Is Mark Cuban Right About the Student Debt Bubble?

Mark Cuban is probably right about the student debt burden being comparable to the housing bubble. And I’m no fan of Shark Tank–I have this gut-level cringe response at that ‘walk of shame’ scene done to eliminated contestants that probably stems from PE class trauma in grade school–but as Cuban says: “When you’re 18 years old and you don’t really understand all the nuances of what it’s going to cost to pay something back — it was almost inevitable.”

Can’t argue with that. For years, students have been told that an undergraduate degree will pave the way to a successful career and that student loans are a socially-acceptable risk. Once you start borrowing, it becomes easier to add a little more and a little more to each loan.

As he says here: “At some point potential students will realize that they can’t flip their student loans for a job in 4 years….IMHO, the biggest problem the economy has is the enormous student debt new college grads and those leaving college find themselves with. In the past leaving college meant getting a job and getting a used car and/or an apartment with some friends. Yes there was student debt, but it wasn’t any where near your car payment. You could still afford the car and the apartment. Now its the exact opposite. Today, the minute you graduate college you face the challenge of debt against a college education whose value is immediately “underwater.”

Bingo.

Also worrisome, in my opinion, are the growing number of graduate loans for MA/JD/PhD programs. Grad school is more expensive and often built on graduate student enrollment or teaching assistant labor to a degree that makes it challenging for programs to shrink admissions in response to an over-saturated hiring market. Probably as a result, there’s a lot of handwaving about future employability at the graduate level in some fields. I can count on one hand the number of my professors who gave me more realistic warnings about debt and the shaky job market as an undergraduate (I majored in history), even if I was pretty naive about the larger issues and more resistant to their advice at the time. As I learned more about job prospects in the humanities, I realized their warnings were something to be thankful for. I’d recommend reading Karen Kelsky or Sarah Kendzior if you’re curious about those issues or thinking about grad school. Luckily for me, I don’t think that library science and writing suffer from some of the emotional baggage and ‘failure’ stigma of other humanities fields about doing work outside the university system.

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