Student Loans and STEM

Blog 21 Oct 10 student debt

Random thoughts generated by observing all the PYTs (pretty young things) in the grocery store on a Sunday evening:

How many of the people just graduated from universities are hamstrung by their student loans? Anecdotally, most students graduating from college are saddled with about $20,000 worth of debt. If they’ve just graduated from law school, or earned an MBA, or gotten a Ph.d. in the sciences or liberal arts, it is likely double that. At a minimum, they have to figure out a way to come up with about $300 every month, for at least 5 years.

Easy enough if they are computer science majors, or hard science types whose diploma is in high demand. Not so much for your basic English Lit. major, or, even worse, those gender studies folks. For the latter, it’s likely a struggle to find any job, let alone a job that comes with a salary sufficient to meet the debt obligation.

So, for a lot of them, it’s a future that doesn’t include a shiny new car, or saving for a few years to accumulate a down payment for that first house. No, it’s back to the parents, or slumming with a few room-mates in that edgy part of town where the rents are low enough for a group effort to pay the landlord. Last year, the Washington Post reported that the total outstanding student loan debt was $865 Billion.

Every year, our institutions of higher learning churn out thousands of graduates whose educational achievement, for the most part, doesn’t promise a future of movement up the social ladder.

It is such a waste.

Here’s what I think. First, instead of wasting more money on crony capitalism, investing in solar panel plants, and lending money to Brazilians so they can sell oil to China, let’s write off existing student loans, subject to a few simple rules. Give each debtor a 2-1 tax credit for ever dollar invested in short term Treasuries. Suspend debt repayment while saving is occurring. Once the debtor has accumulated sufficient savings and tax credits, write off the debt. Allow the student to transfer the accumulated funds to savings program created for the establishment of a 10% down payment on a house or condo. I don’t think I have to spell out the benefits to our economy of such a program.


Second, going forward, student loans would only be offered to students enrolled in a STEM degree. Remember, STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Those degrees just happen to have the highest starting salaries for new employees, represent the hardest degrees at most universities, and are those programs most needed for the US to continue as a dominant player in the world economy.

Want to major in gender studies, women’s contemporary literary issues, or African-American history? Feel free, but don’t expect a dime from the US taxpayer. Because you likely won’t be able to pay your debt, and you most likely won’t be able to find a job to support yourself. Which means the degree is essentially worthless. And that is a luxury this country cannot afford any longer.

10 thoughts on “Student Loans and STEM”

  1. I wonder how much student debt would have been reduced if colleges had been able to control costs at inflation levels? To me it’s just another example of the academic elites condoning economic child abuse. Just pass the hard job of budgeting on to the next generation!

    1. Universities controlling costs? What are you smoking? There is a very clear correlation between student loan availability and tuition. The increase in tuition has gone to more levels of administration, creation of worthless degree programs, and diversity programs. The faculty lounges are in a quandary; on the one hand all of the additional spending is philosophically appealing, but none of it has improved their income levels in any meaningful way.

      As soon as we quit supporting federal loans to any major, the money spigot will be turned off and the universities will have to face the reckoning….

  2. Very interesting idea! I would like to see it expand to cover those majoring in education and nursing – two fields with huge shortages.

    1. I would think that a RN would pretty much have to have a BS, which ought to be included in the STEM classification. Not so sure about education; that is another can of worms. Now, if a math major could get out of school and go right into teaching, then it works. But an education major doesn’t seem, to me, to be a job that fulfills a critical need in our economy going forward. Before you slap me, let me explain. I think high school classrooms need more people teaching STEM classes who are themselves STEM graduates. So, we could hopefully agree that an education major, at the secondary school level, who earns a degree in teaching in their major field, would be included in the loan program.

      1. No slapping at all. And I’ll see your STEM majors in schools and raise you one. They should be a lower levels than high school, because most girls are steered away from STEM careers way before they get to high school. Every student, but especially girls these days, need to be inspired and excited about science, math and technology from day one of formal education.

  3. A (wounded) thought on STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics):

    I can’t think of a day going by that I’m not engaged in any of those STEM activities in the wood shop, but I don’t suppose that a degree in woodworking would be included in there would it? It’s a shame: Working close to home with locally sourced, solar-produced, renewable materials. Selling to local customers (without all those huge stinky cargo ships from China), and carrying on the scientific knowledge that the wax produced in a Lac beetle’s wings (organic and renewable) when mixed with alcohol produces a beautiful, non-toxic, VOC-free finish?

    I guess things like that just don’t add enough to “the economy.”

    1. Walter,

      The craft of woodworking, like many other crafts, adds much to our economy and provides a good living to the artisan. But it doesn’t require a college degree, or student loans, and generally doesn’t appeal to the human resource managers of technology firms. It has a place in the world, just not in this discussion.

      1. Whoa, there pardner! Step off that paradigm box for a moment.

        I think what i was too-obliquely referencing there is the apparent elision of technology and the economy. To consider technology important because it helps drive the economy is akin to saying the automobile is important because it burns fossil fuel. I thought technology (and the sciences and math, etc.) were supposed to serve us, but a prevalent viewpoint we live in service to it because it serves the economy. (It does, of course, but i find that level of abstraction a hard one with which to get along.)

        It seems the STEM concept only enjoys “new” technologies. And rightly so: the “new” always seems to promote growth–albeit at any cost. That’s why i brought up the “old” technology of woodworking (for which i have both a graduate degree and student loans). Wendell Berry has a term for an idea that solves many disparate problems at once. Can’t recall what it is right now, but seems to me that the local production of an object using renewable resources might fit the description.

        Finally, the reason that (fine) woodworking does actually belong in a discussion like this is that it is a body of technical knowledge that’s almost gone. With the end of guilds and apprenticeships, college is about the only place one can learn the skill now–a skill which addresses many of the drastic ecological mistakes with which technology is now concerned.

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