Max Student Loans at $2,000?

Mark Cuban wrote the following in a blog post offering advice to the Occupy Wall Street protesters:

3.  Limit the Size of Student Loans to $2,000 per year

Crazy ? Maybe, maybe not.  What happened to the price of homes when the mortgage loan bubble popped ? They plummeted. If the size of student loans are capped at a low level, you know what will happen to the price of going to a college or  university ? It will plummet.  Colleges and universities will have to completely rethink what they are, what purpose they serve and who their customers will be. Will some go out of business ? Absolutely. That is real world. Will the quality of education suffer ? Given that TAs will still work for cheap, I doubt it.

Now some might argue that limiting student loans will limit the ability of lower income students to go to better schools. I say nonsense on two fronts. The only thing that allowing students to graduate with 50k , 80k or even more debt  does is assure they will stay low income for a long, long time after they graduate ! The 2nd improvement will be that smart students will find the schools that adapt to the new rules and offer the best education they can afford. Just as they do now, but without loading up on debt.

The beauty of capitalism is that people like me will figure out new and better ways to create and operate for profit universities that educate as well or better as today’s state institutions, AND I have no doubt that the state colleges and universities will figure out how to adapt to the new world of limited student loans as well.

Finally, the impact on the overall economy will be ENORMOUS. There is more student loan debt than credit card debt outstanding today. By relieving this burden at graduation, students will be able to participate in the economy.

We could argue about the $2,000 number, but he brings up some interesting points.  As I've mentioned in previous posts we are at the beginning of what will hopefully be 7+ years of our children attending college, and as you can probably imagine we're quite interested in how this all works. Last year when our oldest son was considering schools to apply for we had a few questions we asked him over and over when he was looking at private or out-of-state schools – "Is the difference in tuition between NC State (or any other state school) and Davidson (or any other private school) really worth it?  Will the curriculum meet your needs that much better? Is going to that school a necessity to get you into the grad school or job that you're considering?"

When you start crunching the numbers even a state school's tuition, fees, books and room and board add up to a hefty chunk of change. Without student aid you're looking at roughly $10,000 a semester and if a student graduates in four years that's $80,000.  Multiply that number by three or four and you have the total damage from a private school, and as they say in debates about the federal budget, "$10,000 here, $10,000 there and next thing you know you're talking serious money."

So how do people pay for this?  Some scholarships, some grants and lots of student loans. Unfortunately those student loans often lead to financial trouble, and in many cases students just can't, or won't, pay them off. In the '80s I worked as an intern for the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) and back then delinquent student loans were a bigger problem than they are now.  As I made hundreds of copies of NASFAA's position papers and delivered them to the Hill I learned that schools were going out and hunting down students for whom they could secure government-backed student loans without regard for the student's actual ability to perform in the classroom.  As a result there were a ton of schools that were raking in the dough as huge chunks of their students dropped out. That means that in the worst cases people were accumulating huge piles of debt and not even getting a degree in return.  I seem to remember some reforms being implemented that helped reduce the drop out and default rates, but unfortunately loan default's are still a problem as highlighted in this Sep. 12, 2011 NY Times story:

According to Department of Education data released Monday, 8.8 percent of borrowers over all defaulted in the fiscal year that ended last Sept. 30, the latest figures available, up from 7 percent the previous year.

At public institutions, the rate was 7.2 percent, up from 6 percent, and at not-for-profit private institutions, it was 4.6 percent, up from 4 percent…

Although the new overall rates are the highest since the 1997, when they were also 8.8 percent, default rates peaked in 1990 at more than 20 percent…

Although for-profit colleges, which typically serve low-income students, enroll only about 10 percent of the nation’s undergraduates, Mr. Kvaal said, their students made up 150,000, or almost half, of the defaults…

The problem may be even greater. “Some research has shown that as few as one in five defaults at a for-profit college occur in the two-year window,” said Debbie Cochrane, program director at the Institute for College Access & Success, which runs the Project on Student Debt. “The extent of borrower distress is barely touched upon with these rates.”

The high default rate at for-profit colleges, the fastest-growing sector of higher education, has become an increasing concern for the government, since such institutions depend on federal student aid for more than 80 percent of their revenues. Last spring, in internal documents gathered from the publicly traded for-profit colleges for hearings on the student debt problem, the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee found that some companies estimated that their students had staggeringly high lifetime default rates — in one case, 77.7 percent…

Colleges with excessive default rates, either exceeding 40 percent in the latest year, or 25 percent for three consecutive years, can lose their eligibility for federal student aid programs. This year, five institutions — four of them for-profits — lost eligibility, Mr. Kvaal said.

In part because of the high default rates at the for-profit colleges, the department recently adopted regulations designed to curb recruiting abuses, and cut off eligibility for federal aid at programs that leave students with high debt loads and poor job prospects.

Reading this causes me to question whether or not capping student loans would actually lead to more for-profit schools stepping up to compete as Cuban suggests, but I do think he's right to call into question the whole higher education funding model.  If school's were suddenly faced with the loan spigot being turned off how would they adjust?  Would we see an explosion in affordable online learning initiatives?  Would we suddenly see the corporate world sending the message that alternative learning is fine by them, because quite frankly not enough students were coming from the limited number of schools left standing thanks to their massive endowments?  If so, would we see student's flocking to alternative forms of learning because they know that it could be the ticket to a brighter future?  Would they be happy without the keg parties at the Sigma Xi house?

Cuban's thrown out an idea that begs lots of questions and they're the kinds of questions I think we need to be seriously considering.

1 thought on “Max Student Loans at $2,000?

  1. Bo Houff

    It has been a long time since I was in college, but then, as now, there were lots of options. Many were like me; we used most of the options: scholarships, grants, loans, work study (an on-campus job) and summer and holiday employment. Some had outside jobs while in school, while others had to work to save money for college. I remember making monthly payments of $33.32 for several years after getting out of college until the loan was paid back. I can see the temptation to borrow more and have a more fun college experience, but the piper has to be paid sometime.


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