If “common sense” were truly common, we wouldn’t really need a word for it, would we?

If you give people money to do something, they will take it. If you give them more money to do the same thing, they will take more money. Put another way, the more money you provide for a good or service, the more the apparent cost of that good or service will be.

It seems so simple, doesn’t it?

Not simple enough for higher education policymakers, naturally.

Federally guaranteed student loans, as a cause-and-effect relationship, have made a college education unaffordable:

Secured financing of student loans resulted in a surge of students applying for college. This increase in demand was, in turn, met with an increase in price because university administrators would charge more if people were willing to pay it, just as any other business would (though to be fair, student loans do require more administration staff for processing).  According to Forbes, the average price of tuition has increased eight times faster than wages since the 1980s. In 2018, the Federal Reserve estimated that there is currently $1.5 trillion in unpaid student debt. The Institute for College Access and Success estimates that in 2017, 65 percent of recent bachelor’s degree graduates have student loans, and the average is $28,650 per borrower.

The government’s backing of student loans has caused the price of higher education to artificially rise; the demand would not be so high if college were not a financially viable option for some. Young people have been led to believe that a diploma is the ticket to the American dream, but that’s not the case for many Americans.

Financially, it makes no sense to take out a $165,000 loan for a master’s degree that leads to a job where the average annual salary is $38,000—yet thousands of young people are making this choice. Only when they graduate do they understand the reality of their situation as they live paycheck-to-paycheck and find it next-to-impossible to save for a home, retirement, or even a rainy-day fund.

And yet there are far too many people profiting from the current arrangement for any real hope of change.

29 thoughts on “Unexpected

  1. In order to keep the pipeline filled, loan guarantees are no longer enough. As low IQ’s come to dominate an ever growing percentage of the population admissions criteria must be adjusted to accommodate them.

    GPA and admission testing is being replaced with “demonstrated interest”, whatever that means.

    If you want to know what that looks like as a finished product, just look at pro sportsball players and subtract the money. Race, gender and deviant sexuality studies take no unique skill, have no market are are therefore compensated accordingly.

    The only path to financial success for future college grads is elected office.

    Meanwhile, welders, especially petro-chemical pipe and sanitary welders are making salaries in the mid to high six figures. So are electricians that are not bound to union wage limits.

    Never forget, friends; we did this to ourselves. The reprobates haven’t operated in the shadows since the 1960’s. They screwed us right out in the open and we said “can I have another”.

  2. I know there’s a few engineers here. What do you guys think the average age of your colleagues is? In my field (controls and automation) it has to be 40. I’m working with lots of guys that are at least 60 years old.

    I have not seen a summer intern for years. Partly because I’m surrounded by auto and aerospace giants that act as vacuums, it’s true, but we’re not small potatoes.

    I’ve been told (by people that work there) that Boeing outsourced a lot of the programming for the 737 Max to India.

    Was that because it’s cheaper, or because all of our CS grads are writing apps for mobile devices, or both?

  3. And yet there are far too many people profiting from the current arrangement for any real hope of change.

    This is very true, but it doesn’t take into account that the culture emphasizes the importance of a college education. This is a long standing belief that goes back some 70+ years, it predates the ease of getting “federally guaranteed student loans” and is the true driving force behind all the knuckleheads in college.

    Note, I described it as a belief. It involves faith. Facts bounce right off. Only the bitter experience of a “a $165,000 loan for a master’s degree that leads to a job where the average annual salary is $38,000” will solve it. One person at a time.

  4. Swiftee;

    As you are probably aware, the talent drain in the trades, is just as bad. A high school buddy of mine, just retired from the HVAC industry at 63. He was about as high as he could go on the union scale, pay wise, has had two rotator cuff surgeries over the years and wanted to retire at 58, but according to him, companies were asking these retiring guys to hold off for a couple of years, due to the fact that the younger generation isn’t signing up. On the other hand, the unions are making the problem worse, because they are so desperate to get dues paying members in to subsidize their fiscally irresponsible pension plans, that they are signing up immigrants that don’t speak English and don’t know the trade.

    A colleague of mine, has a 25 year old son that wasn’t college material and liked working with his hands. He went to Dakota County Vo-Tech and learned welding, to the point where his instructors (according to my friend) said that every one of his beads was “damn near perfect. Before he even graduated, he had seven offers. He ended up with an equipment dealer, at $85k per year, plus a $10k signing bonus and a company truck.

  5. Oh, yeah! thanks, boss. OK, two people at a time. One to end up with “a $165,000 loan for a master’s degree that leads to a job where the average annual salary is $38,000” and one to “[end] up with an equipment dealer, at $85k per year, plus a $10k signing bonus and a company truck”.

  6. I’m retired, Swiftee, but when I left there was a “diversity” of ages in the area of data storage (covers a broad spectrum of skills).

    That said, however, the area in software programming that tilts strongly to the Old is the hardware-software interface, the bring-up of boards, and understanding low-level programming (like reading/writing assembly language, understanding core files, etc).

  7. Joe Coulombe, aka ‘Trader Joe’ died last month. The man knew his market. Observing that the country was filling with college graduates, he tuned his business to (in his words) “the over-educated and the underpaid.”

    My only criticism is that his market was not “underpaid”, it was overpaid – but merely believed it was worth more than it was paid.

  8. jdm
    To your point, my friend’s son, spent just over $8,000. Yes, $8,000. for his welding diploma. The young man is well grounded and is a really good kid, besides. He’s buying his first house, using the $50,000 down payment that he’s saved over the past three years. Oh, and get this. He lives at home for now, but does chores there and INSISTED on paying rent, albeit modest, of $500 per month, which is all his mom would allow him to pay. Gotta love the fact that the kid isn’t a moocher off his parents.

  9. That said, however, the area in software programming that tilts strongly to the Old is the hardware-software interface, the bring-up of boards, and understanding low-level programming (like reading/writing assembly language, understanding core files, etc).

    That is probably because assembly language doesn’t translate to developing mobile and web based programs, and that seems to be where the big money is (back in my R&D days at good ol’ Raychem, my first programming project used an 8080; what a nightmare, lol).

    You know, now that you mention it, I realize the development of new CAN drivers and protocols pretty much stopped with Ethernet/IP, and that was 20 years ago, whew!

  10. I’ve seen a fair amount of cases in engineering where, especially in outstate manufacturing facilities, the engineering is held down by a small group of people in their fifties and sixties as they try to mentor and fail to keep young engineers in their twenties who use the outstate opportunities as a first job before they get a “real job.” Overall, the distribution of engineers is better in the Silicon Valley based companies I’ve worked for, and worst in older manufacturing facilities held by holding companies. In the holding companies, the only guys who stick around are the guys with kids who don’t want to move.

  11. Swiftee, older engineers with low-level skills can get all the work they want, pretty much anywhere they want. As contractors. At least this is what I was told by a head-hunter or three.

    CAN? I assume you meant CANbus, yes? I was writing CAN bus drivers no more than 10 years ago from scratch. And board bring-up very often involves writing new networking drivers from Ethernet/IP down to i2c. And then afterwards the “clicky-clicky-scroll programmers” (as opposed to software engineers) took over and the low-level guys would head out to the next gig.

  12. The thing that strikes me about all the people living with college debt and car payments- a majority of them either also own a house (with mortgage payment) or pay a lot to rent a fancy apartment. When we hear that people in Europe drop their jaws at hearing how much college is, they probably don’t also hear how high home ownership is, which might make them less sympathetic to the US college grads.

    Yes, college is too costly here, and the government programs don’t help lower the price of college. (Just like Medicare for All would actually increase healthcare costs.) But we are also a wealthy country. Instead of the government funding everything, we have some private money funding us- the banks that allow us to live on debt. People try to pay it off, but then we have governmental laws that allow for bankruptcy (which also probably allow for people to assume more debt than they otherwise would). I have seen people go bankrupt. It is not something that I would want to have to do, but for those that have gone through it that I have seen, it hasn’t disrupted their lives or changes their lifestyles.

