Real-world student-debt answers

Don Chafin - Contributing columnist

An interesting part of the political debate today is about student loan forgiveness and free tuition in the future. My perspective, after 41 years in the business, gives me insight into the situation, I feel.

The overarching problem is useless degrees. In my observation, too many colleges educate for education sake. Graduates wind up without the knowledge and skills that employers need and demand.

Consequently, graduates become wait staff and bartenders at wages so low they can barely live and can’t repay student loans.

I think lack of oversight by the profession and by government allowed for-profit colleges to lure too many students into programs without providing an employable degree. To me the for-profits used applicants as a conduit to get their hands into the federal treasury.

They were apparently successful. Recent tightening of regulations has pushed some of them out of business, but the student debt remains. Maybe the government does owe some relief; they should have prevented the exploitation in the first place.

The second question is how much actual teaching is funded by tuition. My experience with state universities of agriculture is that professors teach one or two courses in their discipline annually. Sixty to 80 percent of their time is allocated to research.

Should student tuition pay for their research time or their teaching time?

Solution to the problem in the future resides with parents, not government bailouts nor subsidies. Parents should ask the admissions officer and department professors: “What is the employment rate of graduates within 6-12 months of graduation?” “What percentage are employed in their field of study?” “What is the beginning pay rate?” “What is the pay rate of graduates 5-10 years out of college?”

Parents — ask, do not assume.

Fortunately, Wilmington College has not fallen into the false hope society. Applied, real-world education with a veneer of liberal arts has served our graduates exceptionally well.

Students in agriculture, science, education, athletic training, business and other areas obviously possess the knowledge and skills that employers seek. Many of our agriculture graduates are starting jobs in the $40,000-$50,000 salary range, and some are on the track to reach $85,000 in five years.

Laid-back graduates are not in those realms; success still depends upon what students do with their education and degree.

I am not in favor of free tuition; I support affordable tuition. Readily available low interest loans, parental tuition savings plans, alumni who contribute to scholarships are important financial support mechanisms for students in private colleges.

Huge amounts of taxpayer dollars are funneled to state universities. They need to be held accountable for their performance in preparing graduates. I question the teaching load versus research, and multi-million dollar sports coaches.

Whether buying a house or investing in a business, borrowing for the future is part of our free enterprise economy. Borrowing for an education has to be seen as one’s investment in one’s self for the future.

In my experience there is a huge difference in a student’s daily attitude toward classes being “free” — someone else paying the bill — and “investing in one’s self” — having skin in the game.

Freeloaders are too often absent and tempted to slip into the seven-year college program of partying and sports.

Donald Chafin is a retired Professor of Agriculture at Wilmington College.

Don Chafin

Contributing columnist