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Education


This story has all the makings of something viral. It fits right in with our fascination with people doing things that normal Americans wouldn’t even consider doing. We gawk at reality television shows and follow the stories about their stars, like the recent news about the couple from the “Real Housewives of New Jersey” show who recently pleaded guilty to fraud. This story has the added element of millennial-shaming. We like stories when a young individual upholds the generally-held stereotype of entitlement.

If the judge doesn’t throw out the suit from the beginning, some of the facts will eventually come out. But from media reports, it appears that the eighteen-year-old Rachel Canning, identifying herself as a cheerleader and an honor student, willfully left home after not wanting to live by her parents’ rules. These rules included contributing to household order through chores, obeying an eleven o’clock curfew, and breaking up with a boyfriend who didn’t meet the parents’ approval. The girl moved out to live with her friend’s family — and the father in this friend’s household is funding the suit.

The parents, who had been saving some money for their child’s college education, are now refusing to cover the tuition for the expensive college the girl would like to attend and to pay the remaining balance for her enrollment in a private high school.

The story, traveling quickly across the internet, is giving millions of readers the opportunity to ridicule her as a product of the Millennial generation.

I’d like to say that the situation has an obvious eventual conclusion. The child, when she voluntary moved out of her parents’ house after turning eighteen years of age to avoid their rules, signaled that she intended to live without their support. And in fact, she could do just that by switching to public school, getting a job, and if she likes, paying for her own education at a less expensive college. The student, however, is determined to have her parents continue supporting her and her life choices.

The young adult made her own choice and should have to live with the consequences, and those consequences, like forfeiture of support, seemed to be pretty clear from the beginning.

But because this is in New Jersey, the case might have some merit. The courts in this state have ruled in the past that parents are still responsible for supporting their children after the age of eighteen if a child cannot support his or herself. There may not be a reason to think a bright and talented student wouldn’t be able to support herself if she wanted, but working for a living and paying one’s own way through college isn’t as convenient as having living expenses covered by one’s parents. A court will probably have to decide whether the young woman can support herself in the manner to which she’s accustomed. Given that a court in Texas recently that “affluenza” is a reasonable defense, there’s no telling what might happen in court in New Jersey.

Parents have no legal obligation to pay for their children’s higher education expenses. The ability for a child or young adult to receive a college education for free is not a right or entitlement. It’s great when parents can contribute to their children’s education, and I’ve benefited from parental financial assistance for (and after) college. I would never in a million years consider financial support from my parents to be an expectation after the age of eighteen, but I hope to be able to help my children afford the education they want when and if I have children.

But this isn’t charity. When I offer to help pay for college, there will be conditions. The parents involved in this lawsuit are free to require their child to exhibit appropriate behavior in order to receive support, even beyond the age of eighteen. Unless the parents invested the money set aside for college education in the daughter’s name, it would take a court’s decision to force the parents to pay that money. The funds for the private high school education might be different; if the parents signed a contract to pay the tuition, they might have to pay, regardless of the living situation.

A just judge should recognize that the student could easily finish her high school career in a public high school, and private school tuition should be seen as an extra, not a baseline requirement.

What do you think about this story? Does the eighteen-year-old have a case against her parents? Should the parents continue to support her after she refused to live by their rules and voluntarily moved out of the house? What would it have taken for you to sue your parents when you were eighteen?

Update: In the initial hearing the judge did not throw out the case but expressed concern about setting a precedent in which parents would be afraid to set rules of the house. The judge refused an emergency order for the parents to begin paying the teen $600 a week. A hearing on April 22 will determine more.

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When I was an undergraduate, the World Wide Web was coming into prominence within the world of academics. For years prior to my freshman orientation at the University of Delaware, I had gained a lot of experience and familiarity with the internet as it was at the time — newsgroups, email, bulletin boards, and even chat rooms. But in college, every dorm room was wired with Ethernet — and had a direct connection to the internet. No longer did I have a need for a dial-up modems to be connected to the worldwide computer network.

