Monday, October 17, 2011

Who stole your future?

Charles Krauthammer explains the President's re-election campaign. I make much the same point in my next Culture Con column in WI Interest while challenging conservatives to arrive at thoughtful responses.

Krauthammer points out that one of the consequences of this is the "Occupy Somewhere" movement - an effort that has provided, if nothing else, comic relief. As I've written before, much of it is so silly and stereotypical as to be something of an unfair target.

But in today's paper, we see a group from One Wisconsin Now (one is Scot Ross, no?) holding a banner decrying high levels of student loans. They may have a point but not the one they think they have.

Having spent a bit of time around higher education the past few years, I am concerned about student loans. Every year Marquette University Law School has a public interest law auction in which students seem to throw around silly amounts of money to bowl with or have a dinner made for them by a faculty member. I don't know that these students were throwing around borrowed money but you do worry about it.

There's more than that. University tuition has increased by amounts far greater than the rate of inflation and universities have become increasingly opulent and populated by functionaries with obscure titles and uncertain responsibilities which - whatever they are - don't seem to have much to do with teaching.

It is hard not to believe that government subsidized and guaranteed student loans have something to do with it. Throwing more money at higher education might make it more accessible but it may also increase its costs.

The absence of any form of underwriting and little controls on what a student does with the money seems almost guaranteed to lead to just the situation that our Occupiers complain of. Unless you are stone brilliant and attending a prestigious university, borrowing $150000 for graduate work in cultural anthropology or comparative literature is an exercise in consumption. It will not result in a job that permits you to comfortably repay the money. Borrowing $ 200,000 to attend the Thomas Jefferson Law School (or, for that matter, if you are not a good student, Marquette) is probably not going to work out for you from a financial perspective. It may still be worth doing but you have to see it as a life style choice that is probably going to have you living like a student for much of your post-graduate life.

In other words, this is a classic example of a well intentioned program leading to unintended results. But it's not corporations who "stole your future," it's a government that bid up the price of higher education and enabled what now seems like a very poor choice. It's the universities who are notoriously deceitful about these matters.


Dad29 said...


Anonymous said...

Scot Ross (or Scottt Ross, as I like to call him) seems a bit old to be having his future stolen by banks of any size.

Anonymous said...

"Unless you are stone brilliant and attending a prestigious university, borrowing $150000 for graduate work in cultural anthropology or comparative literature is an exercise in consumption."

So much for pursuing the American Dream!

Anonymous said...

"It's the universities who are notoriously deceitful about these matters."

Yet, you work at one. That would mean you are part and parcel part of the problem.

Let's get real here...the MARKETPLACE, not the government, ultimately determines who attends what university at what price for what end.

Rick Esenberg said...

Anon 3:53

You can dream but you've got to be realistic. There is only so much demand for cultural anthropologists and professors of comparative literature. Only the best and the brightest - something that is often signaled by the degree granting institution - are going to get work just as very few of us will ever play in the NFL.

Anon 3:55

Just an adjunct now. I like to think MULS is more forthcoming on that but I have to admit that I don't know how it calculates it's numbers. It has the advantage of being the only law school in a relatively large city and, because of that, its graduates seem to turn out all right. But, yes, a lot of law schools seem to release very misleading numbers about job prospects.

Anonymous said...

C'mon, the fast money of 2002 for associates is gone and the Law Schools refuse to acknowledge it. MU is one of the worst offenders. Even as the undisputed king of MKE, MU is pitting 200 kids for what 10 or 15 jobs that can pay the student loan and a Mandel apartment downtown. The rest are just dumped onto a horrible market. Law Schools are profit centers, plain and simple. Add another ten or twenty students to a class and there is little if any upward bend to the cost curve. Don't expect the school to tell you the truth about the prospects. If you are from MKE and really want the legal education and training, then go - if you can get into the UW at 3 times the US News ranking and 1/4 the cost in state.

Rick Esenberg said...

I don't think that the cost differential is that great but, given the nature of the legal market, I would normally advise any student to go to the highest ranked school that they can get into it (with the understanding that a difference of a few spots isn't going to mean much.) While there are certainly personal reasons and circumstances that might warrant a different decision, our profession is very hierarchical and you have to keep that in mind. That may mean choosing UW over MULS (even though I doubt the education provided is any different). It may also mean choosing Michigan over UW and Harvard over Michigan

George Mitchell said...

Anon 10:03 says,

"MU is pitting 200 kids for what 10 or 15 jobs that can pay the student loan and a Mandel apartment downtown. The rest are just dumped onto a horrible market."

This would be laughable if it were not so common an approach to discussing the local jobs situation. Even assuming the 10-15 number is correct (likely not the case) the assumption that Marquette law grads have no other options but Milwaukee is of course wrong. The point can be made more broadly about those who say there are not enough jobs in the inner city. Then move to where there are jobs, advice that once would have seemed obvious.

Rick Esenberg said...

Yeah, those numbers aren't right but the market is tough.