Michael Ellsberg
Author, The Education of Millionaires and The Power of Eye Contact

Earth to Academia: Student Loan Debt is Mounting - And It's Unethical.

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The average student graduates with $23,000 in debt. "That's a lot of debt for a 22-year-old," says Michael Ellsberg - and when you combine it with astronomical rates of unemployment rates, you have a crisis on your hands.

Michael Ellsberg

Michael Ellsberg is the author of The Education of Millionaires: It’s Not What You Think, and It’s Not Too Late, out Sep. 29th, 2011 from Penguin/Portfolio, and The Power of Eye Contact: Your Secret For Success in Business, Love and Life, from HarperCollins. He also writes a blog on entrepreneurialism, career development, and education at Forbes.com.

The Education of Millionaires is a bootstrapper’s guide to investing in your own human capital. Ellsberg interviewed some of the most successful people on the planet who didn’t complete college and who educated themselves in the real world, to deconstruct their secrets and create a “Syllabus for a Successful Life” based on what he learned from them.

The book features interviews with self-educated billionaires Phillip Ruffin and John Paul DeJoria, Facebook co-founders Dustin Moskovitz and Sean Parker, WordPress creator Matt Mullenweg, fashion designer Marc Ecko, Pink Floyd lead guitarist David Gilmour, and marketing experts Eben Pagan, Frank Kern and Joe Polish. It also features the insights of experts including Seth Godin, “Rich Dad” Robert Kiyosaki, and PayPal co-founder and Facebook angel investor, billionaire Peter Thiel.

The Education of Millionaires has been sold into Korea pre-release, and The Power of Eye Contact has been sold into China, Russia, France, Korea, Vietnam, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Brazil. The latter was featured in the Washington Post, and on Tim Ferriss’s Four-Hour Workweek blog.

Ellsberg is the creator of Eye Gazing Parties, a series of social events based on eye contact which attracted feature press coverage from the New York Times, Associated Press TV, CBS News, CNN, Good Morning America, MSNBC, Regis & Kelly, Current TV, Yoga Journal, the San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco magazine, the BBC, the Times of London, Match.com, Nerve.com, Agence Press France, German and Canadian national television, and in Tim Ferriss’s #1 New York Times andWall Street Journal bestseller The Four-Hour Workweek. Elle magazine called Eye Gazing Parties “New York’s hottest dating trend.”

Ellsberg collaborated with Dr. Marc Gerstein on Flirting With Disaster: Why Accidents Are Rarely Accidental, which was reviewed in the Wall Street Journal. Ellsberg’s work has also been featured in the Harvard Business Review online and on Digital Book World.

Ellsberg was born in San Francisco in 1977, grew up in Berkeley, and graduated from Brown University in 1999, Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude. He lives in New York with his wife Jena la Flamme. Contact Michael at michael@ellsberg.com (Michael reads all mail sent to this address, but may not answer every email individually.)



Michael Ellsberg: I live in New York and there's this Occupy Wall Street activity happening. I actually haven't been down there yet but I've been following it a fair amount and one of the main things they're talking about is student debt and you see these photos of people who say, I'm $100,000 in debt and I don't have a job.  

This is a really big issue right now. The average student graduates with $23,000 in debt. That's a lot of debt for a 22 year old, and if you combine that with not having a job that leads to a toxic situation. Student loan debt is the only form of debt that is not dischargeable in bankruptcy, which means that it is a very dangerous and risky kind of debt. 

It's frightening that we encourage young people, often when they're not even legal adults yet. They can't legally vote, they can't join the military, they can't legally buy a pack of cigarettes or beer, they can't do any of that stuff... but it's fine if they want to sign their name off to a $100,000 in student debt, which they will not be able to get out of when they graduate if they can't pay it.

So what you're finding now is a lot of young people who are in a significant amount of debt, $23,000, 50,000, 100,000, and who are depending on being able to get a good job to be able to pay that debt off. Instead what they've found is a job at Starbucks if they're lucky - that's even hard to get these days. There's lines outside the Starbucks whenever they have a career fair. They're making seven dollars an hour, ten dollars an hour, fifteen, twenty dollars an hour; they've got to pay off $100,000 in debt. And a lot of these young people are defaulting.

Quite frankly, the salesmen of higher education are not warning their customers - their marks if you will- about this risk. All they say is, here's this rosy picture you get if you get our BA degree, our law degree, our MBA - here's all the wonderful things that are likely to happen to you. They don't talk about the other side: and here's the risk that you might be in the hole for $100 grand that you can't pay off because you don't have a job and the compound interest is spiralling upward.

To not talk about those risks borders on fraud, and it is certainly unethical that these people are selling this form of higher education and not talking about these very, very significant and serious risks.  

Directed /  Produced by
Jonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd