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BHS Students: Don't Go Into 'Debt Slavery' for Your College Education

If you must go to college, learn a trade like engineering, nursing, pre-med, even farming.

I have a young friend in a neighboring state who graduated college a few years ago with a liberal arts degree. She has way over $100,000 of student debt. Her monthly payments are similar to what she would pay on a mortgage for a small house. However, work has been sparse and for many months the debt went unpaid, racking up onerous penalties. Like 85 percent of recent college grads, she couldn't find a job that paid enough to even split a rental with friends, so she had to come home and live with her parents.

Most men dont want to get seriously involved and committed to her for fear they may become responsible for her debt. There was a recent story of a young woman with $100,000 of student debt for a photography degree who was engaged to be married. Right before the wedding, her fiance asked to see all her debt. He was surprised to see that she had $170,000 of debt and called off the marriage.

Right at the age when they should be marrying and buying a home... they aren't eligible for a mortgage as they already have too much debt. Many also have credit card debt and car payments. A lot of Baby Boomers were planning on funding their retirement by selling their homes to this generation.

Unfortunately, the politicians in their wisdom passed a law that, unlike most other debt, student debt is not dischargeable by declaring bankruptcy. Start missing payments and the penalties can double or triple the debt. So our youth are stuck with very heavy loans, interest rates and penalties... for decades. They are DEBT-SLAVES to the banks for life. Recently, student debt surpassed total credit card debt and is approaching $1 trillion dollars.

Students (and parents) PLEASE try to avoid going into debt for your education. Like my friend, DON'T assume you will get a good job and pay off the debt. You WON'T. If you love social work, check to see if there are any jobs and what they pay. Dont take on $100,000 of debt if the job pays $30,000 a year. There is much more need for good plumbers and electrical linesmen and auto mechanics than another psych major or lawyer. Unfortunately, many people in our society often turn 'up their noses' at these essential and often lucretive jobs.

To be honest, DON'T major in Psychology, English, French, Sociology, History, Women's Studies, Art History, Photography, etc. And DON'T go to Law School... many are graduating with huge debt from college and law school and are waiting tables, parking cars or doing 'document searches' in the basement of law firms for $12 an hour... and the internet may take those jobs away. If you must go to college, learn a trade like engineering, nursing, pre-med, even farming.

Many kids go to college because their friends ar going, their parents want them to, or they dont know what to do with themselves. DON'T. It's OK to take off a year and work and save money. I took off a year and worked in the Big Horn mountains of Wyoming (very exciting). Then I painted houses and cut lawns and pumped gas while taking two pre-med courses at an inexpensive college (with some of the best professors I ever had) and lived and ate at home to save money. (I already had a French degree but that is a different story.) Start at a community college for the first two years. These schools are excellent and very inexpensive. Many parents want the expensive, prestigious school but two of my kids went to WestConn and got a good, and much less costly, education and have NO student debt now.

BHS students and parents, I am wishing you all the best. This is a very exciting time of year as you get accepted at the college of your dreams, as you go off to be on your own, as you begin working on your glorious future. PLEASE, do it with eyes wide open  Please try to NOT take on debt that will weigh you down for decades. 

Please go to sites like studentloanjustice.org go to "Victims," then click on a state and weep... but learn from their experience.

And best wishes to all of you

Robin Appleby M.D.

