Our friend Ivan is a bit over-the-top here, but there’s a lot to think about.

From a Darwinian point of view, it’s better to have kids while you’re young. And student loans (in the context of YOUR EDUCATION in general), become an excuse not to do so. (I’m not exempting myself from any pathology I describe here. If I mention an excuse, it’s becuase I make or have made it.) Well, it’s more than an excuse: I know lots of lawyer couples that would be rolling in it if it weren’t for the huge loan payments. That means that having a kid or kids is a lot less affordable than it should be for people at their pay grade and level of industriousness. I know just as many young members of the bar who have crippling loans and are rather dramatically underemployed. They are usually also dramatically unmarried and childless and unpropertied and caught in various forms of arrested development.

But listen, young people, these loans are avoidable. Higher education as such in America isn’t elitist. There’s lots of financial aid, and the better the college, the steeper the discount. If you’re too rich or too much of a slacker to be “worth it” to a classy college, DON’T GO TO ONE. Do you homework and go to a school run by your state that’s decent enough. Rather than borrow to stay in a dorm, get a job and live at home.

Those big loans are for SUCKERS.

This especially applies to law school. Law school is really boring, and today the employment prospects are very uncertain. Don’t let it be expensive too. Really prepare for the darn LSAT. Admissions, as Justice Thomas righly complained, and especially discounting depend pretty much on your score. Rather than borrow your guts out to go to Yale, pick a school way below your pay grade that comps most of the cost. If that doesn’t work for you, don’t go at all.

Modest borrowing is okay. Data shows that a reasonable limit is 30K for four years of college. AND maybe just a little more for three years of law school.

BUT: Given that higher education is tanking or MOOCifying or whatever, don’t borrow a dime to go to graduate school in the arts and sciences. Your education may only be hypothetically related to employment at any pay grade above subsistence.

As I’ve said again and again, I think the libertarian whining about the bubble is exaggerated. But kids do get suckered. There’s NO REASON it should be you.

Here’s how America is screwing up most of all: We now say everyone has to go to college to get the skills and competencies required for any kind of middle-class employment. And the whole “system” orients people toward borrowing now to make more later. It used to be that the free public high school made our kids literate and skillful enough to find a niche in the competitive marketplace. The “issue” is partly credential inflation, but it’s also that our unselective colleges are pretty much doing what should have been done in high school.

Articles by Peter Lawler

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