And I thought student loans sucked in 1992

Inspired by Shtinkykat’s recent post about her own student loans, DogAteMyFinance’s advice to Polly, and a confession from my sister who graduated nursing school 2 weeks ago.

1992 is when I graduated from a private university that covered about 50% of my tuition, etc. with grants and scholarships. Fees for tuition, room and board back then were $16K when I started and $21K when I finished – about average for that era. And I thought those prices sucked, but now? How in the world does anyone cover nearly $50K a year? In 1992, we were in a recession and starting salaries for fresh graduates averaged $24K a year (I had friends on $17K, $22K and $28K respectively in NYC, so that’s the basis of my numbers) – a little more than the equivalent of a year’s costs for private college. By that standard, average salaries for fresh graduates should be $60K. Hah, I don’t think so – not even before the stock market crash this fall!

I financed my undergrad years with about 50% scholarships and grants, then 10-15% cheap Perkins loans, and the rest out of my pocket from $2/hr babysitting jobs and a heavy schedule of part-time jobs during school. No government/stafford/sallie mae for me – Mom wanted it that way so the student loan folks wouldn’t find my extremely-defaulted dad. I graduated owing the Perkins folks $6200 (really $7200, but somehow $1000 disappeared off the original loan amount…hm, an error or a fairy godmother?), which came to $198 per quarter for 10 years. I moved to Scotland and earned peanuts for 8 years, and paid it off within 6 months of returning to the USA. I also got a master’s degree (to date unused) in 1999, by which time I qualified for domestic tuition rates in the UK so it cost me a paltry $4K – paid with savings, and my living expenses were really cheap and covered by my $125/week part-time typing job. I feel pretty freaking lucky to have pulled that one off, given what grad school costs here!

I’m not sure I’d even go to college if I were 18 now. Seriously, I grew up in a state with less-than-wonderful state schools, and I was neither an athlete nor a beauty queen (I’ll try not to get into how ridiculous it is that these are the main sources of education prize money). The best I can say about those qualities in me is that I’m co-ordinated and on the nice side of ordinary-looking. Even at that age, I’d feel that saddling myself with $50-100K student loan debt was a bad investment for someone without a focus or goal (as I was then, and still am). But also, at that age, I never questioned that I was college-bound, so who knows. I’d probably end up at Rutgers, resisting the lure of academic laziness by class sizes well into the triple digits.

Bridezilla just graduate with a BSc in Nursing, and confessed to me that she’s got $20K in student loans and is carrying a $6K balance on her credit card. Yes, this is the same sister who slaughtered $20K in credit card debt a few years ago to prepare for 2.5 years of being a full-time student. We talked about it yesterday while hiking on a snowy trail in the Rockies. The first piece of advice out of my mouth was to keep an eye out for one of those notices about a change in terms and conditions from her credit card company (Chase), because that would hugely affect her ability to knock that balance down. She has historically been terrible at opening money-related mail, and I have a feeling she may blow off this advice. I reiterated it on the phone this afternoon. There are three upsides to her debt:  (1) she was able to focus so completely on her academics that she scored a 3.85 GPA, which sets her up well for an MS and other advanced qualifications, (2) she’s going to be a nurse, so even if she can’t get exactly the job she wants, she’ll still get a decent-paying job as soon as she passes her licensing exam in about 6 weeks, and (3) credit card debt scares the hell out of her, which means she will bust a gut to pay it off asap. I’m also glad she “confessed” to me and our mom over Christmas, because that sort of behavior punctuates the problem and sets her back on the right track.

A lot of people draw parallels with money problems and weight problems, and I’m regrettably in the same position with my weight…I dropped 11 lbs in the first 4 months of the year, still had 22 to go to meet my 100-lb loss goal, then proceeded to regain 23 lbs or so (facing the scale on Wednesday) in the past 7 months. We’re both climbing back on our respective wagons – me this week, her when she starts her first professional nursing job (probably early Springtime).

5 Responses

  1. Great post!

    Your sister has probably the most important thing, a useful degree! She’ll be able to get a high-paying job, no problem. Now, if poor Polly has a masters in social work or trombone or something, she has a real problem.

    I took on over 100K in student loans. You have to have a plan, and you have to beat those loans down, that’s for sure. I think most of the time student loans are manageable, if you care enough to manage them.

  2. […] news by unknown « Are there any disadvantages to getting a consolidation loan […]

  3. Your sister took on debt to get a degree that will pay well, I think that is OK. Nursing will be in ever greater demand, she sounds smart so I’m sure she’ll do well. With a little encouragement she get it paid off. Like Dog said, when you take out huge loans to get a degree with no future, then it is a bad idea.

  4. Your sister should definitely look into the student loan forgiveness programs available through her state. Just about every state has one for nursing.

    State college loans

  5. I agree. Nursing will be in fabulous demand because of the Baby Boomers who are aging…

    Fabulously Broke in the City
    Just a girl trying to find a balance between being a Shopaholic and a Saver…

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