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Steven DeVaux January 25, 2012 at 10:30 AM
Dr. Appleby, Outstanding advice to our high school students who need pragmatic, practical views on the next twenty years of their lives. Parents should never push their kids into debt that they ultimately can't afford simply because they are searching for "bragging rights" on the fields in town. Debt is destroying young lives just as much as drugs are yet there are no groups working to fight debt. Indeed, Brookfield's children are encouraged to go into debt. Learn, but learn smart. Go to school, but go to school smart. Today, Harvard's MBA's in a recent poll said the opportunties aren't here. Take your time sizing up the world and it's opportunities and proceed, but with caution. The way the new game is stacked, being shackled with debt until you're 40 is no way to go, especially since you can't escape them.
Dr. Robin Appleby January 25, 2012 at 11:18 AM
Please go to Studentloanjustice.org........go to Victims.....and put the curser on the State of Maine. Read the story of 'Witheld' ..."I am only thirty years old and my life is ruined. Who would want to marry someone with this mess. How can I have kids with this debt. I will never own a home or a new car....I am shackled in the poverty that I grew up with..." I wrote the article before I read this. (I was seeing this with my young patients). Please take her seriously.
Dr. Robin Appleby January 25, 2012 at 11:36 AM
For those of you thinking of law school.....read about Mark in Maine who borrowed $ 60,000, is unemployed, and now owes $ 170,000. He wants to sue the Department of Education. Also read about Brenda and Pat. It is such an exciting time right now to get into college, leave your parents, go off to pursue your dreams.....In the exhilaration of the moment, it is so easy to 'sign on the dotted line' and not realize that you are committing yourself to decades of debt-slavery. Even worse, many students will realize that college is not for them, will drop out with NO degree....but still have tens of thousands of dollars of debt....Years from now the 'nice' people at the collection agencies (read how they treat you) will tell you, "No one MADE you take the loans...!" Many people, especially our young adults, are clueless about debt, but it is just a terrible thing that is being done to our youth. They are so naive about life.
Bob McGarrah January 25, 2012 at 01:05 PM
Dr. Appleby-- Sound advice in this new age of unique economics - we are not in the last century of good jobs and high pay. The new reality is exactly as Dr. Appleby described. I would add that there are many scholarships available at some top name schools, do the research and you may be rewarded. Military service is also an option for those who may need some growing up time. Tough times are our near term outlook, those who planned wisely (didn't take on large debt) will do OK - not great - but OK. Thanks for a well stated perspective. Good Luck to all our youth.
Laura Orban January 26, 2012 at 05:15 PM
Hi Dr. Appleby. I agree with much of what you wrote. Taking on tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt as a young adult is a very difficult way to begin. I think debt snowballs from there (why not a car, then a house, then credit cards?) College costs need to be considered in the context of earning potential. Many schools, in name and reputation don't carry the weight in the workplace that their price tag suggests. As a nation, we have to do something to make college affordable. You point out a real problem - that the cost of higher education is out of control, yet the suggestion of not taking on debt doesn't solve the problem on any kind of large scale. To stay competitive, we have to educate a generation that is competent with technology and science. We don't have a global plumbing crisis. We have a global energy crisis. We need minds that will be trained to solve that and other difficult problems. A debt-free education is not accessible to all, but a quality higher education should be. I don't disagree with you, I just think there needs to be more to the solution. We don't place the proper value on education in this country, and the fact that it's cost-prohibitive to most people is just another symptom of that.
Coue January 27, 2012 at 12:44 AM
Great advice. Brookfield has a pride issue regarding pursuit of the trades, but it's not a weak pursuit. And I agree with you, too, Laura. What if WestConn, in partnership with local schools, created an "interim year" where students who were "undeclared" or generally ill-prepared to start on a career-focused educational path could take gen eds and work at internships to help them better understand what they want to do?
Steven DeVaux January 30, 2012 at 10:51 AM
Dr. Appleby, Reflecting on the issue, is problem created by banks willing to "over loan" student loans due to the fact that the student can not default, even in bankruptcy? Is it caused by over zealous parents keen on giving their child an education at any price? Is it because colleges are overpaying for instructors? Are students counseled to borrow for a liberal arts degree that doesn't command the salary of a neurosurgeon? Is it because of societal pressures of education at any price? These are young kids acquiring debt at barely the age of majority. Should there be a law not allowing them to borrow until the age of 21 giving them time to see it all?
Dr. Robin Appleby January 31, 2012 at 02:02 PM
Good morning Ben. I completely agree with you about a student feeling free to pursue their dreams in Theater, English, History, Art History, Psycology, etc. This is what makes our lives worth living. I am a French (literature) major. It was a life changing experience for me to study in Paris. The country is beautiful, the food is excellent, the culture is magnificient, the people very friendly. The poetry of Charles Baudelaire makes all the effort to learn French worthwhile. I encourage students to pursue their passions, where ever it takes them. That being said, the economic situation in the country was much different 40 plus years ago. College was (relatively) inexpensive. I know people who went to private schools and studied and worked and graduated with NO debt. It was relatively easy to get a good job as America still produced a lot. Even French majors, classical Greek, Anthropologists, etc. could get good jobs and were not weighted down with debt. What I dont want to see is excited, starry eyed, clueless young people taking on huge amounts of debt that they can never repay. I see this all the time. In their enthusiasm, many commit themselves to a life time of debt slavery and misery. When you read the horrifying stores at Studentloanjustice.org...victims...state..you realise that each of them had dreams also and now the debt is destroying their lives.
Dr. Robin Appleby January 31, 2012 at 02:18 PM