    I tried to help a co-worker connect the dots the other day of how the government allows for all this debt. But, they never got past how college is just “too expensive for those who want to be doctors and lawyers,” which I found to be an odd argument.

  13. Related to the need for low-level skills, those without can’t debug crashes and other related problems. The seldom valid excuse of a hardware problem become the standard fallback.

  14. Swiftee;

    Did you, by chance, ever have to deal with any of the old mainframe operating systems? The worst one that I ever worked with was Honeywell’s GCOS. It stood for God Can’t Operate the System.

  15. The seldom valid excuse of a hardware problem become the standard fallback.

    lol yeah…”Eh, the controls guys will make it work” is often heard from the mechanical guys standing over a mangled prototype.

  16. Back in the 70s I took out two $1500 student loans (at 7%) to pay for college. I only took out the second loan because I had the opportunity to spend a semester at a college in England before I graduated. Those two loans basically covered the tuition expenses, and most of my books over 3 years. I don’t think that would cover a single semester now (but there are some lovely new buildings on campus).

  17. The foolishness of people who expect that a degree in the liberal arts will lead to a successful career in the arts: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/feb/27/a-dirty-secret-you-can-only-be-a-writer-if-you-can-afford-it

    According to a 2018 Author’s Guild Study the median income of all published authors for all writing related activity was $6,080 in 2017, down from $10,500 in 2009; while the median income for all published authors based solely on book-related activities went from $3,900 to $3,100, down 21%. Roughly 25% of authors earned $0 in income in 2017.

    Nobody thought of producing literature as way to earn a living until about 1750. Shakespeare made his money from producing his plays, not writing them. American universities award over 40,000 bachelor’s degrees in English lit every year. How many people earn a living writing under their own name? Maybe 10,000?

  18. Interesting info, MP. I’ve always told my children that making a living in the “entertainment” field is well-nigh impossible without a lot of talent and even more luck. Friends of mine who were talented musicians, writers, actors, aka “entertainers”, all knew someone more talented than them who ended up as baristas and waiters. Nice to actually have some numbers. Thanks.

  19. I wouldn’t tell anyone not to pursue a career in the arts, if that is what they want — but have a backup. Wallace Stevens’ poetry is far better than anything sweated out by any of today’s poets, and Stevens sold insurance for a living.
    The article is a good read. The author seems to realize that she just doesn’t measure up, that despite her education and her great desire to be a celebrated author, she is to blandly white & bourgeois to write what she needs to write.
    My estimate of ten thousand writers making a living at their craft is probably far too high. A lot of writers work at some other job (even writing) on a salary. Night Writer is involved in this business, perhaps he can enlighten us.

  20. Well, thanks, MP. “Don’t quit your day job” is good advice for a writer, or at least for me. Even Wendell Berry, who I admire, chucked his writing professorship to go into farming (while writing). It has probably helped his writing. Though I like writing, and have done it since I was a child, I found I don’t like hanging around “writer types”, talking about writing and making art. Quick background: When I was in 8th grade I really enjoyed being on the school paper and thought journalism would be a way to make a living doing what I liked to do. Six weeks before graduating with my journalism degree, though, I realized (or finally admitted) I didn’t like the field or the people. At all. Much the same way as I feel about “serious writers”. (It was the time of All the President’s Men, and everyone was going to be Woodward and Bernstein.) Basically, by an Act of God, I was offered a corporate position (for $35/week more than the best newspaper offer I’d had) for a small company, initially to do newsletters but once they found out I could write I ended up writing marketing materials, speeches, doing “media relations” because I could speak the language, and other things. Aside from a couple years at an ad agency and a year of freelancing, corporate has been my life, and has led to a pretty good career and income. Last summer the head of our European offices took me to lunch and proclaimed me Official Sense-Maker for all the social media writing they were doing in the region. So I’ve got that going for me. (Continued to next comment, as I think there’s a word limit.)

