You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Mon, May 28, 2012 : 6:54 a.m.

Columnist George Will losing his grip when it comes to 'facts'

By Letters to the Editor

I used to like to read George Will's columns, but his recent column on bipartisanship and student loans has caused me to wonder if he is losing his grip. Many of the "facts" in that column are quite misleading.

Start with his claim that the difference between 3.4 percent and 6.8 percent interest on a $5500 loan is less than $10 per month. That may be so, but a $5,500 loan covers only one year of college. Will points out that about two-thirds of students finish college with an average loan of $25,250. The difference in payments between 3.4 percent and 6.8 percent on $25,250 is over $40 per month. The total difference over a 10-year repayment period is over $5000. For the one-third of students with higher loans, the difference is, of course, higher.

Next, Will notes that the average income of college graduates with just a BA degree is $71,552 while the average income of high school graduates without a degree is $41,288 and the difference between these is higher than the $25,250 number he cites for student debt. But there are two problems with using this average. First, students must, in general, start repaying these loans within a few years after graduating. At the beginning of their careers, their annual income is much less than the average for all graduates. Second, the average is skewed by the incomes of a few very high-earning individuals. A much more meaningful comparison would be based on the difference in median income over the first 10 years after graduation.

Furthermore, Will claims that people with no college experience have an unemployment rate of 7.9% while college graduates have an unemployment rate of only 4%. If that is so, how do we currently have an unemployment rate of over 8%? That would be possible only if two conditions are both true: the unemployment rate for those with some college but no degree is higher than that of those with no college, and the size of this group is large enough to account for the difference. Both conditions seem unlikely.

Given how misleading Will's presentation of this information is, I find it difficult to accept Will's other conclusions. In particular, he complains that non-graduate taxpayers will be paying to make it "slightly easier" for some "fortunate" students to acquire college degrees. It would be more accurate to say that these loans make it "possible" for the children of many without degrees to earn the degrees their parents never had. That would be "fortunate" not only for those students but also for their families and for our country as a whole.

Edward Kimball
Ann Arbor



Tue, May 29, 2012 : 3:54 p.m.

Imagine what we could be doing for the future of this country if our half our tax dollars we going to education rather than war. Creation rather than destruction.


Tue, May 29, 2012 : 4:57 p.m.

maybe we'd have a real taliban as secretary of education.


Tue, May 29, 2012 : 12:10 p.m.

I guess I don't see how Mr Will's facts are misleading. He states nothing that is untrue, which is what the "facts" implies. I would hope people are intelligent enough to understand the added info the author notes. But then again, I see the issue some people have with basic math...


Mon, May 28, 2012 : 7:32 p.m.

I disagree with Mr. Will's conclusion as well. The cost of an undergraduate degree is too high and the debt they incur is too high. His math isn't off, however. The unemployment rate for people not completing High School is 12.5%. For those completing High School, but without a college degree it is 7.9%. Those with a college degree are at 4%. National average right now is 8.1%.

Billy Bob Schwartz

Mon, May 28, 2012 : 11:26 p.m.

Is that mean or median or mode?

Michigan Man

Mon, May 28, 2012 : 4:38 p.m.

George Will is a fine American. He has every right to speak freely and write about the matters that are important to him. If you do not like reading his columns, stop reading then. Very simple fix. Stop reading this columns and start drinking - you may be better served. Hope George keeps up the fine work and practices his 1st Amendment rights here in America.

Billy Bob Schwartz

Mon, May 28, 2012 : 11:24 p.m.

A delightful part of the First Amendment is that it not only guarantees pompous pundits the right to say what they think, but it also gives the rest of us the right to rip it to shreds, should we so choose. To suggest that one should not read anything that they don't like is to support the idea that Fox News (or fill in your own favorite) is the only source of truth and one should read or view only that source and ignore anything contrary to it. In my view, this is one of the most serious problems of 21st Century America. No wonder political "discussion" is so narrow and one-sided and virulent.


Mon, May 28, 2012 : 7:41 p.m.

No one's threatening Mr. Will's first amendment rights by simply disagreeing with him on an issue.


Mon, May 28, 2012 : 3:54 p.m.

Nicely said, better than the average aa.c journalism.

Bill Wilson

Mon, May 28, 2012 : 3:22 p.m.

From Ed: "At the beginning of their careers, their annual income is much less than the average for all graduates. Second, the average is skewed by the incomes of a few very high-earning individuals." Huh? Actually, there has to be just as many above the average as there is below it in order to have an average. One more time: There HAS to be an equal amount above AND below in order to have an average. The only thing funnier than the fact that you didn't know this is that Cash didn't know it either.


Tue, May 29, 2012 : 12:06 p.m.

Perhaps some posters on this site should re-read some of those "basic math books"...


Mon, May 28, 2012 : 10:37 p.m.

go got that right.


Mon, May 28, 2012 : 8:54 p.m.

