Showing posts with label Kevin Carey. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Kevin Carey. Show all posts

Friday, January 15, 2016

"Oh what a tangled web we weave": The Department of Education's three-year student-loan default rates are deceptive

Oh, what a tangled web we weave
When first we practice to deceive!

Walter Scott            

Last September, the Department of Education announced three-year default rates for the most recent cohort of student-loan borrowers.  According to DOE, three-year default rates went down dramatically over a two-year period.   The overall student-loan default rate for the FY 2012 cohort of borrowers was 11.8 percent, significantly lower than the FY 2010 cohort default rate, which was 14.7 percent.

Indeed, the for-profit sector saw a spectacular drop in three-year student-loan default rates--from 21.8 percent for the FY 2010 cohort down to 15.8 percent--a 25 percent drop. Amazing!

But of course DOE's three-year default rates are meaningless, particularly for the for-profit schools. The for-profits have kept their three-year student-loan default rates down by aggressively encouraging their former students to obtain economic-hardship deferments, which keep borrowers off the default roles even though they are not making loan payments.

When we look at the 5-year default rate across all sectors, the default rate is twice as high as the three-year rate. Twenty-eight percent of student borrowers defaulted on their loans within five years of beginning repayment, compared to DOE's 11.8 percent three-year rate. In other words, more than one out of four postsecondary students default on their student loans within five years.

In fact, the student-loan default rate and nonpayment rate for the for-profit sector are truly alarming. Forty-seven percent of for-profit students default on their loans within five years.

Although the for-profit sector has the highest default rates, many public colleges also have shocking numbers.  Kevin Carey of the New York Times examined the percentage of students who had paid nothing on the principal of their loans after five years and discovered that the nonpayment rate at several public universities is 20 percent or more: University of Houston, University of Cincinnati, and the University of Louisville among them. At the University of Memphis, Carey reported, 35 percent of former students in a recent cohort had not paid back a dime on their loans five years after entering repayment.

Historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) have very high student-loan nonrepayment rates. "Of the 25 private colleges with the worst nonrepayment rates, 22 are historically black," Carey wrote. Lane College, a HBCU located in Tennessee, had a five-year student nonrepayment rate of 78.2 percent.

No one who contemplates these numbers can reach any other conclusion other than this: the federal student-loan program is a catastrophe. And, although millions of people have improved their lives by borrowing money to obtain postsecondary education, millions more have been ruined.

Who has been hurt the most by the federal student loan program?

  • Students who attended for-profit institutions, where almost half of former students default on their student loans;
  • Students who attended HBCUS, which have very high student-loan default rates;
  • People who borrowed money to get law degrees or MBA degrees from second- and third-tier institutions;
  • People who obtained liberal arts degrees from high-priced private institutions and who acquired no skills that will enable them to get a decent job;
  • People who started postsecondary programs and didn't finish them.

The media has reported widely that Americans are carrying $1.3 trillion in outstanding student-loan debt. But this underestimates the reality. This number does not include accumulated interest, loans from private banks, and credit-card debt that students run up while they are in college. Accumulated indebtedness associated with postsecondary education  is at least $1.5 trillion.

That's $1.5 trillion dollars in debt carried by just16 percent of the American adult population--the 16 percent least able to bear the burden. And because the consequences of default are so draconian, this significant percentage of Americans is greatly suffering.

And what is the higher education community's solution to this calamity? Long-term income-based repayment plans that will keep borrowers indebted for the majority of their working lives!

If the federal government had devised a plan to intentionally destroy higher education, shrink the middle class and cripple our economy, it could not have invented a better plan than this.

References

Kevin Carey. Student Debt Is Worse Than You Think. New York Times, October 7, 2015. Accessible at: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/08/upshot/student-debt-is-worse-than-you-think.html?_r=1

Adam Looney & Constantine Yannelis. A crisis in student loans? How changes in the
characteristics of borrowers and in the institutions they attended contributed to rising
loan defaults. Brookings Institution, September 15, 2015. Accessible at: http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/projects/bpea/fall-2015_embargoed/conferencedraft_looneyyannelis_studentloandefaults.pdf



Thursday, December 17, 2015

Interest, fees and penalties are burying millions of student-loan debtors--not the amount these poor people borrowed to go to college

Sometimes, huge problems can be analyzed best by simply boiling down the complexity of a situation into a simple phrase.  For example, "It's the economy, stupid," crafted by Democratic political strategist James Carville, summarized a central theme of Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign.