I started websites for departments at the university and taught professors how to design their own. I probably charged $10 an hour for my services — a steal these days. While I was studying music education, I made a point to make the most out of the resources the university made available to me. And I spread myself a little thin; my grades suffered, but I was involved in many different curricular pursuits and extracurricular activities.

During the course of my time as an undergraduate, I was a leader in several student organizations and participated in many more. I dabbled with several different minors before setting on my final approach to graduation. I enrolled in many courses that were not part of my degree requirements just because I wanted to learn.

In my last semester, I enrolled in a graduate-level class, multimedia literacy, which focused on burgeoning online technologies. The professor’s own research project was developing web-based classroom instruction. Distance learning previously involved university courses somehow taught via mail, and later delivered by radio and television. The development of the internet, and specifically the World Wide Web, opened up new opportunities to vastly improve the quality of education over a distance.

As someone deeply passionate about both education and technology, I couldn’t resist.

A few years into the future, my diverse set of passions began causing some problems. I was employed by a not-for-profit organization, not earning much money, working far too many hours, effectively earning much less than minimum wage and commuting a long and expensive distance just to do it. Not persuaded by the argument that working towards the organization’s mission makes up for the lack of compensation and the personal sacrifices I had to make — sacrifices that include a financial independence that could never be in sight — I made some changes. I’ve written about this here in the past.

I got a new job, took a break from some major expenses for a while thanks to family, and put myself in a better position to be self-sufficient. After a few years of working in the financial industry, and while it still wasn’t clear that I’d be self-employed full-time due to something as crazy as advertising revenue from a website, I took an opportunity to have my employer pay for graduate level education. By now, college degrees pursued mostly or fully online were common. Traditional universities and colleges were slow to get on board with this concept, even though the technological groundwork had been laid at some of the best universities and colleges, so the most popular choices were for-profit companies like that behind the University of Phoenix Online.

Several years ago, after completing my master’s degree in business administration at the University of Phoenix Online, I wrote about my experiences in a series on Consumerism Commentary. It still continues to be a popular series. In 2008, I wrote about my decision, the admissions process, course logistics, the MBA curriculum, and the team learning education method put into use by the university. In 2011, I re-evaluated my experience.

When I decided to enroll in the University of Phoenix Online, I knew I was fighting an uphill battle in terms of respect among my peers. I’ve never been one to care much for how other people thought of me, but my assumption when enrolling was that as technology were to continue to advance, online learning would become more mainstream.

I think it has somewhat gained more acceptance, but it hasn’t yet reached that level of respectability, if only among human resource departments in the corporate world. But as traditional universities and colleges began to see some of the successes — including profitability — of online learning, they’ve begun to copy the business model. Social respectability of a degree has more to do with the prestige of a brand rather than quality of education, so when a “top-ten” school in any particular field offers an online-based degree program, it combined the benefits of the online learning environment with the socially respectable brand name.

A reader contacted me recently and asked if I would recommend that he enroll in the University of Phoenix Online to pursue an MBA like I did. I haven’t followed the changes in the curriculum, so I don’t know what enrolling today would look like. I don’t get much out of an alumni network if there is one; but then again, I also don’t take advantage of the various networking opportunities afforded to me by my undergraduate education, either. My enrollment in the University of Phoenix has given my one lasting benefit: access to the university library, which includes the ProQuest database and other helpful research tools.

The experience of learning at the school was not perfectly ideal, but I was able to do most of the coursework on my own time, I learned a few tips and tricks that helped with growing my business, and I gained a lot of experience dealing with difficult people. I don’t know whether all of that is worth the total cost of the education. I didn’t have to pay the fees thanks to my company’s educational reimbursement program.

I do believe that I might have been better served by waiting until my choice of online degree programs was wider. Within just a year or two of starting my degree, traditional universities and colleges began offering similar types of online degree programs, and many were offered for less money.

