$188K in college debt — and she can’t write

At 25, Katie Brotherton is working two jobs, but living in a parent’s basement, dependent on Mom (or Dad) for food, gas and health insurance. She owes $188,307.22 for two college degrees at private universities, she writes on Cincinnati.com. (She doesn’t specify her major or her occupation.) Sadly, Brotherton didn’t learn to write or think clearly — and she certainly didn’t learn to do the math.

My pursuit in excellent education is rooted in a value system that promotes progressive thought for the betterment of the individual as well as society. Education is a core tenet and vested interest of the functioning democratic society. Upon that basic assumption and principle, I am overwhelmingly incensed by the silent epidemic of crippling student debt.

. . . this particularly sensitive conversation is being ignored by our mainstream consciousness. Perhaps I should be ashamed for buying such an unaffordable education and internalize my debts as personal failures. Perhaps my mistakes warrant pained silence. But silence breeds apathy, and in regard to the welfare of the American economy, I want to humanize the numbers and give voice to this reprehensible problem.

Due to reckless neglect, student debt will be the financial ruin of my generation, and there is an incredible need for a public discourse addressing this reality and its grave consequences.

I want answers and clarity as to why this happened. How did I arrive at this position in life so financially handicapped and disenfranchised? I followed societal expectations, earned an education and am employed. I will gladly repay my debts within the comfortable reason of affordability.

. . . I am owed answers simply because I have the right to pursue happiness. And since I am not alone in this debilitating epidemic, my peers deserve their voice as well.

Overborrowing and underthinking will get a gal in trouble, writes Bryan Preston on PJ Tatler.

Millennials are “the screwed generation,” some argue. They were told to “invest in yourself” and take on “good debt” to win a guaranteed college premium, writes Megan McCardle on The Daily Beast. As tuition goes up and up, the college premium is eroding for humanities and social sciences majors. For marginal students, college is a bad bet.

 The price of a McDonald’s hamburger has risen from 85 cents in 1995 to about a dollar today. The average price of all goods and services has risen about 50 percent. But the price of a college education has nearly doubled in that time. Is the education that today’s students are getting twice as good? Are new workers twice as smart? Have they become somehow massively more expensive to educate?

College costs rose faster than inflation by 1 percent a year till the mid-1980s, says Ohio University economist Richard Vedder.

“Now I see them rising 3 to 4 percent a year over inflation. What has happened? The federal government has started dropping money out of airplanes.” Aid has increased, subsidized loans have become available, and “the universities have gotten the money.”

“Even with these high prices, you’re still finding a high return for individuals who are bright and motivated,” says Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman. On the other hand, “if you’re not college ready, then the answer is no, it’s not worth it.”

And don’t go to a non-elite private college unless the financial-aid deal brings the cost down to the state university level.

Correction: As a commenter notes, Brotherton earned one of her degrees at Miami of Ohio, which is a public university.

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  1. The question of just WHY college costs have risen so quickly as they have is one I am not hearing asked. Maybe I am alone in noting the irony of college professor (to be fair I suppose, law school) Elizabeth Warren bleating about the affordability of education when she has been part of the cadre of people who have driven up said costs, or at the least, done nothing to stop the rise.

    Reading the comments of this woman, I have to confess, I am struck by the lack of articulation and critical thinking on display. If these are the writing and thinking skills she obtained for $188k, I would say, she deserves a refund.

  2. She can write OK, because she gets the point across as to why her education is lacking in the very first sentence.

    “My pursuit in excellent education is rooted in a value system that promotes progressive thought for the betterment of the individual as well as society.”

  3. Deirdre Mundy says:

    Heh. The lack of writing skill was the first thing my husband and I noticed about her too. Especially the misuse of prepositions– heck, even my third grader would flag that!

    She was clearly robbed. At a bare minimum, that amount in loan debt should buy her a passing acquaintance with Strunk and White.

    On the other hand, this fits with a trend I’ve noticed– the kids with the huge debts aren’t the ones who went to elite, traditionally ‘expensive’ schools– those universities use generous financial aid packages to help students make it through with reasonable debt loads. Rather, the crushing loans belong to kids who went to schools with less name recognition.

    In other news, I’m going to have to downgrade my ideas about Miami U of Ohio– I always assumed it was a good smaller college in aleague with Kenyon….

  4. Deirdre Mundy says:

    a league. Don’t try to type with a baby who knows how to click ‘post’ with her toes.

  5. Stacy in NJ says:

    “Education is a core tenet and vested interest of the functioning democratic society.”

    This is true but she conflates purchasing -with borrowed money- a degree from a 4-year institution with an actual education. That degree is a credential and it may or may not offer much value for the money and time investment. An actual education in the USA can be dirt cheap if you aren’t particularly interested in the credential. Her problem is that she trusted us (the general us – society, the system, our culture) when we signaled that a credential was the same as a worthy education. I can forgive her confusion because so many folks have such an intense vested financial interest in maintaining the fiction. Their livelihood depends on continuing to dupe the young.

    I would mock her ponderous, trite prose if I didn’t feel so very sorry for her.

  6. Miami University in Ohio *is* a public university (a so-called public Ivy) that always lands on various publications’ “best value” lists. Tuition for in-state residents is $13,000 this year.

    Maybe she was on the five-year plan, maybe she borrowed heavily from private lenders at astronomic rates, but something’s out of whack with $188,000.

