"Columbia and other wealthy universities steer master's students to federal loans that can exceed $250,000. After graduation, many learn the debt is well beyond their means," notes the Wall Street Journal.
The Journal reports on Columbia University's Master of Fine Arts Film program, one of the worst examples, in an article titled "Financially Hobbled for Life: The Elite Master's Degrees That Don't Pay Off":
Recent film program graduates of Columbia University who took out federal student loans had a median debt of $181,000.
Yet two years after earning their master’s degrees, half of the borrowers were making less than $30,000 a year.
The Columbia program offers the most extreme example of how elite universities in recent years have awarded thousands of master’s degrees that don’t provide graduates enough early career earnings to begin paying down their federal student loans....Recent Columbia film alumni had the highest debt compared with earnings among graduates of any major university master’s program in the U.S.
It is now graduate students, not undergraduates, "who are accruing the most onerous debt loads." That's because "the federal Grad Plus loan program has no fixed limit on how much grad students can borrow." Its "no-limit loans make master’s degrees a gold mine for universities, which have expanded graduate-school offerings since Congress created Grad Plus in 2005." As a result,
Highly selective universities have benefited from free-flowing federal loan money, and with demand for spots far exceeding supply, the schools have been able to raise tuition largely unchecked...Universities, which receive their tuition up front, have an economic incentive to expand graduate degree programs and face no consequences if students can’t afford to pay the federal loans after they leave.
As James Stoteraux notes, "There were 55 students in my incoming class at Columbia’s MFA Film program. Only 4 of us ever managed to make a career out of it. And of those 4, one guy dropped out the first semester. Funny enough he’s the most successful one having co-directed Avengers Endgame."
But as Ian Lamont of Lean Media observes, "a graduate financing program enabled by Congress ~15 years ago basically lets Columbia charge whatever it wants and get paid up front. Students are on the hook for hundreds of thousands; if they can't pay it off taxpayers are on the hook."
Even students who can find jobs after graduating often dump much of their massive student-loan debt on taxpayers. Once out of school, the students enroll in an income-based repayment program, in which the federal government forgives all loans after 10 or 20 years. This “Pay as You Earn” program allows eligible student-loan borrowers to cap monthly payments at 10 percent of their discretionary income, and have their remaining federal student loans forgiven after 20 years — or just 10 years, if they go to work for the government.