6.22.2005

is it morally wrong to drink lattes in law school?

The attitude that made my life at Columbia a living hell is alive and well in Seattle. Erika Lim, Director of Career services at the local private law school, is apparently running around with little charts which purport to show that if you made your own coffee instead of drinking lattes for thirty years, you could save $55,341. This is apparently assuming that you were spending your student loan money on lattes, and that you were taking out new student loans for 30 years.

Okay, what's wrong with this picture?

One. It assumes that one is allocating loan money to lattes. Suppose the student takes on a part-time job at minimum wage while going to school full-time specifically to pay for "small luxuries" like coffee with milk in it? Would that be okay? Does the student have any discretion at all to choose the pleasures in his or her life other than the pleasure of writing those enormous checks to the law school several times per year? The minimum wage in Washington state is $7.35 per hour now. Even allowing for Social Security and income tax withholding, the student could work an hour as a barista, say, daily, to pay for that latte.

Two. It assumes that lattes have no value other than entertainment. I note that they contain a full serving of dairy, and therefore are providing nourishment to the student.

Three. It completely ignores the effect of inflation. The dollars earned to pay back the money borrowed to go through law school are very likely to be cheaper dollars. There is no inflation adjustment. I think this point was pushed on some of us a little too hard in the early 1980's, but it is valid nonetheless.

Four. It assumes that students will stretch out their loan repayments, and that the loans are necessary to the student, not a conscious investment choice. Now, back in the day, which admittedly was the era of the twenty percent prime rate with four percent NDSLs and seven percent GSLs, I knew folks who took out the maximum amount of loans, invested the money, and then had their parent$ pay their full freight costs of law school. Some of my classmates actually claimed to have made a profit on their student loans without even considering the value of the education received.

Five, and most importantly. I think this issue is a very clever red herring to distract students from the fact that at Seattle University, one year of tuition, fees, transportation and other living expenses totals $41,030 for a nine month academic year. The poor student still has to survive for another three months each year with an incomplete professional education that isn't worth much without the license that comes at the end.

If we assume that a latte costs three dollars even, the total cost of lattes for an academic year is $580.50, assuming one latte a day, five days a week, 4.3 weeks per month, for nine months. As a fraction of the tuition and other living costs cited above, this amounts to 1% of the expense. If young professionals are broke at graduation, and have difficulties paying off their loans, it's not pricey lattes, Ms. Lim.

Now, an interesting inquiry would be what percentage of the hapless Seattle U. student's tuition each year is spent on that student's share of Ms. Lim's salary. She could probably pay for the cost of the coffee by choosing to forego Ms. Lim.

1 comment:

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