Likewise, we can summarize at least one huge element of the student-loan crisis by focusing on one core fact: accrued interest, penalties and fees are burying millions of student-loan debtors, not the amount of money these poor people borrowed to attend college.

For example, I have a friend on the East Coast who borrowed a total of about $55,000 to obtain a bachelor's degree and a graduate degree; and he paid nearly $14,000 on those loans.  Unfortunately, my friend suffered a series of unfortunate life events--health issues, divorce, and job loss.  Now at age 67, he is living entirely on Social Security and a small pension. The Department of Education is garnishing his meager retirement income, and he is living on only $1200 a month.

A few weeks ago, my friend filed an adversary complaint in bankruptcy court, seeking to discharge his student-loan debt based on the Bankruptcy Code's "undue hardship" provision. Guess how much the government says he owes? $120,000--including accrued interest and $23,000 in collection costs. That's more than twice the amount my friend borrowed.

And this case is not atypical. In Halverson v. U.S. Department of Education, Stephen Halverson borrowed about $132,000 to obtain two master's degrees. Just as with my East Coast friend, life happened for Mr. Halverson: a job loss, serious health issues, a divorce, medical expenses for a child, and expenses incurred to care for an aging parent.

At times, Mr. Halverson was unable to make payments on his student loans, but he obtained a series of economic hardship deferment, and he was never in default.  Nevertheless, when Halverson was in his 60s, it was clear he could never pay back his student loan debt. By the time he filed for bankruptcy, his total deb had ballooned to almost $300,000--more than twice the amount he had borrowed. And Mr. Halverson's job at that time only paid $13.50 an hour.

Various public-policy analysts have argued that there is no student-loan crisis because most people borrow relatively modest amounts of money--typically about the amount of a car loan. But these analysts ignore two key facts:

1) Even a small student loan is a huge burden for someone who doesn't have a job or who has a low-income job.

2) People who are unable to make their monthly loan payments must obtain an economic hardship deferments or enter a long-term repayment plan in order to avoid default. And both options mean that the debtor's loan balance goes up due to accruing interest.

Thus we see people like Liz Kelly, featured in a recent New York Times article, who owes $410,000 on her student loans, far more than she borrowed to attend college and graduate school. Today, at age 48, the annual interest cost on her indebtedness is more than the entire amount she borrowed to obtain her bachelor's degree!

And I know a man in California who borrowed around $70,000 to finance his education, and paid back about $40,000. Now the Department of Education claims he owes more than $300,000, including a one-time penalty assessed in the amount of $59,000! That one penalty is more than 80 percent of the entire amount he borrowed!

Surely it should be apparent to everyone--even Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, President Obama and Congress--that adding interest, fees and penalties to people's student-loan debt only increases the likelihood of default.

The higher education industry and the Department of Education have embraced economic-hardship deferments and long-term repayment plans because both programs hide the fact that millions of people can't pay off their student loans.

Does anyone think, for example, that Liz Kelly, who was unable to pay back the $25,000 she borrowed to get an undergraduate degree, will ever pay back the $410,000 she currently owes.? Does anyone think my East Coast friend, who is living on about $1,200 a month, will ever pay back $120,000?

Like a seething volcano about to erupt, pressure is building on the federal student loan program. Currently, about 41 million Americans owe a total of $1.3 trillion in outstanding student loans. Let's face it: at least half that amount will never be paid back.



References

Kevin Carey. (2015, November 29). Lend With a Smile, Collect With a Fist. New York Times, Sunday Business Section, 1. Accessible at: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/29/upshot/student-debt-in-america-lend-with-a-smile-collect-with-a-fist.html?_r=0


Halverson v. U.S. Department of Education, 401 B.R. 378 (Bankr. D. Minn. 2009).

