by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Noël Flynn is spending more than 80 percent of her income to pay back tens of thousands of dollars in debt for her Art Therapy degree. In 2016 alone, the Department of Education loaned $25.9 billion to students who, like Flynn, chose degrees under the umbrella of the liberal arts and humanities, an analysis by The Daily Caller News Foundation found.
A significant portion of those students are unlikely to have the means to pay back their debt after graduating.
“I find myself struggling financially, and the biggest reason why is student loans,” said Flynn, 23, who says she was told the loans “wouldn’t be overwhelming” once she graduated.
Most federal student loan programs do not require a credit check, nor do they require a cosigner. Rather, the loans are backed by nothing more than the borrower’s future earnings with a college degree, but the kind of degree isn’t a consideration in the loan process.
“What you make depends on what you take,” Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, wrote in a 2016 report. “A major in social work pays $30,000 a year compared to $120,000 a year for a major in petroleum engineering.” Business, vocational, and STEM majors all have significantly better chances of paying off their loans, TheDCNF’s analysis of federal data shows.
In addition to lower pay, many liberal arts and humanities majors enter a job market with less opportunity, leading to high rates of unemployment and underemployment, according to the New York Fed.