Student Debt Headlines and the Humanities Degree

The New York Times and the Chronicle have mounted a one-two this week to publicize the problem of student debt (something I’ve posted on previously here and here and here).  In an extensive front-page story from Sunday, the Times lays out the problem from the perspective of undergraduates, and the Chronicle followed up today with an analysis of graduate recipients, particularly Ph.D.s working as adjunct faculty, that need welfare and other public-service benefits to make ends meet.  Both provide extensive analysis; the Times piece in particular leverages an extraordinary amount of statistical support.

The implications of the problem are broad, now that more than half of graduating seniors are going to college.  If college is fast becoming a prerequisite of stable middle-class employment, it seems clear we need policies that provide education without burying the students under a lifetime of debt.  I was fortunate enough to attend a state school on scholarship; many of my colleagues won’t finish paying off their educational loans for a decade or two.

One place where the Times piece suffers is in its analysis of the sources of the problem.   Continue reading

Higher Education and Medicaid Costs

Sarah Kliff has a new post up about the relation between rising Medicaid costs and decreased funding for higher education. Briefly, a drop in federal funding for health services encourages states to reallocate funding for things like universities toward healthcare (particularly because Medicaid spending activates federal matching funds). Per my post the other day, you can see how this leads to a round robin effect: less Federal money at the state level encourages less funding for universities and more student debt, and in turn, more federal outlay on student loan programs. If on top of this, students are working in part to secure private healthcare, any impact that Federal legislation has on access and affordability of healthcare in the short term should help relieve financial pressure on student families. And in the long term, student access to a single payer public health plan would probably help reduce financial burdens all around (for state healthcare budgets, for universities, and for the students themselves).

Yesterday we observed a 99-minute work stoppage in support of Occupy Philly and the Occupy Wallstreet movement. One of the questions that emerged was how to encourage Penn to increase its activity in the movement. It seems to me that, given the vast amount of expertise that Penn students and faculty have to offer, one thing we might be able to do would be to draw connections like these. If there is enough discussion in public forums, I’d expect some of it to filter into the national conversation about OWS and the 99%.