Wednesday, October 31, 2007

And Here it Is...Distance Learning

Nearly 3.5 million college or graduate students, one of every five, took at least one online course last fall, double the figures of five years earlier.

... the surge is mostly among community colleges, professional programs like business and education, specialized online schools like the University of Phoenix, and public universities like Penn State and Illinois that feel obligated to accommodate far-flung residents.

Bafflingly, this article doesn't mention cost as a factor, although cost is certainly the concern that unites the institutions listed above.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Real Student Debt Problem

My latest piece for the American Prospect
is about student loan reform and what comes next: serious remedy is on offer for the elephant in the room: tuition increases themselves.

Even if reformers succeed in eliminating FFELP--cutting the lenders altogether out of federal student loans, as all the major Democratic presidential candidates have advocated--the college cost problem will not be solved. We'll lose less of the federal higher ed budget to corporate subsidies, but colleges will continue to raise tuitions faster than inflation and more and more private loans will keep filling in the gap at higher cost to students.

We can try to control tuition directly, by rewarding colleges that keep costs down and punishing those that don't. We can promote competition on cost: spotlight the best community colleges, distance learning programs, etc. Even form better ways to rate these types of programs to raise their profile a little. And we can try to limit the loans available to students. That's what restoring bankruptcy protection for private loans will ultimately do.
Just as the growth of "creative" mortgages fueled the runup in house prices, the growing availability of student loans doubtless had some influence on the rise in tuition.

Monday, October 29, 2007

The New Face of Retail

According to an excellent article in New York Magazine, the Trader Joe's store on 14th Street is staffed with college-educated, artistic, multiethnic, attractive, bohemian 20somethings mostly from well-to-do families. Why the hell are they working at a supermarket?

"The young workers are attracted to Trader Joe’s for its groovy, noncorporate aura and also because it, unlike most of the sorts of jobs arty kids do while waiting for their big break, offers health insurance...I am assigned to a warm, mid-twenties clerk who is also directing a Restoration comedy, dramaturging a friend’s show, and performing in a comedy troupe. But she has a lot of student-loan debt, so in addition to Trader Joe’s, she’s a waitress."

That's all well and good, but if people so appealing can't find real jobs paying more than $11.25 an hour, it doesn't bode so well for the economy as a whole.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Young People's Political Power

By 2010, another 17.3 million young Americans will come of age, swelling the already sizable ranks of voting-age "Millennials" – those teens and twenty-somethings coming to age in the early years of the 21st century. At 80 million strong, the Millennial generation outnumbers even the Baby Boomers by 3 million and represents the single-largest demographic age group in electoral politics, according to a recent Mother Jones article ("The 50-Year Strategy", in the Nov/Dec 2007 issue).

Polling data, recent voter turnout, and the swelling ranks and increasing coordination of the youth climate movement all demonstrate that this young generation is remarkably engaged, overwhelmingly progressive and pro-environment, and has largely rejected the "government-is-the-problem" conservative mentality that still dominates the general population .

Michigan Report

I've been doing a lot of events this fall talking about student debt & related issues. I have three more events coming up next weekend (I'm especially excited about attending and covering the Power Shift conference in DC, the largest-ever student conference against climate change) .
In my presentation I always try to strike a balance between "service" messages about personal finance and "action" messages about changing the policy equation vis-a-vis higher education and the workforce.

For some reason, the land of Michael Moore has been a popular spot; I've now spoken on campuses in Ann Arbor, Kalamazoo, Ypsilanti, Marquette, and Mount Pleasant, where we snapped the above picture at a Bennigan's with Dr. Hope May and some of her students in the Center for Professional and Personal Ethics, who were all charming and motivated as hell.
You can read the students' take on the event here.

I was at the podium answering the last question about what it was like to be a freelancer when my phone started vibrating. It was a call from an editor at 8:30 at night.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Socialist Whiner Strikes Again

My latest column on Yahoo:

Buy Now, Pay Forever

Pop quiz: What exactly is the problem with credit cards?

Monday, October 22, 2007

Public Tuition and Private Loans are Up,Up,Up

The newest College Board numbers are out:
*Total federal grant funding to undergraduates was still lower in 2006-07 than it was three years earlier, after adjusting for inflation.
*Public university tuition is up 6.6% to $6,185; total costs up 5.9% to $13,589.
*Tuition at private colleges hit $23,712, an increase of 6.3 percent.
*"even the net price, after taking into account grants and other forms of aid, is rising more quickly than prices of other goods and than family incomes."
*Private loans made up 24 percent of total education loans in 2006-07, up from 6 percent a decade ago.
*Private loans, those not guaranteed by the federal government, continued to be the fastest growing form of borrowing, totaling more than $17 billion in the 2006-07 academic year. In the same period, students and their families borrowed $59.6 billion in federally guaranteed loans.

