NYU Students: Debt and Debtor

NYU is number one in student debt. But is it really worth it?

NYU Students: Debt and Debtor
Viktor Koen

Walking around Greenwich Village, it's easy to find reinforcement for the popular stereotype of New York University as a rich-kid school. On a fall evening, the bars and restaurants near the campus can feel completely overrun with a swarming mass of fashionably dressed students splashing out on Mom and Dad's credit card, apparently heedless of the recession and living the downtown dream.

Lyndsey always resented that stereotype. That's not to say she doesn't acknowledge some truth to it, but she knew it didn't apply to her. Like so many undergraduates, she came to NYU because it was her dream school, but it wasn't a dream she came by easily. Lyndsey financed her NYU education in large part with loans, which she is now paying back a little at a time.

When Lyndsey is done paying them, she will be 54 years old, and she will have spent more than a third of a million dollars on her undergraduate education.

During her college years, as it became clear to Lyndsey just how deep in the hole her education was going to put her, she dialed back her living expenses to a bare-bones survival budget. She moved out of the overpriced university dorm and into a tiny apartment off campus, dropped out of the meal plan, and put herself on a strict $20-a-week regimen for food and entertainment.

"I joined clubs just because they had food at the meetings," Lyndsey says. "I knew all the popular meeting places, and I always had tinfoil and plastic bags with me to snatch up anything on the table. If I came across a leftover pizza, I'd take the whole thing and put it in my bag. When I did buy groceries, it was in Chinatown, and I'd haggle for everything. I'd buy things that I didn't even know what they were, just because they were cheap."

Upon graduation, it became obvious to Lyndsey that what she wanted to do with her life—why she'd gone to NYU and into debt—wasn't going to pay the bills as her loans started coming due.

"My dream career was to be a cinematographer on films about nature, to be involved with shaping how the public perceives nature and our relation to it," Lyndsey says. "It became clear that that wasn't going to pay nearly enough. I had a six-month grace period after graduation to get a job and start paying back those loans, so I got work that paid better in a field completely different from why I wanted to go to school in the first place."

And so began a blurred, twilight existence that has lasted years for Lyndsey. She works nine-to-five in a surgical-simulation lab at a medical school, then rushes home to immediately start her other job, working until 10:30 as tech support for a company in California.

"It's pretty murderous," Lyndsey says. "There's no time in my day to think, to breathe, to eat, to shop for groceries. Weekends I try to catch up on laundry, get groceries, cook as much as possible, and see my friends if I can."

Still, the punishing work schedule was better than the alternatives Lyndsey sometimes considered. "I'm basically trying to avoid the more extreme ways of doing it: stripping and prostitution," she says. "Stuff you can't tell your parents and your friends about."

Working 70 hours a week, Lyndsey was able to stay on top of her $1,232 monthly loan repayment and even put a little aside. But it wasn't sustainable: She was chronically exhausted, her relationships were suffering, and she was miserable. Earlier this year, her boyfriend moved out, and she found herself scrambling to make rent by placing a rotating series of Craigslist roommates on the couch of her one-bedroom apartment in South Williamsburg.

Now the possibility of getting behind on her loans, or even defaulting, seems perilously close. But there's no way out. Bankruptcy wouldn't clear her obligations, and if she falls behind, the bank wouldn't just come after her, but also after her mother, who took on much of the debt. Their salaries could be garnished and so could her mother's Social Security benefits.

Lyndsey doesn't want to use her full name in this story. She's worried that if she ever does default on her loans, her comments might be used against her in court. Worse yet, she says, they could be used against her mother.

But even trapped in this untenable situation, when she's asked if she wishes she hadn't gone to NYU in the first place, Lyndsey doesn't have a simple answer. She's angry at NYU, feels used and misled by the school, sure. Yet she's got nothing but good things to say about the schooling she received.

"Would I want a different education? I have to say, the education I got was pretty great," Lyndsey says. "I got to know this city that I love. And going to NYU has made people look at my résumé that wouldn't have if I went to UMass Amherst. Do I wish I hadn't gone to NYU at all? It's not that easy."

In the clutches of the great recession, after the home-borrowing bubble burst, the education-borrowing bubble lives on. Teenagers continue to borrow tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars to finance their educations, even as they increasingly find there aren't jobs waiting for them on the other side. Down in Zuccotti Park, Occupy Wall Street protesters are talking about demanding student-loan forgiveness.

In some respects, NYU is the poster child for the excesses of 21st-century student debt in America. Although most NYU undergraduates haven't borrowed as much as Lyndsey (who owes $165,000 and will end up paying $350,000 because of interest), the average student is still a whopping $35,000 in debt when they graduate, a figure $11,000 higher than the national average. In fact, NYU creates more student debt than any other nonprofit college or university in the country. The only schools putting students into more debt are the kind of for-profit diploma mills currently being investigated by the United States Senate.

But at the same time, NYU's status as an iconic and prolific generator of student debt is an awkward fit with the populist outrage of national education funding activists and Occupy Wall Street protesters. Prospective NYU students have less-expensive options, and NYU isn't exactly positioning itself as an affordable institution for the masses. In fact, its tuition is so high and its financial aid so low precisely because the university is on a multi-decade spending spree, attempting to launch itself into the highest tiers of elite universities with a state-of-the-art campus and top-notch faculty.

That sort of aspirational spending—the idea that, as former NYU president L. Jay Oliva once said, "There's no way to get excellence, other than buying your way into it"—is, of course, only the institutional mirror of the aspirational spending NYU's students are doing when they pay their tuition bills. For many, the belief that a diploma from a prestigious school like NYU can catapult a student into a higher socioeconomic register makes NYU's staggering tuition seem worth it.

There is a significant difference between these double strands of big dreams and lavish spending, though: NYU is financing its dreams with student tuition. The students are financing theirs with enormous loans that can weigh on them and limit their options for decades to come.

Why does NYU put its students in so much debt? Some of the answers are obvious and come quickly to the tongue of university spokesmen when asked the familiar question: NYU is in the heart of New York City, one of the most expensive real estate markets in the world. Everything is more expensive here, from buildings to salaries to food and laundry.

