Snarky Behavior

Entries tagged as ‘student loans’

I’m curious…

September 7, 2008 · 1 Comment

What was Barack and Michelle Obama’s total student debt load when they graduated from Columbia/Princeton and Harvard Law School?  I haven’t been able to find anything credible on this via google search.

I ask because Obama’s stump speech often plays on the “I had massive student loans, and the opportunity to work on Wall Street, but I went to the South Side of Chicago instead.”  I would like to know more specifics about his financial situation to be able to relate to just what kind of sacrifice/opportunity cost that career decision amounted to. 

Michelle has said that the family didn’t pay off their student loans until Barack wrote his two books.  Since they graduated from HLS in 1988 year over year tuition inflation has averaged 5.94% (nearly twice CPI inflation at 2.99%).


Ok I little more google research and I found it (Big Ups to Lynn Sweet of the Sun Times for actually doing investigative journalism on this):

The Obamas complain about their college debt, but they did attend expensive schools. Obama took out $42,753 in loans to pay for Harvard tuition. Michelle signed notes for $40,762 in loans for her Harvard years.

Obama had a full scholarship for his freshman year at Occidental, taking out loans — the best I could get was “tens of thousands” to pay for the rest of his undergraduate school, with some help from his grandparents. At Princeton, as mentioned, Michelle had the work-study grant, got some help from her folks and took out “tens of thousands” of loans to pay tuition.

It sounds like Barack’s total debt load was around $75,000 and Michelle’s was probably a little less.  As a point of comparison, I’ll graduate with a two-year masters with a total of about $120,000 borrowed…a 1989 value of $66,441, assuming a 3% inflation rate.

There is no way in hell I could justify going to work as a “community organizer” come next year.  That’s a huge testament to Obama’s character, in my book.

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June 10, 2008 · Leave a Comment

I’ve been experimenting with some different aggregators and activity feeds to try to get my online presence better organized.  FriendFeed looks cool but it might be the ultimate overshare, and I’m already probably too old to use it (or expect my friends to).  It’s basically the facebook mini-feed, but for every online activity you do (i.e. Flickr, Facebook, NetFlix, Amazon, Picassa, blogs, etc.) is free online version based on the Quicken model and is excellent.  My only problems with it is that it mislabels some purchases, and seems to have trouble accessing my ING Savings account.  Otherwise, it can track my Checking, Savings, Credit Card, Mutual Fund and 401(k) all in one place, in real-time.  Pretty neat.

Pageonce is the mother of all aggregators.  It basically stores and tracks every online account you could possibly think of.  Every airline mile program, rewards program, financial program, e-mail, social network, is accessed and imported to the same place, making this the ultimate homepage.  I’m not sure if everyone feels secure having all of their usernames and passwords stored in one place, but for me its gravy.

Anyway, the saddest part of tracking my updates via pageonce is the following daily reminder:

Sallie Mae (loans)

Accrued Interest: $11.06

Even sadder… that daily number will double after this year.

Even saddest… that’s on top of the principle.

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What Do You Do, With a BA in English?

November 27, 2007 · 2 Comments

What do you do, with a BA in English?
What is my life going to be?
Four years of college, and plenty of knowledge…
has earned me this useless degree…

So go the opening lines of “Avenue Q.” A musical that I found extremely relatable two years ago, when I moved to DC with a meager savings account, an over-valued skill-set, and a bohemian apartment on “U” Street.

I’ve heard it said before that “the BA is the new diploma.” The data backs this up. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (my employer, by the way), the total enrollment of students attending two- and four-year degree granting institutions has more than doubled since 1970. During that time, female representation has increased drastically from 40% to 56%.

I’ve written before about the constraints on opportunity that arise as a direct result of inaffordable higher education. Here’s the scary trifecta:

1. Average annual tuition of 4-year private institutions has increased from $9228 in 1986 to $27,317 in 2006 (not adjusted for inflation).

2. The average total amount borrowed by students to finance a 4-year degree (as measured in 2001 constant dollars) increased from $12,100 in 1993 to $19,300 in 2000.

3. The median income for a male graduate (as measured in constant 2004 dollars) has only increased from $46,300 in 1980 to $48,400 in 2005. And incomes are on the decline since 2000. Note that the average income for a high-school grad in 1980 was $38,800.

So… I borrowed $16,000 to finance my undergraduate degree, and will likely require (worst case) a staggering $114,000 to finance my Masters. Which not only begs the question: why the hell did I get a liberal arts degree in History, but why does anyone pursue anything else?

Clearly I’m on the high end of the spectrum for tuition, debt burden, and (please God) should also be on the high-end for income earners. So my case is atypical. But there are students at Columbia who do not face the same financial considerations, because their educations are subsidized by financial aid and awards.

I’m not going to play the reverse-discrimination card here, especially since I turned down a hefty fellowship from the Elliot School at GW to attend SIPA, but as a disinterested observation, it does seem like a self-fulfilling prophecy for white men, who are last in line for financial aid purposes, to pursue careers that inevitably reinforce the over-representation of “old white men” who sit in boardrooms chalk full of white haired or bald guys who look identical to each other (even though most of those guys are legacies who probably never even had debt).

My point is, there is a substitution effect for dedication/effort/expectations for every less dollar of debt burden… the more indebted someone is, the more they will value their job, work for performance bonuses, take less days off, rise the ranks, etc. Debt is a strong motivational factor. Which is why I’m up writing crappy blog posts instead of preparing for my in-class debate tomorrow.

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I’m a Finalist!

