Showing posts with label Marshall Steinbaum. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Marshall Steinbaum. Show all posts

Friday, November 9, 2018

Roosevelt Institute researcher says student-loan program is "a failed social experiment." But you already knew that.

Julie Margetta Morgan and Marshall Steinbaum wrote a blockbuster of a report for the Roosevelt Institute on the student-loan crisis. Unfortunately, the bland title and multiple graphs obscured the authors' key finding, which is this: Contrary to what student-loan advocates proclaim, a great many people who took out student loans for postsecondary education have not seen a rise in wages.

As author Julie Margetta Morgan summarized, "We've essentially engaged in a failed social experiment where the government thought that it would be fine to give people student debt because it would pay off in the long run and we're seeing that's not the case."

On the contrary, this is what Morgan and Steinbaum found:
  • "More education has not led to higher earnings over time." Although the higher education community trumpets the myth that rising student debt and more education leads to higher income, that is not true. Instead, "the distribution of earnings in the labor market has remained relatively unchanged over time. And to the extent that individuals see an income boost based on college attainment, it is only relative to falling wages for high school graduates."
  •  "Student debt is a burden for a growing share of young adults." Traditional ways of measuring student debt "fail to consider the changing distribution of  debtors over time or the changes in the ways that borrowers repay their loans." When these factors are accounted for, "the data show that many more Americans have debt, and the burden of that debt is more significant now than for previous generations."
  •  "Credentialization better explain these dynamics than the 'skills gap.'" Although the nation's population is becoming better educated, "each educational group is becoming less well paid." In the authors' view, this phenomenon "is a result of declining worker power, which allows employers to demand a higher level of educational attainment for any given job, not a broken link between workforce skills and labor market demands."
  • "These trends have had particularly negative impacts on Black and brown Americans." Minorities already have to obtain more education than their peers in order to get the same or similar jobs. In general, people of color have less wealth than nonminorities, which means students of color take on disproportionate amounts of debt, which exacerbates disparities in student-loan debt between minority and nonminority students.
 Morgan and Steinbaum fortify their arguments with statistical analysis, but this is the essence of what they found. A higher percentage of Americans have student-loan debt than previous generations, and they have more debt than in the past.  And this trend has developed at the same time that wages have remained stagnant.

As worker power in the job market declines, employers have been able to demand more credentials from job  applicants. In essence, employers have been"upskilling" the labor market.

 I see evidence of this everywhere. Lawyers, for example, need just one professional degree to practice their trade: a J.D.  Yet as the job market for attorneys tightens, I see more and more lawyers get additional education: an MBA, for example,or a master's degree in law.  But these additional credentials often do not lead to higher salaries--and generally are not necessary for the jobs they are seeking.

I give myself as an example of a person who took out student loans to get a credential that did not enhance my job skills. I had a law degree before I became a professor, and my legal skills and experience are all I needed to be a competent education-law professor, a job I have done for 25 years.

But to get my first professor's job, I had to have a doctorate, and so I took out loans to get an Ed.D. degree from Harvard. It was a complete waste of time and money.

Morgan and Steinbaum question the enormous public investment in postsecondary education our government is making through the student-loan program. Midway through their policy report, they make this trenchant observation:
If the only function of that public investment is to increase the credentialization of the labor market and enrich academic institutions that are best able to provide those credentials to students looking to differentiate themselves (at great expense) in a rat race, it's hard to conclude that the public investment s paying off . . . .
Indeed, the investment is not paying off.  For millions of Americans, the student-loan program is doing nothing more than sentencing them to become members of a permanent debtor class.

Cleveland State University says you will be richer if you get an advanced degree. Is that true?


Jillian Berman. America’s $1.5 trillion student-loan industry is a ‘failed social experiment.’,October 18, 2018.

