Aug 25, 2022 - Podcasts

The future student loans crisis

President Biden yesterday announced a sweeping plan to cancel up to $20,000 in student debt for Pell grant recipients, and up to $10,000 for qualifying individual borrowers. But for future students, college costs look as bad as ever. The average price of tuition for a four-year public college is more than $9,000 per year. Out-of-state residents can expect to pay more than $23,000 - and it can be double that for private institutions.

  • Plus, what’s behind the viral trend of “quiet quitting.”
  • And, cable TV is no longer king.

Guests: Axios' Dan Primack and Erica Pandey.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Alexandra Botti, Lydia McMullen-Laird, Alex Sugiura, and Ben O'Brien. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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NIALA BOODHOO: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today! It’s Thursday, August 25th. I’m Niala Boodhoo. Here’s what you need to know today: what’s behind the viral trend of “quiet quitting.” Plus, cable TV is no longer king.

But first: why college is so expensive today. That’s our One Big Thing.

The next student loan crisis

NIALA: Yesterday, President Biden announced a sweeping plan to cancel up to $20,000 in student debt for Pell grant recipients and up to $10,000 for qualifying individual borrowers.

The hope is that this will alleviate some of the debt that burdens 43 million Americans. But what about future students? The average cost of tuition for a four -year public college is over $9,000 and that's for in-state residents. Out-of-staters can expect to pay more than $23,000 a year.

Axios Business Editor Dan Primack has been writing about this. Hey Dan.

DAN: Hello.

NIALA: So Dan, I mentioned the thousands of dollars students and families can expect to pay for college. Can you put this into perspective in terms of how realistic those costs are for most American families?

DAN: The out-of-state costs or the four-year private university costs, which on average or even higher than the public schools. They're out of reach for most people, they simply are. The median family income is just shy of $80,000. So imagine you have two kids and that maybe they're both trying to go to a private university. You'd be paying more than your post-tax income for tuition. And that doesn't include if the kids maybe want to eat something along the way.

NIALA: Why are costs so high? I should share with our listeners that I actually volunteer on the Board of Trustees for my alma mater Calvin university. So I do know firsthand how expensive it is to run a small, liberal arts private institution.

DAN: Yeah. Look, I mean, there's not a one size fits all here on why they're so expensive. You know, some people will point to massive facilities costs, right? You know, building new gyms or new dorms or whatever, which schools are liable to try to do, because if you have new fancy facilities, then that might attract wealthier students and they can pay a full ride. Uh, also a lot of older schools, physically older schools have to digitize the campus, right? And that's a lot of laying of broadband and infrastructure, but in the end, arguably, it's because they know there's subsidies from the federal government for students, right? You know, you hear President Biden talk and, and understandably, about how, you know, he's been able to significantly increase the size of Pell grants. Well, if you're a university, you can look at that and say, ‘Well, that's really a couple thousand dollars. We can charge more because the students aren't really paying it.’ Imagine if you were trying to go into a store, and outside there was somebody handing out $50 bills. The store might charge a little bit more for some of the stuff inside.

NIALA: So student loan relief was a big talking point during the President's campaign, which he made good on yesterday. But what appetite is there among politicians to have colleges address cutting costs or lowering tuition - are politicians motivated to help institutions with that?

DAN: No, not at all. It's not something that gets discussed.There was some talk during the Democratic primaries about, you know, making public schools and community colleges free, but in terms of really addressing these systemic issues, which is for both public schools, two-year, four-year, graduate schools, which by the way, when it comes to student loans are arguably the biggest problem because they're uncapped, there's no real interest.

And I think part of that is the idea of canceling student loans, whether you support it or you're against it, you think it's legal or illegal - and this will get decided in court - it's a lot easier than figuring out how to cut the actual cost of college.

NIALA: What kind of solutions are you hearing about?

DAN: One is simply, you know, fewer people going to college or trying to go to college because there is a supply and demand issue here. But there are some things in theory the federal government could do, probably not the White House unilaterally, but, but acts of Congress. Uh, so for example, lots of large public and private universities are very focused on research and they get federal research grants. The federal government could tie the availability of those grants to cost of college, or at least cost increases of college. Another one is there are a lot of schools where the debt burden for students coming out is particularly high. And what that really means is these are schools where the education isn't really worth it, or at least it doesn't pay itself off. They could restrict loans to students going to those schools, which would most likely stop a lot of students from going to those schools.

