Student loans: A good thing?

February 1, 2011

The author analyzes the plight that student loans present in today's society.

"Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate."-Shakespeare Sonnet 18

"B@#*! I'ma kill you! You don't wanna f*@% with me Girls neither-you ain't nothing but a s#%* to me."-Lyrics from "Kill You" by Eminem

How does a father decide whether to approve of a prospective son-in-law? Some authorities recommend using a credit check to vet the candidate.2 Is the young man a materialistic spendthrift or does he wisely allocate his resources and honor his debts? My understanding is that many employers also vet potential employees by checking their credit histories. The same analysis can be applied to countries. Recent reports have described that, for the first time, Americans have more student debt related to education than credit card debt.3 Some reporters have lamented this as a negative development; to me it is encouraging.

My father always used to tell his children that education was the best possible investment, and he generously paid for our educational expenses. But he declined to buy us the possessions a lot of other kids had, and he denied himself and my mother a lot so that he would have the funds to send my five sisters and me to school.

My view is that it is a good thing that Americans now are indebting themselves to learn more than to purchase video games and flat screen TVs. As with prospective sons-in-law and employees, a country that invests its dollars in learning rather than possessions has a bright future. America has become a debtor nation, buying many more consumer items manufactured in other countries than it produces and exports to other countries. In many other countries, much more is spent on education than consumer goods, and these countries are becoming stronger and wealthier.

The flip side

The other point of view, I suppose, is that the large student debt is a bad thing, reflecting the rapidly increasing tuition of our country's institutions of higher learning. Critics of the high rate of inflation in the cost of education in our universities and professional schools might say that a university faculty member like yours truly is biased, and that the problem is that our system of education has not changed significantly in the last 50 years. These critics assert that tenured professors are mired in tradition and have not made any serious effort to educate young people more efficiently and cost-effectively.

These critics are missing an important point. The high costs of tuition ensure that our universities can employ as professors all the absent-minded eggheads in our society. If not safely tenured within our schools, where would these people work? Let's face it; do we want these bow-tied nerds on our reality shows (like "Jersey Shore"), or on our stages spewing misogynistic rap lyrics (à la Eminem)? I think not.

Peter J. McDonnell, MD director of the Wilmer Eye Institute, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, and chief medical editor of Ophthalmology Times.

He can be reached at 727 Maumenee Building 600 N. Wolfe St. Baltimore, MD 21287-9278 Phone: 443/287-1511 Fax: 443/287-1514 E-mail: pmcdonn1@jhmi.edu

References

1. Eminem says misogynist allegations are because he's white. http://clutchmagonline.com/newsgossipinfo/eminem-says-misogynist-allegations-is-because-hes-white/

2. How to check a boyfriend's credit. http://www.ehow.com/how_5318300_check-boyfriends-credit.html

3. Student loan debt outpaces credit card debt. http://www.collegegradlife.com/grad-life-after-college/student-loan-debt-outpaces-credit-card-debt/