Colleges Must Teach Students the Pros and Cons of Borrowing

To the Editor:

When an 18-year-old who has just left overworked, underpaid, recently-laid-off parents is offered a golden dream—even if it is to be inducted into the golden martyrdom that is college sports—when weighed against the option of working at a fast-food joint or minimum-wage job, it is an opportunity of a lifetime (“An Open Letter to Division I College Presidents and Governing Boards: Fix Skewed Incentives in Your Sports Programs,“ The Chronicle, April 4). At least they’re given free sneakers and don’t have to work full-time while still needing welfare. Where I think the system truly fails is by neglecting to educate both athletes and lay students about the realities and disappointments that will come after the heyday of college.

We find ourselves in the midst of strikes and job losses, an unfortunate part of the ebbs and flows of our democratic capitalist system, which has always had its victims and victors. The irony of our society today is that the very institution of higher education, which for my parents and many others of the baby-boom generation proved to be a feasible way to the golden dream, is now a sure and steady way to failure for Kevin Ware and other broken (and broke) college students like him.

It’s a shame, but universities—like many other institutions, such as Fannie Mae and JP Morgan—have been able use naive and under-notified American dreamers to bail out their inflated and unnecessary oversights and costs. Universities are one of the main institutions that hustle us young people in the name of our benefit and progress.

Just as the basketball players of March Madness are used as indentured servants to the plantation that is the bracket system, so college students are indebted to a system that will guarantee more loans than they will ever be able to pay for with a mere undergraduate diploma nowdays. Unlike those that have gone before us, including my immigrant parents who came to America and achieved this ever-faithful American dream, students of our generation have little to no experience in the workforce. They also have greater competition in terms of attaining higher education which, by the way, doesn’t even guarantee them a job at Barnes and Noble in this economy.

It’s time for the major financial institution that is the university to be held responsible for the lack of education when it comes to the large debt incurred by students with no real future return. I have spent the past two years writing to the presidents of Harvard University, the University of California, and many other Ivy League and four-year universities with one goal: to encourage them to create a financial-literacy course that teaches students that they are hustling with a golden dream. I have encouraged my alma mater, Duke University, to create one and it did. I’m waiting for all the fat cats to join in.

Aeden Keffelew
New York

The writer’s letter to Duke inspired the Web site Personal Finance @ Duke.

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