A modest proposal: No student loans till 30

Frank Fleming offers a modest proposal to solve the student loan and debt problem: Set a minimum age of 30 for college loans.

In a sane world, if a teenager walked into a bank and said, “I would like a $50,000 loan to major in modern dance,” the bank manager would call security, who would then pummel the stupid kid, and everyone would end up smarter for it. But what happens instead is that Uncle Sam walks by and says, “I like his moxy. Give him the loan; I’ll guarantee it. And I’ll make sure he can’t ever get out of his stupid choice through bankruptcy.” So they give this giant amount of money to a dumb kid, and then the colleges are waiting outside, saying, “Hey! They’re giving huge loans to moron teenagers; we need to get some of that money!” So we have colleges preying on these gullible saps, increasing costs while their diplomas plummet in value in a complete mockery of our capitalistic system.

We don’t let 18-year-olds buy alcohol,  Fleming points out. Why let them borrow huge sums of money? If the borrowing age for student loans was set at 30, borrowers “might actually have some idea of what money is and what debt means.”

And having had to make a living without a college education, by age 30 they’ll hopefully understand what they need higher education for and get a functional degree instead of majoring in something like philosophy (and it’s kind of ironic, because if you major in philosophy, you obviously do need more training in how to think).

Fleming also has suggestions for the inevitable bailout of student debtors:  “We should at least randomly select some of them to fight to the death for our amusement in the Debt Games.”

Subsidizing student loans benefits middle-class — and sometimes affluent  — students at a time when grants to low-income students are about to go over a “funding cliff.”


About Joanne


  1. And how exactly will these students learn how to manage debt and how loans work? It seems to me that what would be more effective is capping the maximum size of the loans so that teenagers can be stupid with a small amount of money, and through being stupid, realize that being smart is better for them (without ending up horribly in debt).

    A cap on the amount of loan money students could get would also help curb rising costs in colleges, which as I have read before, may be occurring because loan money is artificially allowing colleges to charge more.

  2. Where does this leave someone who aspires to go to medical school? Going from high school, to college, to medical school, to residency straight through takes a person into their thirties. It takes a minimum of 11 years to college, med school and residency. Not being able to get loans until 30, could prevent students from considering this pathway.

    If someone was interested in some of the hard sciences, delaying entry into college could actually cause a loss in the skills needed for progressing towards a degree.

    This proposal has some merit, but wouldn’t work universally well.

    • tim-10-ber says:

      physicians use to have a way to have some or all of their debt forgiven by going to rural markets for X period of time. is that program still in effect? it could be used for teachers and nursing…not for lawyers – there are far too many of them; STEM maybe

      • You can have some/all of your federal loans forgiven if you do primary care (internal medicine, family medicine, etc) in an “underserved” aka inner city or rural area. But that doesn’t solve the problem of how to get the loans under thirty.

    • Where does this leave someone who aspires to go to medical school? Probably in a better situation then the one they’re in now.

      Since I rather doubt that medical schools have been so ethically pure as to not have eagerly participated in the egregious run-up in the cost of education a reacquaintence with the realities could not help but be beneficial to the schools, the education they provide and, not least, the students they undertake to educate.

      • Well, as a recent (within the last decade) graduate of medical school, I can tell you that there are some out there that don’t generate tremendous amounts of debt. I only ended up with $80000 in loans. And now I can afford to pay them off Medical school and residency are exhausting, and I can’t imagine trying to do them now at 34 years old. And I certainly wouldn’t have my children since I waited until after residency to have them.

  3. I think it could work – as long as exemptions are made for STEM majors, pre-med, and pre-law…

  4. Roger Sweeny says:

    OMG, no loans for pre-law. Less than half of law school graduates are finding jobs in law. Technology is changing the profession in ways that probably mean a permanently lower demand.

    Every month it seems like a new law school admits that it gave out inaccurate “placement” figures. Many fewer of their graduates had found law jobs than the school initially reported.

    The country might be better off if half the law schools just shut down at the end of this school year.

    • Sean Mays says:

      A permanently lower demand for lawyers? Praise be!

      It’s interesting, there are claims that the brain isn’t developed until the mid 20’s and yet we loan out all this money to kids who can’t drink. If you can’t anticipate future consequences, how can you form a contract; but I’m not a law guy.

