Good News Bad News: Student Debt Roundup

Oh hi there. We’ve been out of touch for the past week, but I’m pleased to report that the last tofurkey coma of my undergraduate career was delicious, and we’re that much closer to … something.

While we wait, let’s think about student debt. Everyone else certainly seems to be, thanks to the efforts of a working group sponsored by some of the students and educators at our very own fine institution.

The Occupy Student Debt Campaign, launched last week, is asking students to stop paying loan payments after the campaign’s pledge gets one million signatures.

Below, the group’s major claims:

* We believe the federal government should cover the cost of tuition at public colleges and universities.

* We believe that any student loan should be interest-free.

* We believe that private and for-profit colleges and universities, which are largely financed through student debt, should open their books.

*We believe that the current student debt load should be written off.

Since this group is organized in New York City, most of the folks behind it are NYU, New School, and CUNY students and faculty. Unfortunately, a student debt campaign advocating for free public education is slightly awkward coming those of us at NYU supporting an institution that charges $200,000 per diploma. From one comment on a Huffington Post article about the group:

Does anyone else find it amazing that two professors from two of the most expensive schools in the country – one high on the academic list – the other known as a “party school” are helping with this idea of causing problems for:
1) these students that took out the loans
2) the financial institutio­ns that made the loans in good faith to these kids.

I do not see either of them or OWS suggesting that students boycott colleges until they lower their tuition.

True, but lots of people seem to be in trouble with their loans, or at least there are some very visible forums on which they can now voice their complaints. Adding misery to misery is a new Tumblr devoted to telling people’s super-sad student loan stories, in the style of the We Are the 99 Percent Tumblr.

Here is a sampling of what you will find there:

I went back to school in 1999 to earn a law degree. I initially agreed to student loans, expecting to be able to repay while practicing law. But shortly after graduating, I was shot three times and left for dead. I survived, but since had no health care and was unable to work at all, I had to live off my savings, and was unable to take the bar exam, or even afford a bar review course. I had to re-learn how to walk, everything. Now I am disabled, and my student debt exceeds $100,000!!!

Well, I guess these slackers should have just gone to a school they could afford, and worked hard to stay out of the path of gunfire and ensure their loans and interest didn’t spiral out of control. Not necessarily true, says yesterday’s Huffington Post article, which focuses on students who choose lower-cost schools and take on multiple jobs while in college to stay out of debt.

“Students who take extreme steps to avoid debt at all costs, [educators] say, may get stuck with something much more financially damaging than moderate student loan debt. They may not wind up with a college degree.”

There’s lots of doom and gloom here, but it the good news is that all this angst about student loans seems to be sparking some frank discussions about student loan debt and restructuring higher education.

— Arielle


The Barn Fantasy

Yo guys it’s crunch time. Man up and write your essays. But first:

You know, I have this crazy dream. And this dream usually comes up whenever I’m stressed and don’t feel like doing my homework or succeeding or whatever.

In my dream, I would quit pursuing anything that would impress anyone. I’d throw my degree in the trash and you know what I’d do?

I’d build a barn. But not just any barn.

This barn would house the Jordan Teicher Performing Arts Center/Party Space. Simply put, it would be my palace. It would be a space for plays, music, and weird poetry readings. There would be dancing and stupid art and every hipster for miles would be there.

What’s interesting is that this is also Arielle’s dream.

One day I brought it up, and she looked at me and was like, “WUT NO WAI.”

And I was like, “Girl, wai.”

Ever since then, we talk about what it would be like if this dream ever came true.

It would be something between “The Great Gatsby” and “Summer Stock.” We would dress all fancy and serve (or invent) cocktails that no one had ever heard of. We would spare no expense to make every party we threw as decadent and bizarre as possible.

Why a barn? I don’t know. Maybe because we like to misappropriate symbols of the American heartland. Or maybe we have some longing for physical labor that we’ll never ever ever experience because we are too wimpy. Or maybe it’s because farming is really in right now.

Of course this barn would only happen if maybe we were members of Arcade Fire (A: “Isn’t it THE Arcade Fire?”) or some shit.

But we can dream can’t we?

Today we were talking about it because well it’s raining and Arielle’s got an essay due tomorrow and we happen to be in the library.

A barn sounds good about now.

Oh by the way if anyone would like to donate to the barn fund, please email us at plasticseditors@gmail.com.

