Is It “Stupid” to Take Out a Student Loan to Major in History?

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I don’t know the story behind the woman who just called Dave Ramsey‘s show, but Ramsey has decided to take whatever she said and apply it to everyone who is “stupid” enough to major in history or let their kids major in history.  In the midst of his ranting, raving, and name-calling he advances a very “stupid” and uninformed and ignorant argument about the value of a history major.

What saddens me is Ramsey’s complete ignorance of the many ways the study of college-level history prepares young people to contribute to our democratic society.  For him, history is little more than a fun hobby that is not useful to society unless it can provide someone with a comfortable middle-class income.  Ramsey offers a vision of the good life informed by economic determinism.  I have never listened to Ramsey, but I am guessing that he gives reasonably good economic advice.  Too bad it is at the expense of strengthening democratic life and perhaps even the life of the church.

But even if you do think a nice middle-class income and all the accoutrements that come with it are important, studies show that history majors do just as well in the long run as those who majored in other subjects and disciplines.  Ramsey is buying into a false narrative, one that we have debunked over and over and over again here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home in our  “So What CAN You Do With a History Major?” series and in Why Study History: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past? He also assumes that history is a “career” and not a course of study that contributes to ways of thinking that can be useful in all kinds of fields.

Majoring in history is not only a wise decision if you are interested in making the world a better place, but it is also a good economic decision, even if you need to take out a student loan.

There other implications to Ramsey’s tirade.  Most of Ramsey’s listeners are evangelical Christians.  By telling parents not to let their kids leave the state or attend a private institution, Ramsey undercuts evangelical Christian colleges.  In essence, he is saying that a Christian college is not worth it if you cannot pay the full tuition.  If this logic were to be put into practice Christian colleges would close.  Most students do not pay full tuition.  Parents who send their kids to these schools believe that it is worth taking out a loan for their children to get a faith-based education. In his next episode, I want Ramsey to be more specific and tell his audience that it is “stupid” if they send their kids to an evangelical college unless they can pay for it.

Ramsey also unwittingly undercuts the religious liberty arguments made by California Christian colleges in the face of the proposed bill (which has now been tabled) that would not have allowed students who attend Christian colleges to receive state loans because these colleges take traditional views on marriage and homosexuality.  In response to this bill the presidents of California Christian colleges argued that struggling poor and lower-middle class families could not receive a Christian education without these loans.  The premise behind this argument was that a Christian college education has benefits that go beyond student debt and economic considerations.

Sadly, a lot of evangelical Christians think all of Ramsey’s financial advice came down from Mount Sinai.

8 thoughts on “Is It “Stupid” to Take Out a Student Loan to Major in History?

  1. What’s the matter, Tom? Don’t like when your points are turned right back at you?

    Take a look at David Barton. That’s what happens when someone tries to learn history for free and gets it wrong. Then go look at the Sons of Confederate Veterans and all those lost cause fanatics who lack history education and learned it on their own. Then go look at the Tea Party folks who butcher history to support their ideology. Finally, go look at so many of the people on the religious right who mangle history to advance their ideologies.

    Yet, you have a problem with historians? That’s because you don’t like it when historians prove you wrong.

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    • More that it’s stupid for someone to go into half a lifetime of debt for something they could learn on their own for free.

      Or worse, expect everyone else to pay for it via government grants. Your personal fulfillment is not your fellow citizen’s responsibility.

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    • Good point. Anyone can buy a Bible and read it, thus knowing learning what it says. There is no reason to go to a college to be a preacher or teach religion. Anyone can learn it for free. Isn’t that right, Tom Van Dyke?

      I like what you said, Tim. Apparently no one should earn a degree in religion if they intend to take a vow of poverty. But then it seems the televangelist crowd doesn’t take that vow. In fact, their gospel seems to reject the vow of poverty. So, for anyone who wants to learn about Christianity and become a preacher, you need to become a televangelist or your degree is a waste of your time.

      Let’s see how David Ramsay fares with that idea.

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  2. Parents who send their kids to these schools believe that it is worth taking out a loan for their children to get a faith-based education. In his next episode, I want Ramsey to be more specific and tell his audience that it is “stupid” if they send their kids to an evangelical college unless they can pay for it.

    Ramsey would be OK with the parents taking on the loan, I suppose, but not an 18-year old with no clue about the world. Ramsey is against crippling student debt. He also mentions the additional debt–in this case $50,000–incurred on credit cards to float this woman while she was not out there earning a living. He also mentioned that this soon-to-be single mother is only making $20,000 a year.

    This is what he meant when he said he was fine with a history degree–if you can pay for it cleanly and don’t get swallowed by debt. Ramsey’s entire pitch is to build savings instead of bleeding interest payments, living hand-to-mouth, and reaching old age with not a penny in your pocket. Ramsey despises debt.

    http://www.foxbusiness.com/features/2014/10/23/dave-says-phd-in-german-polka-history-is-bad-investment.html

    Once you complete Baby Step 3, which is having three to six months of expenses set aside as an emergency fund, Baby Step 4 is usually starting to invest 15 percent of your income toward retirement. Opens a New Window. In this case, while he’s finishing his degree, you’re not investing for retirement directly but you are investing in your husband and your future together. That’s a great investment, by the way. As long as he’s studying something that has marketplace application, you’re setting the stage for him to make back the money put into his degree and much more.

    If that’s the plan, and he’s not off pursuing a Ph.D. in something like German polka history, you two are making a great investment Opens a New Window. . So work hard now, cut all the corners you can and pile up money so you two can get through his time in school!

    —Dave

    In fact. Ramsey’s a lot more positive about the whole deal than leftist Robert Reich is.

    http://www.salon.com/2014/09/03/robert_reich_college_is_a_ludicrous_waste_of_money_partner/

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  3. As one who took out student loans to get a history degree, I disapprove of Ramsey’s message. You are spot-on when you claim “a lot of evangelical Christians think all of Ramsey’s financial advice came down from Mount Sinai” and, also sadly, they extend this to anything this “Prophet for Profit” says. I’ve lost more than one friend over disagreements over Ramsey.

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