Friday, December 4, 2015

Let's admit it: Bernie Sanders' "College for All Act" proposal has some good ideas

Image result for "The walking dead" images
Bernie Sanders' "College For All Act" proposal: "That's not gonna happen."
In an old episode of The Walking Dead, an armed wacko asks Sheriff Rick if he and his buddies can join Rick's tribe of survivalists. "That's not gonna happen," Sheriff Rick rasps with his impeccable Georgia accent.  And then Rick shoots the wacko dead with his trademark service revolver.

Something similar might be said about Bernie Sanders' "College For All Act" proposal. That's not gonna happen. Nevertheless, Bernie has come up with some good ideas that are worth examining.

First, and most importantly, Bernie proposes free college tuition for Americans to attend 4-year public colleges or universities. That's a great idea and would actually cost Americans much less than we are spending now in federal student aid.

But, as I said in a previous blog posting, the for-profit college industry and the private non-profits are happy with the status quo and couldn't survive a week without federal financial aid. The only way Bernie's free tuition plan could work would be to shut down the present student-aid program, and that's not gonna happen. So Bernie's College For All Act is--as I said earlier--Dead On Arrival.

Bernie's college funding proposal has some other good ideas, however. Along with a lot of other responsible people, Bernie proposes a simplified Student Aid Application process. Last year, Senators Lamar Alexander and Michael Bennett proposed a FAFSA form that only has two questions.  Almost everyone agrees that the present Student Aid Application process is confusing and overly complicated, so we should listen to Bernie when he says the process should be simplified.

Bernie also proposes lower interest rates and an unlimited opportunity for students to refinance their student loans at lower interest rates. This is a great idea because, as a recent New York Times article made clear, it is the accruing interest on student loans, not the amount that students originally borrowed, that is crushing millions of student-loan debtors. The Times told the story of Liz Kelly, who borrowed about $25,000 to get an undergraduate degree and then borrowed more to go to graduate school. The total amount Kelly borrowed was less than $150,000, but she now owes $410,000 due to the interest that accrued while her loans were in forbearance or deferment.

Critics will say that lower interest rates and easy loan consolidation will cost taxpayers billions, which is true. But let's face it: The people whose loans have ballooned out of control due to accrued interest and fees will never pay the loans back anyway. Do you think Liz Kelly will ever pay off the $410,000 she now owes?

There is one huge caveat to Bernie's proposal to allow students to refinance their loans. There are now 41 million outstanding student-loan debtors, and many of them took out multiple loans. Allowing millions of borrowers to refinance their loans would create an administrative nightmare. In my opinion, it would make more sense to just forgive the interest on those loans or give overwhelmed debtors reasonable access to the bankruptcy courts.

But, as Sheriff Rick said to the armed wacko, "That's not gonna happen." Apparently, our national government would rather create a real-life class of The Walking Dead than take responsible action to give honest but unfortunate student-loan debtors some relief.

Image result for the walking dead images
The Walking Dead: These folks will never pay off their student loans.
References

Lamar Alexander & Michael Bennett. An Answer on a Postcard. New York Times, June 19, 2014, p.  A25. Accessible at: http://mobile.nytimes.com/2014/06/19/opinion/simplifying-fafsa-will-get-more-kids-into-college.html?_r=0

Kevin Carey. (2015, November 29). Lend With a Smile, Collect With a Fist. New York Times, Sunday Business Section, 1. Accessible at: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/29/upshot/student-debt-in-america-lend-with-a-smile-collect-with-a-fist.html?_r=0

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Liz Kelly, a school teacher, owes $410,000 in student loans--most of it accumulated interest. Will she ever pay it back?


Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it ... he who doesn't ... pays it.
Albert Einstein 
Liz Kelly, a 48-year old school teacher, owes the federal government $410,000 in student loans, which she will never pay back. How did that happen?

The New York Times article chronicled Kelly's story in this Sunday's Business Section, but the Times didn't adequately explain how Kelly got into this jam. My commentary for today is a forensic commentary on Kelly's situation.

