Struggling with Debt, a Star NYU Student Cries for Help

Categories: NYU

Johnny De Vito is doing everything right. Three years ago he was accepted to New York University, and even given a significant scholarship. He earned a spot in the honors political science program. Through college, he's juggled a job at an airline consultant firm with courses and a role in his fraternity, and excelled at each. This year, he's studying for his LSAT. He'll finish his senior thesis in March. If he graduates in May, he'll be the first person in his family with a degree. From there, he'll go straight to law school.

Of course, that's if he graduates. De Vito's fall semester bill is for $12,157, and is due today. By May, even with his scholarship, he'll be just shy of $80,000 in debt. Every dollar he's worked for, he says, has gone to his tuition.

"I'm a first generation college student who has worked every year to pay for his own," he says. "My parents can't really help me. "

Still, De Vito is drowning in red. So, last week, decided to do something about it.

HELP, he typed on a sheet of paper and taped to a light pole in Washington Square Park. Please consider giving me advice or encouragement as I figure out how to pay for the first semester of my senior year.

Attached to the note his account statement.

"Honestly, I really just wanted to start, or at least expand the conversation about debt," De Vito says. "On a more selfish level, it is incredible difficult to try to find the money and have to do it by the 8th of August."

Still, a lot of people have reached out to him, with advice or consolation. He's not the only NYU student struggling with the financial strain.

This week, Newsweek released a list of the 25 least affordable colleges based on average debt, total cost, financial aid, and future earnings. NYU ranked as the fourth least affordable college in the country. (Last year, Business Insider made a similar top 10 list. NYU ranked sixth.)

"I thought about transferring before," De Vito allows. "I don't think anyone should have to settle for anything short of their dreams because of money. I don't think that holds true to being an equal opportunity society."

Of course, this isn't an equal opportunity society, and especially not at an institution where the average price for a 2012 on-campus student is $58,858. The school has also seen a 3.8 percent tuition bump from last year, at least partially caused by the NYU 2031 expansion plan.

"I admire that the university and the university president [John Sexton] have a lot of ambition for the university," De Vito says. "I know that one day, that ambition could make my degree worth even more. But I feel like that ambition may be overreaching right now."

NYU's plan to expand into Greenwich Village was just approved by city council, amid protests from Village residents, some students and hundreds of NYU faculty.

"I can't see myself ever saying I want to give back to NYU," De Vito says. And maybe he won't. But he's got a couple bridges to cross before that.

"The spring bills are due in November."

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Why in the world would someone pay ~$5,200 (going to $6k in 3 years time) per class to attend a school like NYU, which is essentially a pre-fabricated have-it-your-way school re-birthed through talent pouching wrapped in a slippery and mercurial guiding ethos (didn't Dean Sexton take all his ideas of NYU being "The Enterprise" from ideas distilled from intense, strict and decade long training under venerated Jesuits at Fordham, before attending Harvard Law School - one would expect much more from him)?

They have a very weak liberal arts core and would let you study and major in any inane subject provided you pay for it. CUNY (or Rutgers) is such a better deal and has a more traditional liberal arts core which is needed if you want to graduate well rounded and educated.

The village as a campus? A place chronically riddled with drunk hooligans and unabashed dope peddlars at all hours of the day and night. Elite? Walk through Washington Square after 8pm and see how many times you are harassed and propositioned in some form or fashion. How is that experience worth $5-6k a class? Tell me.


About two years ago, at Alumni Day, NYU President John Sexton told an audience of alumni and guests assembled at the Skirball Center, “NYU isn’t for everyone.” This was said in response to a question by an alumnus regarding NYU’s climbing tuition costs. Little did Mr. Sexton realize how right he was. NYU sure isn’t for everyone, as Mr. De Vito’s now-public plight makes all too painfully clear. Under the current administration’s leadership, NYU is no longer just tuition dependent. It has become debt dependent. With student debt now climbing beyond $1 trillion and outstripping credit card, the debt bubble is on the verge of bursting. What will become of NYU when it does?


And then there is the question of how the NYU administration’s 20-year-long, $4-6 billion expansion -- perceptively mentioned by Mr. Howard -- fits into all of this. If this land grab indeed materializes in its present overwhelming scale it will come with a fearsome cost. Not only the neighboring community that has so long sustained the University with its cultural and economic vibrancy but NYU's own intellectual community -- its faculty, students and a growing number of dismayed alumni, whose degrees are becoming devalued by the year – know full well what is in danger of being lost. For faculty, like myself, the price is the erosion of faculty governance, which has never been so imperiled at our University, and our stewardship of the students placed in our trust. In light of the University’s modest endowment, who do you think will be saddled with most of the bill for the administration’s 2 million-square-foot expansion, only 18% of which, it must be stressed, is earmarked for instructional academic purposes? The same students already paying over $58,000 in tuition, room and board per year and whose numbers are increasing annually, thanks to a lax admissions policy, currently responsible for an admissions rate around 30% (compared to the Ivy League schools' high-selectivity of 9-11%, with Columbia hovering around 10%). And what are we to expect as early as this fall? NYU claims to have "accidentally" had an over-yield of 10-15% ... all the while hiking tuition costs another 3.8%. When will the fleecing of our undergraduates and their increasingly-struggling families end? Is it not enough that our student body is the MOST indebted of any private university, the average graduate owing as much as $41,000 in loans? According to Newsweek’s national college rankings, just released last week, NYU ranks a shameful 4th in the “least affordable college” category among all institutions, public and private. As everyone knows, there is no more punishing, unforgiving debt than student debt. Yet, while we're among the “top-ranked" in student debt, we have just come in #97 in this year's Forbes Magazine "American's Best Colleges" rankings. Something is very wrong here. While the administration may tolerate academic mediocrity as long as it maintains its bottom line, our concerned faculty demands better. Our students deserve better, much better.


In closing, if NYU is so flush with money (which it is not) that it can afford a 2 million-square-foot, two-decade-long expansion, shouldn’t most if this revenue go toward our academic mission, rather than the administration’s relentless global branding campaign? That is to say, the retention and hiring of exceptional faculty; a fair but rigorously demanding admissions policy; much better student-to-faculty ratios; smaller classes, featuring more seminars, colloquia and tutorials; and more generous financial aid packages. Surely, these are the things – not square footage, not ever-expanding building footprints, not endless global satellites – that make a university great?


I wonder what this guy would be paying in ten years after NYU has started construction on its $5 billion + expansion plan.   I guess we won't know because Mr. Sexton refuses to release the business plan (if there is even one....).


Has it been publically announced to NYU students that they will not have a real gym once Coles is torn down (Palladium is tiny and crowded)?   They are still giving tours of the facility as of July 2012.  It's horrific the lies that come from this administration.


I don't know why he had to go to NYU for a humanities degree.  Seriously, donating money to him would be a waste as he clearly doesn't understand the concept of value!


Going to Harvard for a humanities degree is one thing.  Even going to NYU for a technical degree, if they have better lab equipment or something...but a humanities degree??  Political Science???


Can't feel sorry for him.  Hey, he should look on the bright side: at least NYU's taught him the idea of value now!

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