For students, piece of advice No. 1 is: Don’t go into debt. When I went to law school, back in the ’80s, I turned down free rides at a couple of excellent schools to go to Yale Law School, even though it meant taking on a lot of student-loan debt. I’m not sure I’d advise anyone to do the same thing today, even to go to Yale Law, the undisputed king of the law-school rankings — and I’m positive I wouldn’t make a similar tradeoff for many other places, even Harvard Law.True for undergrad schools, too. As anyone who has helped son or daughter with a college search recently, as I have in the last year (daughter graduated from high school last Friday), sticker shock is endemic.Georgia Tech runs more than $40,000 for non-Georgia residents; their idea of financial aid was for me to borrow $37,400 of it. When I called the financial-aid office to plead, the nice lady I talked to said that they do not give financial aid to non-Georgia applicants (though she did not put it quite so baldly).
Wake Forest offered us $46,000 per year in scholarships and grants. Sound like a lot? It is a lot - but it still would have left us with almost $13,000 to come up with. Sorry, I am too old to take on that kind of debt times four years.
Wake Forest (my alma mater, btw) underscores the real reason there is a higher-education bubble: I cannot see how a baccalaureate degree from the school could possibly be worth almost a quarter-million dollars. Not all bachelor degrees are created equal. Wake is very much a liberal-arts school, probably one of the best such schools in the world.
And good luck getting a job to pay off the commensurate student debt with that degree in medieval German literature.
Wake's law school and business school have proven excellent investments for later return - but as even law professor Glenn Reynolds points out in the Post piece, law schools have been fudging their criteria for post-graduation success for some time and a JD degree pretty much guarantees nothing any more. As one partner-track attorney told me recently, a job-seeking, newly-minted attorney needs to have a diploma from one of the top ten (not ten percent, ten) law schools in the country, and (not or) have graduated in the top fourth of his/her class, to even be considered for interview by most law firms. Don't have that? So sorry.
College payments have to be evaluated the same way as any other spending, by present value and eventual worth. Fewer and fewer top-tier schools can pass that test.