The choice to enroll in an online degree program depends on goals. If you’re looking for an easy way to earn a degree, forget about it; online learning can be much more strenuous and involve much more work than going to classes in person. If you’re looking to improve your résumé, you want a brand-name degree from a school that historically has a significant presence in your career. That’s, unfortunately, just how it often goes at the executive level in business. If you intend on working for yourself and want to build your knowledge, the brand of the degree doesn’t matter as much.

These days, I rarely share the fact that I completed an MBA degree at the University of Phoenix Online. Not only does the school not inspire confidence, but MBA degrees are falling out of fashion — probably due to the fact that it’s a go-to graduate degree for people who may not have any other skills or passions than a generic “business.” There were a few years when it was in fashion in the corporate world to respect MBA degrees, but perhaps as a reaction to the popularity or the fact that many MBA recipients did not live up to expectations, the degree fell into disfavor.

Maybe I should have pursued a concentration in an area like finance, but that didn’t occur to me at the time, and there are degrees other than the MBA that might have been more appropriate for someone interested in finance.

Lifelong education is an important piece of my personal mission, and it doesn’t matter to me whether a degree from one school carries more weight than one from another school, because my goal is the pursuit of education. But still, I try to avoid letting people make assumptions about me based on the course of graduate education I chose. A degree from a different school, although that would have required some foresight, might remove that burden.

The reader who is questioning his choice to enroll at the University of Phoenix Online also asked: “I’ve also noticed that they’ve upped their advertising efforts on TV lately. Should I be thinking of them any less by seeing that?” I think it’s somewhat amusing that Phylicia Rashād is the new spokesperson for the University of Phoenix. I recognized her voice immediately, but she and her television husband, Bill Cosby, are now both associated with higher education, Bill with Temple University.

All colleges advertise in some form. All universities need to profit. The economic difference between traditional universities and colleges, usually seen as “non-profit,” and for-profit universities, are slight, while the governing differences and the ownership differences are significant. I don’t think the advertising makes much of a difference. Advertising represents an expense that’s not going directly into the pockets of ownership, but it’s not being reinvested in its staff or aiding the reduction of tuition and fees, either.

Photo: Flickr/Les Roches

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This month, the Naked With Cash participants and financial professionals are discussing education, primarily paying for and planning for college, whether it involves paying back their own loans, funding their own education, or saving for their kids’ future college expenses. In August, colleges across the country begin their fall semesters, so it’s a great time to be discussing education.

An undergraduate degree is a milestone for entering the middle class, breaking away from generational poverty or low socio-economic status. The cost of a college degree is an investment in the future and a great asset for building your human capital because, on average, people with college degrees earn about a million dollars more than those with just high school diplomas over the course of their lifetimes, according to the United States Census Bureau.

Because of this value society places on a college education, and because of other economic reasons, the cost of going to college continues to increase. The student loan industry has thrived, with 60 percent of college students borrowing to pay for at least part of their tuition costs according to American Student Assistance. When student loans aren’t enough, parents borrow money, too, to help their kids pursue their education less burdened by distractions like part-time jobs.

When I was in high school, visiting colleges, applying, and making decisions about how I wanted to spend the next several years of my life, I chose to go to the University of Delaware. I had some outside assistance to help pay tuition, but I also needed help from my own student loans. My parents borrowed money, too, most likely through the federal Direct PLUS loan program, an education loan designed for parents instead of students.

After college, my finances didn’t improve much. I was certainly not on the path of the average college graduate according to the federal census. With a career in non-profit and education, I would not be on track to earn the lifetime one million dollars above and beyond high school graduates. It took me a long time to pay off my student loans, particularly because I also decided to pursue a graduate degree.

Thanks to my side business, my time for eliminating student loan debt came sooner than it would have otherwise. In December 2008, about ten years after receiving my bachelor’s degree, I paid off the remaining balance and was free, no longer setting aside hard-earned income for the education and degree I received a decade prior.

It’s possible that at this time, there were still financial remnants of student loan debt in the form of the loans my parents initiated. I don’t honestly know whether any debt remains today, but it does raise some questions about children’s obligations. From a legal perspective, the student is not responsible for these loans, but is there any situation in which the child who benefited from parents’ loans should help with those payments?