— Jordan and Arielle


Your Parents, Your Degree, and You

The New York Times is talking about college graduates who are moving home with their parents. The statistics are alarming:

14.2 percent of young adults are living with their parents, up from 11.8 percent in 2007. Among young men, 19 percent are living with their parents.

But mostly the article focuses on the the effect that has on the economy:

The actions of the young are self-perpetuating. Young people are reluctant to set off on their own until they have greater financial stability. But the economic conditions necessary to make them financially secure are difficult to achieve while consumers like them are still too nervous to start making big purchases, on housing or anything else.

In the spirit of this conversation, I talked to one recent NYU grad, Todd Selby, who has been living with his parents for three weeks now.

Todd graduated early, and quickly found a full time job, a fellowship with a non-profit in North Carolina. After two months, however, he wasn’t meeting fundraising quotas, and was let go.

So he moved back home to New Jersey with his parents. Now he’s in a band and working on music, while working part time at a Hot Topic.

Jordan: Did your parents support this move?

Todd: My parents luckily have been very supportive. They were like, “It’s understandable. You lose jobs. It doesn’t work out. Whatever.”

They also understand how common it is for college graduates to live at home considering the high price of college. They also realize that this is kind of unprecedented, that no generation has paid this much for schooling. So they certainly understand that I just need a little time to recuperate and figure out what I want to do.

Also I’m still only 22. I’m just out of college. It’s not like I’ve been living here for years. I’ve only been here for  three weeks. It kind of  seems like I should be getting my ass out  but I might stay here for another six months, maybe a year, I don’t know.

Jordan: How has your dynamic with them changed since high school?

Todd: I certainly have been trying to like go out of my way to help them with things. I’ve been on my best behavior and stuff like that. I’ve refrained from drinking excessively or like smoking pot around them or whatever. I really want to respect what they’re doing for me.

Jordan: Do you have chores?

Todd:  I’m here just because my parents are really nice. And so I will just do things without question.

Jordan: Do you have to contribute money to live there?

Todd: They kind of won’t let me help out with things money-wise. They’re just insisting, like, “You don’t have any money. Just work on getting money for yourself.” So they’re providing money for stuff like food.

Jordan: They must like you a lot!

Todd: We do have a really good relationship. We’ve barely had any arguments since I’ve been home. I just do my best to just respect their house and they pretty much enjoy having me around.

Jordan: What would you suggest other people think about before asking to move back home?

Todd: Definitely before you approach [your parents] have some sort of plan, even if it’s kind of flimsy. Because the first question I think some parents would have, I suspect, is “All right, well what are you going to be doing while you’re living here? Are you looking for a job?” So even if they’re not all things you’d want to do, figure out some options.

Jordan: Any tips for cohabiting successfully with parents?

Todd: I’ve definitely gotten the sense from my parents that they want to spend a pretty good amount of time with me. So when my mom is like, “I’m going out to the store,” I’ll just be like, “Oh do you want me to come with you?”

You can’t cut yourself off the way you could from, say, roommates you met on Craig’s List. You’ve got to kind of become part of that family unit again.

Jordan: How have your parents changed since high school?

Todd: They’ve changed their habits a lot, their spending habits. They spend a lot more on themselves now, which is great. I’m so glad to see them basically happier.

Jordan: So what’s your plan? 

Todd: I’m working on music. I want to be a musician, me and everyone else. But I feel like I really have a shot at it. So that’s basically my goal, my ten year goal. Of course a more immediate goal is to find some kind of job. It doesn’t have to pay real well, as long as I can rent  a shitty apartment in Philly and  continue making the payments on my student loans.

I’m young. So there’s really no better time to make an attempt at getting into music. I’m just going to go for it now.

Jordan: Any issues you’ve had to work through with your parents?

Todd: One thing is I’ve been so focused on being independent and stuff that I’ve been actually been over-thanking them for everything. They said, “You do realize we’re family. We’ll do anything to help you need as long as it’s within reason. This is certainly within reason.”

It’s just walking the line between becoming too dependent on them and not being appreciative but also remembering that they want to do this for me. They get a joy out of being able to help their kid again, even if they are kind of done with parenting. It’s still something they want to do.

Jordan: So the lesson is that they’re still your parents and they still love you.

