How Much Student Debt Is Too Much?

Weird. I was reading this article in the New York Times about the federal government being asked to investigate financing and student loan practices regarding for-profit colleges and universities so I thought I would print it out to post on our office bulletin board. Would you believe that after I clicked the “print” button up pops a University of Phoenix ad!

That got me to thinking about how much higher education costs and what is a reasonable amount that folks should expect to pay for a degree. There are many tales out there about students who are nearly $100,000 in debt for undergraduate degrees from private or for-profit universities working minimum wages jobs. Either they can’t find a job in their field, or in the case of some for-profits, the degree is not worth anything. Honestly, this makes me sick.

Plug that six-figure loan into any online debt calculator at say, 6 percent interest, and over a 10-year period, monthly payments will be the equivalent to a mortgage ($1,100) which includes thousands in interest. Who can start out harnessed by that much debt? The promises of higher education are true when it comes to the life of the mind and the discipline pursuing a degree requires. And it often pays off for graduates, particularly ours in the College of Liberal Studies, but not for this insane amount of money.

Pew Charitable Trust study reports that in Oklahoma 54 percent of graduates from four-year institutions had a debt load of approximately $19,500 which is still debt. But, that kind of loan is the equivalent of paying for a car not a house. Actually, PCT has a program called the Project on Student Debt which recognizes that borrowing is a huge part of paying for higher education but seeks to help increase public understanding of the implications on this trend.

And while I am citing reports, the Princeton Review rates OU a top 10 public school value in terms of academic excellence and affordability. There are ways to pay for tuition aside from taking out loans, too. Just call and ask me.

Update: The College of Liberal Studies was renamed the College of Professional and Continuing Studies in 2017.