The question might come down to one that is more basic. When parents help pay for their children’s education, should those children feel obligated to repay their parents? Or is there an understood agreement that children might “pay it forward” and use the money that could go to repaying parents to funding their own children’s education instead? Some might even say that children have no obligation whatsoever, as the parents’ decision to borrow for college was likely done without asking the student, and therefore the student shouldn’t be responsible for the financial decisions of the parents.

The assumption here is that parents are willing to help their children afford a college education. That isn’t always the case, either out of their judgment that their children should fund their own education, soaking in any appropriate lessons about personal responsibility, or out of an inability to afford to pay, even with loans. These are valid situations, but the question many graduates who did receive financial help might consider, whether to repay parents for their assistance, is just as valid.

These are the questions for discussion among those who did receive assistance from parents or who can empathize with those who have.

  • Should children who received financial assistance from their parents endeavor to repay those parents once their financial livers are in order (or sooner)?
  • Is this repayment any more imperative (if it can be considered at all) if the parents borrowed money (in addition to the student’s loans) in order to help their children pay for college tuition and costs?
  • Would a student who received financial assistance from parents be more likely to be willing to assist their own children as they look towards funding the expenses of higher education?
  • From the parents’ perspective, would you ask your children to help you pay back your PLUS Loan? Would it depend on the financial situation of the graduate?

I don’t recall hearing any stories about college graduates paying their parents back for the money they provided to help attend college, especially if that money came in the form of a PLUS Loan, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened. If you have personal experiences to share, please do.

Photo: Flickr/mathplourde

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Low-income families have to deal with priorities other than education. With the increasing expense of college, children in these families rarely view college enrollment and attendance as an option. Degrees are out of reach. Often, the children fall into the category of those who are not encouraged to pursue bachelor’s degrees — after all, for the economy to function properly, society needs all types of labor, including unskilled and manual labor, jobs that don’t require a degree and for which an expensive education would never provide a financial return on investment.

A college degree is one of the few milestones for entering the middle class, though, so without post-secondary education and an experience that places importance on cognitive development, low-income families are often doomed to repeat the generational cycle of poverty.

Several years ago, Rutgers University officials noted that even the low-income students from the cities surrounding the college’s campuses who wanted to attend college did not have the grades and scores to qualify for acceptance. The university began a program, Rutgers Future Scholars, that would invest in 183 seventh-graders and continue investing in them throughout the remainder of their education.

For the cost of $1.6 million a year, funded through private donations, each student recommended by their school principals to participate received:

  • A year-round mentor.
  • Encouragement to spend summers taking classes.
  • Leadership activities and other programs at Rutgers University.
  • SAT preparation classes, tutors, and counselors.
  • Free college tuition to Rutgers University.

The program began five years ago, and now the first students who participated in the Rutgers Future Scholars program are ready to attend college. Of the 183 who participated in the program, 163 will be going to college. 98 of those students will attend Rutgers without needing to pay tuition or fees. 19 students will attend other four-year colleges, most with full scholarships. 46 will attend county colleges for two years and then still be able to transfer to Rutgers on a full scholarship. Most of those who plan to attend county colleges applied to Rutgers but were not accepted.

Each year, a new batch of 200 students in the program will graduate high school, and there will be new statistics to analyze the progress of those students and the program itself.

It’s possible that the success of the program and the students within the program is due in part to the principals’ recommendations. It’s possible that the principals chose students who as early as seventh grade they would expect to succeed in college but did not have the resources to make education a priority. It’s clear that at least some of the students, based on comments they’ve made to reporters, were not planning to attend college when they started due to the expected cost, most likely discouraged by their parents.

The direct investment from Rutgers was able to show these students that education is a priority and that they could achieve educational success when the culture in which they live provides encouragement, resources, and a sense of importance.

