How to Earn a Debt-Free Degree

It’s possible to earn “a fine bachelor’s degree at a reasonable cost and without going into debt,” write Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus in The Atlantic.

But students and their parents will have to stop thinking that name-brand prestige assures academic quality. The reverse is often true: professors who are rewarded for research are less likely to spend time with undergraduates. One offshoot of the PhD glut is that excellent teachers have taken positions at two-year colleges and regional branches of public systems. Raritan Valley Community College in New Jersey, Western Oregon State University, and University of Maryland’s Baltimore County campus are a few we’ve visited and were impressed with what we saw.

A student in Pueblo, Colorado will pay $3,399 a year for two years at the local community college.  Classes are small. Instructors focus on teaching, not research. Then the student can transfer to Colorado State, where tuition is $6,985, with room and board at $8,744. The total four-year cost is $38,256.

Colorado State graduates who do well can go to elite law, business or medical school with “graduates of Tulane (who laid out $206,821) or Georgetown ($214,364),” they write.

Hacker and Dreifus predict massive defaults on student loans, “starting with for-profit colleges and rising to the Ivy League.”

The parallels with housing are striking. In both, the written warnings aren’t understood, especially on penalties and interest rates. And in both, it’s assumed that what’s being bought will rise in value, in one case the real estate, in the other the salaries which will accrue with a degree. One bubble has burst; the second is already losing air.

Banks can’t foreclose on college degrees. But student loan defaulters “will be hounded for life,” warns Barmak Nassirian of the American Association of College Registrars and Admissions Officers. “They will garnish your wages. They will intercept your tax refunds. You become ineligible for federal employment.”

Via Joanne Jacobs, Community College Spotlight.

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