School officials also point to the school's relatively meager endowment. At $2.5 billion, NYU's endowment sounds like a lot until you start comparing it with those of the big-name schools with which NYU competes: Five miles uptown, Columbia has $7.8 billion. Yale has almost $20 billion. Harvard has $32 billion.

Schools like these can use the interest accrued by their massive endowments to help cover their costs, lessening their reliance on tuition and increasing the generosity of their financial aid. Princeton funds nearly half of its operating budget with its endowment. At NYU, the figure is 5 percent.

But while NYU pleads poverty to its students, it's worth understanding why its endowment is so small. For one thing, NYU hasn't been around collecting compound interest for as long as some of its ivy-covered brethren. It was founded in 1831, nearly 200 years after Harvard. And for much of its history, NYU wasn't exactly serving the sort of old-money elites and future captains of industry that could be counted on to give generously to their alma mater.

For most of the past century, NYU was a modest regional commuter school. Most of its operations were in the Bronx, in a spacious, conventional campus in University Heights. But faced with a financial crisis in the early 1970s, the school's board of directors began implementing a sort of moon-shot effort to save the school. If the challenge was to go big or go home, NYU was going to go big.

It sold the Bronx campus, now home to Bronx Community College, and rebranded itself as the school in the heart of downtown. President John Brademas launched a billion-dollar fundraising campaign. But contrary to conventional doctrine, NYU socked little of the money away, instead going on a spending spree, expanding the university's Greenwich Village footprint, and upgrading its existing facilities.

Longtime residents fought back against this construction boom and the institutionalization of their neighborhood, but though the resistance to NYU's ongoing expansion is still noisy, in decades of struggle, they have had little success in reining in the NYU juggernaut.

The development was mostly for dorms and academic buildings, but NYU's holdings also include a lot of swanky faculty housing, which, combined with a generous war chest, have helped to lure big-name professors who would never have considered NYU 30 years ago.

The spending spree struck many at other universities as risky and dangerous. Spending so much and saving so little allowed NYU to grow rapidly in size and stature, but it left the school with little to fall back on in hard times and placed an outsize share of the burden of running the school on the backs of students.

Still, by most measures, the strategy was an unqualified success. Forty years after its near bankruptcy, NYU's Hail Mary transformation is complete. The Bronx now far behind, the school is firmly entrenched in the Village, with 15 million square feet citywide. It has a world-class faculty and now competes for some of the best students in the world.

But the school isn't stopping its spendthrift strategy. It's not even slowing down. If anything, NYU's metastatic expansion is only speeding up. Last year, the school announced plans to grow its space by another 40 percent, further saturating the Village and expanding into Brooklyn and Governors Island. And the school isn't confining itself to New York City. Last year, it opened NYU Abu Dhabi, a sort of clone of itself in the United Arab Emirates. In 2013, the school plans to do it again, this time in China. These global forays are for the most part funded by their host countries, but many students see this relentless focus on growth as coming at their expense.

NYU's thirst for money to fuel its rocket ride to the top has certainly led it to some unsavory places. In 2007, then-attorney general Andrew Cuomo busted the school for a kickback scheme involving student loans. When students were accepted to NYU, the school would direct them to Citibank as its "preferred lender" for all private loans. In return, Citi would kick back a percentage of its loans to the school. NYU's take amounted to $1.4 million over five years.

Citi did offer lower rates than the seven other institutions that vied to be NYU's preferred lender, and NYU says the money was plowed back into student aid anyway. But the relationship was still unsettlingly cozy.

Lyndsey, the alumna who will have paid $350,000 for her NYU education, went to Citibank for her private loans because NYU directed her there. When she was accepted in 2003, she was ecstatic. That enthusiasm dimmed somewhat when she saw the meager financial aid package NYU was offering her. If she wanted to attend her dream school, she'd be paying for 90 percent of it with loans.

Despite living in a swanky suburb northwest of Boston, Lyndsey's parents were hardly wealthy. Her mother ran a café, where Lyndsey often helped out. Her father worked in sales for the telecom industry but had lost his job, and the past few years had been difficult. Lyndsey's mother had never gone to college. Her father is English, and had no familiarity with the American university system.

"We relied on the University to help explain it to us," Lyndsey says. "We didn't take it lying down. We called financial aid to ask what was up. They told us that NYU has a fairly high dropout rate, so to protect themselves, they don't offer a lot of financial aid the first semester, but we could expect the financial aid to increase in future semesters."

With that reassurance, Lyndsey and her mother inked promissory notes to Citibank. But when the second semester started, Lyndsey's financial aid didn't change. The next year, tuition went up, and her aid actually went down.

"The relationship with Citi just shows how little incentive NYU had to limit their tuition or offer me better financial aid," Lyndsey says. "They were getting my $40,000 in tuition plus a 15 percent kickback for everything I borrowed. Everybody was winning: NYU was getting paid; the bank was getting a guaranteed revenue stream of 8.5 percent interest guaranteed by the government. Everyone was winning but me."

The feeling that her education financing had turned her into an indentured servant made Lyndsey political. Her activities have connected her with a network of other NYU students and alumni saddled with crushing debt and looking to do something about it. A Facebook group she runs called "The $100,000 Club" for students with six figures of debt has more than 60 members. Some students have staged publicity-ready actions like storming into the NYU bursar's office and attempting to exchange their diplomas for a full refund.

In 2009, the "Take Back NYU" occupation of the school's student center was motivated in no small part by frustration at ever-increasing tuition and the administration's refusal to reveal meaningful details about how it spends its money. But these were larded up with nearly a dozen other demands, including opening the school library to all and offering 13 scholarships to Palestinian students. By the time the occupation ended, it had become caricatured in the media as an unfocused tantrum by privileged kids.

Last winter, the NYU debt protest movement got another shot in the arm as MTV's Andrew Jenks used NYU as the backdrop to his "Casualties of Debt" demonstration. On a cold February day, Jenks organized students in Washington Square to don Anonymous-style masks and T-shirts emblazoned with their amount of debt.

The event was long on theatricality, but Jenks wasn't exactly a terrific spokesman for the movement. When MSNBC's Dylan Ratigan asked him what the masks were all about, he said, "We're all wearing masks to show that as a whole, right now, we may not be doing enough, and we sort of have these blank faces, and we're looking around, and we're not sure what to do."