Todd: That’s basically it, yeah.


So let’s talk about this post

Business Insider provides us some food for thought today in an article about how one 20-something, Madeleine, is saving a ton of money on rent and utilities by hopping from friend’s apartment to friend’s apartment in New York City.

First, let’s talk about the most (initially) disturbing part of this post: the young woman, Madeline, is a staffer at Business Insider! Gah! Why should she have to do this if she has a job!

Well the comforting truth is she probably doesn’t HAVE to do this. It seems like she wants to do it. It’s a lifestyle choice.

On second thought, if she was truly rolling in the dough, it seems unlikely that she’d want to be effectively homeless. Unless she’s really, really super frugal. Or she has tons of student debt and wants to get rid of it pronto. OK enough speculating.

So does this work? Madeleine says her friends don’t mind her surfing because she doesn’t stay for long and she helps out with dinner, laundry, etc. And the only bad thing that’s happened is she’s lost some of her stuff. Generally, though she’s saving money! Hoorah!

Certainly there’s a stigma to this type of approach. Take commenter SoInspiredByYou’s comment:

You are a scumbag leach

Well that’s a little cruel, no? But at least it’s not as creepy as commenter Big Kahuna’s comment:

she can surf my couch any time!

A very nuanced and interesting response comes from commenter DeDe who writes:

I think that approach is a lot more common in younger people nowadays … In an apartment, you aren’t really using much electricity/heating and if you can sing for your supper, well that’s OK if you don’t cause any hassle to a lot of people … A few changes of clothes, make-up and meds – what else do you really need? I mean really? … It’s easy to scold but it’s awfully hard to make it in NY these days.

I happen to agree mostly with DeDe. Though I certainly wouldn’t try this lifestyle myself, I think if it works for Madeleine than all power to her. It IS hard to make it in NY, and sometimes you’ve got to do what you’ve go to do.

You’ve got to hand it to this generation. If nothing else, we’re very resourceful.


Worst of the web: On the prowl for internships

The fall semester is almost over, and Jordan and I are just months away from graduation. Landing the perfect job or internship seems particularly important at this moment: If we get our paws on the right gig now we could make the big time in no time. Or at least fetch coffee for an important person.

There are lots of opportunities to choose from, but not all of them lead to the “great real-world experience!!!” they winningly promise. Here is a list of the internships and jobs you should avoid.

1. The part time sex-writing gig

I stumbled upon a little gem on Craigslist today: a kind gentleman by the name of James is offering 5 to 7 dollars to writers who can crank out “informative articles on all types of sex toys, including the benefits of using sex toys, the type of sex toys available and why sex toys are useful for solo use and in relationships too.”

5 to 7 whole dollars! And you could see your byline on an internet website! The reasons you should not do this job are fairly obvious. Besides the shitty pay, writing about sex toys might tarnish your reputation as a super-serious journalist. After this editorial debut, will people ever take your earnest book about public housing projects seriously? Probably not.

Photo via

2. The ‘Great Opportunity to Learn and Grow!’

These internship listings usually contain vague descriptions of the company’s beautifully restored offices in Chelsea: “stocked with free coffee and tea and a wonderful, creative staff!”

The listings usually continue something like this: “This internship is unpaid, but it’s not about the money! Interns will grow emotionally and intellectually as they experience the real world of fast-paced office marketing management in the exciting heart of New York City. Ideal candidates should have some experience with Microsoft Word and be a cheerful team player with a minimum 2.0 GPA.”

These offers are ubiquitous and Chelsea is a nice part of town, but let’s face it: You won’t add any skills to your already stellar command of Microsoft Office if you chain yourself to a desk to work for these eternal optimists.

3. The social media internship.

I’m still in awe of the fact that this is a real position at most companies. But there it is – you can pay your college thousands of dollars to get credit for … updating someone else’s Facebook page. Don’t do it!

4. The impossible nanny job.

Caring for an infant in a ritzy Upper East Side loft might seem easy, but some of the ma’s and pa’s looking for childcare on Craigslist are probably legally insane. These neurotic types should be avoided at all costs.

For example, a charming person by the name of Nycnanny2011 is currently trolling the site for a nurturing, college-educated person with at least two years of nanny experience AND a background in childhood development. Oh and this person must be fluent in French as well. I’m not remotely qualified for this position, but if I were, hopefully I would already be employed in a high-powered career far away from Nycnanny2011.

