Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Comments That Should Have Been Posts

Someone needs to make sure the masses stay in their place.

Anonymous @ 1:24 posted some good research in the post below.

I posted this over at Nando's blog awhile back, but received no response - let me know what you guys think:

"Just to show everyone how easy it was for our parents compared to our current plight, and just some food for thought in general:

The federal minimum wage from 1980-1981 was $3.10 and from 1981-1990 it was $3.35. If we assume that an average person could get a job paying minimum wage during the school years of 1980-81 to 1982-83 during a three year stint at the University of Michigan Law School, and assuming that person worked 20 hours per week during the 52 weeks of the three years in law school (certainly quite an easy task if you ask me), that person would have made $10,192.00 over the three year period.

Now, how much would tuition have been for those three school years? A grand total of $7,266.80!

In other words, you could work minimum wage jobs during your law school stay and actually come out ahead $2,925.20 when only taking into account tuition versus total minimum wage earnings! The extra money left over represents about $81.25 left over each month.

I realize you would have to take into account food, lodging, transportation, etc. However, average rent was $300.00 (which if you had roomates would be significantly cheaper - say ~$75.00), and everything else was much cheaper. Basically, you really could work minimum wage jobs back then and pretty much cover ALL of your costs for three years of law school. I really don't even know why people took out loans back then (if they did at all).

Now, comparing the numbers today:

Tuition - $129,030.00 for three years of tuition (assuming they don't raise tuition for the next three years...good luck with that).

Michigan minimum wage - $7.40. Working 20 hour weeks for the three years you would make $23,088.00.

Running the numbers, you would be left with a deficit of $105,942.00! And that's not even mentioned housing costs, food, transportation, etc."

With those numbers in mind, I then posed the following question:

"Maybe someone here can clarify this for me, but why did people really even need loans when all this federal student loan legislation was passed? Are you telling me that people really couldn't come up with the money to pay for their tuition back then? I really find that hard to believe. As I pointed out earlier, even as recent as 1985 (and a few years later even) you could completely finance a top notch law school education. Why were the loans needed?"

So does anyone have any thoughts? I really want to know why anyone from that day and age even needed loans to finish school. I realize that I only took numbers from the University of Michigan, but I have checked numbers from other schools and have found them to be quite comparable, and in many instances you could fund an education for much less than the numbers cited above. I'd especially be interested in hearing thoughts from those that graduated college from that time period.

In many ways our society was more equal three decades ago than it is today. We've made progress in dealing with racism, homophobia, and sexism but have gone backwards in terms of dealing with economic inequality. It amazes me that in this recession, colleges and universities still have the nerve to justify increases in tuition and room & board fees. As I commented in the post below, high tuition costs and the burden it has on American families is one of the reasons why the US lags behind many European and Asian countries when it comes to education and cutting edge research, especially in math and science. While other countries pay talented students (debt free!) to study overseas and receive the best education to become tomorrow's leaders in science, medicine, and technology, we seem fine with blaming young people who get in over their heads in student debt simply because they want an education to do something better with their lives.

Angel and Grumpy Young Man make valid points. A college degree shouldn't be a requirement for everyone nor is everyone meant to become an academic, a doctor, or a lawyer. I agree that the ABA needs to be reformed and all of TTT schools shut down. But let's be clear that a good education and making connections with important people at top universities and at Ivy Leagues is one of the few ways a person can move up the socio-economic ladder. Poor, working, and middle class students who are smart and determined enough to overcome the many obstacles to get into a Tier 1 school should not be prevented from attending because they don't have the money. I see the growing inaccessibility to an affordable education as another way the elite can keep anyone else from upsetting the golden applecart of wealth and privilege. Inaccessibility to a quality education whether we're talking about primary school or college is just another form of discrimination and segregation. If more people were as outraged we might actually have a fighting chance at changing the system.


  1. I understand your pt. But wondering whether going to a top school yourself has changed your status among the elite. Do you feel like you can contact a fellow top law school grad and be treated as an equal, such as a person with familial connections?

  2. Anon: That is a very complicated question to answer in a few sentences. I have a ton of stories of my experiences at elite schools - I've attended quite a few. When you're in the minority you never really feel like you fit in completely. I especially felt this way in the Ivy League. I think some of the feeling is real and some of it is subconscious and being aware of how different you were raised from most of your peers. You become aware of things like your cheap clothing compared to what other people are wearing and the exotic vacations people take when you can't afford to go anywhere but back to Podunk during breaks. A lot of the materialistic aspects of hanging around rich people affects you - it's only human to want those things too and wonder why you couldn't be as lucky to be born with a silver spoon in your mouth.

    Obviously it is more of a challenge to make those important connections than people born with those connections. Attending a elite schools no longer guarantees a job in this economy, but it has provided a few opportunities in this economy that would otherwise not have been available to me. I won't go into all of the details but I do have interviews lined up with places that I know would not have even considered me in this economy if I didn't have XXX school on my resume and someone at the organization who is an alumnus. This is just my experience but law professors aren't very helpful or personable. I doubt most would even remember me if I contact them nor have I even tried because I'm not interested in practicing law. I do have professors from my other school who continue to send emails about jobs that they find out through personal sources. Many of my professors are still very willing to keep in touch and write recommendation letters for jobs, internships, and fellowships. A rec. from an esteemed professor at a top school can be extremely helpful.