A more cogent perspective came from Charlie Eisenhood, then an NYU senior and the editor of school's unofficial newspaper, NYU Local.

"When you think about it, people trying to make a financial decision that's going to affect the next two decades of their life when they're 17 and 18 years old is crazy," Eisenhood told Ratigan. "A lot of the time, they don't understand what they're getting into, and it's really up to the universities and Congress to make sure that the banks and the universities are focused on making sure these young students are making financial decisions that aren't going to leave them penniless when they're 25 and 30 years old."

Talking to the Voice this fall from Abu Dhabi, where he is working for NYU, Eisenhood elaborated: "It seems to me that the libertarians are off-base when they say, 'Well, they're adults, they should know better,'" he says. "There needs to be more information from universities and the government and even from banks—you know, 'Are you sure you want to take on this debt to get this degree? It's not free. It seems free now, maybe, but you're going to have to pay it back.'"

That call, for NYU to take more responsibility for educating prospective students about the realities of debt, is actually one that the university has heeded to some extent.

In 2009, NYU called more than 1,800 of 7,300 accepted students whose scholarship packages wouldn't come close to covering their tuition and asked if they were really sure that going to NYU was such a good idea.

But that gesture generated its own backlash. Some students who received the calls told the press they found them discriminatory, and an editorial in the student-run Washington Square News worried the calls would discourage lower-income students from enrolling. "If promising and motivated students choose not to attend, and any student able to pay the bill fills their spot, NYU risks undermining both its prestige and its socioeconomic diversity," the piece stated. "NYU must turn inward and ask itself which quality it values more in its students: motivation, or financial solubility?"

In this instance at least, NYU found itself damned either way. If it made it easy for students to finance their educations with massive loans, it was guilty of economic exploitation and collusion with banks to create a generation of highly educated wage slaves. If it took steps to counsel students about the real consequences of those loans, it was shutting the door to a transformative opportunity to the people who could most benefit from it.

As much as students and activists blamed the university for greasing the wheels on their precipitous roller-coaster dive into crippling debt, many were profoundly uncomfortable with the idea of the university doing anything that would limit enrollment to students who could put cash down on the spot.

Zac Bissonnette, a UMass graduate who wrote Debt-Free U: How I Paid for an Outstanding College Education Without Loans, Scholarships, or Mooching off My Parents, was unimpressed by what he saw as an ineffective infantilism in the NYU debt protests.

"Protesting the amount of money you decided to borrow in order to go to NYU is sort of like moving to New England in the middle of January and then holding signs protesting the cold temperatures and abundant snow," Bissonnette wrote on Daily Finance. "NYU students have a legitimate concern—the amount of money that they're borrowing is insane—and the way that they should handle it is to vote with their feet. Transfer to another school. Deprive NYU of its source of revenue and save yourself in the process. But voluntarily borrowing huge amounts of money to give it to a school while simultaneously shaking your fist at it doesn't help anyone."

Bissonnette's critique is a striking one, because it brings home what makes NYU's debt debate different from the national one. If states are gutting funding for public universities, as they are, that has profound implications for access to education in this country. If a burgeoning industry of for-profit schools is going to extraordinary lengths to put those most in need of education into massive debt for often worthless degrees, that's criminal.

But if NYU thinks it can fund its ascent to the top tier of universities by charging massive tuition and offering minimal student aid, it's not as though prospective students don't have other options. Schools with even better reputations than NYU have more generous aid packages, and there are literally scores of other colleges that offer "the New York experience" where you won't have to put your life in hock for a diploma. Yet last year, 42,242 students applied to the school—the largest applicant pool ever. What gives?

Talking to undergraduates and recent alumni, it seems the answer has a lot to do with youthful optimism and with a vision of their lives that extends through their happy days of schooling in the great metropolis but perhaps not much further.

"Students go to NYU because it's in New York City," Eisenhood says. "When I applied, they had a question on their application: 'Other than living in New York, why do you want to attend NYU?' And I was like, wow, that's actually really hard. I forget what I said—'Great research opportunities,' or something, but I didn't really believe it."

But as much as NYU sells itself on its location, it has some strong programs to recommend it. The university's Stern School of Business is ranked number five among undergraduate business programs by U.S. News & World Report, and students can reasonably expect that between their degree and some well-chosen internships at New York firms, they will be well-poised for a career that will allow them to easily pay back any debt they take on.

Other NYU programs, if equally well-regarded, can't promise the same financial return on investment, but that doesn't stop students from signing on for the ride. Ryan Hamelin, in his last semester of a film and television major at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, has borrowed roughly $24,000 per semester to finance his education but feels confident he'll be able to make the $1,000 monthly payments when he graduates. He's pulling together his portfolio in the hopes of getting some directing gigs. If that doesn't work out, he plans to fall back on crewing for shoots across the city, something he has already done a bit of.

Early last semester, the reality of his financial situation—even for graduates of the celebrated Tisch program, the jackpot of a directorial gig right out of college is rare—finally sank in. "I was thinking, 'Shit, why did I do this?'" Hamelin says. "I was having anxiety attacks about it."

Now, with a few months to go before his first payments come due, Hamelin is more reconciled to where his path has taken him. "Once this kicks in, I don't see myself being able to do the things I want to be doing for a number of years, which is really a drag," he says. "But that's what you get when you go to NYU: You get NYU, and you get paying for NYU. I'm not going to go down to Wall Street and yell and scream and hope that will make my debt go away."

Lyndsey says she isn't wishing for her debt to go away. "I never want to not pay for what I got," she says. But there are government actions that would make her life easier without giving her a free ride.

"Even changing the interest rate on the PLUS Loans to 3 percent would cut my repayment time in half," Lyndsey says. "Or give us the right to refinance. Banks are borrowing money for free right now, and students are locked in to paying banks back at 8 percent or more."

Since she graduated, Lyndsey has paid back about $40,000 of her loan. But because her loans carry 8.5 percent interest with no chance of refinancing, that $40,000 has put only a tiny dent in her actual balance.