Julie Margetta Morgan and Marshall Steinbaum. The Student Debt Crisis, Labor Market Credentialization, and Racial InequalityRoosevelt Institute, October 2018.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

For the sake of the economy, let's forgive all student-loan debt

Forty-four million people are burdened by student loans--totally about $1.5 trillion in outstanding debt. What would happen if the federal government just forgave all those loans?

Researchers at the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College asked that question, and their answer might surprise you. Forgiving all this debt, they say, would boost the Gross National Product by $86 billion to $108 billion a year over a ten-year period. Released from their student loans, millions of people would see an immediate increase in their disposable income, permitting them to buy homes, save for retirement, purchase consumer goods, and start families.

Moreover, as Eric Levitz pointed out, Congress passed a $1.5 trillion tax cut last year, with most of the benefits going to the wealthy. Wouldn't it have made more sense to have forgiven $1.5 trillion in college loans instead? Most of the benefits would have gone to low-income and middle income Americans--not the rich.

Of course, our government can't simply forgive $1.5 trillion in student loans and continue the federal student loan program. The thing to do, then, is to replace the student-loan program with free undergraduate education at a public college or university.

But wouldn't that be prohibitively expensive? No it wouldn't. As Ryan Cooper argues, the total cost of tuition at public institutions was only $58 billion in 2014.  Our government invests twice that amount each year in the federal student loan program. It would actually be less expensive to American taxpayers if we simply shut down the student loan program and gave everyone a free college education at a public college.

Theoretically, it is true, the federal government is only loaning students money to attend college; it expects to get that money back at interest as students pay off their student loans. But in fact, about half of the nation's outstanding student-loan balance will never be paid back. It's just going down a rat hole for educational experiences that are overpriced and that often don't lead to well-paying jobs.

Of course, forgiving everyone's student loans and providing a free college education would have some major collateral consequences. If Americans could get a free college education at a public institution, they would stop enrolling in private colleges and for-profit schools.  If the federal government actually implemented this plan, small liberal arts institutions all over the United States would close their doors and the for-profit college industry would collapse.

But the private liberal arts colleges will be closing anyway. Harvard professor Clay Christensen predicts that half of them will close within the next 10 to 15 years as Americans figure out that it makes no sense at all to spend $200,000 to get a liberal arts degree from a nondescript college in the upper Midwest.  As for the for-profit schools, they are a cancer and should be closed down anyway.

But, critics might ask, what about the moral hazard of forgiving all that debt? Is it fair to allow people to borrow $100,000 or more to get an MBA and then not pay it back?

First of all, the student borrowers who are suffering the most have been people who borrowed a relatively small amount of money. People who have borrowed the least are most likely to default. It is true that some people whose student loans are forgiven would receive a windfall, but the vast majority of people who would benefit from wholesale student-loan forgiveness would be people who paid too much money for postsecondary education and did not get fair value.

Furthermore, whatever moral taint can be found in student-loan forgiveness is as nothing compared to fraud committed by the for-profit college industry, the exploitation by the student-loan debt collectors, and the venality of university presidents making million-dollar salaries while students are forced to borrow more and more money to pay escalating tuition rates.

And if massive student-loan forgiveness still sticks in the nation's craw, then let's just reform the bankruptcy laws and allow deserving debtors to obtain relief from their student loans in the bankruptcy courts. If the "undue hardship" provision were removed from the Bankruptcy Code, literally millions of Americans would file bankruptcy and get relief.

But the Bard College researchers have gotten to the heart of the matter. We should forgive all student loans and simply allow people to study for free to get an undergraduate education at a public university.


Ryan Cooper. The case for erasing every last penny of student debt. The Week, February 8, 2018.

Doug Lederman. Clay Christensen, Doubling Down. Inside Higher Ed, April 28, 2017.

Eric Levitz. We Must Cancel Everyone's Student Debt, for the Economy's Sake. New York, February 9, 2018.

Scott Fullwiler, Stephanie Kelton, Catherine Ruetschlin, and Marshall Steinbaum. The Macroeconomic Effects of Student Debt Cancellation. Levy Economics Institute of Bard College, February 2018.