Education Post SHTF

If you’re like me you’ve got kids, and you worry about their future. If you’re a bit older, perhaps you have grand-kids. I know I want my kids to have the advantages of education, and I want them to have marketable skills. I don’t know that I’ll be pushing them to go to college.

No College? I know, it sounds crazy to me, in my family it’s considered to be a rule carved in stone. “Do well in high school, get into a good college, have a good life.”  As solid as an equation, If A and B, then C.   Well, let’s just say that C is proving to be elusive for my generation. I think that’s a trend we’ll see continue. For those of you who have fond memories of college and the paying for it, let me take a moment to explain the current situation in higher education.

Financial aid isn’t what it used to be.  I am a third generation engineer. My grandfather went to college, mostly on the GI bill, with some scholarships thrown in for academics. He worked a job in college, and graduated with very little debt, if he took a full 10 years to pay it off, I’d be very surprised. A high paying job and great benefits for the next 40-odd years, he had nothing bad to say about taking on some debt to get through college.  My father, two degrees, one in Math and one in Software Engineering, he was still finishing up his second when I was in Kindergarten, but I can remember him paying the last student loan payment, and it was only my first year of high school, so he was done in less than 15 years, for two degrees.   I went to college a little early, only 17, so I had to get my parents signature on a lot of the paperwork. I had high expectations about how things would work. I had a few scholarships going in, it had been harder than I expected to get those, even with a 3.8 (out of 4.0) and perfect scores on a couple of standardized tests.  I expected to get more scholarships as I went on, and work a job or two, then take out loans to cover the rest.  That’s what my parents did, that’s what their parents did, they all agreed it was the best route for a good life. Are any of you nodding? This is what you think of right? Government loans with low interest rates, quick pay back times and lots of scholarships to bright students.

It doesn’t exist.  After half a semester of working and searching for more scholarships, I had exactly 1 more, for 50$.  My job paid a little over 8$ an hour, plus occasional tips, but my monthly tuition bill alone was close to 1000$ a month, plus living expenses and books, I couldn’t physically work enough hours to make a dent in it.  I went in tears to my Resident Assistant (the upperclassman house leader in that section of the dorm,) asking how I was supposed to make all the ends meet.  He sent me to the Financial Aid counselor.  The nice, kindly financial aid counselor listened to my (delusional ravings) of wanting scholarships and on-campus positions to make my monthly tuition payments. He then proceeded to pull out the paperwork for student loans.  With my parent’s backing I applied for those nice government backed low interest loans, and I got some of them, but they only covered a fraction of the tuition. I had to go with private loans for everything else.  The counselor assured me they worked the same as the government backed loans.  To this day I don’t know if he realized how much of a lie that was. I want to give him the benefit of the doubt, but the reality is these loans work nothing like their government backed cousins.  Private loans frequently have no guaranteed limit on interest rates and fees. They are often designed so that getting out from under them is impossible. Unlike other forms of debt, student loans are not discharged in bankruptcy. In addition, while they do offer deferrals for unemployment, disability and other hardships they do not include a deferral on interest, which continues to accrue and compound, and the time limits on deferrals are usually very strict. Assets held by spouses can be seized by private loan companies. Even in the event that the borrower dies, the balance on private loans is non-dischargeable. Instead, the remaining balance is passed on to next of kin. These things are nasty.  My monthly payments require a quarter of my take-home pay, and I’ll still be paying on them when my son graduates high school.

The private loan company he so helpfully pushed me towards was investigated a few years after I graduated, it turns out that they were involved in the act of kickbacks, bribes, “cash inducements,” or whatever term one likes to use to describe swindling, and the Department of Education was seeking $15 million from them.  They are the dominant student lender in the state, holding some $3.3 billion in outstanding loans. According to the Times, they oversaw more than 90 percent of the student loan borrowing at Iowa State and 80 percent at the University of Northern Iowa.

It’s not a problem confined to my state, other state-administered agencies are being found to have similar operating schemes, including in Missouri and Pennsylvania.

An unsustainable situation – Interest rates and tuition rates continue to rise much faster than wages. I’m not expecting as great a life as my parents and grandparents had. I don’t expect my children to have it either. I refuse to send them off to be shackled with the burden of unreasonably high loans before they are even old enough to drink their financial sorrows away.

What does that leave for education? I work with a lot of technicians and electricians who did the whole apprenticeship/journeyman thing in their local union or work crew. They have no debt to speak of, high job security and plenty of skills. Good education can still be had at some community colleges.  Be careful though, some of those are following the trend of high tuition, and not all are delivering on their promises of good local jobs with the skills you learn there.  Can you still be a self-made man? As a woman, I’m not sure if I can speak to that.. :-D but my gut says not at the present. Perhaps if we see a really bad crash, things like minimum requirements of specific (expensive) degrees or certifications could be done away with, but I’m not sure something like that is certain enough to gamble on. Excepting perhaps a farming lifestyle, but only if there’s plenty of land paid for and owned by the family.  If your high school student has recently inherited a great deal of wealth, perhaps certain degrees might be cost effective if paid for in full before graduating.  The military offers some education routes, I’m not as familiar with their in’s and out’s and the homeless/unemployed rates for vets is disturbingly high, but its an option. Do any of you read J.M. Greer, he seems to think convent/monastery type educations could make a comeback.  Parents can home school through high school already, maybe we’ll see some sort of home-school-college option spring up?

Whatever you decide, please do your children/grandchildren a favor, and don’t let them fall into the trap that college has become.  There is no such thing as “good debt” and even if there was, college quit being that years ago, and it’s time students looked elsewhere for furthering their education after high school. Post SHTF, my student loans are my biggest stumbling block. Even now they greatly contribute to my need to live an austere life. I tell my neighbors, if they don’t like seeing my compost pile and laundry, they can help me make my monthly loan payments. Surprisingly, none have taken me up on the offer.

– Calamity Jane