Friday, July 03, 2015

Lee Siegel is kind of a prick

“….I found myself confronted with a choice that too many people have had to and will have to face. I could give up what had become my vocation (in my case, being a writer) and take a job that I didn’t want in order to repay the huge debt I had accumulated in college and graduate school. Or I could take what I had been led to believe was both the morally and legally reprehensible step of defaulting on my student loans, which was the only way I could survive without wasting my life in a job that had nothing to do with my particular usefulness to society.

I chose life. That is to say, I defaulted on my student loans.”

Ahhh, from the mouth of babes who really, really want to avoid the cost of doing anything in society.  Real talk from a man who thinks society owes him maximum benefit with minimum cost, with a sugar cookie on top.

Mr. Siegel wrote this op-ed column in the beginning of June and the shockwaves have pretty much reverberated around the country as an example of what not to do.  Let’s see if I can summarize.

-Siegel went to a “private liberal arts college” and was forced to transfer because of tuition costs.

-Siegel then went to a state college in New Jersey and dropped out because he “thought I deserved better.”

-Siegel then went to Columbia where he obtained a Bachelors and two Masters degrees.

-Siegel didn’t want to work in jobs he didn’t like when he was in college because he likes writing.

-Siegel defaulted on his loans because fight-the-power.

The unfortunate thing about this story, aside from the fact that Lee Siegel thinks society owes him three degrees from Columbia and an income, is that it actually resonates with this generation’s college attending crowd.  My Facebook feed is full of my former college bound students all clamoring for the platform of Bernie Sanders; the presidential candidate that has made himself known for the “fuck it, let’s just make college free for all” mentality towards college.  This is the realm where Lee Siegel’s actions are seen as legitimate. 

I’m all for reforming the system regarding student loans and college tuition but let’s deal with two issues that people don’t like to acknowledge.

First, students are part of the tuition increase problem.  Not only is the demand for college increasing at a dramatic rate, the demand for the “college experience” is expanding right along with it.  Students want to go to a colleges with great living conditions, high end food, walks through gardens, superior athletic facilities, phenomenal technological equipment, classes about researching Quidditch and analyzing white privilege in ferrets, and having well-known speakers and professors lecture for about 90 minutes a week.  Students are getting iPads to read with their sushi and gluten-free lunches, then heading off to run on the indoor track before attending the Harvard law class taught by Elizabeth Warren (to which she was paid over $300,000).  The college experience could be made to be cheaper except for the fact that students don’t want it that way.

Second, students have been going into debt for a long time.  I recently finished paying off about twenty thousand in college debts, some of it from my own stupidity.  That’s significantly less than most students seeking a Bachelors Degree will have upon leaving an institution of higher learning, and the odds of that debt becoming a greater standard of living are still much higher than someone without the degree.  And as the New York Times highlights, the number of people that do default on student loans is extremely minimal.

Every statistic out there says that while going into debt sucks, the benefit from receiving the college degree far outweighs the problem of going into debt.  This is not to say that every student is prepared to take on the responsibility of the debt, and part of my job as an Economics teacher is to show students that there are ways to minimize the debt burden by the college-going folk.   However many students have been drilled in the art of going to “the best college” without really researching all potential aspects of the decision, including the state college system.  They see California State University of Disappointment instead of the potential to get the same degree at less than half the financial cost.

Lee Siegel’s column is representative of that attitude.  The feeling that society owes them best of everything if they only “work hard” in their own way, and that society then owes them a sense renewal when they screw up because society is mean and corporations are horrible.  Not to simplify the argument for Siegel but suck it up.

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