By Reggie Figard
Figard is a retired aerospace engineer who graduated from Virginia Tech. He lives in Franklin County
Esther Cepeda’s article “Students of all ages deserve a bailout on their loans” (May 20 commentary) boils down to the basic argument that people are hurting financially (because they made the decision to acquire debt that they have little or no way of repaying in the near future) and should therefore be bailed out by the government. To be perfectly clear, a government bailout means that you and I, Joe Taxpayers, are footing the bill. The government has no money except for what it takes in taxes. Should we be forced to repay student loans or should those who made the decision to go into debt take responsibility for their decisions?
Taking out large loans for education is no different than doing so to buy a house or an automobile. By the time you graduate high school you should be able to perform a simple financial analysis — it will cost X amount of dollars to get a degree in your chosen field and the average salary in that field is Y dollars per year, how long does it take to pay off the loan at Z percent interest? If you cannot figure this out, you probably should not be going to college in the first place.
Cepeda states that she and her husband have four master’s degrees in total which, along with their undergraduate degrees, placed them around $230,000 in debt ($1,000 per month for 10 years plus $110,000). That is a huge amount of debt, but it was their choice. Even after their bachelor’s degrees with existing student loan debt they decided to go further into debt for master’s degrees. Not once, but twice. Educated grown adults willfully decided to take on a high level of debt — their choice, their responsibility.
In explaining why she supports a government bailout for student loans she cites several reasons. The first of which is that college is too expensive today. However, the $33,300 Ms. Cepeda cites for the cost of one year’s tuition at an in-state public school is incorrect. U.S. News reports in “What You Need to Know About College Tuition Costs” (9/19/18) that the 2018-2019 school year average cost of tuition and fees was $35,676 at private colleges, versus $9,716 for state residents and $21,629 for out-of-state students at state public schools, and for in-state students at a two-year institution or community college the average tuition and fees amounted to $3,570.
One cost-effective approach is to attend an in-state two-year college for your basic courses and electives then transfer to an in-state four-year college to finish up your major degree requirements which would run less than $27,000 on average. Or you could go to an in-state college for four years at a cost less than $39,000. According to the credit scoring agency Experian the average car price in 2019 is a little over $34,000. Either of these two approaches places the cost of a college education in the same ballpark as buying a new car. You can spend much more for a high end luxury car or to go to a high-priced college, but you should not complain about not being able to afford your decision or expect someone else to foot the bill — your choice, your responsibility.
Cepeda is correct about the hard sell from parents and society for people to obtain a college education. Parents want their children to succeed in life and view a college degree as a path to do so. The sad fact is too many people go to college to get a degree that does not help them get a good-paying job. Many of these people would have been much better off going to a technical or trade school for one or two years instead of a four-year college. This is supported by a recent study by Georgetown University, reported in Cal Thomas’ article “A solution to college debt” published in the Roanoke Times on May 15 that by next year “35 percent of available jobs will not require a college degree”. Yet people have and will continue to pursue higher education whether it will benefit them financially or not. It is their decision and thus their responsibility to pay for that education, not us Joe Taxpayers.