I went to graduate school in Eastern Washington, near the Idaho border. I lived in North Campus Heights, a dingy apartment complex that really should’ve been named North Campus Frights. My unit had curtains that looked like X-ray blankets and was about as cheery as the motel room they used for the chainsaw scene in Scarface. Our recycling center was an empty pool out front filled with broken beer bottles. And so on.
I majored in Agricultural Economics. As majors go it’s a bunch of crop, if you ask me. But I probably should have majored in Personal Economics — while having a decent teaching-assistant job, I was frequently broke. I blame my roommate for that state of affairs (no drinking buddy = no bar tab). I hit bottom the day my car got boot-locked for unpaid library fines.
Fortunately, a friend who managed a nearby farm offered me a job loading hay. On the first day I was shown how to use a John Deere machine that stabbed a hay bale and lifted it into the air. So I stabbed the first bale, lifted it into the air, and rolled up to the flatbed. When I hit the “release” lever the bale dropped to the ground and exploded, two feet shy of the truck. Undaunted, I went back for another bale. This time I drove the John Deere right up to the edge of the flatbed. When I released the bale it crashed to the ground, two feet beyond the other side of the truck.
As a burgeoning economist, I knew I was adding to the loss side of the ledger. I apologized effusively and resigned to minimize the damage. It was the first single-day job I would hold (the second being a later stint at a Safeway deli. I stood there wearing a hairnet while a beefy guy pointed at the corn-dogs, angrily demanding a burrito).
After my failed attempt at being a farmhand, I got a student loan. It was a godsend that saved me from driving up to the plasma donation center in Spokane. And it allowed me to escape my hovel. I suspect that Alan Greenspan intentionally ignored the disastrous housing bubble as payback for living in a similar place as a grad student.
If you could’ve seen (and smelled) North Campus Heights, you’d know exactly why we need to preserve the student loan program.