The Rutgers Future Scholars program has to be about more than just accepting local students into higher education. It’s about making possible major changes in the lives of families. For many of the students attending college through the program, the kids are the first in their families’ history to attend college. This is an amazing opportunity to set future generations in a position to join the middle class, save for the future, and stimulate a microculture that prioritizes education and responsible financial planning. This is how the cycle of poverty can break.

Unfortunately, at a cost of $1.6 million per year, it’s not going to continue forever or scale easily. And there are some questions that still remain to be resolved.

  • Will the students in the program succeed beyond their four years in college? Principals most likely chose students already poised to succeed, just lacking the resources and encouragement. The program needs to determine using other students as a control whether the program made a difference in more than just the ability to afford college.
  • Will the students earn higher salaries when they enter the workforce? Overall, graduates with bachelor’s degrees earn more than those with nothing more than a high school diploma, and much more than students who haven’t graduated high school. Even in today’s tougher job market, although even those with college degrees are struggling to find jobs, those without are struggling more. What will the job market look like when the Rutgers Future Scholars receive their degrees? Will the jobs they receive be reflective of their education or will they be underemployed?
  • Would the program see the same success rate if it offered only the free tuition or only the educational support? The two main pieces of the program are the services and encouragement offered to the students in the intervening years between seventh grade and college and the full scholarship to Rutgers. The priority the program puts on education may be something that home life is unable to provide, and that might be the main driver of success. The full scholarship might not play as much of a role, but perhaps just knowing that college is attainable from a financial perspective is an important part of providing the motivation to study and prepare.
  • What will be the multi-generational effect of the program? Rutgers Future Scholars has been in operation for only five years. That’s not nearly enough to determine whether the program will change lives. A college education today is still one of the best pathways from poverty or low-income status to the middle class, but will the kids who received this stimulus be able to achieve middle class status, maintain that status later in life, and pass along the value of education to their own children? Will their children be poised to enter college if they choose and continue a lifestyle of comfort rather than a lifestyle where meeting basic needs are part of a daily struggle?

What are your impressions of the Rutgers Future Scholars program? Is this a good way to help families break the cycle of poverty or just a way to bring more local students into the college system? Do you think this is a waste of time and that these kids who wouldn’t be able to afford or prioritize college shouldn’t be offered the opportunity?

Photo: Flickr/slgckgc

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Can Free College Education Work in Oregon or Anywhere Else?

by Luke Landes
Tuition-Free Education in Oregon

While in Portland, Oregon the past few days, I was struck by the news that the state’s legislature passed a bill to “Pay It Forward, Pay It Back,” allowing students to attend college for free initially, then paying tuition as a percentage of their income for a set number of years. Many of the national ... Continue reading this article…

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Banks Borrow Money at Low Rates, Why Can’t Students?

by Luke Landes
Studying

Senator Elizabeth Warren, the architect of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, introduced a bill in Congress to give student borrowers a break. The premise is that students, whose education is important to the economic growth of the United States, should receive some of the same advantages as banks, who receive preferential treatment in the form ... Continue reading this article…

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6 Questions Before Dropping Out of College to Be an Entrepreneur

by Luke Landes
Bill Gates

Many successful entrepreneurs, business owners, and world leaders have something in common. When asked how they achieved their success, they point to a role model they knew personally or were familiar with during their formative and most inspired years. The role model lived a life that seemed appealing to them. That’s how many young entrepreneurs ... Continue reading this article…

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Learning About Investing With the Stock Market Game

by Luke Landes
Stock Market Game

In my mind, no child is too young to learn about the basic concepts of personal finance. From using money to saving money and budgeting, youngest children learn as they watch their parents behave. These are the most important lessons because parents are the ultimate role models. Financial literacy programs that wait until high school ... Continue reading this article…

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Saving Priorities: Retirement vs. Kids’ Education

by Luke Landes
College education

Having the ability to even ask this question might be indicative of having “first world problems.” Throughout the world, the concept of retirement is foreign. Financial independence doesn’t fit into the concept of life. That isn’t to say that all residents of underdeveloped nations are struggling with life, but the benefits that we live with ... Continue reading this article…