First Boomer Applies for Social Security


Retired New Jersey school teacher Kathleen Casey-Kirschling, born at midnight on Jan. 1, 1946, applied for her government pension this week to much fanfare. Kathleen's simple act signals the start of a surge never before seen by the Social Security Administration.

"The baby boomers, there are 80 million of them and the first one has already filed for retirement benefits," said Social Security Administrator Norm Franker. "And she filed online, and we've built a new online system to help with the tsunami."

The Onion comments:

"Wait a second. Not only do I have to pay to keep them safe from terrorists, I have to pay so they can retire, too?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Generation Debt: The Gawker Version

I think I will have to adopt the Gawker folks. They are definitely warriors in the GenDebt cause. (Thanks for the generous acknowledgement guys! Although I guess I should just be happy they don't mock me. That's basically a hug in their world.)

Who Will Crush My Generation's Dreams Already?

At heart, "Generation Lost," as I call them, is stuck in an extended adolescence, refusing to come to grips with reality. This "Generation Blank," as I also call them, refuses to support itself because all its members are selfish praise-junkies who don't know the meaning of hard work and self-sacrifice.
Or hell maybe they're all still leaning on their folks because the boomer middle-class dream was revealed as a vicious scam and the social safety net was spent and legislated away by our parents once they got theirs? Who knows!

In the end, though, you don't really need to worry about any of this if you don't feel like it.

So will Gen Y be able to deal with the realities of kids-and-a-mortgage adulthood? The answer is that they probably won't do any better--or worse--than their parents did.
Ha ha ha sure, we'll do just fine with our student loans and shitty credit and subprime mortgages and service industry jobs.

Moving U.P.

I had a great time visiting Northern Michigan University in Marquette last night. The weather was perfect, my hotel had a view of Lake Superior, and the students were really nice. In my presentation I mentioned some free websites that are easy to use to manage and track your spending. These are Wesabe, Mint, and Geezeo. There are a bunch more popping up out there on the web as well. I recently signed up for Mint myself.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

20something Trend: The Medical Charity Party

No, I'm not talking about an AIDS gala; I'm talking about a bash to raise money for a friend with an unexpected medical expense who doesn't have health insurance. (As the blogger says: who does?)

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Bryant Park Project

I'll be on the Bryant Park Project tomorrow on NPR, towards the end of the show , talking about the Sallie Mae deal-or-no-deal.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Hillary's Higher-Ed Platform

She, too, has now come out in favor of abolishing FFEL loans (all of those made by banks, rather than Direct Loans). Other great notes:

*Radically simplify the aid-application process.
*Interesting: require a four-year tuition guarantee for state universities, so if you enter in 2008, your bill won't be 50% higher by the time you're a senior.
*$500 million for community colleges.
*$250 million for apprenticeship/ job training programs.

More Dirty Tricks from Private Lenders

According to Andrew Cuomo, private student lenders are engaging in aggressive, deceptive marketing to push their expensive loans on students.
"Elite Financial Group, a lender in San Diego, has solicited business with letters from its “Federal Loan Division” on stationery with an eagle logo that looks very much like something the federal government might use. The letters warn that “failure to respond could result in higher interest rates and increased payments.”"

And Sallie Mae filed a New York Freedom of Information Law request (really!) to get SUNY to turn over the names, ages, graduating classes, majors, telephone numbers, home mailing and e-mail addresses of "all admitted and enrolled students for academic year 2007-2008."

The request came from the company's "Direct Marketing Division," suggesting they were planning to use the personal info to push private loans to students. (Thanks to New America Foundation for the scoop)

Why should private student loans be allowed to be marketed directly to students in the first place? Barnard's experiment proved that college financial aid officers can dramatically reduce the use of these loans with just a single conversation.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

My Favorite Comment About Feminism

Re: my article on Women in Generation Debt:

1 star out of 5

This article is quite inaccurate. Women make more than men. If you compare apples to apples, .ie men and women in the same field, same experience, and same education, women make more. Articles like this are ridiculously misleading. The presentation of facts needs to be more organized and better explained. Poorly written ... Anya is hot though.

