About Me

Ithaca, New York
MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.

Monday, June 6, 2011

#46: Debt-Free U

Debt-Free U: How I Paid for an Outstanding College Education without Loans, Scholarships, or Mooching Off My Parents, by Zac Bissonnette (New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2010).

"This book can save you over $100,000. These days, most people assume you need to pay a boatload of money for a quality college education. As a result, students and their parents are willing to go into years of debt and potentially sabotage their entire financial futures just to get a fancy name on their diploma. But Zac Bissonnette is walking proof that this assumption is not only false, but dangerous -- a class con game designed to rip you off and doom your student to a post-graduation life of near poverty . From his unique double perspective -- he's a personal finance expert (at Daily Finance) AND a current senior at the University of Massachusetts -- Zac figured out how to get an outstanding education at a public college, without bankrupting his parents or taking on massive loans. Armed with his personal knowledge, the latest data, and smart analysis, Zac takes on the sacred cows of the higher education establishment. He reveals why a lot of the conventional wisdom about choosing and financing college is not only wrong but hazardous to you and your child's financial future. You'll discover, for instance, that:
"Zac can prove every one of those bold assertions -- and more. No matter what your current financial situation, he has a simple message for parents: 'RELAX! Your kid will be able to get a champagne education on a beer budget!'"

My Take:
Grr. OK, I'll admit up front that my impression of Bissonnette's book is colored in part by his impression of me. No, we haven't met personally, but this guy really, really, REALLY doesn't like financial aid administrators -- says, in fact, that we're a far lower life form than admissions staffers, and our job is just to convince students to attend the schools for which we work by any means necessary (e.g., beaucoup loans). Not since New York's current governor made an anti-corruption name for himself on my colleagues' backs have I felt so publicly insulted. Are there rotten apples in and drawbacks to every profession? Absolutely -- but having some smarmy 20something tar an entire profession with this broad and misleading brush sticks in my craw. All right, I'm done with that rant now.

Sigh. Grudgingly, I do think Bissonnette has some valid points to make here. Prospective students and their families should think long and hard about the value of a private school education if it means borrowing big bucks (in either the parents' or student's name) to get it. The vast majority of privates don't meet students' need, and if that's the case, well ... State U. looks pretty darned good. Contrary to the author's belief, I've said as much to many families in my office. And the majority of students can and should be contributing more from their own earnings toward their educational costs -- both from summer and academic-year work. He also makes several good arguments for not borrowing more money to fund discretionary or lifestyle items while you're in school -- specifically, it may not make sense to borrow through the nose just because you've always wanted to go to school in ___ location, or to live in a luxury dorm room while you're in college, when doing so may well impact where and how you're able to live for WAY more than 4 years after you graduate.

In general, though, the book is best approached as food for thought and an interesting proposal, rather than something that can, should, and will work for everyone. Should parents and high school students question their assumptions about the importance of a college education and where/ how to get it? Absolutely. But replacing the current model with Bissonnette's for everyone, IMO, is no big improvement.

No comments:

Post a Comment