RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
As we just heard, students face huge challenges in managing debt. In the U.S., student loan debt surpassed credit card debt last year. This year, it's projected to exceed a trillion dollars.
Steve Inskeep spoke with Mark Kantrowitz. As publisher of FinAid.org and FastWeb.com, he writes about the choices students need to make before they enter college.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
So is all this borrowing for college smart?
Mr. MARK KANTROWITZ (Publisher, FinAid.org, FastWeb.com): Well, it's smart if it's enabling you to invest in your future. It's not smart if you're over-borrowing for the value of that investment. So...
Mr. KANTROWITZ: If you borrow more than your expected starting salary after you graduate, you're going to struggle to repay your loans. And I can see someone borrowing perhaps $10,000 a year if they're majoring in computer science or nursing, but I can't see borrowing that amount of money for a degree in art or humanities or sociology, because the jobs just don't pay as well for those fields of study.
INSKEEP: What are some of the most, let's say, the hardest degrees to monetize later on?
Mr. KANTROWITZ: Some of the most common majors for students who are having trouble are degrees in religious studies and theater. Ethnomusicology is one that I've written about, where I got a call and an email from a student who was contemplating borrowing six figures of debt to pay for that degree.
INSKEEP: Ethnomusicology - I mean, that's the study of music, but also of the society behind the culture behind the music. Is that right?
Mr. KANTROWITZ: That's right. And there are only two main occupations for a degree in ethnomusicology. One is being a music librarian, which doesn't pay very well. The other is being a university faculty, teaching other students about ethnomusicology.
INSKEEP: If you're having to borrow that $10,000 per year, you've got to multiply that by four years - maybe more. You should hope that the field that you're heading into has a starting salary of at least that much.
Mr. KANTROWITZ: That's right. And if you're going to be borrowing more than that, you should look for a less-expensive college, or maybe you should double major in a field that will enable you to repay that debt.
INSKEEP: So you're not saying don't become an ethnomusicologist. You are saying do it in a smart way so that you don't get in trouble later on.
Mr. KANTROWITZ: That's right. I'd be the last person to tell a student not to follow their dreams. You just need to have that kind of conversation before you incur the debt.
INSKEEP: Mark Kantrowitz is the publisher of FinAid.org and FastWeb.com. He's speaking from member station WQED in Pittsburgh. Thanks very much.
Mr. KANTROWITZ: Thank you for having me.
(Soundbite of music)
MONTAGNE: And our series Money Counts continues all week. We'll hear about a program in Virginia that teaches middle school students the value of a buck. There's more on our series at our website: npr.org.
(Soundbite of music)
MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.