When is college debt too much? | June 22, 2012 | Pleasanton Weekly | PleasantonWeekly.com |


Pleasanton Weekly

- June 22, 2012

When is college debt too much?

by Gary Alt

Sometimes a college education doesn't pay.

A recent New York Times article featured 23-year-old Kelsey Griffith. Though both her parents earn modest incomes, Kelsey was wooed by Ohio Northern University as a freshman and wound up with $120,000 in student loans by the time she graduated this year.

With a degree in marketing she's only landed two restaurant jobs. Her loan payments of almost $900 a month have forced her to move back home with her parents. It will probably take her at least 15 years to pay off her loans.

College debt is now at a record-high of over $1 trillion. Education costs rose faster than health care costs in the past decade, and they rose even faster than real estate prices before the crash.

Does it still make sense to go to college? Of course it does. Those with a bachelor's degree or higher had an unemployment rate of only 4.3% in May 2012, much lower than the national average of 8.2%, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, plus college grads earn more money over their careers.

But those are national averages. It really depends on which school you graduate from and what your major field of study is.

Don't attend a school just because of name prestige if you have to borrow a lot of money. Unless you're going to one of the top 100 universities in the country, the higher price tag many times isn't worth the debt burden. If you're going into a specialized field, such as veterinary medicine, you may have only a few schools to choose from, but you can earn a marketing degree almost anywhere.

Choosing the right major also makes a big difference. Grads with degrees in education and health have the lowest unemployment rate at 5.4%. These grads are generally always in demand and the jobs pay well. On the other hand, art majors have twice the unemployment rate at 11.1% and liberal arts grads are at 9.4%.

Choose a profession that has a low unemployment rate and a higher starting salary. If you need student loans, look at the monthly payments and your expected starting salary to make sure you can pay off those loans within five years. Talk to someone who's financially savvy that can help you look at this realistically.

The best way avoid debt is to save for college beforehand. You can also work part-time during school to earn money. Don't make the same mistake Kelsey Griffith did by burying yourself in debt. Debt is acquired in minutes, but it hangs on for years.

--Gary Alt is co-founder of Monterey Private Wealth in Pleasanton.


Posted by registered user, Stacey, a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Jun 22, 2012 at 1:26 pm

Student loan debt is also not forgivable in bankruptcy. That makes for another perverse incentive for Wall St. to pour money into loans that possibly should never be given in the first place. And to make it worse, they get helped by some universities. Higher education is the next bubble. It's sad that young people are being played and end up starting out their careers already in a lot of debt.

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"Education Finance Partners, the private student loan company that originated the largest portion of Freddy's student debts, reached a $2.5 million settlement agreement with the New York Attorney General's Office in 2007 to settle charges that it had paid colleges across the country to steer students toward its high-interest loans. And Berklee College of Music, Freddy's alma mater, was one of the schools singled out in that investigation for accepting the improper payments."

Posted by Bill, a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Jun 22, 2012 at 1:58 pm

If we started today, California would have to spend 35 million dollars a day (!) until September of 2017 in order to meet commitments for the federal funding of 3.3 billion dollars for high speed rail.

How much college education could you get for 35 million dollars a day?

What would you rather have, a financially sound generation of college graduates or a fast train to no where?

Posted by homer, a resident of Bridle Creek
on Jun 22, 2012 at 3:57 pm

I think I'll pass on both

Posted by Steve, a resident of Parkside
on Jun 23, 2012 at 12:57 pm

Stacey is right. It is important that we protect private industry in the form of for-profit colleges which are contributing greatly to a more educated citizenry. We live in a free enterprize economy, irregaurdless of what the Communist Comrade in Charge Obama tells us, and its' important that we protect our God-given freedoms. I don't want some govt communist bureaucrat telling me I can't lone a college student a couple hundred thousand at 23% compounded interest. If the student doesn't want the loan, then dont take it. Simple as that. Student debt now is greater then credit card debt? Let the hole thing collapse. Thats how free enterprize system is supposed to work. We're all strangeling under the grip of goverment regulation and intervention. God help us. And God bless America.

