A few weeks ago, I published an article that pissed off a lot of people. Well, Communications major really. It was titled, “A Question for All You Communications Majors“. In retrospect, the article I wrote wasn’t really the message I intended to convey. What started off as a post on the ramifications of taking on tons of debt to attend a pricey college only to graduate with a low-paying degree somehow meandered into a rip on a particular major, which incidentally, is more in the middle of the pay scale as opposed to a lot of other majors that show up in this research actually. But my initial thinking going in was a commentary on the constant mainstream media accounts of these kids who go into a pricey college and choose a degree with really no prospect of ever paying off that debt in a reasonable timeframe.
So, after the fact, CNN ran a series on young Americans who took on seemingly massive amounts of debt only to find it virtually impossible to ever pay it back primarily due to the major they chose.
Here are some of the individuals showcased:
- $72,800 Debt, Master’s in public health from University of South Carolina; Bachelor’s in biology from Clemson University… working for minimum wage.
- $82,000 Debt, Master’s in Health Science from Chatham University; Bachelor’s in psychology from Temple University …doing contract work for $19 an hour.
- $140,000 Debt, Bachelor’s in political science and international development from Tulane University… “Working at a non-profit and not making much money”
- $240,000 Debt, Master’s in Social Work from Boston College, Bachelor’s in Sociology from University of California, Santa Cruz …came to the realization he will NEVER be able to afford children.
This last one takes the cake by far. $240K? That’s a friggin house! This guy traded a house for a degree in Social Work. I’m not knocking social work. But he could have learned the same skills at a state college or even a community college start for probably 15-25% of that. Does having a marquee college name land you a “better” social work job? I dunno. I tend to think maybe if you want to be the lead researcher in a major biotech, a PhD from MIT or Harvard goes further than a state school, but social work? I feel bad for the guy, I really do. He’s gotta live with a lifetime of disappointment because of a poor decision he made (or his parents and/or guidance counselor made) as a kid. Even with subsidized Stafford loans his only option would be some sort of student loan forgiveness. But it doesn’t have to be that way with the current generation of teenagers.
The message is simple. Parents and kids need to have a realistic, pragmatic discussion about who’s paying, what that degree is going to cost, and what kind of salary (and hence debt-payment assumptions) that type of degree can common upon graduation. They then need to reinforce that if Johnny really wants to read poetry and he really wants to go to that $45,000/year private school, Johnny’s going to be working 2 jobs for the rest of his life – one as a poet and one as a bartender nights and weekends. Johnny will be a debt slave to private student loans for life because of that decision.
That’s all I’m sayin’.
Old post on Communications majors? Off point and criticism rightly deserved.
This post? Wake-up Call.
There are a lot of articles in the mainstream media now about how there’s a “college bubble” and that kids shouldn’t go to college because it’s not worth it. That’s crap. Sure, if you learn a trade or grow up in the family business, perhaps you’re better off skipping college and the debt that comes with it but that’s not most Americans. Kids shouldn’t go to expensive schools and major in a discipline that pays a very low wage upon graduation unless they’re independently wealthy. Parents and guidance counselors should be reinforcing the ramifications of this decision that gets made when a kid is 17 but they’re stuck with for life.