Bill Wilson demonstrates what's wrong with *some* Americans' understanding of mathematics today. Tell me, Mr. Wilson, what the average of four people making $1,000 a year and one individual making $96,000 a year is (the answer is, of course, $20,000). Of course, as we can see 4 individuals are below the average, with only one above. Anyways, what's funny to me is that even after being made aware of the difference between "average" and "median," Mr. Wilson goes on to argue from a position of mathematical ignorance. For some, no amount of factual information can "prove" them incorrect.


Mon, May 28, 2012 : 4:48 p.m.

OOPS! Too many hot dogs. The average is 40K/year, not 15K. Sorry!!!


Mon, May 28, 2012 : 4:39 p.m.

Exactly. 5 grads making $100,000/yr and 10 grads making $10,000/yr produces and average (or mean) of $15,000/yr. The 5 grads making significantly more skews the average.


Mon, May 28, 2012 : 4:16 p.m.

Nevertheless, Will was, in fact, referring to a mean: so Mr. Kimball's point is entirely apt :)

Bill Wilson

Mon, May 28, 2012 : 4:01 p.m.

Dog, "I" didn't introduce anything.... Ed did. He said "average." In order to have an average, you must have as many above, as below. If you don't believe me, look it up. It's in all the basic math books. It's comical that a lib will make fun of Will while getting this basic fact all wrong.


Mon, May 28, 2012 : 3:37 p.m.

Bill, don't confuse mean with median.


Mon, May 28, 2012 : 1:59 p.m.

Why should everyone else help pay for your wasteful, thoughtless spending in college. I taught for over 20 years at the university level. Most students had better and newer cars, went on more exotic vacations and had more fancy electronic toys than faculty, spending money without any thought. I have no sympathy for them. My kids worked since they were 14 and worked while going to college full time. Most of the college kids today don't work while going to school.


Mon, May 28, 2012 : 3:09 p.m.

reply to slave2work Sorry to disappoint you but I was chosen faculty of the year multiple times by my students. I talked to many students about student loans. Some had jobs, but many did not. My parents had 8th grade education, but they stressed hard work and frugality. I worked while going to college. Try sticking to facts rather than character assassination.


Mon, May 28, 2012 : 2:22 p.m.

WOw.. thats a broad statement. And very incorrect. Some now days have a family to support ontop of going to college ( since many have lost their previous jobs) and they work also. Student loans are the only option. Did you ever think that mommy and daddy might have got that car for them, or grandma n grandpa?. and how do you know which ones got loans or not?. Im thinking you're not a very nice teacher , cuz you show contempt for the students .


Mon, May 28, 2012 : 1:35 p.m.

George Will should stick to writing about things he is an expert on, like baseball.


Mon, May 28, 2012 : 1:20 p.m.

This is a very thoughtful letter to the editor. Is it okay, though, if I agree with Mr. Will in his recent description of Donald Trump as a "bloviating ignoramus" who provides "redundant evidence that if your net worth is high enough, your IQ can be very low and you can still intrude into American politics."? Mr. Buckley would be very proud of that one.


Mon, May 28, 2012 : 12:50 p.m.

Will,( like Buckley if he were still alive), as a 'aristocrat" ( in his own mind) and supposed protector of western civilization must be pretty rueful about the 'joe six-pack'/ teaparty dominance of the political right ....people who Will must regard as fit only to sweep up after his polo pony.

Perry White

Tue, May 29, 2012 : 2:48 a.m.

Craig (flicking tongue a la Wm. S. Buckley) - Surely you mean lower caste, not lower cast.

Craig Lounsbury

Mon, May 28, 2012 : 1:10 p.m.

clearly you show your lower cast lot in life as any self respecting aristocrat would know polo pony would be plural........ polo ponies. ;)


Mon, May 28, 2012 : 12:20 p.m.

He sees himself as the inheritor of William F Buckley's legacy.

Billy Bob Schwartz

Sun, Jun 3, 2012 : 4:59 p.m.

I've read and followed Mr. Buckley, and Mr. Will is no William F. Buckley.


Mon, May 28, 2012 : 12:08 p.m.

Mr. Will is a dedicated idealogue who has never allowed being selective in his "facts" to hinder his sense of himself as the arbiter of American society. 18th century American society, that is.


Mon, May 28, 2012 : 11:47 a.m.

I stopped reading George Will columns the time he complained about the way people dressed for airline travel. It was such a snobbish editorial considering he most likely only flies first class.


Mon, May 28, 2012 : 8:50 p.m.

You shouldn't take Mr. Will's advice regarding appropriate dress for air travel. Rather, you should look to veteran pilots, none of whom would suggest it's anywhere near "smart" to fly on a plane wearing flip-flops, polyester, or other flammable materials which will likely cause all sorts of calamity on your body in the case of an emergency involving fire, broken glass or twisted shards of metal.


Mon, May 28, 2012 : 11:15 a.m.

Excellent, Mr Kimball. Mr Will should really be named Mr Won't.