The Student Loan Debt Problem: Northwestern University as “Exhibit A”

Spring Football practice at Northwestern University

By:  Donald L. Swanson

Let’s juxtapose these two quotes:

Congress must act now to defuse the student loan debt bomb.”

–From Jim Haller, Opinion Contributor, The Hill, February 27, 2017.

Northwestern’s [financial aid] options make higher education  more accessible.”

–From Northwestern University’s (Evanston, IL) “Tuition and Aid” online page.

The Northwestern quote above uses the word “accessible” – not “affordable.”  The following explains why (from the same website).

Northwestern Information

Here is why Northwestern University is an “Exhibit A” for the student loan problem.

Cost of Attending

$72,980  =  published annual cost for undergraduate programs, consisting of tuition, room, board, fees and expenses (but excluding summer school, books, living expenses, etc.)

$52,410  =  published annual cost for a Master of Science in Education program, consisting of tuition, fees and licensure tests (but excluding room, board, summer school, books, living expenses, etc.)

62%  =  Percentage of undergraduates receiving financial aid

These costs seem outrageous.  But people pay them – voluntarily.  “Outrageous” might be hyperbole, but for the following information.

Endowment and Fundraising

$9,800,000,000  =  “total endowment and other trust funds” [yes, that’s $9.8 billion]

$3,750,000,000  =  Goal for capital campaign launched in 2014 [yes, that’s $3.75 billion]

 Student Body Size

  8,353  =  Undergraduate students (Fall 2016)

12,855  =  Graduate students (Fall 2016)

 Student Athletes

19  =  Varsity athletic teams

$6,203,300  =  Cost of full-ride football scholarships each year (85 x $72,980)

$   938,740  =  Cost of full-ride men’s basketball scholarships each year (13 x 72,980)

Financial Commitment to Athletics (from news reports)

Spring Football Practice at Northwestern University

$260,000,000  =  Cost of new football/athletic facility bordering Lake Michigan

$110,000,000  =  Cost of new renovation of basketball arena

$    4,000,000  =  Annual salary of current football coach – guaranteed for 10 years

$    3,000,000  =  Annual salary of current basketball coach – guaranteed for 8 years

Bully for them . . . I guess.

The problem for students

Here’s a real-life example of the high cost of education for a Northwestern graduate, as told by USA Today in a recent article titled, “Why you might want to think twice before going to law school.”

The story is of “Cristina Messerschmidt, who graduated from Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law in May [2017] and is studying for the Illinois bar exam.”  Ms. Messerschmidt says “she’s got a ’10-year plan’ to pay back about $250,000” in student loans.  While Ms. Messerschmidt professes to be “not worried” about paying back the loans, she acknowledges: “you never know how that changes.”  She has a high paying job “lined up, practicing data privacy” at a big name law firm.

What she’d really like is “to be a public defender someday.”  But Ms. Messerschmidt’s public service will have to wait because the big name job “will help her pay down her debt faster than a low-paying government job.”

The problem for everyone else

The problem for everyone else is two-fold:

  1. The U.S. Government is a source of funds for student loans, for the benefit of Northwestern University, to its students and their parents; and
  2. Northwestern University, with its unlimited funds and elite status, sets a standard against which other schools must compete: and that is a standard of luxury, high costs of attendance, and money-is-no-object to the University–never mind the students.

The problem seems out of control and unlikely to end, while the student loan debt bomb keeps on ticking.

**  If you find this article of value, please feel free to share.  If you’d like to discuss, let me know.

Footnote:  This article is a follow-up to a prior article titled, Student Loan Crisis: High-Priced Colleges Support Beautiful Campuses (and Other Luxuries) on the Backs of their Students

6 thoughts on “The Student Loan Debt Problem: Northwestern University as “Exhibit A”

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  1. Don, this is very interesting and also upsetting. I have recently been accepted into one Northwestern’s programs only to find out a day later that the tuition they listed was incorrect. Without clearly stating, they failed to tell me about a mandatory summer class which raised my tuition $12K. When I brought the full cost of tuition to their attention the response of each person was shock (one particular person said asked if I could hold because they were certain the cost I was bringing to their attention included living expenses). While the cost itself was upsetting, it was even more frustrating that those who should know the price had no idea of the debt their students were taking on. Additionally, the program I applied for offers one scholarship and does not play nice with tax cuts.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. For more “fun” of this nature, take a look into the costs of prestigious graduate programs in historically low-paying fields, like social work. The current annual tuition and fees (NOT including living expenses) for MSW students at Penn exceeds $48,000. The school’s info about financial aid and loans on its website basically tells students that it does not matter what their total debt load is, because their payments under income based repayment and PSLF programs will be limited anyway (see A couple of years ago, this same school had an even cheekier pitch on its site that used various case studies to tell prospective students not to worry about the sticker price, because one way or another it wasn’t real and most graduates won’t ever have to pay it all back (see

    Liked by 1 person

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