Compound interest. As the Times story reported, Kelly didn't borrow $410,000 to finance her studies. She actually borrowed less than $150,000. Two thirds of her total debt is accumulated interest.

Albert Einstein observed that "[c]ompound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it . . . he who doesn't . . . pays it." As Liz Kelly's story illustrates, most people don't understand Einstein's simple observation about compound interest any better than they understand his theory of relativity.

Over the years, Kelly took out student loans to pay for her undergraduate education, graduate studies, child care and living expenses. She also borrowed money to get a law degree, which she did not complete, and a Ph.D. from Texas A & M, which she also did not complete.

Her graduate studies enabled her to postpone making payments on her loans, but she continued borrowing more money; and the interest on her loans continued to accrue. Some of her loans accrued interest at 8. 25 percent--a pretty high interest rate. When her total indebtedness reached $260,000, she consolidated her student loans at 7 percent interest--still pretty high.

Over a period of 25 years, Kelly received a series of forbearances or deferments, and she never made a single payment on her loans. Thus, it is easy to understand how the total amount of her indebtedness tripled over the amount she borrowed.  In fact, as the Times pointed out, the annual cost of interest on her unpaid student loans is now larger than the total amount she borrowed for her undergraduate education!

Back in the old days, when people received interest on their savings, most people understood the principle of compound interest. People knew, for example, that money saved at 7 percent interest doubled in 10 years, and that money saved at 10 percent interest doubled in 7 years.

But no one gets interest on their savings any more, and perhaps that explains why many student-loan borrowers don't understand that their total indebtedness grows every year their loans are in deferment. Certainly Liz Kelly didn't understand this. The Times reported that she was shocked to learn that she owed $410,000.

No cap on student loans.  Although Kelly never made a single payment on her student loans, the federal government continued to loan her money. In fact, in 2011, she borrowed about $7,500 to pursue a Ph.D. in education, even though her total indebtedness at that time was more than a third of a million dollars and she had made no loan payments.

As the Times writer succinctly observed:
A private sector lender approached by a potential borrower with no assets, a modest income, and $350,000 in debt who had never made a payment on that loan in over 20 years would not, presumably, lend that person an addition $7,800. But that is exactly what the federal government did for Ms. Kelly. Legally it could do nothing else.
Obviously, a federal student-loan system that works this way is dysfunctional, irrational, and unsustainable. The feds should have shut off the student-loan spigot long before Kelly borrowed money to get a Ph.D.

The Charade of Income-Based Repayment Plans. If Kelly had accumulated $410,000 in consumer debt or a home mortgage, she could discharge the debt in bankruptcy. But discharging a student loan in bankruptcy is very hard to do. Indeed, Kelly might find it very difficult to meet the so-called "good faith" prong of the three-part Brunner test. After all, she continued taking out student loans over a period of 20 years and never made any loan payments.

Kelly's only reasonable escape from her predicament is to enroll in the federal government's loan forgiveness program, which would allow her to make payments based on a percentage of her income for a period of 10 years so long as she works in an approved public-service job. As a school teacher, she should easily qualify for this program.

But as Kelly herself pointed out, her monthly loan payments under such a plan would not even cover accumulating interest on the $410,000 she owes. At the end of her 10-year repayment program, her total indebtedness would be larger than it is now--easily a half million. That amount would be forgiven, leaving the taxpayers on the hook.

In fact, Kelly's situation is a perfect illustration for the argument that income-based repayment programs are not a solution to the student-loan crisis. Most people who participate in them--about 4 million people--will not pay down the principal on their loans.  Income-based repayment plans are really just a penance for borrowing too much money--say one Our Father and three Hail Marys and go and sin no more.

Conclusion

The Times story on Liz Kelly concluded with the observation that Kelly's story is unusual, but that's not really true. As the Times itself observed in a recent editorial, 10 million people have either defaulted on their loans or are in delinquency. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reported in 2013 that 9 million people were not making payments on their student loans because they had obtained a forbearance or deferment. And about 4 million people are in income-based repayment plans.

Thus, at least 23 million people have loans in the repayment phase who are not making standard loan payments. So what should we do?