    • Deirdre Mundy says:

      It does say she went to Xavier University as well. Maybe she also went for a masters? And borrowed the maximum allowable rather than the most she needed? And deferred payment for a while? With unsubsidized loans, deferring payment while you’re in grad school can make costs add up quickly, and she wouldn’t have been able to borrow that much in SUBSIDIZED loans….

      Subsidized loans = basically free money for college.
      Unsubsidized loans = really dumb purchase

      It seems like a lot of people don’t realize that the two sorts of borrowing are not the same thing!

      (My husband and I only took on subsidized loans for college and his gradschool. As a result, our interest rate is something like 1 % and we’re not rushing to pay them off. But our parents warned us off unsubsidized loans as basically ‘sold my soul to the company store’ territory. If my school had recommended I use those, my parents would have told me to suck it up and go to one of the less prestigious places that would give me a free ride.)

      • My assumption was that she got a masters at Xavier. If we figure $13K/year for four years at U Miami of Ohio, then $30K/year for two years at Xavier we get about $110K. Add in $1K/month for living expenses (rent, food, beer, whatever, …) we get pretty close to $188K

        • Beth Martin says:

          I got a bachelors and masters degree in the southwestern Ohio area, paid for it myself except for owing Dad $300. I worked the year around, paid my living expenses, bought a used car, paid it off plus insurance, etc.

          How to get two degrees without borrowing money.

          1) Live at home. Work 20 – 30 hours a week. Attend a low cost college, or community college. This is not easy, but if want to get a degree and not go into debt, it works.

          2) For graduate school, don’t go UNLESS, you find a company to work for which will pay your tuition for night school because it benefits the company.

          I got my masters from Xavier University, going nights and weekends, at no cost but the books. Who paid? My employer? Why did they pay? They wanted me to move from analytical operations into Accounting/finance, so they paid for a Masters in Business Administration.

          Go Muskies.

          • I’m not trying to justify her education financing decisions one way or another. I’m just trying to show *HOW* someone might rack up $188K of debt in six years at these two schools.

            For what it is worth, I think she has made a bad financial decision. I get the impression that she believes this now too.

  7. Yes, her writing is not so good…she evidently got the idea somewhere that the goal is to use as many big words as possible, rather than to be clear and concise.

    The sad thing is that most college grads are even worse writers, at least from what I’ve seen.

  8. She uses the passive voice too often. This leads to awkward sentences.

    • I noticed that too.

      • Deirdre Mundy says:

        Her misuse of prepositions hurt my head.

        • I find younger writers often use prepositions in ways which set my internal alarms ringing. It’s not necessarily wrong, as languages do change over time. Some of her phrases could also be due to a local dialect, perhaps?

          At any rate, to try to define the characteristics of her writing which could be improved, I’d start with working on using active voice whenever possible. Also, she should spend time on the simple exercise of trying to write without adjectives and adverbs whenever possible. I suspect she could improve her writing by dropping the adjectives and all forms of the verb “to be” from her prose.

          • I doubt that it’s a local dialect. Many people confuse using lots of words with good writing. Phrases like “due to,” and words like “basic” and “clarity” are put in because they sound to her like classy writing, not because they add meaning. “Internalize” and “disenfranchise” are buzzwords that don’t add meaning either.

            I just had my 12yo read the paragraphs quoted above. She says, “She uses too many big words. It’s not clear enough. She should have used simpler words–it just sounds like you’re trying to be what you’re not.”

          • Deirdre Mundy says:

            “Pursuit in excellence” occurs only one other time online, according to Google. If this girl is using ‘dialect,’ it’s one belonging to people who don’t use the internet.

    • Stacy in NJ says:

      The use of catch phrase cliché is more painful than the preposition thing.

  9. Well, this IS a problem, no matter that her writing was florid and juvenile. Here’s my guess: about four months after a republican of some sort is elected into the White House (it will happen, eventually), this will suddenly become a “national crisis.” I think we, the public, will eventually be asked to forgive at least part of this debt. Hey, no one twenty years ago would have thought we would be asked to pay for other people’s mortgages, either.

    • Stacy in NJ says:

      There are many things that will immediately be elevated to the status of crisis once (as you say -some point) we have a Republican president: $4 gas prices, food inflation, credit card debt, and the murder of ambassadors. But until then these are just inconveniences.

      • Deirdre Mundy says:

        Hey, how could you expect the President and the Secretary of State to know that LIBYA was DANGEROUS! It’s not like there’s a sign ‘Welcome to Libya, a historically dangerous land” when you go in. And Qaddafi was bad, but he’s gone, so now it should be all sunshine and rainbows and crowds throwing flowers.

        I mean, come on, it was a US consulate in a recently ‘liberated’ city! It’s not like it was a Harold’s Chicken shack on the south side of Chicago, or some other place that needs more than ‘lock-key’ security!

        • Deirdre Mundy says:

          Seriously, life has moved beyond parody at this point….. Maybe the Cincinatti woman is the voice of our new world order…. where the Onion reigns supreme…..

          • Stacy in NJ says:

            Today the Fed will probably announce another round of QE (money printing) and the stock market will be up again. You gotta laugh or you’ll cry. We’re living in the post-modern Weimar Republic with our own version of the Threepenny opera.