"Do I wish I had been more savvy about how financial aid worked? Of course I do," Lyndsey says. "I'm now guaranteed locked into the system for the rest of my working life to make money for Citibank."

And sure, sometimes Lyndsey fantasizes about what would have happened if she hadn't gone to NYU or to college at all, if she had instead spent her money on high-end film equipment and made the kind of documentaries she had in mind when she enrolled at the university.

But like many NYU students mired in debt, she doesn't think that should be the only choice—between an NYU education and a lifetime of debt or forgoing the university entirely.

"There are so many people with so much potential, and they're going to school because they have visions of what they want to do and be and accomplish and contribute to the world," Lyndsey says. And because of the way we're doing things now, they get locked down, and they have to pay these bills, and they don't get to follow through. And that's a waste."

npinto@villagevoice.com

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106 comments
uncleduke911
uncleduke911

"My dream career was to be a cinematographer on films about nature, to be involved with shaping how the public perceives nature and our relation to it," Lyndsey says.

Lindsey: what were you thinking? Did you explore what your dream paid, how many NYU graduates got jobs doing it? How about: "How many people are currently working in your dream job?" Did you interview any seniors before you plunked down your money? Would you buy a car without driving it? Would you purchase a house without seeing inside it?


I wanted to be a fireman when I grew up: but I discovered on investigation, that even with the corrupt unions, it doesn't pay for Ivy League tuitions....

Why, exactly, am I supposed to feel sorry for you. You spent a quarter of a million without even asking what it would buy you.

NYUBankruptcy
NYUBankruptcy

Let's see how much student debt will be after NYU has to start paying debt service on its $6 billion expansion plan.  

Robert
Robert

Odd sign on display in a store window..."My country queers of thee...Sweet land of perverted liberty of thee I sing."..Help with student loans...????????????????????????????????????

Robert
Robert

Just to give some informative information...Some professors use their own student's writtenthesis and just alter words etc. to get their own grants....I was in college and a librariansaid to me...(she happened to be black...no reflection) , "I will write any THESIS FOR YOU FOR $20.00." I said, "No thank you...I prefer to use my own brain". I also found out thereare some psycho-weird-bigoted-nonparisan professors...and money spent is not always wellspent....Sickly education system....

Robert
Robert

She could have avoided all big debt by going to a Photography School...What about NYI of Photography...Lot cheaper and they hel wit jobs....

Beachshell
Beachshell

I chose my college (ASU) based on their generous scholarship package. Was it the most prestigious school I was accepted at? No. But I had a great experience, got a terrific education, graduated debt free in 2009, got a job offer in my chosen field prior to graduation, and bought a beautiful home two years later. Getting a degree is a financial descision designed to increase your future earning power. Unless you are independently wealthy it should br treated ss such.

Jollybob99
Jollybob99

I graduated NYU School of the Arts in 1976. I am the first to admit that I had no real talent and that the school should have dumped me out of there earlier. At that time the US wasnin a recession, we had a couple network tv stations and there were nonrealnfilm careers jobs that actually paid money. NYU would not even hire me as a file clerk...unqualified...did not teach alphabet at NYU. Anyway I owed about a years wages at the time...similar to what many new grads are facing now. Eventually found work in areas totally unrelated to major....went to biz school at Baruch College and that was one of the best investments I ever made....got MBA and my grad school career which cost about a years tuition at NYU back immediately. Paid off my loans. The lesson here is that you getbout of college what you put into it. Sometimes cost does notbequal quality. I tell prospective file and tv careerists now thatbthey should get a four year liberal arts degree or biz edge and take a summer 10 week boot camp in filmmaking if that is their career gaol or interest....you don't need four years especially in such a rapidly changing environment,....who would have thought just a few years ago that a 100 dollar camera, a computer, and some editing software one could actually make a feature film. You don't need a quarter million dollar education and loans. Just two cents from someone who has been there

Derp
Derp

The average student debt when graduating from a private four year college is about $24K. I had close to that much when I graduated from University of Rochester in 2007. I paid it off 6 months ago. I've been employed since I graduated, but I've never made over 30K a year (PhD stipend....). As much as I hate to say it, the average debt burden isn't too bad, even on a minimal salary. It's these cases when we have institutions of higher learning that consistently graduate students with a massive loan burden that something needs to be done.

That the school is in bed with it's loan bank is gross and unethical, but chastising the school or the bank likely won't accomplish much. My thought is we should really encourage students to vote with their feet. I'm an alumni interviewer and I've been honest about the loan burden and how high it can potentially get, especially compared with average tuition for the state school my interviewees have available to them. 50K and up a year is a serious burden for anyone without substantial parental or scholarship money. We need to emphasize to the prospective applicant that ideally your total loan amount shouldn't be more than what you expect to make annually at your first job post-college (assuming you can even find one!) Maybe a high school class/seminar in getting into/paying for college would be useful....

Caridad
Caridad

The "work" of the supercommittee of 12 politicians pales in comparison to the burgeoning student movements across the country. Here are students who are willing to sacrifice themselves and their physical safety to call the public's attention to the way corporations are taking over the public university system. If only these 12 politicians were as responsive to the economic problems of their nation, if only they were willing to sacrifice their political ambitions for the greater good, then they would have gotten something done.

And yet, the fact that the supercommittee failed apparently means that they are deserving of a ridiculous amount of media attention, while this morning there is no mention of the fact that yesterday, at Baruch College, college students protesting tuition hikes while on-campus were beat with batons by campus police officers and then arrested by the NYPD.

Maybe the politicians aren't to blame if we and the media don't hold them up to a higher standard, the standard of community service and activism modeled by these public university students.

http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes....

http://chronicle.com/article/A...

Red_Eye_Girl_4434
Red_Eye_Girl_4434

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Sakara
Sakara

one of a million dopes who went to college to be....A MOVIE MAKER!

HAHAHHAAHA

so many dopes pay good money in the hopes of making...movies!

Jim Lane
Jim Lane

I'm amused that Lyndsey finds her NYU degree more prestigious than one from UMass Amherst. I'm one of those who went to UMass Amherst -- first in my class in high school but I chose not to incur a huge debt burden. I graduated with a small outstanding loan and paid it off without hardship.