1) First, the federal government should not loan people more money if they are not making payments on the money they already borrowed. No one did Liz Kelly any favors by loaning her an additional $7,500 when she had already accumulated indebtedness of $350,000 and didn't have a prayer of ever paying it back.

2) There needs to be some cap on the amount of money people can borrow from the federal student-loan program. I'm not prepared to say what the cap should be, but surely it is bad public policy to lend money so that people can accumulate multiple degrees that do not further their financial prospects.

3) We've got to face the fact that income-based repayment plans--favored by the Obama administration, the New York Times, and the Brookings Institution--are not a solution to the student-loan crisis. Surely it is pointless to put Kelly on a ten-year income-based repayment plan that won't even pay the interest on her indebtedness.

As unpalatable as it is for politicians and the higher education community to admit, bankruptcy is the only humane option for people like Liz Kelly.  Did she make some big mistakes in managing her financial affairs? Yes. But the federal government and several universities allowed her to make those mistakes; and the universities received the benefit of Kelly's tuition money.

No--we need to face this plain and simple fact: Kelly will never pay off that $410,000. And putting her in a long-term income-based repayment plan is nothing more than a strategy to avoid facing reality, which is this: the federal student loan program is out of control.

Image result for albert einstein
Compound interest: The eighth wonder of the world

References

Kevin Carey. (2015, November 29). Lend With a Smile, Collect With a Fist. New York Times, Sunday Business Section, 1. Accessible at: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/29/upshot/student-debt-in-america-lend-with-a-smile-collect-with-a-fist.html?_r=0

Editorial, "Why Student Debtors Go Unrescued." New York Times, October 7, 2015, A 26. Accessible at: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/07/opinion/why-student-debtors-go-unrescued.html

Rohit Chopra. A closer look at the trillion. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, August 5, 2013.  Accessible at: http://www.consumerfinance.gov/blog/a-closer-look-at-the-trillion/

Monday, January 26, 2015

More evidence that the New York Times is totally clueless about the Student-Loan Crisis

Today's New York Times contained a full-page advertisement  (on page A22) with this message: "What our reporters are reading can be just as insightful as what they're writing." The advertisement contains a large color photo of Times writer David Carr wearing those round, horn-rimmed spectacles that people wear in Woody Allen movies--spectacles that convey sensitivity and deep intelligence.

Of course, the Times ad is true: What Times reporters read can be insightful. The problem is that the Times reporters are not reading enough and they are reading the wrong things.

And here's a case in point.  On the front page of today's Times is an article about the economic downturn Alaska is experiencing as a result of the recent drop in oil prices.  The article's author, Kirk Johnson, reports that "historians and economists say" that Alaska's economic crisis is unprecedented "in modern times."

That is simply not accurate. I lived in Alaska in the mid-1980s when oil prices turned down. Alaska's economy went into a tail spin, with a huge number of property foreclosures and several bank failures. I recall standing on a street corner in downtown Anchorage and viewing three financial institutions with plastic sheeting spread across their names because they had collapsed and been closed by federal financial regulators.

So what is happening in Alaska right is not unprecedented in modern times; and if "historians and commentators" told Times reporter Johnson that, they are certainly incompetent.

But that Times inaccuracy is a small matter.  More important is a pollyannaish article in last Sunday's Times about the student debt crisis. Times reporter Kevin Carey wrote favorably and uncritically about federal legislation that allows students to extend their student-loan payments out over 25 years. Apparently, Carey took a positive perspective on this development  because long-term repayment programs will reduce student-loan borrowers' monthly payments to a more manageable level.

 Carey ended his article by remarking that the federal government will probably replace the states as  the "primary financier" of American higher education. "Given how much unnecessary financial hardship has been imposed on students," Carey wrote, "this is a welcome trend." And Carey ends on this wholly unwarranted optimistic note: "The sense of pervasive student loan anxiety that characterizes much of the contemporary higher education conversation could become a relic of an older time."

What baloney! Essentially Carey has portrayed the federal push to get college student-loan borrowers  to sign up for long-term repayment plans as an entirely wholesome development.  And that simply is not correct.