      Something needs to change, because unlike David Wees; I’m sure that all this gov’t money washing about is driving edflation up faster than the CPI. At this rate, 99% will need loans, and that’s not a good thing, especially as the value of the degree decreases.

      • SuperSub says:

        Don’t worry, they’ll just go into public policy and politics. Maybe a few community organizers. You know, the truly valuable members of society that we can’t live without.

      • yet we loan out all this money to kids who can’t drink.

        I’m sure the situation after taking out all the loans leads to a lot of drinking.

        • Supersub says:

          My school used to start issuing loan refunds to students on a specific date each semester. You could drink for free the whole week with the number of people buying rounds.

  5. So where does that leave women who want to start a family? The 30’s are pretty much the last chance most women have to get pregnant without expensive fertility treatments. I sure as heck wouldn’t have wanted to attend college from 30-34 rather than 18-22.

    Only a man would come up with such a dumb idea…

  6. Reality check, people!

    Did anyone else on this thread just complete the college application process? Because I did.

    It would require some real changes in the whole situation to put limits on those loans. My graduating senior daughter is going to Oberlin, as her older brother does. She applied to something like 9 schools and was accepted to all but one of them, and all the private colleges send the same type of offer.

    Here’s my rough paraphrase of how it goes.

    The college accepts your child and then follows up with its financial aid offer, having viewed your FAFSA and CSS profile:

    Your Expected Family Contribution is X (say, $25,000/year).
    Say tuition/room/board is $50,000 (though at Oberlin it’s now more than $57,000).
    The offer will look like this:
    Merit scholarship $8,000
    Need-based grant $12,000
    Loan 1 $2,000
    Loan 2, $1,800
    Work-study $1,200

    Bam, that’s your offer. Now, you CAN come back with a request for more need-based aid — but this isn’t evident to many families; it’s not explicitly stated.

    Well, we did come back with a request for more (with both kids) — and got it, and with a little help from the grandparents are able to send them both to this $57,000/year college with no loans. Not everyone pulls that off, so for a lot of students, the loans are the difference between accepting and declining.

    As you can see, the offer is presented as — congratulations! You’ve been accepted! Of course you’re taking these loans as an inherent part of the financial aid offer! Sign here!

    It’s out of touch with reality to imagine that teenagers are walking into banks and asking for college loans. I’ve had two children go through the college process in the past three years and have followed their friends’, and my friends’ kids’, experiences with the college application process. These loans are simply not based on any of them walking into banks and asking for irresponsible loans. So erase that image, because it’s inaccurate.

    In fact all college counseling everywhere encourages applicants not to take cost into consideration, on the assumption that they’ll manage. And, again, managing means those financial aid offers arrive, including that $5,000+/year in loans.

    I was discussing this with a (childless) veteran journalist who covers high ed, and he had had NO idea that when colleges talk about financial aid offers, that inherently included loans. I would bet that a lot of press coverage misleadingly fails to address that at all.

    Joanne, I’d like to know how Downtown College Prep manages this with its graduates. Very low-income students with savvy financial aid counseling can probably pull it off, and the top tier colleges (Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford) offer genuine full rides to low-income students. (I have a young friend who was homeless for most of high school and who is on full ride at Stanford including room & board — a graduate of Balboa High School in San Francisco Unified, BTW). But do you know if many DCP graduates are burdening themselves with loans to get through college?

    • Downtown College Prep offers classes for parents and students (in English and Spanish) on how to apply to college and how to pay for it. The college counselor makes sure students understand their options.

      Students are urged to apply to state universities, unless they can earn a good scholarship to a private college that will leave them owing no more than they would at a public school. Some students have gotten full rides to Mt. Holyoke, Williams and Santa Clara University, but most don’t apply to top-tier schools. They go to Cal State schools or less-competitive UCs, such as Santa Cruz or Merced. I think 39 percent of grads, including all undocumented students, start at community colleges to save money.

      DCP raises scholarship money from private donors to help students get to a bachelor’s degree without borrowing heavily. (The scholarship kicks in junior year for those who start at community college.) But most do take out loans.

      • Thanks. I mean, I think it’s a really, REALLY bad idea to graduate in debt, and my kids would have been at a CSU or community college if the only way to attend Oberlin (or the other options) had been borrowing money. I assume that’s what Frank Fleming would endorse.