So now I and the other riffraff with UMass Amherst degrees are supposed to pay taxes so that Lyndsey can have a glittery resume? (The banks that made these rights have contractual rights that they certainly won't give up. Forgiveness would require that the government come up with the money.) Sorry, but no.

I'm childless but I'm OK with paying taxes to support public schools. I'm also OK with supporting public aid to higher education provided it's allocated fairly. Sorry, Lyndsey, but there are a lot of people who have stronger claims to my help than you do.

FactsVFiction
FactsVFiction

As a NYU undergrad, I graduated in 1990. I was $3K in debt. However, and this is important I had 2 scholarships and grants, and worked my entire time at NYU. I went to public school in East NY Bklyn, and was the youngest (the 4th child) to go to NYU. My single mother raised me and at the time I was attending she made roughly $33K a year. I say this to set the context for you, so that people understand how NYU really works.

Here's the thing, and don't hate me for stating what I knew before I graduated and applied for NYU, and have experienced my entire professional life since graduating: (Now that I'm 42):1. NYU isn't for you if you don't have the money upfront or the grades to get scholarships. Period. It's just not. Clearly the BUSINESS model they've put in place is to get money OR achievement from their students.

NYU isn’t stupid; they don’t want a high-drop out rate because that means the number of SUCCESSFUL NYU graduates would decline.

What they want are students like me or my extremely wealthy friends, with wealthy parents or amazing grades. Notice I don’t say AND. Based on the article, what I experienced while attending is still true. There were very wealthy students who had mediocre grades but would graduate and by using the connections of their parents go on to get high paying jobs and be wealthy alums. There were students, (like me) who academically got into NYU with SOME of the cash but mostly scholarships and grants. We would have to work during our time at NYU and wouldn’t have the “campus experience” but would get a good education, make long term friends and leave with a diploma that was a passport to INTERVIEWS THROUGHOUT THE WORLD.

2. Lastly, there are the students in the article—I’m saddened to see that’s still going on. Yes, people this is not new. Students who flat-out cannot afford to go to NYU. They can get in, but academically (and I do not say this to be an asshole, or condescending or anything like that, I’m just hoping that some HS senior reads this and rethinks their strategy) they will not get the DEBTFREE financial help they will need to fully last the 4 years without going into life crushing debt.

Candidly, I believe most of these students DON’T know what they’re getting into. I think they believe that the NYU diploma, alone is enough, but it is entirely dependent upon what your major is, what you’re grades are upon graduating, and whether or not you have you been making contacts in your field since high school (yes, HS and with the internet it sure as hell is easier than when I was a 16 year student carefully typing letters to businesses for internships for when I was in college.)

3. So, scholarship money, me working my entire time at NYU and money from my mother covered portions of my tuition. My mother died making $46K a year, so by no stretch of the imagination would my family be considered rich. However, based on my salary now: roughly $98K, and my 9th career, I got exactly what I wanted from NYU: a top notch education and immediate recognizable entrée to just about every HR department I want. I am not unique. The same can be said for my sisters and my best friend who went on to change his career to become a scientist. There is not an interview I have gone to that didn’t at some point include a conversation on what I learned at NYU and other prestigious people who have gone there. It is impressive whether it is working for you right now, or not.

4. Important, please note I graduated during the recessionary period of Bush Sr. I left NYU and took a full commission job to cut my teeth in the Financial industry. I walked holes in my shoes running to potential client meetings and made roughly 100 cold calls a day. Graduating in a recession FUCKING SUCKS. I have nothing but empathy for all these new grads facing a much worse situation than I did; much worse. Basically, these are young people who got totally HOSED by adults absolutely screwing up the economy. (People, these students didn’t create poisoned assets; be fair and realistic here and stop erroneously saying they should have known adults older and smarter than them were going to fucking hose the economy.)

However, please, please, please don’t lose confidence in the work you did and what you learned. After the recession, the NYU name on the diploma put me on the short list for every job I ever applied for, which was EXACTLY what I wanted.

5. Last, but certainly not least, I will never give NYU a dime of alumni money no matter what my salary. Not a dime. I want them to use the money to help the students who have a real desire to learn and qualified for getting into NYU, but don’t have all the funds.

They will never use my money for that as they strive for an ever increasing land grab.

I hope this helps.

Manuel
Manuel

If you've been out of school for ten years and you're still impressed by a school's prestige, there's something wrong with you.

Manuel
Manuel

Anyone who pays $50,000 per year for a degree in education or art must either be rich or have a screw loose.

Interesting_montreal
Interesting_montreal

Bissonette is right with his New England in January analogy. Here's another - lease a Jag or Porsche for 4 years with postponed payments and then complain about how in hock you are after all those nice drives.

Free Shakespeare lesson: "Neither a borrower nor a lender be."

One more point: if you really want to borrow, examine the career propects you will have upon graduation. Poetry is wonderful, but very few poets will earn a living being a pro poet, never mind paying back large loans.

LizS1976
LizS1976

I turned down NYU for SUNY Binghamton. My parents refused to allow me to take out massive loans for NYU and I followed their advice and my loan debt from Binghamton was much lower. I cant thank them enough for their wise advice, and for the advice recommended by books similar to that of Zac Bassinette (or whatever his name is, my bad). The funny thing is I met at least 5 NYU transfers at SUNY that admitted the school was too expensive and not worth the cost for their career goals. I was admitted to 90% of the law schools I applied to, and enrolled at a school that had many NYU alums (guess its not too hard what law school I graduated from), but the only difference is that my total student loan debt was only $50K whereas my classmates from NYU undergrad will owe payments that exceed my mortgage payment right now...so I think this article really hits home...And I cant help but giggle that the reputation about NYU is still the same as when I was a high school student in the early 90s (snobby midwest kids with rich parents). NYU is a fantastic school but not for the student who needs financial aid, or doesnt have family money to pay the tuition bill, plain and simple.

David Fox
David Fox

I have read that students typically spend more time selecting a college than an occupation. Obviously, the second will be a far greater part of the your life and will determine your income, benefits, and happiness to a degree,

We boomers typically had our parents foot the bill, but times have changed. College costs have skyrocketed while the income of parents stagnated. Large education debts are very common today.