Posted by Steve, a resident of Parkside
on Jun 23, 2012 at 1:03 pm

And now you've really got me on my hi-horse. The communistic Obama Salama His Holiness wants to put a sealing on student goverment loans, keeping them at 3.4% instead of 6.8%. How are freedom seeking for-profit universities supposed to compete with that? Its all a Democrat Party ruze to undercut the legs of healthy for-profit universities. Turn to Nanny goverment instead of letting free market regulate supply and demand.

Posted by Mike, a resident of Highland Oaks
on Jun 25, 2012 at 12:14 am

Thanks for the "Buy-Low-Sell-High" advice; but I suggest that college, like the stock market, is just a bit more nuanced.

Statements such as ". . . but you can earn a marketing degree almost anywhere" may be true; however, they ignore the heavier reality that a marketing degree from a top-tier school is going to get you into a lot more doors than one from a State U.

Of course, the top-tier schools accept only the best students, which may be the more important issue in advising high school students about the value of loans for higher education.


Posted by Nomad, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jun 25, 2012 at 6:43 am

If you need to talk to someone "financially savvy" to understand what the monthly payment of a $120,000 loan is, I would suggest you aren't ready for college.

Posted by Charlene, a resident of Castlewood
on Jun 26, 2012 at 11:48 am

... spoken by someone himself who has never stepped a foot on a college campus.

Posted by Mr. Mittens, a resident of Birdland
on Jun 27, 2012 at 7:20 am

This is what I've been talking about most of my life. Obama says he is attempting to make for-profit colleges more 'accountable.' His administration wants a statement from each college that compares cost of tuition, size of loans, and job/income levels of graduates. If the cost of tuition + loans, relative to job prospects and income, is outrageously high (most are) then the school will not qualify for government assistance.

Golly geez, all this represents is more govt. tyranny in our lives! More regulatory paperwork! Anybody knows for golly sakes that the for-profit colleges are what is near and dear to most Americans -- profits! Let the students sink if they're so irresponsible! I'm certainly against more bail-outs for the incompetent students who expect our tax money to pay for a tyrannical govt that tries to put our job creating heroes at risk.

Posted by Wow, a resident of Bridle Creek
on Jun 27, 2012 at 8:43 am

The shortsightedness of the Obama haters amazes me. Yep, lets make loan sharking legal. Also, all those kids who can't afford an education to get a good high paying job will be paying taxes at a much lower rate or possibly even be on some sort of public assistance and you profit grabbing people who want to allow people to exhort them will be paying more. If the top few percent make all the money they have to pay all the taxes. The only way you pay less is to have a vibrant middle class of people that make good wages and also pay taxes against them. I really don't know what is so hard for you to understand about that. People who are not educated enough to get a good job or a job at all don't contribute much to the tax revenue or to the economy. They are a drain. Help them or pay the share they may have contributed. Where is it in the country's best interest to make higher education unattainable to anyone other than the very wealthy. How do kids from middle class families that are struggling, who want better themselves or just keep up with the life their parents have and are drowning in debt, afford to buy a house or spend money on other goods to improve our economy? Think beyond your own wallet because it will come back to bite you in that spot you carry it.

Posted by Wow2, a resident of Downtown
on Jun 27, 2012 at 1:09 pm

What's really sad is how many K-12 and college educated students the government is pumping out that are still illiterate, have no sense of the free market, totally reliant on government assistance/direction/job, can't think for themselves and THEN saddled with huge govt student loans that they will never be able to pay back, saddled with for LIFE ... NOW THAT'S AN EDUCATION! REAL LIFE EDUCATION!... I see it every day... very sad... very sad

... coming from someone who never stepped foot on a college campus...

Posted by TeaPartiestForLife (Wow3), a resident of Parkside
on Jun 27, 2012 at 1:21 pm

And then what gets me, is that just because most of these no-nothing illiteraries vote Republican the liberal loons accuse those of us on the RIGHT (correct) with wanting to dum down the citizenship. Wow3!!!

Posted by Gary Alt, a resident of Amador Estates
on Sep 10, 2013 at 2:07 pm

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