        But here we have created this wrongheaded culture that college is the only acceptable path after high school — ignoring the staggering cost of college (and that’s not even adding the income not earned during time attending college). We’ve all but eliminated vocational-career-tech education, so college reasonably appears to be the only option. Then the college admissions system offers a “financial aid” package that automatically includes loans, almost presented as an “opt out” situation. And then we sneer as though kids are walking into banks and irresponsibly demanding huge loans for majoring in basketweaving.

        This really isn’t right.

  7. OK, hilarious but …

    The dismissal of liberal arts degrees continues to represent a truly naive understanding of “education” and marketability.

  8. Fred the Fourth says:

    OK, for those in favor of loans, why exactly are we spending this $ now, today? I know a kid who graduated MIT, Phi Beta Kappa, in Bio-Engineering, who has not found a real job more than 6 months afterward. Try to explain to me why I should be backing loans to someone who wants to write yet another thesis on What Shakespeare Learned from Chaucer?

  9. This is a ridiculous proposal. I’m not sure how many students need loans, but loans wouldn’t be made available as early on as they are if they were not needed. If students are told that they must be at least 30 years old to receive loans, you might as well be telling some students that they must wait about 10 years before they can move on to university.

    By the way, Frank Fleming has a very disgusting sense of humor. Beat up a student for asking for a loan? That’s his version of a sane reality? Calling students stupid and dumb? Wow… Not sure who he thinks he is, but he is not funny and definitely deserves no respect since he can’t show it himself.

  10. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Y’all know Frank’s a satirist/humorist, right?

    That his blog once suggested we nuke the moon? (Hence the logo)


  11. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again…

    If you want to fix student loans, get rid of the government subsidies and fix the law so that student loans can be discharged into bankruptcy like any other debt.

    To those who would point out that this would lead to fewer loans, absolutely. The whole student loan machine is designed to feed money to the higher education industry while saddling students with debt. It’s a cruel, twisted form of government subsidy.

  12. Deirdre Mundy says:

    The subsidized Stafford loans aren’t the problem– they’re capped at a fairly small amount, so you CAN’T graduate with more than 23K in debt that way– and depending on interest rates, that can be fairly manageable (though the cap was much smaller, closer to 10K for 4 years, when I was in school)

    The kids who majored in underwater basketweaving at podunk college and who have 150K in loans weren’t going the Stafford loans route. They were going the ‘private loan with parental cosigner’ route. Which is why their parents are now on the hook for their slacker children. Maybe the problem is with parents who won’t say “no”……

    Also, for any people looking at colleges– the old schools with big endowments have pretty generous financial aid packages. If you have a smart kid, Harvard or the U of C may actually be quite a bit CHEAPER than State U….

    • @Deirdre Mundy is right. Oberlin is costing us less than a UC would. We have some advantages (including genuine need and a fairly high skill level at making our need clear).

      Graduating into this job market with $23K in debt is no small thing, though.

      If slacker kids and parents who won’t say no get some blame, the “everyone must go to college or be damned and scorned as failures, and all other options have been cut off” culture gets more, in my opinion. I haven’t really done the legwork to pin down the ultimate sources of that wrongheaded notion. I know the SIlicon Valley Education Foundation pushes it, so they are a culprit, but one of many.

      By the way, my kids ARE art majors (musicians, getting double degrees with an academic major as well, but where that will lead, who knows). Andrew Ferguson’s book “Crazy U,” which I first learned about from a post of Joanne’s, discusses the benefits of even such “soft” courses of study. The benefactors of Oberlin College and Conservatory are paying for their studies (I say gratefully).

  13. SuperSub says:

    Just saw a segment on the morning show that featured a 5-year old art “prodigy” that was selling her works for $10,000+. The funny moment came during an interview with a art gallery owner, when asked about the girl’s work, he mentioned that it looked as good as the work produced by 4 year art majors.
    Quite frankly, while I think he meant it as a compliment towards the girl, I took it as an (deserved) insult towards a large part of art majors.

    And we are paying for their studies.

  14. BadaBing says:

    We don’t let 18-year-olds buy alcohol, Neither should they be allowed to vote.