October 31, 2007 · Leave a Comment


I’m a finalist in the College Affordability Contest being organized by Campus Progress out of the Center for American Progress. My article, “The $57,000 Elephant in My Head,” (written for the Morningside Post) was selected in the top 16 out of over 400 entries. Fingers-crossed for the $2500 top prize!

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The $57,000 Elephant in My Head

September 27, 2007 · Leave a Comment

New article on the Morningside Post here. I wish I were as prolific with homework production as I am with writing articles. Nothing makes you more productive with something you like than avoidance of something you dislike.

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Polynomial Function for Money Spent in New York by Time Spent Out

September 8, 2007 · Leave a Comment

If you’re ever planning on spending a night out on the town in Manhattan, it’s ALWAYS best to pre-game. Even the diviest of dive bars (aka Karaoke bars on Canal Street) charge $6 for Corona’s and $8 for Whiskey Jameson…and if you go the straight liquor route you’ll always wake up the next morning with nothing more than a painful hangover and a wallet full of ATM receipts.

New York is definitely a cash city, and certainly there is lose aversion associated with every instance in which you’re forking over a Jackson and getting a Hamilton and two Washingtons in return.

In light of my new mathlete status, I’ve posited the following polynomial function to help one estimate the amount of cash they will undoubtedly spend on any given night in Manhattan:

f(x) = x^2 + 5x + 20, where f(x) = Money spent and x = hours out

There are certain features of this equation to take note of: first, that it is a quadratic equation, meaning the longer you are out, the more rapidly you will start to spend. Of course, as you’re getting drunker, your loss aversion to handing over money decreases (especially after you’ve just had your student loans dispursed… hey-yo!!!)

Second, there is a linear component: for every hour you spend in Manhattan, some wallet tickler taxes you $5. He’s quick, with small hands, so you never really see him, but he’s paying Bloomberg’s salary.

Third, the constant number $20 is a fee you pay everytime you leave the apartment. It is impossible NOT to spend $20 just stepping outside for fresh air.

I gotta run to class, see you $20 later.

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Commodifiying Our Existence

July 27, 2007 · 2 Comments

Brother Carlo absolutely hates it when I wax philosophical, because I am so fast and loose with my shaky understandings of the foundations of his craft. But Carlo is also on the path to permanent head damage, and we all know PhD’s Can’t Communicate.

Moreover, Carlo is part philosopher, part physicist– and whereas hard sciences require building blocks of knowledge to reach the upper echelons, Bullshit Mountain has a mono-rail (thank you, Jon Stewart).

Of course, the value of studying epistemology is that you avoid redundancy of thought. But, by the time you’ve performed an extensive survey of previous literature and start exploring original, independent ideas about the nature of knowledge, you’ve drilled down so deep that you’re a termite missing the forest for a decomposing stump.

So, I do see value in my (and others’) haphazard applications of philosophy and political theory.

Over the last week or so, I’ve written about the following:

The overarching theme here seems to be a vague concern with the commodification of our lives. The necessities of our global society are such that, to align our humanist desires of leading a meaningful existence, we must first commodify ourselves in some fashion as to provide value to the rest of the world.

Without commodifying ourselves, it becomes increasingly difficult for us to engage in creative, exploratory, meaningful, sustaining, and leisurely activities. Without first investing in the social-norms of education, technology, career, we can’t take time to discover our intrinsic values.

Of course, once we fully incorporate ourselves, putting our applied value to use in a global market, the trade-off is almost always leisure and self-exploration. The external demands and stress of a competitive system shift our values in such a way that nearly all of our life decisions are based on how to best maximize ourselves as a commodity in such a market. And lacking genuine time to decompress and develop meaningful relationships, we abuse drugs and alcohol for quick spurts of relief and meaningless sex.

And those are the realities of the modern state.

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On Oppressive Student Debt

July 26, 2007 · 4 Comments

Wow! Reading through Dani Rodrik’s blog on his upcoming course curriculum at Harvard’s KSG, I noticed a brilliant comment by Per Kurowski (who is the former executive director of the World Bank (2002-2004) for Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Spain and Venezuela). His idea seems to answer the conversation we’ve had on “Doing Well vs. Doing Good” :

Higher Education needs to be more of a joint venture

Hearing so many young professionals in the USA describing their problems with debts they incurred while studying, I guess that soon some of them could be suing their Alma Maters for misrepresentation or plain failure in delivering the services offered.

Perhaps the incentive structure of the education system needs to be revised so that at least some of the higher education providers offer to collect a part of their fees through a profit participation scheme, like for instance by receiving a small percentage of the student’s future earned gross income that is above the level that the student could have been estimated to earn without further education, during his first 20 years of work.

How are then the universities going to pay for their professors now? Easy, that is what the financial markets are for. These participations in the future of our youngsters could be securitized and sold in the markets, perhaps even as a good investment for a professor’s retirement fund… of course, that is if the professor delivers on his promises.

For a university to show a willingness to invest in their own students, because they are sure of what they are giving them, might be a better marketing tool than outright grants and “we invest our money in your future” is my slogan. Also, for students, the question of what university offers to invests the most present dollars against the smallest percentage of the expected future earnings… should rank among the first when selecting an Alma Mater into which to invest their own future.

A joint-venture! Every student would be an individual investment for the University. Students would only be responsible for repayment above and beyond a certain income threshold, and would feel less pressured to immediately enter high-yield professions.

What do you all think? Would you be willing to share your future earnings (as a flat percentage of your income over a 20 year period) with your undergraduate or graduate schools if they footed your bill now?

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