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Risk Insider: Jack Hampton

What’s the Greater Risk: Student Debt or Internet Scorn?

By: | April 10, 2017 • 3 min read
John (Jack) Hampton is a Professor of Business at St. Peter’s University and a former Executive Director of the Risk and Insurance Management Society (RIMS). His recent book deals with risk management in higher education: "Culture, Intricacies, and Obsessions in Higher Education — Why Colleges and Universities are Struggling to Deliver the Goods." His website is www.jackhampton.com.

The media spotlight is merciless and the Internet only magnifies the viral possibilities. We see the danger on a daily basis. Even the best and the brightest must be careful.

Thus far criticism has not developed for Ifeoma White-Thorpe, a New Jersey teenager recently accepted into every Ivy League college. Nor should it for the young lady who is a student council president at her public high school, winner of a national essay contest and who wants to pursue a career in global health policy.

Her biggest problem now is to decide which school offers the most financial aid. At least that’s what she said when interviewed by the media.

The high school senior recently told ABC NY, “I got into Harvard early action so I figured I’ll just go there … then I got into all the others and I was like, wait now, I don’t know where I want to go.”

She told CBS News, “It will likely come down to whichever university provides the best financial aid package.”

Whoops. Do these statements open the door for critics?

Let’s hope that we sort out some of the larger issues facing higher education. Many people are hurt by unbearable student debt, unethical recruiting practices, and emotional discussions that discourage bright foreign students from attending U.S. colleges and universities.

Some disgruntled souls might be tempted. How about the parents of students rejected by Harvard? Some 40,000 students applied for the 1,700 openings in the freshman class, a five percent acceptance rate.

A sadder story involves the hundreds of thousands of young people who together owe more than $1.3 trillion on student loans. Many of them will spend years if not decades getting out from under the debt load.

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Not to mention that they don’t have Ivy League degrees to help them dig out of that hole. Many have no degrees at all.

With the reputational dangers of the media, you never want to open doors for critics to rush in. Did Ifeoma accidentally do that?

Go back to the words “early action” and “best financial aid package.” If you are the middle-class parent of a bright teenager, you know what these words mean. Or do you?

Are “early action” applications binding? That is, if accepted by the school, do you have to attend it? Many people think yes, but the answer is no. The binding requirement goes with something called “early decision.” This does not apply to Ifeoma.

The financial package can also be misunderstood, even by Ifeoma herself. Ivy League schools don’t give “merit” financial aid.

Harvard and the others are quite explicit that they only give need-based financial assistance. For a family income below $60,000, Harvard does not expect parents to make any contribution to the cost of attending. Ninety percent of students attend Harvard at the same or lower cost than attending a public university in their home state.

Let’s hope that we sort out some of the larger issues facing higher education. Many people are hurt by unbearable student debt, unethical recruiting practices, and emotional discussions that discourage bright foreign students from attending U.S. colleges and universities.

It has been a few weeks since we learned the good news about Ifeoma. So far, no media firestorm has ignited.

As we congratulate Ifeoma, let’s hope a critical story does not go viral as she and her family move toward their final decision.

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The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]