least you be paying out hundreds of dollars each month for loans.

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I understand that for some people it's simply not possible to go to college without taking on debt. I don't think this is the case for the vast majority of people.

Then why do 2/3 of all college students graduate with debt? Why have the largest tuition rises, by percentage, been seen in newly-defunded state universities?

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I'm skeptical of many "don't go to college" arguments, but this is one worth evaluating based on career preferences and personal/financial circumstances.

Myself, I am fortunate in that my choice of career (software industry) remains quite lucrative in the midst of a recession. My wife was not so lucky, in that the crash of '08 precipitated a slow decline of her industry. I am also fortunate that, prior to landing a stable career, my parents were both willing and able to help me out with my student loans, or with first & last month rent.

Sadly I think at age 17 - 18, I am not sure anyone would've been able to make me truly understand how all the trade-offs I was making. For one thing, I made my choice of college (and ostensibly career) in the late '90s, a relatively prosperous period. Maybe I would've chosen differently in a recession. For another, I don't think I had any concept of how hard student loans could and would bite.

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This "income ceiling" you mention brings up a potentially interesting idea - why not scale the cost of college according to the expected value of your major? I know that in a broader sense this happens already, as "better" schools tend to be more expensive, but perhaps (to use a cliché example) an English degree and a CS degree shouldn't cost the same.

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I think this is a pretty good approach to the problem. It certainly applies to service fields in which there are pay ceilings. We already have some attempts at making this happen. For example, teachers and people in service-oriented fields can get about $5000 of federal loans forgiven if you work in a low-income or hard-to-staff position for 5 consecutive years. STEM teachers can get about $17000 forgiven.

But these are token measures right now. I have a colleague who has roughly 100,000 in loans. If you think this is unreasonable, keep in mind that in many states you need a master's degree to keep teaching. There is a 10-year forgiveness program, where if you pay off your loans at an income-adjusted rate for 10 years, the rest of your loan is forgiven. But, you pay income tax on the amount that is forgiven. So we have people paying appropriate income-based amounts, which don't cover interest. Then you get a taxed on a "windfall" of 100,000+. So now you have a 20-40,000 IRS bill, which doesn't qualify for any forgiveness programs. One arm of the government giveth, another arm taketh.

So I think the answer does lie in scaling college costs according to expected incomes, with appropriate measures in place to guard against gaming that system. It seems to come down to a question of whether we, as a society, actually value these service-oriented fields. Many of our elected politicians don't appear to, because they can afford to pay privately for these services (education, counseling, health care, etc.).

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I think this is a bad idea - salaries paid to different fields are a good (although imperfect) way of measuring the value of those skills to society.

If we subsidize education towards less valuable skills at the expense of the most valuable, we end up discouraging people from going into the most needed professions.

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"less valuable skills"

That's a pretty loaded statement. Teacher pay is based on years in the system because it is so difficult to measure individual teacher effectiveness, without incentivizing people to pay more attention to the "good" students and marginalize those who are difficult to teach.

Salaries are largely dependent on how much economic return the position provides to the employer, not on how valuable the skills are to society.

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Teacher pay is based on years in the system because it is so difficult to measure individual teacher effectiveness, without incentivizing people to pay more attention to the "good" students and marginalize those who are difficult to teach.

It's politically difficult, not statistically difficult. Statistically VAM does a great job.

Paying attention to the "good" students vs the difficult to teach ones is not enforced by every objective measurement system, it's purely a function of how you compute the teacher's score. There are many choices:

    # focus on the best, ignore the rest
    student_scores.max() 

    # focus on the worst, ignore the rest
    student_scores.min() 

    # Focus on the cheapest improvements possible
    # independent of whether best or worst
    student_scores.mean()

    # Somewhere in between mean and max
    pow(student_scores,K).mean() 
    # 1 < K < infinity

    #Minimize inequality
    student_scores.variance()

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Very good point, it seems like a perverse reverse incentive. However I don't think that the earnings of a given field speak to its "value" - as I'm sure any teacher would agree.

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This plan has one important drawback: If we assume that society is better of by people majoring in CS instead of English then we should not discourage people from studying CS by increasing prices.

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You would risk a system wherein only the most affluent could afford to study CS. And there's already some inequality in terms of unpaid internships, although I am not sure how the software industry compares to other industries in this regard.

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