York's Poor Richard breaks with Phil: Video

Oped: The down and dirty on student debt

Chris Hertig
Spring Garden
  • The college debt crisis is a societal problem.
  • Those who quit with debt and no degree and unemployable and dysfunctional grads are an issue.
  • There are a few approaches to student debt that we can take as individuals.

Student debt in the US is a major social issue. An entire generation has been saddled with an economic monkey on their backs. Many barely survive on meager wages, and some work multiple jobs. Countless numbers have given up hope of achieving the American Dream.

Chris Hertig

It is not someone else’s problem; it is our problem.

The more noticeable parts of the debt are for-profit schools and unaccredited schools. They get the headlines. Graduate, law and medical schools may not garner as much media attention, but they comprise a major portion of the debt crisis.

The under-the-radar pieces of the problem are students who quit college with debt and no degree, students taking too long to graduate and dysfunctional students. Dropouts have diminished earning potential, which compounds their financial problems. They are caught in an economic quicksand and they comprise a major share of the debt burden.

School performance tied to exam scores

Students not graduating on time had been a focus of media attention prior to the debt crisis. Most of the blame for this is with the colleges not scheduling courses properly. Academic arrogance plays a role in this via inadequate course scheduling and sometimes downright negligent academic advising.

Dysfunctional students are a major part of the problem. That’s a part no one wants to address. Some don’t finish. Others graduate and can’t find gainful employment. All of them cause problems within the college environment. They complain, argue and fail to learn. They drive up administrative costs and drive down learning.

Roughly 8 years ago my fellow faculty members and I noticed a sea change in the students. Their view of the world was at odds with reality. They lacked basic knowledge of law, government, history, etc.  Around this time there was a dramatic rise in the use of remedial courses by colleges.

To it’s credit, York College started the Center for Professional Excellence just before this sea change occurred. The Center helps students develop into professionals.

My last summer class was a disaster. There were bad attitudes and learning disabilities. At times I couldn’t make my teaching points because students were arguing with me. In over 3 decades of teaching, I can’t recall such behavior.

And I’m not alone. A colleague of mine teaches online. He says: ”I hate my students “ They are self-absorbed and inattentive. They take no notes and ask for the PowerPoint demonstrations to be emailed to them. It may be that online teaching is largely driven by faculty desire to be insulated from the students.

And that should give us pause.

Dysfunctional students need to be openly discussed. They may graduate and drag down the institution’s reputation with employers. Hillary Clinton’s “basement dwellers” are a major social issue that isn’t going away.

A new twist on career training

A few approaches to student debt that we can take as individuals are:

Inform and educate youth about personal finance, interest rates, etc. Parents need to do this! So do schools and colleges. Young pups need to be onboard with economics before they become clueless consumers.

Assess young people for learning disabilities and work around any that appear. Informing those who need to know, such as faculty, can help manage these issues.  Don’t hide disability needlessly! It’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s just a bump in the road.

Teach young people to be curious and to listen to others. Listening is necessary for intellectual development. It shows respect for others. Employers like good listeners.

Career research! Talk to professionals about career realities. Ask for their advice before embarking on a costly wild goose chase fueled by TV and internet inaccuracies.

Career building while in college via part-time and summer jobs along with student membership in professional organizations is vital. Internships alone and volunteer work without real experience is probably an insufficient career recipe. The whole career recipe must be understood and followed. Every “ingredient” is important. The recipe tastes awful if not complete.

Understand the key words :”regional accreditation” when choosing a college.  Check on accreditation status of colleges on the accrediting body’s website.  If a college is not regionally accredited don’t go there. The credits earned will not transfer.

Carefully assess the college’s philosophies and faculty qualifications on the institution’s website. Any indications that the college is shading the truth or faculty is not engaged in their work should send up a red flag. Be critical and ask questions.

Alumni are the products of an institution. Talk with them. They provide insight and a network.

Hope this helps.

Chris Hertig lives in Spring Gaarden. He  has written and taught  on career planning and  been active in professional associations within higher education. He was a Nuclear Security Training Administrator for 3 years and a York College Professor for 28 years. He is a member of the York Dispatch Editorial Advisory Board.