Thursday, August 30, 2012

School of Hard Truths

Said a grad whose finances were played out,
And whose face could not help but betray doubt:
"The lessons I learn
May improve what I earn,
But not at the prices I paid out."

College: can't afford it, can't live without it. That appears to be the message of mounting data on debt and employment. On the one hand, the New York Fed's latest Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit shows that, while the overall delinquency rate of US consumer debt improved from 9.3% to 9.0% in the second quarter, the student debt delinquency rate has worsened from 8.7% to 8.9%. These numbers are part of a trend; says the New York Fed: "Since the peak in household debt in 2008Q3, student loan debt has increased by $303 billion, while other forms of debt fell a combined $1.6 trillion." Clearly, student debt is on an unsustainable path.

On the other hand, there is clearly value (at some level) in higher education. The Wall Street Journal reports that the Brookings Institution recently surveyed US metropolitan areas, looking for the gap between the average level of education sought by employers vs. the average level of education attained by the population. The survey found that a lower "education gap" was associated with areas whose housing markets had best weathered the downturn. Moreover, Brookings found that, in 2011, for every unemployed worker with a college degree, there 5.6 openings requiring such a degree; for every unemployed worker with only a high school degree, there were only 1.6 openings.

It is evident then that a college education confers a great advantage in the job market, but is it worth any price?
Hat tip to Kelly Evans of CNBC for alerting us to the New York Fed consumer debt report.

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