Good morning Laura. It is so true what you say. About making college affordable, I was trying to lay out the problem and offered some suggestions, but I hoped that people would come up with a lot more solutions that we could work toward. Like you, I fear that America is falling behind in science and technology. It takes a lot of work to get degrees in those subjects and I think that many students are not willing to work that hard. I think they also fear that they will not get a job as there is so much outsourcing and foreign engineers brought in to undercut the salaries. I so agree with you that there is a global energy crisis. I tried to address this with the article on "Living a Low Energy Lifestyle". I believe in Hubbert's Peak and think that conventional petroleum peaked in either 2005 or 2008 and is declining. We Americans are about 5 % of the world's population and use about a quarter of the petroleum for our energy intensive lifestyle. It was different in 1970 when we had half as many people, pumped almost 10 million barrels a day, and mainly used our own oil and the money stayed here. Now we are sending $ Trillions of dollars abroad, sometimes almost half our trade balance, to buy oil. Yet very few seem to want to cut back their energy use, downsize their huge homes and SUVs, drive less, better insulate their homes, grow some of their own food (it takes 400 gal of fuel equivalent to feed an American), heat their homes with wood.
Dr. Robin Appleby January 31, 2012 at 02:41 PM
Good morning Coue. I like your ideas and thinking 'outside the box' about education. We certainly can't keep doing the same old things in a world that is changing so fast. ABout the trades, I read an article that we honor and estime a 'poor grade philosopher' and look down on a 'top grade' plumber or electrician. I wish that electricians, plumbers, mechanics, and the electric linesmen that worked so hard during our blackouts, etc., could be afforded more status and respect....but ask them how many times they have been distained and rejected by women because they didnt go to college. For a lot of men and boys, being outside building things, cutting down trees, excavating, etc., just fits them a lot better than wearing a tie and sitting in an office or bank. Margaret Mead noted that after millions of years of evolution, young men are ontologically prepared to sail across oceans, conquer continents, explore mountains, etc. Their hormones are raging ....so what do we ask them to do ? Try to sit still in a library and study subjects that often dont seem very relevant to them.
Colette Sturm January 31, 2012 at 05:00 PM
Dr. Appleby, I believe some of your comments on this issue are rather sexist in nature. I teach BOTH of my children that, with hard work and perseverance, much is possible. If my daughter wants to explore mountains and sail oceans, I will not tell her that only boys are "ontologically prepared" to do so. And if my son wants to attend college, I will not tell him that raging hormones will make it difficult.. You insinuate that women should be more concerned about getting married (apparently by staying debt-free) than following their life's passions, especially if those dreams involve low-paying jobs such as helping the impoverished in the role of a social worker. I agree that this is not the same climate of 40 years ago; however, the difference I discern is that in our family, as well as in most families that I know, both sons and daughters are taught that gender is not a barrier in life's journeys, and self-worth is much, much more encompassing than mere marriage prospects.
David Propper January 31, 2012 at 05:24 PM
Dr. Appleby, any other sweeping generalizations you would like to send our way? Your concept of not taking on too much debt is fine but I know many people who took on the majors that you say to avoid who are now successful.
Linda Taylor February 01, 2012 at 12:16 AM
I am trying to fathom how one could get an impression of the aticle being "sexist". By no means does he imply that women should be headed for the altar as a goal to aspire to. The article was more to convey that the high cost of college should be considered when making college plans. Everyone should be free to follow their "passion". At some point someone has to strand up and say "at what cost"? That (and I agree with Laura) is what is lacking in this country. There are way too many kids that can't explore their "passion" because of the cost. The article was meant to be taken as some well meaning advice and just like all advice you are welcome to "take it or leave it".(By the way, I know for a fact that Dr. Appleby would rather see the world run by women! )
Dr. Robin Appleby February 01, 2012 at 01:58 PM
Ms. Sturm. I was hoping that we could have a serious conversation, warning our (sometimes naive) children to be careful about taking on too much debt and the consequences of being a debt slave to the banks. When people start using the words "sexist, racist, homophobe, etc." these are conversation killers. These terms are actually personal attacks. They degrade the conversation, the user and the person being attacked. You have a lot of very good ideas and I agree with much of what you say. However, please refrain from personal attacks and labels. It is a very sad thing when people of differing opinions cannot talk (and listen) to one another. It is imperative that we all try extra hard to be polite in our civil discourse. Unfortunately, the country is more divided and polarized than at any time since the 1850s, and we all know how that ended. You have a lot to add to the conversation and I hope that you will continue to speak. Best wishes
Dr. Robin Appleby February 01, 2012 at 02:06 PM
Ms. Sturm. I was hoping that we could have a serious conversation warning our (sometimes naive) children to be careful about taking on too much debt and the consequences of being a debt-slave to the banks. When people start using the words "sexist, racist, homophobe, etc." these are conversation killers. These terms are actually personal attacks. They degrade the conversation, the user and the person being attacked. You have a lot of good ideas and I agree with much of what you say. However, please refrain from personal attacks and labels. It is a very sad thing when people of differing opinions cannot talk (and listen) to one another. It is imperative that we all try extra hard to be polite in our civil discourse. Unfortunately, the country is more divided and polarized than at any time since the 1850s and that did not end well. You have a lot to add to the conversation and I hope that you will continue to speak out. Best wishes.
Michelle February 01, 2012 at 04:35 PM
Dr. Appleby--Yet again, I completely agree with you. I have known this for many years as I have watched my friends go away to college. I have sat by and watched numerous friends of mine who went away to college waste so much money. Either on the tabs of their wealthy families or as their own debt. I have also observed that some of this is because of the parents influence to "keep up with the Jones", as if it is a reflection on the parents success as to where their kids go to college. Its a wild whirlwind that parents and students get caught up in. I think its important to stay grounded, realistic and take the time to really see what is right for each individual student. College is not something to go into lightly, it is a serious debt. I know too many of my friends who don't even use their degrees. They have since changed their minds as to what direction they want to go in life. Or, the fact that several of my girlfriends have degrees but have decided to stay home with their children instead with no interest what so ever as to going back to their once desired field of work. Colleges have gotten so out of control with costs and a lack of jobs certainly has changed the landscape. Just because a student goes to college and invests a fortune doesn't guarantee a job or success. Great article!

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