Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
If University of Maryland’s business school taught me one thing, it is how to calculate present and future values of cash flows and investments. Essentially, every class had me do the same thing: calculate the time value of money. Put simply, a dollar today is worth more than a dollar tomorrow, because the dollar today could be invested and earn interest. Well, let’s apply one of the few things I’ve learned at this university to the decision of whether or not to purchase a cap and gown for graduation.
According to this university’s graduation rules, “Undergraduate and master’s degree students must purchase their regalia from the book center.” This “regalia” is sold as a package for roughly $140 without tax ($138.98, to be exact). If instead, I were to invest that $140 to pay back my federal student loans, which in my case demands an interest rate of seven percent over 25 years, this “regalia” has a future value of over $754. It would be an insult to all of my professors and to the business school if I were to buy a regalia — I’d be going against the one thing I actually learned during my three years studying finance.
Anyone who knows me understands how much I despise the U.S. educational system, and, by association, the University of Maryland. It is clear to me that the value of our education is staying flat, if not decreasing, while the cost of education is growing at an exponential rate. My annual out-of-state tuition bill was, on average, about $40,000. Tuition for next year is expected to be as high as $47,606 for out of state students.
The craziest part of our system is that student debt is one of the few types of debt that is “non dischargeable.” That means that even if you declare bankruptcy, your student debt is not forgiven. Yet, these days, the only way to get a high paying job (with few exceptions) is to earn a four year college degree. One piece of paper differentiates between two identical job candidates, regardless of their other qualifications. One piece of paper is the reason I returned to school after taking a year to work for a high-tech startup in Chicago.
Why is tuition so expensive? Well, because this university’s football team needed a new $155 million practice facility, with $25 million funded by the state of Maryland. This university needed to build up a massive endowment fund, valued in 2014 at over $408.1 million. Most of this endowment is used to fund research, which almost never benefits the students. Radical idea: We use a mere $1.5 million out of the more than $400 million to give the 10,000 graduating students caps and gowns.
I can hardly be the only one feeling screwed by the education system. But this issue has much broader implications than simply not purchasing a cap and gown.
I believe that it is only a matter of time until this scheme collapses. I have secured a high-paying job that will enable me to pay off my debt as fast as possible, but, unfortunately, that isn’t possible for the majority of graduating students. Many students, especially those studying majors with a lower income potential than finance, will have a harder time securing high-paying positions to pay down their debt. And if you don’t pay back your debt, it only grows larger. Many of my peers will attempt to pay their inescapable debt, while it accrues faster than they can manage. Many of my peers will be paying back debt for 30 years or more. How long until there’s mass default on student debt? I don’t have the answer, but from the perspective of a finance major, our educational system doesn’t seem like a sustainable business model.
So, what did this university teach me? It taught me not to buy a fucking “regalia” from the University Book Center.
Elan Yudkowsky is a senior finance major. He can be reached at EYudkowsky@gmail.com