eBay Halts Indebted Purdue Grad's Diploma Auction

eBay Halts Indebted Purdue Grad's Diploma Auction
eBay Halts Indebted Purdue Grad's Diploma Auction

Purdue University alumnus Nick Enlow listed his 2008 diploma on eBay (EBAY) this week with a starting bid of $36,000 -- an offer that West Lafayette, Ind., Journal & Courier describes as "an oddball attempt to pay off his student loans, and also to strike up a conversation about debt and the worth of a college education." Enlow has said that his philosophy degree has not given him the means to earn enough income to cover his $470 per month obligations to Sallie Mae.

Reportedly, eBay told Enlow that it was pulling the listing because of the sensitivity and nature of the item -- whatever that means.

"A degree in the liberal arts is not an automatic ticket to a job, but then again, no degree is," Irwin Weiser, interim dean of Purdue's College of Liberal Arts, told the Journal & Courier. "However, studying any of the disciplines in the arts, humanities, or social sciences prepares students to be successful because they learn to think creatively, critically and ethically, and to communicate what they think effectively."

But in 2002, Howard Cohen, the chancellor of Purdue's Calumet campus, wrote in the (Northwest Indiana) Post-Tribune that "In addition to the obvious benefits associated with personal growth and intellectual development, studies show college graduates have considerably more earning power over a lifetime than high school graduates. The difference in earning capacity is estimated between $600,000 and $1 million. In other words, a college education is less an expense that it is an investment." (emphasis added.)

Fascinating: When colleges are recruiting students, college is an investment. When those students graduate and can't pay back their loans, it isn't. And, by the way, the $600,000 to $1 million in increased earnings that Cohen referred to has been debunked; the actual figure is more like $300,000.

Colleges routinely use the language of stock brokers in marketing their programs -- but without the accountability for deception that anti-fraud statutes provide for consumers of products like stocks, bonds and annuities. Then, once the graduate has walked across the stage in cap and gown, and can't get a job, their alma mater washes its hands of the matter. Investment? What investment?

Purdue President France A. Córdova earned $529,000 in 2009. Perhaps she could use $36,000 of that to buy back Enlow's diploma.