In these troubled times, I would urge young people to carefully consider their futures. Talk to people in your intended fields. See if there are opportunities there and how much the pay is. Is the field contacting or growing? Changing fields in middle age is difficult and often involves starting over at the bottom. Making the right choice early on is important.

JustABrick
JustABrick

I agree NYU is an expensive private college, but they lure top students in with partial scholarships and low interest loans with banks that they have partnered with. NYU is the #1 property owner in Manhattan, with campuses in Florence Italy and elsewhere. Tuition in the United States has increased twice the rate of inflation and some private schools have become predatory. Plus, students are graduating into the worst job market since the Great Depression. They didn't have crystal balls! This trillion dollar debt will crush the next generation.

caroline
caroline

Unless your parents are loaded, spending that amount of money to become a cinematographer is a HUGE gamble, nature films no less. The friends I have who have 'made it' in the arts - (as in at age 40 they can now pay their bills, have health insurance and savings), did so via working for nothing and building relationships and learning their craft early on. If you have this amount of debt that is not feasible Degrees (business, law, accounting) where companies come to campus to interview for decent starting salary positions, these schools probably make sense. For many degrees offered, it just doesn't. To take on that amount of debt in hopes to shoot nature films....Im sorry but that is beyond naive.

Acdocgirl
Acdocgirl

Sorry but I have no sympathy. Why the hell can't these kids get a part-time job while they're in school??? When I was in university, I took out a student loan too but I spent only what I needed and the rest went into a savings account. Then I got a job on campus because they allowed me to work around my class schedule. While other students were partying at Spring Break and traveling during summer vacations, I was working in offices, warehouses, stores, waiting tables, etc. anything to make money. After I graduated, I still had some debt left and there weren't any jobs available in my field (I studied film) so I worked at a dead-end office job. It wasn't the most exciting job but it paid my bills. Once I was completely debt-free, I took several months off and interned at different media outlets, which put me in contact with people in the TV and film industry. Now I work for myself and am making good money. The problem with kids these days is that they want everything served to them on a silver platter right away and don't want to work hard for it. And they also live beyond their means. I see so many students with iPods, expensive phones, laptops, etc.

Hkguy
Hkguy

Sorry, Lindsay, but you should have gone to UMass. I have fired several recent undergraduates in the past few years. Aside from seeing if they got a degree, their school is the least important aspect of their resume. More important is their work history and whether they have the chops to do the job.

Bugg
Bugg

If you in fact got into med school, good for you.I did in fact get a quality education at the Tisch (now Stern) School of Business. And for finance(and now with Poly on board) NYU has some quality "hard" undergrad programs.I would have had no problem getting a job on Wall Street had I wanted to do that instead of law. If you expect to go into engineering, medicine or finance, suspect you can still get a good education there. But a damn expensive one. And "We're #37!" isn't exactly a rallying cry.

I don't think then or now whether a school is mostly commuters or pays through the nose with crushing debt affects the quality of education. If you apply yourself at Brooklyn or Hunter or St. John's (all decent quality local commuter-oriented schools) you can also get a quality ediucation without so much debt. Possibly all the people being on campuss gives the adminsistration a better chance to convince the students they are special and this expense is worth it. Problem is from Brademas to Oliva to the present the school adminstration believe gobbling up Manhattan real estate makes the school great. They view the building boon as a matter of prestige. And the unprecedented and unjustified tuition increases are simply financing the building spree that has little or nothing to do with education.

NYU was attracting that kind of teaching talent then. But then and now based on various lawsuits it still has a whole bunch of GAs doing the actual teaching(hopefully their command of English is better than in the 1980s). At these prices that is unconscionable.

We both know as the article indicates NYU has a whole lot of film majors and liberal arts undergrads with bleak job prospects upon graduation. And all that debt, employed or not, means they cannot get a car loan or a mortgage. Starting a family would be a hardship. And for those people taking on that kind of debt when you can in fact get a comparable or better education at CUNY/Brooklyn or Hunter or SUNY schools at a fraction of that cost is a major mistake.

I'm not at all bitter, I am realistic. As someone else said sadly you cannot give a 40-year old brain to a 17-year old. "Educational experience"- possibly you are trying to convince yourself. Objectively NYU is not "second to none". $150K debt is no big deal; sure. Give us a call when you're an 1st year resident in a municipal hospital ER paying $3500 a month in loans in addition to your monthly bills.

MN
MN

you are a very smart man

The Darkest Horse
The Darkest Horse

Hi Jim,

I did not mean to affront UMASS specifically (that was actually a slight misquote; I originally said 'state school'). My sister went to UMASS Amherst, and got a good education. However, she graduated with debt too, which has been just as difficult to pay. Granted, it is not in the same astronomical category as my debt, but she has had a much harder time finding a job, which could be for any number of reasons. I am glad you don't have the same debt burden; count yourself lucky.

The point of the article is not some sob story on my part; I am doing everything I can to pay, month after month, and surviving. The real issue here is NYU's imperial ambitions and a system that allows it to do what it has to me and many others like me, regardless of major, which is just plain wrong. The fact that NYU is responsible for the most student loan debt from any single institution in the country is significant. The lack of standard consumer protections have led NYU and many, many other schools to charge whatever they want, unchecked, and not necessarily offer a better education. Returning those; bankruptcy protection, statute of limitations, truth in lending laws, etc, is the only answer. Forgiveness is not going to happen, but what I do ask for is some sort of understanding.

-Lyndsey

Alexander
Alexander

Jim: NYU as an overall university is clearly more prestigious than UMass Amherst in just about all measurable categories; thus Lindsey is not funny for thinking that. Nobody ever called graduates of your alma mater riffraff, you are just overly insecure about the issue, so you get defensive.

I too disagree with loan forgiveness, but I fail to see how you and other UMass alums are currently paying for her glittering resume? The fact is you are not, student loans, unless they are pell grants for the needy, are not taxpayer subsidized, they are private. Lindsey's debt is her own, not yours or any other taxpayers. On the other hand, "snobby" NYU alumni in Massachusetts are paying plenty in taxes for your state university to even exist, so people like you go can go their without huge debt burdens that some of us incur. People in glass houses.....

