Wednesday, June 19, 2019

College Mania!: An Open Letter to the NY Fed (Opinion)

I just about had a heart attack reading the headlines from two NY Federal Reserve researchers in Buffalo, that college was still a "good investment" despite the costs. The authors, Jaison R. Abel and Richard Deitz, showed a few graphs indicating that college completion still resulted in significant wage premiums, and muttered something about “back of envelope” projections to prove their point.

Are these people mad? Have they not read Annie Nova (CNBC), Jillian Berman (Marketwatch) or Mike Vasquez (Chronicle of Higher Education)? Have they not glanced at Wikipedia or or bothered to use IPEDS help? Have they read Suzanne Mettler’s “Degrees of Inequality”? Have they ever heard of the or College Meltdown? Don't they listen to Dave Ramsey on the radio? The answer is no and probably no, no, no, no, no, no, definitely not because it’s too heavy, no, no, and no.

Have these guys no understanding of the outrageous costs of higher education: tuition, housing, board, text books, transportation, computers, fees, officially licensed college t-shirts, football tickets, concert tickets, pizza, beer, drugs, pregnancy tests, and who know what all else?

Don't they know about the millions who are underemployed after college, the millions that have delayed leaving home, delayed marriage, delayed having children, and delayed starting businesses? Don’t they know anyone who is suffering from the College Meltdown? Have they ever heard of the “gig economy” or talked to an “adjunct professor”? Don't they have friends or coworkers who have nervously cosigned on loans for their children?

Speaking of businesses, haven’t these NY Fed guys figured out that there is a failing for-profit college system, Bryant & Stratton College, luring people with slick ads, whose corporate headquarters is literally two blocks from their office? A school whose target demographics include single mothers with jobs and people with two jobs, who already can't make ends meet?

In 2019, subprime Bryant & Stratton College will be luring hardcore gamers with their esports programs. BSC already has junior college basketball at the dwindling Buffalo campus.

If you read the small print in the NY Fed article, these two wise guys from Buffalo oh so briefly mention that the wage premium doesn’t apply to 25 percent of the people who start. They note that the wage premium is muted in the 40 percent who don’t finish college. And the wealth premium, you know, the actual return on investment after trying to pay off the loans? Forget about it.

They don’t mention that college students are selling their bodies ("Sugar Babies") across the US or selling drugs to get through college. (For the record, I sold my body very cheap to the US Army for an ROTC scholarship to get out of Western Pennsylvania).

These guys don’t mention that more than 40 percent of all student debtors are not paying off their principal. Or that millions of Millennials with student debt are delaying marriage and kids, not starting families or businesses. And by having fewer kids, they are setting the nation up for another phase of the College Meltdown in 2026.

Nor did they note that peak enrollment was in 2010-11 and that numbers have decreased every year since then. I suppose they’d say that was all due to a great economy, like so many others who do not live near reality, even in Buffalo. Really, it would never have anything to do with outrageous prices or record-setting inequality.

And wait a second. Aren’t these two the guys who wrote College is Not for Everyone, back in 2014? What has happened? Have they too contracted College Mania?

Perhaps the men are talking about the business of education, which has been a good investment for some. The higher ed “racket” involving dorm building, restaurant building, gyms and climbing walls.  Or the student loan business that’s booming and student loan asset-backed securities also known as SLABS. Or the online program managers that actually run colleges online. Or the marketing and ad agencies that are profiting hand over fist, as some students literally live in their cars or struggle with hunger. Or maybe they are talking about the bright future behind unregulated “human capital contracts” (What could go wrong?).

But why should I be so angry, literally fed up? The NY Fed is not the only organization feeding the “College Mania!” It’s everyone, aside from Dave Ramsey, Thomas Frank, and too few others. But who reads Thomas Frank? Hopefully it’s the same people who read the two guys from the NY Fed. 

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