  21. As for my writing jones, the 5+ years doing the Night Writer blog was very helpful and satisfying, and even gave me the thought that with the discipline I had built up I could transition to longer forms, so that’s why I lapsed the blog. Turns out, however, that I’m a sprinter, not a marathoner; an essayist because there are too many things that interest me, but nothing interests me enough to focus on one idea or story. The thing about being a Night Writer, is that after a day of sense-making for others, I can be too tired to work on craft for the sake of craft. Perhaps if, like Heinlein, I had had to write, and sell, in order to eat I would have found a stronger voice; more likely my wife and children would have starved to death. I submit things from time to time that I’m proud of, but my voice and sensibilities don’t fit the modern style and time, and only Mark Helprin can pull that off.

    For my daughter, it may be different. She’s far more talented and dedicated than I, and for her, there can only be writing. She was once so seized by an idea for a story while we were at Keegan’s that she wrote the whole thing in ball point pen on a fresh pad of sticky-notes because it was the only thing to write on. Her head would explode doing what I do. When she was 16 she basically turned a NANOWRIMO piece into a novella that won her $1000. Now she works a part time job and writes the rest of the time, and I’m happy my income allows her that freedom (which may have been the main reason behind the Act of God 40 years ago). She does long for total independence, but this works for us now – and she’s a damn fine and creative cook, too! She has a small group of writer friends who don’t make her (or me) want to puke and they meet and critique each other’s stuff. Perhaps one day she’ll be the one in 10,000 (or 100,000) that “suddenly” makes some money at it. We have friends in the music industry, climbing their respective ways up to being “overnight successes” while working other jobs, but the one thing we all know is that in the creative arts, there is nothing more common than talent. If you have the good fortune to catch lightning in a bottle (and resist the temptation to crawl into that bottle afterwards), there may be a living in it. I guess I would say that it’s best to write not because there’s nothing else you can do, but to write because there’s something inside you that makes it the only thing you can do.

  22. Six weeks before graduating with my journalism degree, though, I realized (or finally admitted) I didn’t like the field or the people. At all.

    Great line.

  23. NW, I too, enjoyed reading this.

    Coincidentally, my daughter enjoyed writing and was encouraged by her teachers in high school. She also liked theater, so she pursued that in college. Thankfully, her first choice of college out of high school was Northern Michigan U. Despite repeated calls and emails requesting her status, the bastards didn’t tell her until the first week of August that she was not accepted. She was crushed and had no back up plan, so she worked in retail as many hours as she could until the following year. This led her to attending Vermillion CC in Ely, saving us a butt ton of money, to get her AA. Then, she went on to Columbia College Chicago and received her BA in Theater Arts. She knew she wasn’t actor material, so her goal was to write comedy. Through one of her instructors, she got into a related course at Second City. Today, she’s 34 and after having been screwed over by Luxxotica (the optics giant that owns Lenscrafters, Oakley and Ray Ban), she worked for GrubHub and making some nice cash from her IPO options, she went to two more start ups, before landing at a clinical management firm, writing their training materials.

  24. I mentioned Wendell Berry. This excerpt from his poem “1994” has been a touchstone for my daughter and me. She even had it written on the icing of her graduation cake.

    I would not have been a poet
    except that I have been in love
    alive in this mortal world,
    or an essayist except that I
    have been bewildered and afraid,
    or a storyteller had I not heard
    stories passing to me through the air,
    or a writer at all except
    I have been wakeful at night
    and words have come to me
    out of their deep caves
    needing to be remembered.

    The way of love leads all ways
    to life beyond words, silent
    and secret. To serve that triumph
    I have done all the rest.

  25. Thanks, boss. I guess what I would say, based on my experiences, is that if you’ve got to sell out, at least be sure you get a good price.

  26. Keep up the good words, Night Writer. And thanks for your thoughts on a career in writing.

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