The Ivy League’s Biggest Scam: Expensive Graduate Degrees That Don’t Pay Off

If you are thinking about enrolling in a pricey Ivy League graduate program, read a recent Wall Street Journal article titled “Financially Hobbled for Life’: The Elite Master’s Degrees That Don’t Pay Off.”

Reporters Melissa Korn and Andrea Fuller report on a WSJ analysis of student debt owed by people who graduated from prestigious schools like Harvard, NYU, and Columbia. Two years after getting degrees from these toney joints, a high percentage of elite-school graduates were not working in jobs that would allow them to pay off their student loans.

For example, a New Jersey guy got a master’s degree in Fine Arts in film at Columbia. Two years after graduating, he owes nearly $300,000 in student loans (including interest) and earns between $30,000 and $60,000 a year. Will this man ever pay off his student loans? Not bloody likely.

And this is not an isolated example. The WSJ reported that the median student-loan debt for Columbia’s film program graduates was $171,000 in 2017-2018. How many of those people are earning $171,000 in their current jobs? How many will ever pay off their student loans?

What attracts bright people to expensive Ivy League graduate programs? As one Columbia film graduate said, “We were told by the establishment our whole lives this was the way to jump social classes.”

But we were told wrong. I got an essentially useless doctorate from Harvard, thinking the degree would erase Oklahoma from my vita. But it didn’t. I still have range dust in my diction, and I still see the world much like my hard-scrabble ancestors saw it–the ones who lived through the Dust Bowl.

The WSJ analysis focuses mainly on Columbia University’s film program and its graduate program in theatre arts. But there are other unindicted co-conspirators.

Harvard’s master of education degree, for example, is a scam. You can get a master’s degree from Harvard Graduate School of Education in only nine months, but the total cost of that experience is $85,000 (including room and board).

I picked up a Harvard master’s degree as I went through Harvard’s doctoral program. I was proud of it at the time. I went to the graduation ceremony (very posh) and even framed the diploma.

But I no longer put that degree on my vita, and I lost the diploma somewhere along the way. Thinking back on that experience, I wonder at my naivete. I sat in packed classrooms containing as many as 200 students, and most of my teachers were nontenured instructors.

One of my Harvard professors enjoyed rock-star status while I was there. She gave one two-hour lecture a week for a four-hour course. Her graduate students taught the other two hours. Office hours? If you wanted to see this professor, you had to submit a written petition to one of her graduate students explaining why your appointment was worth this professor’s precious time.

I say again. If you are thinking about taking out loans to get an Ivy League master’s degree, read the WSJ article first. If you still want to pursue that path, consult a good therapist–because you are delusional.

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