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Mass Affluent: College is Worth the Investment

by Luke Landes
Questioning the value of a college education

You can be financially successful without a college degree. One summer when I was younger, fresh out of college, I worked for a touring drum and bugle corps. It’s a group of 128 adolescents and young adults and 40 staff who drive around the company in buses, performing almost every night for seven weeks, marching ... Continue reading this article…

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Go to College for Free

by Luke Landes
West Point Academy cadet

Welcome new readers. Be sure to subscribe to Consumerism Commentary via RSS. New readers should start here. I enjoyed my experience as an undergraduate at a “state-assisted, privately governed” university. As I did not live in that university’s state prior to attending, my tuition fees were higher than many of my classmates’ fees. To attend ... Continue reading this article…

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Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke Speaks With Teachers

by Luke Landes
Ben Bernanke

Yesterday, Ben Bernanke spoke to teachers across the United States in a video-conferenced town hall-style meeting. Several teachers were invited to participate in Washington, while others attended the meeting from distant locations aided my modern technology. I wasn’t able to watch the live broadcast of the meeting, but I watched the hour-long recording this morning. ... Continue reading this article…

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Is Pursuing a PhD or Professional Doctorate Worthwhile?

by Luke Landes
Professor

I’m at a point in my life right now where I have some flexibility with my personal choices. Thanks to growing a business, I’m able to look at a wide array of options in front of me — things to to do that will keep me busy, intellectually stimulated, and financially self-supporting, in addition to ... Continue reading this article…

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Tuition Reimbursement: A Benefit for Some Employees and Employers

by Luke Landes
Columbia University

Happy anniversary to Consumerism Commentary! Nine years ago today, I published the first article on this website, introducing myself and sharing the original purpose of Consumerism Commentary. The character of the site has changed drastically over this extended period of time, but I’m glad to say I’m still involved with its operation. Thanks for everyone’s ... Continue reading this article…

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Student Loan Grace Periods Coming to an End

by Luke Landes
Graduation

While all the focus has been on student loan interest rates. Congress has failed to renew one of the most important student loan benefits for undergraduates: the six-month grace period following graduation. With the rate of unemployment being historically high, this couldn’t have come at a worse time. Federal student loans have a fixed interest ... Continue reading this article…

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Seven Great Gifts for College Graduates

by Luke Landes
Graduation

If there is a college graduate in your life, he or she will likely receive a number of gifts. The first gift will be the realization that it can be difficult to find a job in this economy right now — if the goal is to get a job in the same field of study ... Continue reading this article…

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Public School Funding: Taxes or Parent Donations?

by Luke Landes
Classroom

When communities vote on public school budget proposals throughout the country, voting citizens evaluate the quality of the curricula, the perceived effectiveness of the administration, the students’ performance, the prioritization of students’ needs, and their own wallets. Rising costs and an unstable economy tend to push parents to be wary of budget increases that result ... Continue reading this article…

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High School Graduates Without College Degrees Want More Education

by Luke Landes
High school graduate

A survey of high school graduates from 2006 through 2011 who have not earned bachelor degrees and who are not currently enrolled in college shows that a strong majority are not happy with this aspect of their lives. The survey was conducted by the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University, who ... Continue reading this article…

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A Financial Literacy Program for Kids, With Corporate Sponsorship

by Luke Landes
Eighth grade

The best place to learn solid financial behavior is at home. Although a kid’s environment at school and among peers is important in his or her development, the biggest influence on a growing child’s set of values is the behavior of the parents. Parents are role models, so in a perfect world, they are best ... Continue reading this article…

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The College Education Bubble and Crash

by Luke Landes
Graduation

A new survey takes a look at the critical state of today’s recent college graduates. The survey questioned a nationally-representative sample of 444 recent college graduates between the ages of 22 and 29, about their employment situation and experiences. The questions also lightly touched upon these graduates’ financial condition. I’ve included a link to the ... Continue reading this article…

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