YupYup
YupYup

Pretty much explains it... Graduate work there is a little different, particularly if you're an engineer. You need to make the right choices for yourself and understand what it is that you're getting.

NYU 08
NYU 08

Regarding your point #5, how do exactly you expect the university to use money to help students if you don't donate? You can't complain if you don't vote, in this case with your money. When you donate money as an alumnus, you can specify what it goes to (e.g. a particular NYU school, financial aid like the 1831 fund, the library, the gym, sports teams, etc). So while NYU no doubt raises a lot of money, in many cases the university doesn't have the choice of what to spend it on. Money often comes with strings, so its not as if the university always has a choice of more real estate vs. more financail aid. I would venture most billionaires and tycoons who donate large sums to NYU would rather have their name on a shiny new building than providing scholarships to needy students. Even though both new buildings and more scholarships are needed, the first is generally easier to obtain.

YupYup
YupYup

Yeah, did you read the part about how these students are $300,000 in debt? What part-time job did you have exactly?

Guest
Guest

I went to NYU, had a part time job and a part time internship for a total of 45 hours a week on top of full time classes. Lots of "kids these days" aren't lazy or expecting things to be handed to them, but I still have a massive amount of debt. I made a foolish decision to go to NYU at 17 and I sorely regret it as I haven't pursued a career that can really justify the expenditure. I think putting down an entire generation is wrong. My age has little to do with my work ethic. And your post misses out on the fact that as you said, it's KIDS that are making a $300,000 decision most times with little counseling or financial advice.

Tribeca guy
Tribeca guy

Thank for you for that extremely general and useless commentary. The fact is most undergrads don't have much significant work experience and you can't be sure if they "have the chops to do the job" until you actually hire them. Another fact is, far more companies recruit at NYU than UMass. Also, if you haven't met a person and just look at their resume from a whole pile, I can assure you that all other things being equal, a person from NYU is far more likely to get an interview opportunity than someone from UMass, you are deluded if you think otherwise.

Hkguy
Hkguy

Hired, not fired

Former NYU Student
Former NYU Student

"You cannot give a 40 year old brain to a 17 year old"..this is the best comment yet.

At 36 and a few years shy of 40, I say this to myself every singe day as I understand things very clearly that were a huge mystery to me years ago. My ongoing prayer from now until the day I day is that the Lord show me things clearly TODAY--so that years from now I am not saying this type of thing yet again only as a 56 year old to my 36 year old self. Very true, very true.

Tribeca guy
Tribeca guy

By what definition are you claiming NYU is number 37? The biz school, the film school, the math department, the econ department, the law school, and philosophy are all among the top in their areas, perhaps not #1, but clearly higher than 37 in most cases. True, NYU has a bunch of schools like Steinhardt school of Education and general studies that bring it down overall, but it has some pretty strong departments where the education is as good as any you'll recieve.

NYU 08
NYU 08

Again, like I said, being from CA, I would never apply to a CUNY or SUNY school, I wouldn't get tuition disounts there and the CA state schools (UCLA, Berkeley) are better anyway. NYU however is an experience many on the west coast want to have. In fact, the vast majority of NYU students aren't from New York, so they too will not get the tuition discounts you mention. Thus your analysis doesn't apply to most who are at the school today. Is NYU for everyone? Of course not, no school is. But can one get an awesome experience there with unique opportunities? Absolutely. I don't know of any other school where one can take pre-med courses aborad (London), NYU has changed a lot since you were there. Real estate acquisition is required to build better facilities, have you seem Kimmel or the Gramercy Green dorm? They are quite amazing.

To address your personal retort: Yes, I realize I will be a first year resident making peanuts, less than minimum wage perhaps if you break it down by hours, but my loan bills won't be anywhere near 3500 a month. I wont be starting a family until I finish my training, Furthermore, you forget I won't be a first year resident forever, I will be in a non-primary care specialty making a fairly decent income after finishing residency. A big factor in that increased income potential is going to a good college like NYU, which provided an atmosphere for getting into a good med school. Education is a good investment for many.

Allison Schwartz
Allison Schwartz

Lyndsey, I feel your pain. Charging 8.5% is obscene, and Citi should be ashamed of itself. My loans were all federal, but I consolidated tham at 2.8% (dropping to 1.8% after several years of on-time payments). If mortgage rates are inder 5% and banks won't pay more than 1% for CDs, locking you in to 8.5% is disgusting.

I wish you luck.

10drxtc
10drxtc

can you say pretentious snob? if i was in that position i would throw all NYU applications in the garbage where they belong...

Paragon
Paragon

So Harvard = Bumblecity Community College? I think not.

Turk
Turk

"... furthermore, you forget I won't be a first year resident forever, I will be in a non-primary care specialty making a fairly decent income after finishing residency".

... OMG you're so cute!

Bugg
Bugg

If you left California and one of the good UC schools for NYU for the experience coupled with $150K in debt, you need to take some extra math courses The interest compounds, and it will be worse if you defer payment. And CUNY is open to almost anyone.

But I'd admit NYU sounds way cooler than Hunter or Brooklyn. Until you start paying abck your loans.

Tribeca guy
Tribeca guy

What is your source for these "rankings"? Columbia as an overall university is ranked higher, but there are many areas of study where NYU is just as good or even better.

10drxtc
10drxtc

actually you're another one that need to learn how to read...i said columbia is ranked #6 and NYU ranked #37...and how does this contradict myself? based on NYU snobbery i was pointing out that their a many better universities than NYU...way to show everyone how you totally missed the point...and as i recall it was an NYU student looking down her nose at UMass (ranked #94)...being on the receiving end many times of this NYU snobbery i will return the favor as often as possible...

Triebeca guy
Triebeca guy

Contradict yourself much? In another post in this thread you blast NYU for being ranked in "only" the 30s compared to Columbia at 10, yet the difference between NYU and UMass is far greater (30s vs. barely top 100, if even). Why are others "pretentious snobs" for making the same comparisons as you?