NIALA: Dan Primack is a Business Editor for Axios. Thanks, Dan.

DAN: Thank you.

NIALA: In a moment: why Gen Z is embracing the trend of “quiet quitting.”

Why is Gen Z "quiet quitting"?

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today, I’m Niala Boodhoo.

We talked earlier this week about workers pushing to keep work-from-home flexibility… Today, here’s another work trend to think about. It’s called “Quiet Quitting” and it’s gained popularity on TikTok with Gen Z – the idea is to do the bare amount at work - nothing above and beyond. And it could tell us something about the changing nature of work.

Axios’ Erica Pandey has been following this trend. Hey Erica.

ERICA: Hi Niala!

NIALA: So is quiet quitting a new attitude we're seeing from some workers?

ERICA: It's definitely a new thing. I think it's staying on the payroll, but not really going above and beyond. You can kind of trace it to the pandemic, you know, we are working more from home., you have a lot of younger workers who were introduced to work as something that can be done from home. And that brings with it so much flexibility. And you're seeing a lot of younger workers who want to take advantage of that flexibility to work on fitness, work on their hobbies, you know, cook some fun stuff, hang out with friends, spend time with family and make work a 40-hour-a-week thing. I mean, who would have thought?

NIALA: I will say my generation heard a lot of ‘work hard, play hard.’ What has changed here? And is this something that we're seeing mostly with Gen Z and millennials?

ERICA: Right. I mean, maybe you can hear a little bit of my bias here. I'm a 1995 kid. I'm, a millennial/gen Z cusp. And I think it's really great that younger workers think that there should be more to life than just work, right? Especially if it's taking the glory out of just, you know, having your butt in your seat for 15 hours a day just to prove a point.

I mean, I think that this generation really is starting to reject some of that grind culture just for grind’s sake. It doesn't necessarily mean that they don't want work hard. It just means that they want to put their time towards things that bring them joy. And I really do think we can trace it directly to COVID.

NIALA: Is there a possibility that this could go too far, and it's more than just not the grind, but just not working hard enough?

ERICA: Absolutely. I mean, it's, it's really hard to get fired from a job, especially in a remote environment when your manager kind of, maybe not doesn't have eyes on you. So you definitely have a lot of people who are being very public on TikTok about how they work in just a couple of hours a day and really just sliding under the radar, and you have people who are working kind of the bare minimum in order to get multiple jobs.

NIALA: Is there also a socioeconomic element to this? Like there are only certain people who can literally afford having this attitude?

ERICA: This definitely only applies to privileged white collar workers. The whole ‘being able to slack while you're at work’ only applies to people who have desk jobs and who can work from home and have that flexibility. If you're working a shift at a store at a restaurant, like there is no quiet quitting. You're there, you're working and you're fully on the clock.

NIALA: And so, as you've laid out the good and the bad here, how do we see companies responding to this? And do we see this as a strategy that will change the culture of how some jobs are done?

ERICA: You know, this term quiet quitting just recently got popularized. And it's taken companies by storm. You know, we saw some corporate surveillance tactics, like things that can track your keystrokes, can track your web history, can track how long you're actually at your computer, start to gain some popularity during the pandemic. And companies might react to this trend by implementing more of that.

Or you might see some companies kind of think a little bit more critically about this and say, okay, maybe we don't want to glorify the grind anymore. A lot of these Gen Z workers also are craving mentorship. You know, maybe a company says “Let's do what we can to reach out to these workers, make them feel like they're a little bit more part of this community and see if they want to be more engaged and, and see if work can be more of a passion thing for them than it is right now.”

NIALA: Erica Pandey wrote about this for the Axios Finish Line newsletter. Thanks Erica!

ERICA: Thanks, Niala.

Streaming overtakes cable

NIALA: One last thing today: in case you missed it, new data from Neilsen shows we’ve crossed a major milestone in how Americans consume media. Axios media reporter Sara Fischer explains.

SARA FISCHER: Last week Nielsen, which has been the de facto measurement of television in the United States for decades, put out an incredible report that showed that streaming for the first time in our history actually overtook cable as the number one medium which people use to consume television.

And that matters because the pandemic really expedited the trend of streaming prior to the pandemic. We didn't think that streaming would surpass cable for another few years–maybe five, maybe 10. Now we are well on our way.

NIALA: Sarah Fischer is Axios’s media reporter.

And that’s it for us today – I’m Niala Boodhoo. Thanks for listening. Stay safe. And we'll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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