First of all, the prospect of former students taking 20 to 25 years to pay off their student loans should be unsettling to everyone in the American higher education community, no matter how reasonable borrowers' monthly payments are. Surely when Congress adopted the first student-loan legislation back in the 1960s, its members never dreamed that 25-year repayment plans might someday become the norm.

In essence, as I have said before, long-term income-based repayment plans are turning Americans into sharecroppers, paying a portion of their earnings to the government for the majority of their working lives for the privilege of attending college. Who could be happy about such a prospect?

Second, as currently structured, long-term repayment plans operate as a perverse incentive for colleges to keep raising their tuition. Why should colleges try to keep their costs down when students can simply borrow more money to pay for tuition hikes and then pay it back in modest monthly payments over 25 years?

Third, long-term repayment plans remove incentives on students to minimize their borrowing. What difference does it make to students whether they borrow $30,000 to attend college (the current average) or $50,000 when the amount of their monthly loan payments will be based on their income and not the amount they borrowed?

Why has the Obama administration's push for long-term repayment plans been received so favorably around the country? I will tell you why. The only voices that are heard concerning the student-loan crisis are the voices of the insiders: colleges and universities, intellectually bankrupt think tanks like the Brookings Institution,and higher education's shamelessly self-interested constituency organizations like the College Board and the American Council on Education.

The people who are being injured by the federal student loan program have no voice; they are suffering in silence while working at low-income service jobs and fending of the federal government's hired loan collection agencies--which are making tons of money chasing down student-loan defaulters.

The Brookings Institution, in one of its typically vapid policy papers, argued for having people's student-loan payments taken out of their pay checks so that they would simply become another income deduction, like health insurance and Social Security.

And friends, that day will some day come. And when that happens, it will be apparent to everyone that the federal student loan program, which was intended to help worthy young Americans get a college education regardless of their income status, has become a massive fraud perpetuated on the American people by the higher education industry and the federal government.

If we continue in the direction we are going--and we are actually accelerating our headlong drive toward catastrophe--American higher education will be destroyed. But our policy makers, our legislators, and our college and university presidents don't care. By the time this time bomb explodes--and explode it will--all the people who engineered this disaster will be retired, writing their memoirs and drinking bourbon beside the golf courses of their gated entry retirement communities. The fact that these empty-headed bozos destroyed our nation's once premier system of colleges and universities will bother them not at all.

References

Kevin Carey. Helping to Lift the Burden of Student Debt. New York Times, Sunday Business Section p. 1.

Kirk Johnson. As Oil Falls, Alaska's New Chief Faces a Novel Goa: Frugality. New York Times, January 26, p. 1.




Monday, December 1, 2014

If you have the right credentials, it's not hard to get into an elite college. But why would you want to do that?

All across America, middle class high-school students are sweating over college applications. If only I can get into an elite college, young people tell themselves, I will make the right connections, get in the right graduate school, marry the right person, and become wealthy.  In short, a lot of high-school students are telling themselves that their lives will be better if they attend a fancy school back east than if they go to the nearby state university.

They shouldn't worry so much. If they have the right credentials--beginning with a very high SAT or ACT score, they are most certainly going to get into a prestigious college. That is the message that Kevin Carey delivered in a recent New York Times essay.  According to Carey, 80 percent of applicants with combined SAT scores of at least 1300 or above and who applied at several institutions will get into at least one elite college.

As Carey explained:
Since there has never been a time when 100 percent of well-qualified students were successful in the college admissions market, the truism that elite colleges are far more difficult to crack than in years gone by can't be correct: 80 percent is too close, mathematically, to nearly everyone.
It's true of course that admission rates at elite colleges have been heading downward, but that is largely because more people are applying to the top-tier schools.  Many applicants will be winnowed out after only a quick glance by pitiless admissions officials. But the applicants with high SAT scores and at least one other attractive attribute (musical talent, outstanding athlete, minority status, etc.) will likely get in somewhere.

