Watch John Oliver Compare Student Loan Debt To A Painful, Inescapable STD — VIDEO
It's that time of year again: excited, doe-eyed teenagers are leaving home and entering what may be the best years of their lives. And at the time all you can think about are the days of wild ragers that lie ahead, not a literal lifetime of insurmountable debt. But on Sunday night's Last Week Tonight, John Oliver talked about student loan debt, and what he found is almost enough to scare an 18-year-old out of four years of partying.
Oliver opens the segment with a pretty depressing analogy:
He also lays down some pretty sobering facts. Like, for instance, that seven in 10 students graduated in 2013 in debt and that the total amount that American students owe in loans tops one trillion dollars — making student debt higher than both credit card debt and auto loan debt.
In order to find out what's causing these numbers to rise, Oliver investigated the shady industry known as for-profit schools, one of the biggest drivers of student loan debt. From his findings, it's pretty clear that these institutions are businesses first and schools second, and education might just be the least of their concerns.
It's on the Rise
One of the reasons student debt has ballooned might be that in the last several years, state spending on higher education has been slashed by 23 percent. As a result, tuition rates have increased.
For-Profit Schools Are a Major Culprit
You've probably heard of some of these — DeVry University, University of Phoenix, ITT Technical Institute, and Everest University — and they're all publicly traded on the stock exchange. For-profit schools account for nearly a third of all student loans, despite the fact that they only have 13 percent of the higher education population. That is because these schools are not cheap — five to six times the cost of a community college and twice a four-year state university.
The high cost of for-profit colleges has little to do with the quality of education they provide — 20 to 25 percent of their total revenue is in sales and marketing. They spend half that amount on the teachers.
In other words, it's all business.
For-profit schools advertise aggressively. Recruiters use a technique called "pain points," where they take advantage of prospective students' vulnerability and say things like, "You don't want to work at McDonald's the rest of your life, do you?"
This is an actual slide some ITT recruiters were shown during training:
(It's a still from a film about a Nazi torturer.)
You're Not Paying High Prices For the Education
So what is the quality of education like at these for-profit schools? Oliver's team did some digging and found that out of the 115 students who enrolled in ITT's associate's engineering program at the Sylmar campus in 2012, three-quarters didn't graduate and only 13 found work in that field.
Even if you do graduate, finding a job might be difficult. Nursing students at Corinthian Colleges Inc. who studied psychiatry did not step foot in a real hospital. Instead, they did their psychiatric rotations at a Museum of Scientology, which was literally called Psychiatry, an Industry of Death ... Museum.
This year, Corinthian Colleges announced that they would be closing and selling nearly every school they operate in the U.S.
They're Even Going After Veterans
While the federal government does try to regulate student loans, there is one big loophole. Schools are only allowed 90 percent of their funding from loans, but the other 10 percent can come from veteran loans, meaning these schools are taking advantage of veterans' benefits in order to sign up more students.
For-profit schools received $1.7 billion in G.I. Bill benefits in 2012-2013 alone. One recruiter from Ashford University even went so far as going to a Wounded Warriors barracks and signing up brain-injured Marines who had difficulty remembering what courses they were taking.
Lobbyists Are Also Perpetuating Your Student Loan Debt
Even though the Obama administration attempted to tighten regulations in 2011, lobbyists successfully spent millions on campaigns to reverse the decision. One of their campaigns entailed letters from "real students" that looked something like this:
Oliver wrote a letter of his own to the lobbyists — Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities in particular:
Oliver's Final Message to Students
So what should students do then?
His last words of advice?
Watch the entire video below.
Images: Last Week Tonight With John Oliver/YouTube