Columbia and other top universities push master’s programs that fail to generate enough income for graduates to keep up with six-figure federal loans. The Wall Street Journal reports:
Recent film program graduates of Columbia University who took out federal student loans had a median debt of $181,000. Yet two years after earning their master’s degrees, half of the borrowers were making less than $30,000 a year. The Columbia program offers the most extreme example of how elite universities in recent years have awarded thousands of master’s degrees that don’t provide graduates enough early career earnings to begin paying down their federal student loans, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of Education Department data. Recent Columbia film alumni had the highest debt compared with earnings among graduates of any major university master’s program in the U.S., the Journal found. The New York City university is among the world’s most prestigious schools, and its $11.3 billion endowment ranks it the nation’s eighth wealthiest private school.
For years, faculty, staff and students have appealed unsuccessfully to administrators to tap that wealth to aid more graduate students, according to current and former faculty and administrators, and dozens of students. Taxpayers will be on the hook for whatever is left unpaid. Lured by the aura of degrees from top-flight institutions, many master’s students at universities across the U.S. took on debt beyond what their pay would support, the Journal analysis of federal data on borrowers found. At Columbia, such students graduated from programs including history, social work and architecture. Columbia University President Lee Bollinger said the Education Department data in the Journal analysis can’t fully assess salary prospects because it covers only earnings and loan repayments two years after graduation. “Nevertheless,” he said, “this is not what we want it to be.”
At New York University, graduates with a master’s degree in publishing borrowed a median $116,000 and had an annual median income of $42,000 two years after the program, the data on recent borrowers show. At Northwestern University, half of those who earned degrees in speech-language pathology borrowed $148,000 or more, and the graduates had a median income of $60,000 two years later. Graduates of the University of Southern California’s marriage and family counseling program borrowed a median $124,000 and half earned $50,000 or less over the same period. “NYU is always focused on affordability, and an important part of that is, of course, to help prospective students make informed decisions,” said spokesman John Beckman. Northwestern spokeswoman Hilary Hurd Anyaso said the speech-language pathology program is among the best in the world, leading to a “gratifying career path that is in high demand.” USC spokeswoman Lauren Bartlett said providing students financial support and employment opportunities was a priority for the school.