Photo via

5. “Organic farming and educating the local people in Kenya (Volunteer in Africa)”

I am going to go out on a limb here and guess that most of us know nothing about organic farming and nothing about Kenya and are completely unqualified to educate the local people in any way. This whole thing is problematic.

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— Arielle

Give your mind to science.

It’s a jungle out there, guys. And sometimes you’ve got to be the guinea pig to survive.

That’s what college senior Amanda DeLuise would tell you. Since sophomore year, she’s been participating in psychology experiments to make money on the side. This year, after long internship hours forced her to give up her paying job, the money she makes from experiments is her only source of income.

It’s not as sketchy as you’d think.

Amanda subscribes to a listserv through the psychology department, and responds to posts that fit with her schedule. Sometimes the experiments are as simple as answering questions on a computer. At a recent gig, the experiment was like a game, where the participants  picked out points on a circle.

“I’ve probably only made like 50 bucks so far [this semester] because I hardly have time to do them. But that’s not bad,” she says. “If I did them every week consistently I’d be making probably like 20 bucks a week. Not bad for doing nothing.”

Of course, she has heard of a few sketchy experiments…

“I know my roommate did one where like, she had to watch all these really disturbing images and it was like monitoring her heart rate or some shit,” she says. “Or there was one where she’d get shocked.”

But Amanda stays clear of those, she says, and so should you!

Meanwhile, the pay is good. She says she’s seen pay days between 5 and 100 dollars, and usually walks away with at least 10 dollars. And the time commitment is minimal, from a few minutes to an hour.

So try it out, and definitely don’t do anything that involves electric shocks. Sounds like a good deal. Think about it: you’ll only need to do about 100 experiments a week to pay off your student debt!


With a little help from my friends

Well it turns out Arielle and I are not the only college seniors wringing our hands about the future.

Recently a number of friends have been talking and writing about life after graduation, and wouldn’t you know it, their thoughts are pretty insightful!

Eli Epstein’s anxieties pretty much run the gamut, from online dating to employment to workplace monotony. He wrote about it in the Washington Square News (link isn’t up yet), and sent us a copy:

At this point I don’t want to enter those dark, murky doors of The Real World, and even if I grudgingly slide in, I wont know what to do once I’m there. I liken it to the great scene from “Heat” (Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino’s only time on screen together before they made some lousy movie a few years ago) where Detective Vincent Hanna (Pacino) and bank robber Neil McCauley (DeNiro) reluctantly, and quite tragically, admit to each other that they just don’t know how to do anything else, nor do they much want to. Neil’s going to continue to take scores; Vincent’s going to continue to track down guys like Neil. Come May, I wont know how to do much else besides be a kid, nor will I much want to. I’m scared folks.

Cynthia Stewart told me that the present only lasts four seconds, and that we should only focus on what we can do now to influence the course of our lives. She also managed to mention Spongebob.

In conclusion, the reason our past cannot help our future anymore is because we are not growing up, we are starting over. We’ve been old kids for a very long time, but now we are baby adults. Still, the future is less stressful if we realize we are already accomplishing it, (i.e. my “future is now” point).

You gave advice in your blog for what to do when you’re freaking out about the future. I recommend the song  “Living in the Sunlight Loving in the Moonlight” by Tiny Tim (if you don’t know it you’ll remember it from Spongebob). I may seem carefree at times and be a yang compared to your yin-ness, but I’m just distracting myself from the same anxiety about the future.

Nicole Robert wrote on her blog about transitioning from childhood to adulthood, covering everything from an encounter at a gas station to her dad’s cross country adventures. Her message was pretty positive, actually, and ended on this hopeful note:

I was explaining to my Dad that I can’t just make something of myself when I’m working under people who are more important than me. And he said “Honey, you are an adult now. Don’t let people treat you like a child just because you are younger than them. You can be friends with someone who is 45 or 50 or 60 years old”.

And he’s 100% right. I shouldn’t let people treat me like a child. I shouldn’t wait for orders. I shouldn’t have to ask permission. I should just go out and fight and GET what I want. And I shouldn’t let people who are older than me get in the way. I shouldn’t be intimidated by them. Because hell, I could be more intelligent than them, but I’ll never know unless I take a shot at getting what I want.