Two prominent commentators on American higher education, Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus, have published a scathing op-ed piece with Atlantic.com on what they term the “debt crisis” at America’s colleges and universities today (go here).
Hacker is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Queens College in New York, and Dreifus is Adjunct Professor of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, also in New York.
Hacker and Dreifus recently co-authored the best-selling volume, Higher Education?: How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids—And What We Can Do About It (Times Books, 2010).
Their new piece is an exposé of what they consider to be a national scandal: namely, the way in which U.S. colleges and universities today are financing lavish spending on their faculty, administration, and physical plant by means of student debt.
The scandal, they maintain, consists in the fact that too many college administrators encourage prospective students to take out loans to finance their educations, even when it is not in the students’ best interest.
The reason this practice is scandalous is that the administrators often know that many of the students they encourage to go into debt will likely never graduate. And of those who do graduate, many will nevertheless have great difficulty finding good jobs.
The predictable result is that far too many students will end up saddled with huge debts they are unable to repay.
This is how Hacker and Dreifus put the matter:
At colleges lacking rich endowments, budgeting is based on turning a generation of young people into debtors.
The authors note that too much debt is a problem throughout American society, not just in higher education. However, there is a special catch for the unwary student contemplating taking out substantial student loans.
Namely, the lending industry has lobbied Congress to make federally subsidized student loans “non-dischargeable.”
What does this mean? It basically means that the debt can never be forgiven, not even through the personal bankruptcy process.
On this point, Hacker and Dreifus quote Barmak Nassirian of the American Association of College Registrars and Admissions Officers:
You will be hounded for life. . . . They will garnish your wages. They will intercept your tax refunds. You become ineligible for federal employment.
The authors note, in addition, that:
. . . any professional license can be revoked and Social Security checks docked when you retire. We can’t think of any other statute with such sadistic provisions.
In summary, anyone thinking about taking out large loans to finance a college education ought to take a cold look at their financial circumstances and future prospects, before making a mistake that could haunt them for many years to come.
To read an interview, also on Atlantic.com, with Hacker and Dreifus about their recent book, Higher Education?, go here.