New York Times op-ed writer who defaulted on student loans differs from many borrowers in 1 big way

Author Lee SiegelscreengrabAuthor Lee Siegel

Pulitzer Prize-nominated author Lee Siegel wrote an op-ed in The New York Times on Saturday where he advised people to default on their student loans rather than remain stuck with crippling debt.

That advice sparked criticism because he appeared to downplay the consequences of defaulting on student debt. His op-ed is also spurring more conversation about the burdens of paying for school.

Another New York Times op-ed that came out on Thursday points out that Siegel is atypical from many student loan borrowers in that he actually graduated from college.

“Mr. Siegel earned a bachelor’s and two master’s degrees from Columbia, while nearly half of today’s college entrants leave with no degree at all,” Susan Dynarski, an education professor, wrote in The New York Times.

Just 59% of students who started college in 2006 were able to finish their degree within six years, according to the Department of Education. And those numbers are even worse at the community college level, where only about one in three students will actually graduate. About 20% of full-time community college students get a degree in three years, and 35% in five years, the Times wrote in March.

Some community college students don’t get support from their families, while others had subpar high school educations and have to play catch-up right away. In fact, a 2010 study by public policy organisation Demos found that six out of 10 students entering community colleges have to take remedial courses to compensate for the skills and knowledge they never attained in high school.

“Graduation rates are low in part because community colleges can’t exclude poorly prepared students. Unlike selective schools, they are required to take anyone who walks in the door, and they have to work harder to get those students to graduation,” Dynarski wrote in The Times.

One of the largest barriers to completing a bachelor’s degree is also related to community college attendance, Inside Higher Ed wrote on Monday. Students who attempt to transfer from community colleges to 4-year colleges end up losing credits during the transfer.

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