When It Comes to Student Debt, Doctors Are the Least of Our Worries

Last night 60 Minutes ran a segment about the massive loans that med school students have to take out—and the “radical” solution that NYU found to this. It was basically just a feel-good bit of fluff, but it sure pissed me off anyway. Why? Let me count the ways:

  • Of all the groups to focus on who are suffering under the burden of student debt, they chose doctors? Seriously?
  • The “radical” solution turned out to be . . . raising money from a bunch of billionaires to subsidize tuition. This is radical?
  • There’s no mystery about making medical school free. It’s free in many European countries. But in return doctors have to accept lower pay.
  • The allegedly great thing about free tuition is that it allows students to graduate with low or no debt. This in turn gives them the freedom to choose lower-paying specialties or to set up shop in rural areas. That sounds great, but is there any evidence that this actually happens? Since none was offered, I suspect there isn’t.
  • The increase in student loan burdens is a widespread problem. I feel sorry for doctors with $200K debts, Harvard grads with $80K debts, and state university grads with $40,000 debts. But all of these people are at least pretty likely to be able to pay off these loans. The real losers are the trade school grads—or, worse, dropouts—who leave with $20,000 debts. I suppose that doesn’t seem like a lot to Lesley Stahl, but for the many folks who have basically been conned into attending for-profit trade schools and end up with no real improvement in their job prospects, it’s a huge sum. These are the people who really deserve our attention.

I suppose there are more important things to get pissed off about than a segment about doctors on 60 Minutes. But I’d still like to see them pay as much attention to the state university grads and the trade schools folks, who are way less able to afford their loans than most doctors.

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