Yahoo Column: Women in Generation Debt

Interesting reactions to my latest column,
A lot of people seem to have trouble accepting the fact that men still earn more than women on average. I don't know what to tell you folks except look at the numbers. Here's more about the wage gap.
And more:
And more:
If you want more info on the column,
Go to On My Own Two Feet.

Mr. Moustache is "Baffled" by the Youths

Thomas Friedman's take on the college generation in today's NYT is pretty accurate, actually. Accurate on the circumstances, not on our response. (Note seasonal Jack O' Lantern at left).

"But Generation Q may be too quiet, too online, for its own good, and for the country’s own good. When I think of the huge budget deficit, Social Security deficit and ecological deficit that our generation is leaving this generation, if they are not spitting mad, well, then they’re just not paying attention. And we’ll just keep piling it on them.

There is a good chance that members of Generation Q will spend their entire adult lives digging out from the deficits that we — the “Greediest Generation,” epitomized by George W. Bush — are leaving them. "

Are young people "just not paying attention"? Or are we focusing on areas where they can really make a difference / living lives of quiet desperation, disempowerment and disenchantment with our waning empire? Does Mr. Friedman really think that if we all stood up and marched, President Bush would fix the Social Security crisis? Just like President Johnson immediately ended Vietnam?

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Sallie Mae Sues

No, it ain't a hillbilly name...
Two private equity firms, J. C. Flowers & Company and Friedman Fleischer & Lowe, and two banks, JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America, were fixing to take Sallie Mae private for $60 a share. The largest holder of federal student loans would've gone from being a government-sponsored entity to a privately held company in the space of just four years.
Then Bush signed the College Cost Reduction Act , with about $20 billion in subsidy cuts to Sallie Mae and other federal student loan providers. JC Flowers saw this as enough of a "material adverse effect" to Sallie Mae's business to walk away from the deal
(also spurred by upheaval in the credit markets that are making all of these types of deals look shakier). They made a counteroffer--$50 a share with "warrants" worth $4 to $5 more if Sallie Mae's business improves. Now Sallie Mae is suing to force them to hold to the original deal.
Will they succeed? Probably not.
Why should we care? I don't think it's good for a company that depends entirely on government subsidies to be privately held. I also don't think student loans should be a corporate cash cow.

Hillary Clinton on Higher Ed

A Q&A (via email) in the Chronicle.
On student loans:
Too many borrowers around the country are overly burdened or treated unfairly as they repay their student loans. ...More than ever, students are financing their college costs by borrowing as the cost of college is rising and grants are becoming less readily available. The burden of student loan debt alone can put people in economic handcuffs and force them out of important, but low-paying professions, such as social workers, teachers and police officers.

On lifelong learning:More than 50 percent of students are now going to college later in life, working full or part time while they attend, or raising children, and this is particularly true among minority populations. I also hear from people all along the campaign trail who want to upgrade their skills midway through their careers so they can change jobs and grow professionally. I believe we have to create a robust system of lifelong learning to help prepare every American to compete in the global economy...I also want to find ways to support colleges that are designing night courses and other flexible scheduling, like compressed courses, and providing child care, in order to make it possible for all students even those with significant family responsibilities to complete their degrees.

This is all right on, although she doesn't come out for the eradication of FFELP loans as Edwards and Obama have. And when she talks about college costs, she only talks about increasing federal aid. I'm increasingly convinced that that's just not gonna do it: there needs to be some cooperation between states, universities, and the federal government to hold down tuition increases.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

20something Life, City by City

The Wall Street Journal has a column for GenDebters called Act One with an interesting series on lifestyle and career prospects for recent college graduates in various cities. The New York one, which ran today, is nothing we haven't heard before (high rent, lots of jobs) , but the other cities, San Francisco, Atlanta, DC and Minneapolis, are more interesting. There's also a map.
Guess the town from each quote!

1) "At a taqueria, you can get a gut-busting meal for under $5; the weather's not extreme, and I just sold my car because I'm trying to be more green."

2) "I have my own little one bedroom apartment [$850 a month], and I love it...All my friends in other cities have roommates."

3) "It's not overwhelming and I like that."

4) "I didn't move here to become a blogger, but I moved here and became a blogger."

5) "I would rather experience a ton and not save any money for a few years than be bored in another city."

Ending the Plight of the Perpetual Student

About 50% of those who enroll in PhD programs drop out, and many linger for 8,9, 10 years before achieving their degree. According to this article, some exemplary private colleges like Princeton are using better funding and more support from fellow students and professors to get folks out the door in 6 years instead. Other colleges, of course, are loading their students down with teaching loads and stingy stipends, using them as cheap academic labor.
Caveat scholar!