Meg in Debt


This is not Meg. This is a model.

Meet Meg. She’s a fan of Ben Folds Five and The Handmaid’s Tale. She has a master’s degree in lit . She posted this information on a public blog a couple of years ago. The blog has a total of two posts and no followers. It was last updated in October 2011, and its creation is apparently one in a series of plans that didn’t work out for Meg. In it, she gripes about her “$100,000 McChickens”-worth of student loan debt and her part-time job that pays $7.14 an hour. (She tells Typewriter People that she has since gotten a job as a teaching assistant, but this is temporary, and she anticipates going “back to the drawing board” soon.)

Overall, her message is one of desperation; she makes a general appeal for guidance after being hit by a string of bad, nonsensical outcomes. She went to school for many years and paid a lot of money only to have the American economy ignore her existence.

“So tell me, Internet,” she writes, “what is a person to do in this situation?” She got one response, from a site promoting a shoe sale.

Meg is far from alone in feeling ripped off by the education industry. She, after all, did pretty much what students are told to do: Stay in school. Follow your passion. America will make a place for all motivated, educated people. But because around half of new college graduates are un-, under- or marginally employed these days, their success rate when it comes to finding good jobs is the same as that of marriages: half fail. The numbers are worse and regret levels higher for students who majored in the arts.
McKinsey & Company, a global management firm, recently examined this trend of regret felt by students like Meg. The company’s report, Voice of the graduate, reinforces Bureau of Labor Statistics data showing a generation of overeducated workers or a badly underperforming, inefficient job market, depending on how you look at it. The Voice report found that many students tend to regret their undergraduate majors, with significant numbers of those who studied arts and humanities wishing they had taken a different path.
As the Megs of the world cry out in desperation asking what to do and what they did wrong, the education industry over the past 30 years has been unstoppable.

Its position as a doorman collecting admission for entrance into our economy has allowed its prices and demands on consumers to become utterly disconnected from what it delivers.

While education is marketed as a public good, in practice it is big business, even to the point of following the strange American penchant for outsized executive salaries.
A recent analysis of top executive salaries at private colleges found a record number of presidents (42) making more than $1 million McChickens a year. The very top earners saw their compensation double and triple in short periods of time.

Regardless of where you stand on the executive salary debate (I tend to think it’s a simple moral hazard thing), the staggering rise in the cost of a college education (more than 1,000 percent since the 1970s), makes it clear that the education industry, like any business, is focused on its own growth and not with how students fare once they leave campus.

Otherwise, people like Meg wouldn’t be starting blogs about joblessness and debt, a story that has become so common no one bats an eye.
Education in the purest sense is essential in a democracy and makes us free on both personal and organizational levels, but having this necessity pass through the hands of industry has put us $1 trillion in debt, arguably one of the nastiest ways people lose life options. Understanding and addressing this tension between business and education will likely be critical to keeping us from continuing to see a generation of Megs, young people sidelined for their most productive years and unlikely to ever catch up.
Visit Meg’s blog here.
See the McKinsey report here.
See university execs’ salaries tallied by the Chronicle of Higher Education here.

Meg resurrected her blog, The Homeless and Unemployed College Grad, as prepared to run this story. Her first post in two years: How to Get By on Free Food, Or Nearly Free.

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