The Government's Career Suggestion For Massively Indebted College Grads: Become Farmers

Last week, we profiled this year’s class of college seniors and congratulated them on being the most heavily-indebted graduating class in the history of US higher education. These students will leave school carrying an average balance of more than $35,000. Of course, one can’t place the blame for this deplorable state of affairs entirely on the shoulders of the students because even as easy access to federal education loans creates the conditions under which students may be tempted to take on more debt than they actually need (because you have to have a MacBook and an iPad), thus borrowing from the future to pay for what, in many cases, are degrees that are not by any means guaranteed to lead to high-paying, full-time employment, the inexorable rise in tuition rates deserves its fair share of the blame as well. 

Fortunately for the class of 2015, there’s a way out and it’s called Income-Based Repayment. These plans allow for the discharge of federal education loans after 300 “eligible” payments, a very convenient program for those who, after college, do not make enough discretionary income to service their debt. For these borrowers, a zero payment counts as an "eligible" payment, creating a scenario whereby it is technically possible to make no payments for 25 years and have the debt completely written off at the expense of the US taxpayer. The real beauty of this is that just as we said about student debt discharge in bankruptcy, once colleges and universities know they can charge anything for tuition, room and board because the debt funding it will be socialized and ultimately "forgiven", expect the "up and to the right" tutition rate chart to go vertical.

In any event, total debt forgiveness is a nice fallback plan in today’s economy because as researchers from Georgetown discovered when they looked at the best and worst (in terms of average annual salaries) college majors, there are quite a few disciplines that promise to pay graduates less than the median annual income. And while the takeaway from the Georgetown study was that there’s still money to be made in petroleum engineering, the US government has another modest suggestion for America’s proud graduates: become farmers. 

From the USDA:

One of the Best Fields for New College Graduates? Agriculture.


Nearly 60,000 High-Skilled Agriculture Job Openings Expected Annually in U.S., Yet Only 35,000 Graduates Available to Fill Them


Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced a new report showing tremendous demand for recent college graduates with a degree in agricultural programs with an estimated 57,900 high-skilled job openings annually in the food, agriculture, renewable natural resources, and environment fields in the United States. According to an employment outlook report released today by USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and Purdue University, there is an average of 35,400 new U.S. graduates with a bachelor's degree or higher in agriculture related fields, 22,500 short of the jobs available annually.


"There is incredible opportunity for highly-skilled jobs in agriculture," said Secretary Vilsack. 


"Those receiving degrees in agricultural fields can expect to have ample career opportunities. Not only will those who study agriculture be likely to get well-paying jobs upon graduation, they will also have the satisfaction of working in a field that addresses some of the world's most pressing challenges. These jobs will only become more important as we continue to develop solutions to feed more than 9 billion people by 2050."

There you have it. And while we imagine there aren't that many aspiring college grads out there who envisioned a life on the farm, it might not be a bad option considering occupations like Early Childhood Education all but guarantee your status as a "low-income" American and considering that, unless you're lucky enough to belong to the 17% of non-farm workers who the BLS classifies as "supervisors," you will likey find yourself laboring under non-existent wage growth in perpetuity. 

*  *  *

And meanwhile, at Columbia:

As her May 19 commencement date looms, Yana Dey has begun considering skipping her own graduation.


It’s not that she wants to miss it. She's proud of the work that went into fulfilling the requirements for a master’s degree from Columbia University’s Teachers College.


What's holding her back is the $62 cost of the cap and gown she's required to wear to walk at graduation. “I started to worry, because I just don’t have any extra money to spend right now,” says Dey, who began posting on Facebook groups in May to try to borrow past graduates’ regalia. “I honestly thought about not going.”


Dey isn't alone. The issue garnered increasing attention on Facebook as students posted a flurry of requests—"Anyone have a 5'11" appropriate gown to loan out?"—to borrow garb from recent graduates. 

We can only hope Ms. Dey majored in agriculture or petroleum engineering.