Turk
Turk

... ok ok, my irritating "angry gangsta neo-populist stylz" not-withstanding (apologies to you NYU 08: I was trying to use you as the usual Village Voice whipping boy for daring to resort to the ever unpopular "this may not be the PC thing to say, but"; but apparently I can never get that part right) but you have to admit there may have actually been a worthwhile point or two there, which is surprising since the concept of debt is all but foreign to me as obviously I am just a childish, over-priviledged dork with too much time on his hands, just out to blog.... eh ben, tant-pis!That, my friends, is sad!

Turk
Turk

... nope, I take it back- you're NOT cute, you're a goddamn snobby little know-nothing pretend-delusions-of-grandeur-success tool for the corp is what you are.in other words, perfect prey for the school board recruit wingers, and yes- meat in the real world.go right on thinking SAT's are generally higher at nyu for reasons OTHER than the fact that, also generally speaking (not to mention by your own admission) a terribly large portion of its student body comes from a life time of private schooling, of "selectivity" (i'm sure the likes of ye has come across that term more than a few times 'round the bend); to make this relevant to the underlying significance of the article- a lifetime of speculation, false numbers, and even more dubious bets.that you feel you've gotten your buck's worth, to the tune of 150k no less- is totally besides the point: that the largest portion of our national debt is can be held by and consit of un-(re)payable student debt IS the point.that a young cub in his or her twenties- regardless of the nature of his or her degree- can LEGALLY be made to take on so insurmountable and toxic a sum dough while them fat cat pockets get full, all at the expence of a healthy economy- THAT is the goddamn point.... privatization, THAT is the fucking point, you little dweeb, and though i can not help but to think that in this sham the likes of you, impossibly naive yet ever more clueless, ever more apathetic- are the perpetrator, the truly and remarkably sad truth is even if eventually successful you will have been but able victim, and that- lil' homie- is some fucked up gangsta shit.i will say this though, them regal nyu high class bitches sure like to get filthy after dark; i wonder how much THAT would cost, you know- if i were stupid enough to actually enroll there as opposed to just show up at the bar and pretend?

10drxtc
10drxtc

actually i have lived in Palo Alto and it is quite a bit cheaper than NYC..though i do concede it is more expensive than Berkeley..

NYU 08
NYU 08

If you read my previous post, UC Berkeley was in fact an option, but it didn't appeal to me. Currently, Berkeley is ranked 21, NYU is 33, that's not a very substantial difference to overcome other aspects of NYU that I preferred like better location, nicer dorms, more private school feel as I was a prep school boy. NYU has a better student/faculty ratio than Berkeley (11:1 vs. 17:1) and a higher graduation rate (78% vs. 69%). My Berkeley friends had a lot more trouble getting classes whey wanted than I did, it was never an issue at NYU.

Stanford is indeed another a level from both Berkeley and NYU, and had I gotten in, I would have attended despite my desire to go to a school further away from my Bay Area home. I don't know where you get your stats, but Palo Alto has a very similar cost of living to Greenwich Village.

10drxtc
10drxtc

UC Berkeley would have been far cheaper and still ranked higher than NYU ...the cost of living is also far cheaper than here in NYC...even stanford (ranked 3) is a much better school and cheaper not to mention the lower cost of living in Palo Alto

NYU 08
NYU 08

I can unequivocally say the expense was worth it. While no doubt important, there is more than cost when deciding on a school. Being from the bay area, I preferred something further from home, so Berkeley is out (though I would have gone to Stanford, which is clearly a superior school). I don't like UCLA much and like the city of Los Angeles even less, so its out. Again, most people from my private school just didn't do state schools, so these places didn't have much appeal. You have to consider demographics and taste because NYU caters to a different crowd than for example Hunter; NYU is far more geogrphically diverse and affluent, and even though its un-PC to say, in general smarter if you go by average SAT scores. NYU students come from all over the world, not just NY, and you seem to saying they should have all go to state schools in their respective jurisdictions, which sounds looney, by your logic, why even have private colleges at all?

I have already argued NYU isn't for everyone but it worked for me and many many others I know. Me personally, I have $150K in total debt, about 50K of that is from NYU (the rest is from med school, perhaps you feel I should have skipped that too), so my NYU debt is actually a little more than the average NYU grad with $35K as the article indicates. In the long run, this will not make a difference in my lifestyle, there are some doctors who spend this on sports cars and home renovations. Almost everyone from US medical schools goes into higher paying specialites and not primary care, and loans are a reason for many, but that's another discussion

Bugg
Bugg

Again, this read like someone trying to conviince hismelf the expense was worth it. If you could get into UCLA or Berkeley, you would've received at least as good an education at a more reasonable cost. And if you start arguing about demographics and the amrketing of an educational institution rather than a hard cost benefit analysis, you have lost this argument.

In fact NYU did work for me, since I was mostly on scholarship. But I never would've went there otherwise.

For someone who has not yet started working, you are very confident paying these loans back will be a ground ball, and that it will have no impact whatsoever on your lifestyle. Good luck with that. But it is contradicted by the life experiennce of damn near anyone in that situation.

NYU 08
NYU 08

My math is just fine, I don't believe my loans are that bad, a doctor with a good income in certain specialties can pay that entire amount off in a year, not that I'm going to do that, but I'm not losing any sleep over loans.

I went to a private high school, and people were far more likely to go to USC or Stanford than one of the UCs even coming from CA. Out of state privates that were popular in my high school were NYU, BU, Georgetown, GW, Emory, Duke and a handful of others. I've never been to a public school in my life wasn't going to start with college. My point was if I went the state school route, I would do a UCLA or Berkeley, not a SUNY or CUNY, neither of which really appeal to me even if I was from NY.

When looking at my classmates, I think the people who do best at NYU are people going into certain fields..wall street, law school, med school, and flim if you make it big and/or people who get some help from family. I will agree that if you are doing something artsy and don't make it big and aren't getting any help from your parents, or if you are going to be a school teacher, NYU might not be ideal for you. However, for you to make a blanket statement like "should have went X SUNY or Y" is pretty dumb since NYU caters to a much different demographic than most of these public schools you mentioned (might have been different in your day). Not every college student has the same needs, wants circumstances, and career goals, so NYU doesn't work for some, works well for others...I guess you fall in the former group, and I fall in the later.

 
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