What does the perfect Ivy League applicant look like? Meet Kwasi Enin, who received acceptance letters from all eight Ivy League colleges.  That's right: Kwasi was admitted to Harvard, Yale, Brown, Dartmouth, Columbia, Penn, Cornell, and Princeton. He scored in the 96th percentile on his SAT, plays three musical instruments, threw the shot put on his high school track team, and volunteered at a hospital. Kwasi's achievements are remarkable, especially when one considers that he is a first-generation American whose parents immigrated from Ghana.

You may not have all the attractive attributes that Kwasi Enin has; but if you have some of them--starting with a very high SAT score--you are likely to be accepted by at least one top-tier college.

Nevertheless, before you decide to go to an elite American college, you should ask yourself two questions:

How will I pay for my elite college education?

 First, you should ask yourself how you plan to pay for the privilege of attending an elite college.  Ivy League schools now charge around $50,000 a year for tuition, room and board.  It is true that the actual price is often a lot less than the sticker price. You might be offered a financial aid package that will reduce your costs substantially. But unless you have credentials like Kwasi Enin, you are probably going to take out some loans to attend Ivy League U.

So before you say yes to an admissions offer at a fancy East Coast school, ask yourself how much debt you are willing to assume for the right to wear a Dartmouth sweatshirt.  How will you manage a debt load of say $100,000 if you don't get a good job after you graduate or if you go on to graduate school and take on even more debt?

Do I want to become the kind of person that elite schools are producing?

Second, ask yourself an even more important question. Do you want to become the kind of person that our nation's elitist institutions are turning out? Without question, most of the people who teach in  our nation's most prestigious colleges are postmodernists. In other words, they are relativists and secularists. Most professors and administrators who populate our top-tier universities believe there are no ultimate human values and that all values are shaped by self interest or by race, class, and gender. And most of the people who work in our elite colleges are atheists.

Of course it is possible to be an atheist and still care deeply about other people. In fact, most atheistic academics will make that claim. Many prefer to call themselves humanists rather than atheists because the word humanist conjures up a picture of a warm and caring person.  But in my experience, most of the people who don't believe in God are materialists. After all, one has to believe in something in order to avoid nihilism; and a great many atheists have made material things their god.

In addition, I have observed that most postmodernist academicians have another characteristic--they are disdainful of people with traditional American values. Having embraced materialism, atheism and relativism, many postmodernists are contemptuous of  ordinary Americans.

MIT professor Jonathan Gruber is a prime example of elite-college arrogance. He bragged publicly that the Affordable Care Act that he helped design only passed Congress because the American people were too stupid to realize what the law would cost them.

As for the secularist leanings of the nation's most prestigious colleges, it is no accident that some of our most elite institutions have driven Christian student groups off campus even as they appoint atheist chaplains.  That's right--some of our most exclusive and expensive colleges--Harvard, Stanford, and Tufts, for example--have atheist chaplains.  They aren't called atheists, of course; that would be too transparent. Most of these folks call themselves "humanist chaplains." You should check it out. The Harvard humanist chaplain, Greg Epstein, and his Stanford counterpart, John Figdor, have both written books that promote atheism.

So here's the bottom line. Before enrolling in a prestigious and expensive private college, come to terms with two realities: First, you will probably have to borrow a lot of money to get an elite-college degree. Second, you will spend at least four years immersed in an arrogant and materialistic postmodern culture that has rejected religion and is disdainful of traditional American values.

If you accept these two realities and still want to to attend an elitist private college, I say go for it.  

Greg Epstein: Good Without God at Harvard
References

Lex Bayer & John Figdor.  Atheist Mind, Humanist Heart: Rewriting the Ten Commandments for the 21st Century. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014.

Kevin Carey. The Truth Behind College Admission. New York Times, Sunday Review Section, p. 2.

Frank Eltman. Suburban NY Student Picks Yale Among All 8 Ivies. Huffington Post, April 30, 2014. Accessible at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/30/kwasi-enin-yale_n_5242602.html

Greg Epstein. Good Without God: What A Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe.   New York: Harper Collins, 2009.

Martha Ross. Making case for atheism's friendlier, humanist face. Baton Rouge Advocate, November 29, 2014.