A while back, I wrote (yet once more) on the college debt situation, featuring the now-notorious NYU grad with $ 200,000 in debt. I received this response from a reader:
You know, I wish I was in the camp that looked at the financial situation before deciding on where to go to college. But what about those who realize they are getting themselves into an unreasonable amount of debt in the middle? There are perks in terms of facilities and recruiting (and internships which can lead to jobs). And is it worth transferring to a state (and I live in a state with a not so great school system) school after already going into so much debt?
I agree even after doing it that it is foolish to take out massive loans on the promise of a high paying job. But that promise does get more likely if you go to a school well known in its field.
So is it worth it to go $200,000 K into debt for a religious studies degree? Probably not. But if you want to go into say consulting or investment banking...
Oh, how horrible to feel the monkey of debt on your back. How horrible to be so conflicted about your choice WHILE you are in college.
Before I respond (not that I have the answers, needless to say), let's review the college scholarship reality. There are MERIT scholarships and NEED scholarships. Ivies don't give merit scholarships because they don't have to. My children got merit scholarships at schools that wanted them--where their SATs and National Merits were desirable.
Need is another matter. If you make under say, $80,000/yr--you can probably get a full need-based scholarship at any Ivy or other private school of prestige. If you are in the middle-class doughnut hole, between @100,000-180,000/yr--you will get nothing, even though an Ivy--or any private--education, may be more than 1/2 your take home pay.
My family is at the lower end of the doughnut. I realized that my kids would have received FULL SCHOLARSHIPS if one of us quit our job. Amazing! Some self-employed people of my acquaintance manipulated their income downward during the crucial pre-college and college years. While most of the kids receiving need-based scholarships ARE genuinely needy, there are ways--as a Wall Street Journal column recently put it--to "game" the financial aid system. The kid with the NEED scholarship may be the child of a cardiologist who has many business expenses--like a company car. Salaried people like us can't do that.
Anyway, the year before the big meltdown, the new prez of Harvard announced that families who made between $100,000 and $180,000 would only have to pay 10% of their income. I think Stanford may have followed suit. That would be quite a reasonable price for an Ivy education, one I could have easily fit within my frugal budget.
BUT not all kids--even the smartest and most accomplished--can get into an Ivy. I doubt my children would have gotten into Harvard, Yale, or Stanford, though they may have gotten into Penn or Cornell. Just don't know. Other private schools could not match the Harvard/Stanford plan, so those in the doughnut remained, facing a $50,000 bill.
Back to my questioner: what should a student do who has already completed one Ivy year and feels the hot breath of future debt on the back of the neck?
1. Transfer to a state school. This is not a great idea. Anyone who gets into an Ivy is wooed with goodies out the wazoo by state schools. These offers don't apply to transfers. So, you don't get the prestige of the Ivy, but you also don't get the goodies the state school would have heaped upon you as an incoming freshman.
2. People in business might disagree with the above. They would discuss the "sunk cost fallacy."
In economics and business decision-making, sunk costs are retrospective (past) costs that have already been incurred and cannot be recovered. Sunk costs are sometimes contrasted with prospective costs, which are future costs that may be incurred or changed if an action is taken. Both retrospective and prospective costs may be either fixed (that is, they are not dependent on the volume of economic activity, however measured) or variable (dependent on volume).
Behavioral economics recognizes that sunk costs often affect economic decisions due to loss aversion: the price paid becomes a benchmark for the value, whereas the price paid should be irrelevant. This is considered non-rational behavior (as rationality is defined by classical economics). Economic experiments have shown that the sunk cost fallacy and loss aversion are common; hence economic rationality — as assumed by much of economics — is limited. This has enormous implications for finance, economics, and securities markets in particular. Daniel Kahneman won the Nobel Prize in Economics in part for his extensive work in this area with his collaborator, Amos Tversky.
Still, an Ivy has some value, though what the value is, no one knows for sure.
3. Assuming the person wants to continue at Ivy U, what to do? Well, here are my frugal tips. Do not change your major! In fact, try to graduate in 3 years. It would be more cost-effective to take a few courses at Local State U than to work in the summer. You need to make sure your college will accept these credits BEFOREHAND. Colleges are often reluctant to accept transfer credits.
4. DO NOT do Study Abroad. With Study Abroad, you pay your school's tuition and fees. Hence, my son spent a year in France. He paid the state tuition, fees, room, and board. Guess what? These were covered by his scholarship! The other people in the program paid between $10,000 and $50,000 a year--for the same program. You can do your year abroad AFTER college, paying the program costs out of pocket. These are--based on my son's investigations in France--less than half the cost of private US college tuition. room, and board.
Can anyone think of anything else?