    I don't think an education at an Ivy League or top school is the end all be all to success. This economy and recession has changed a lot of those rules so even top grads are vulnerable to long term unemployment. I know plenty of people with Ivy League and top university degrees who are out of work. But it does make employers and people in general do a double take when they look at your resume. It gives you some undeserved credibility and respect. A lot of people just assume that you must be really, really smart (not true) when you tell them, "I went to XXX college and XXX law school". Again, law school doesn't mean much when I apply to non-legal jobs. Employers still ask the "why did you go to law school" question and I think that has really hurt my chances of getting some jobs even though I attended a prestigious law school.

    There are also a lot of other benefits to going to a top school. A friend of a friend from a poor family went to a top school where she met and married a brilliant young man who came from a very rich family. Your chances for making friends and marrying people of that social sphere are increased dramatically by attending a top school. I was given opportunities to travel and to live for a short time in that world. For a poor student those experiences can really change you for the better. It gave me more confidence and taught me how to work with people who live in a world very different from the blue collar world I was raised in.

  3. Honestly, as someone from a lower level background I don't view myself differently. Maybe it's because I had friends who had more money (my best friend growing up was from a family w/a decent amount of money) or many would describe me as "classy" but I think in some ways, differences are a good thing.

    I remember knowing people in college (I went to a small liberal arts school that has a decent amount of students from money) whose families put a lot of pressure on them to succeed or marry into the right family. Since I was a trailblazer, I didn't have to live up to anybody's expectations. I think my insight was probably beneficial to people who were facing some of that. I know my sorority connections & hearing about the stress of being from money made me far more humane to such concerns than I might have been before.

    Perhaps I'm also a force & people figure they should listen to me or take an interest since I'll go places regardless. I've managed to know people from varied social circles & get contacts just based on my personality. Honestly, people from my own background are harder for me to deal with in some ways since some of them don't aspire to things & like to be dream killers.

    Out of curiosity Hardknocks, do you ever feel your own classism rear its head? I know that I could say some particularly hurtful things to someone from money if I wanted to, but I wouldn't unless someone truly angered me.

    I also admit that I do have some prejudice when I hear someone's from money but I wait until I get to know a person before making conclusions since people can surprise you. I've always thought that economic diversity should get higher importance than racial or gender diversity.

  4. It's hard to relate to your question... I make $130,000 but because I live in New York, I feel very middle class.

  5. Hi, Film Co. Lawyer. I guess I'm a really nice person but I've never said anything hurtful or insulting to somoene because they come from money, at least not to their face. I like to give people the benefit of a doubt but unfortunately too many live up to their stereotypes. One girl in my class was from the Upper East Side so I had heard the UES stereotypes and bad things about her but I never really judged her until I saw her behavior for myself. A lot of what I had heard turned out to be true but I was always cordial with her on campus, not that I ever expected to get to know her beyond our classroom interactions. Racial and gender diversity is important but our society often thinks that's enough while ignoring the importance of economic diversity as well.

  6. Anon @ 11:19: 130k is fairly middle class in NYC from what I hear. It still surprises me when I hear people from NYC say they struggle on $80k a year but I guess that isn't much in Manhattan.

  7. "why did people really even need loans when all this federal student loan legislation was passed?"

    Since when has a lack of need stopped people from borrowing money? Actually when you think about it, it makes a certain amount of sense. If you borrowed $10k to attend law school in 1981, your monthly payment would have been around $100 which would have been very manageable on a 30 or 40k starting salary. And it would give you more time to devote to your studies.

    Of course the problem is that once student loans become available, universities are incentivized to soak up all of that extra money through tuition increases without actually providing any benefits to the students but leaving them deeper in debt.

    So that student loans only seem to be helping students. In reality, 99+% of the benefit of student loans goes to universities. Probably if you researched it you would discover that universities are the ones who lobbied congress to enact student loan programs.

    As for students, they would actually be better off if student loans were completely unavailable.

  8. Agreed anon @ 5:24. I wish the loans that gave me the "opportunity" to attend law school weren't available. Because I simply don't have the means or opportunity to pay it back. And that kind of debt is literally life-altering. When you're 22, those realities, if not explained clearly to you, aren't really understood.

  9. 5:24 is right - 99 percent of the benefit goes to the universities, NOT the student. Once all the federal money was freed up, the schools have all the incentive in the world to take it. And no incentive to increase services or benefits to students, i.e. customers.

    This debt is life-altering. Young people are having less children, and not purchasing homes due to all this crippling debt. Apparently, the government thinks it is better for students to finance their lenders' next Bentley than it is for them to stimulate the economy through buying homes and personal items.

  10. All markets correct, and eventually so will the law school market. In any speculative bubble, the bust is proportional to the boom. As more and more people attend law school, the underlying fundamentals of the profession continue to weaken. In addition, legal outsourcing will continue to exacerbate the bad fundamentals.

    Right now the law school bubble is experiencing a blow off top. Applications are skyrocketing due to the depression. Moreover, market participants are being misled as the ABA is complicit with law schools in publishing false employment data, having the effect of further exacerbating the demand side of the bubble.

    Eventually, when the market (applicants) realize that 3 yrs and horrible job prospects are not worth 150k in debt, applications will crash. As there is no demand for 45,000 attorneys a year, the supply (law schools)side of the equation will correct. Just like housing, just like the tech boom, just like every other specualtive market. Law school staff reaped exceptional profits during the last 20 yrs, only now to see their beloved debt slave shops go bust. Surely the top 80 law schools will remain, but say goodbye to the bottom third of schools. One day ill be able to tell people that I went to once ABA approved school that failed went the law school bubble popped (T4 grad lol). The question is how long will it take applicants to realize its a scam?



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