Will You Go into Debt to Get A University or College Degree?

Student-Debt-for-University-DegreesShould parents and/or their progeny go into debt to pay for further and higher education after school? Does that increase your chances of leading a happy and fulfilled time on this earthly plane? Does it help you to secure the job of your dreams and realise your full potential at work?

My personal opinion is that it does not. And nothing I have seen in the forty two years since I left school in 1972 has changed my mind about that. Many people tell me that things are different now, that things have changed since I was a teenager and no doubt that is true on many levels and if going to University is the first time you’ve left home, then there still may be many good reasons for going off to college. Independence, for starters. Although you can also learn that in your first job too, as I did.

I know I was very naive in my first job and perhaps times were more innocent but I had my naivete bashed out of me pretty swiftly and it strengthened me as a person, though that strength was also already in my DNA for sure. I didn’t know how bright I was back then either, my parents already thought I was over-educated for a woman. [I know. Don’t start me.]

But would I encourage a would-be graduate to run up significant debts to pay for their university or college degree? I saw two very useful opinions in the papers recently, both of which have merit. It was an exchange of letters to The Guardian newspaper, summarised as follows.

Letter No 1 notes that 15,000 of our brightest young people did not apply for university after taking their A-levels because of tuition fees. Perhaps they were thinking “Why did I bother?” and perhaps their younger siblings coming up behind them to their exams, watching their older brothers and sisters, might also be thinking “Why should I bother?” Is there any incentive for young people to do well in our education system when they can only progress through if they (i.e. their parents) have enough money?

The writer continues “from the time when bright young people were given grants to make this educational journey, we have regressed to a regime where those without very considerable means are simply barred from taking their education forward and making important contributions to our society as well as fulfilling their own ambitions.”

Elisabeth Boss, from Bath, wraps up her argument thus: “Education, education, education was Tony Blair’s mantra. Yet under his Labour government, tuition fees grew and have now been massively hiked under our coalition Government. What are we doing to damage the future of our clever young people and, in turn, the future of our society?”

I found myself nodding sagely and in agreement with Ms Boss’s sentiments, hard not to follow her logic. Until I read another opposing viewpoint which seemed just as valid, if not more so, that of Michael Meadowcroft from Leeds who offered this:

“Any student not applying for university because of high tuition fees must have had lousy advice. They need have no fear of the financial burden. They do not have to pay anything up front; they are never asked for repayment of the capital sum; they pay no interest on the fees nor any repayment at all until they are earning £420 per week, at which point they pay £16; the loan cannot be taken into account later when seeking a mortgage; and, if not repaid within 30 years, it is written off. Sounds like a good deal.”

I couldn’t agree more! It is a good deal. Shame I’m too old to get a loan on these terms – I’d want several.

And some say that the whole A level marking shambles was down to Michael Gove “improving school standards to one that simply measures excellence”. It seems to me that you pays your money and you takes your choice about which of these opinions chimes most closely with your own, as we all know that the newspapers can make any argument sound all too easy.

American blogger James Altucher has very strong viewpoints about not going into debt for your student education. It’s interesting to note that in America it’s always been different, hasn’t it? Students have always paid their way through college. But JA suggests they might not now, and that becoming an entrepreneur is a better bet and that chimes with my own view. Altucher offers his ebook 40 Alternatives to College for free at his website.

And don’t miss this article by Fraser Nelson in The Daily Telegraph. He says that “universities will be forced to release data on employment rates for every course in belated recognition of the way higher education has been mis-sold” and its “one of the least remarked-upon scandals of our time.”

There will be a right decision for you and perhaps another one still for your children. But if they are hell bent on further education (and obviously I recognise that if you want to pursue certain professions, you have no choice) a loan on those terms doesn’t sound so bad to me. I am a well-known and well-documented risk taker and, of course, any such risk/investment would be in yourself and maybe you are too young to know at 18 whether or not that gamble would pay off. Or are you?

I was reading a book over the weekend by a famous US healer who first had a profession as a scientist at NASA, then did something else before becoming a professional counsellor. It was only when she ended up in her fourth career that she realised what all those other jobs and trainings had been about. It’s difficult to know where we are headed at 18 or where we will end up.

Will you go into debt to get a university or college degree? Why not start a business instead? Not that one precludes the other as the many student entrepreneurs illustrate so well, but do let me know your views by commenting and sharing your plans for your education and your life. I studied at the University of Life and that worked particularly well for me, but then… us entrepreneurs are different.

And you can always change your decision later too, and pick up your education again if you are so motivated. It ain’t over till it’s over.

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