OPINION: Columnist George Will losing his grip when it comes to 'facts'
I used to like to read George Will's columns, but his recent column on bipartisanship and student loans has caused me to wonder if he is losing his grip. Many of the "facts" in that column are quite misleading.
Start with his claim that the difference between 3.4 percent and 6.8 percent interest on a $5500 loan is less than $10 per month. That may be so, but a $5,500 loan covers only one year of college. Will points out that about two-thirds of students finish college with an average loan of $25,250. The difference in payments between 3.4 percent and 6.8 percent on $25,250 is over $40 per month. The total difference over a 10-year repayment period is over $5000. For the one-third of students with higher loans, the difference is, of course, higher.
Next, Will notes that the average income of college graduates with just a BA degree is $71,552 while the average income of high school graduates without a degree is $41,288 and the difference between these is higher than the $25,250 number he cites for student debt. But there are two problems with using this average. First, students must, in general, start repaying these loans within a few years after graduating. At the beginning of their careers, their annual income is much less than the average for all graduates. Second, the average is skewed by the incomes of a few very high-earning individuals. A much more meaningful comparison would be based on the difference in median income over the first 10 years after graduation.
Furthermore, Will claims that people with no college experience have an unemployment rate of 7.9% while college graduates have an unemployment rate of only 4%. If that is so, how do we currently have an unemployment rate of over 8%? That would be possible only if two conditions are both true: the unemployment rate for those with some college but no degree is higher than that of those with no college, and the size of this group is large enough to account for the difference. Both conditions seem unlikely.
Given how misleading Will's presentation of this information is, I find it difficult to accept Will's other conclusions. In particular, he complains that non-graduate taxpayers will be paying to make it "slightly easier" for some "fortunate" students to acquire college degrees. It would be more accurate to say that these loans make it "possible" for the children of many without degrees to earn the degrees their parents never had. That would be "fortunate" not only for those students but also for their families and for our country as a whole.