Do You Really Need That Latte?

Some college officials have an unconventional idea for how students can cut their education loans.
June 21, 2005

Caffeine has long been a drug of choice for students, helping many of them through all-nighters, exam weeks, and just getting up every day.

But some educators say that gourmet coffee is becoming a problem for students, not because of caffeine addiction, but cost. A few of them are starting to speak out about the issue, counseling students that they can save thousands of dollars if they skip the $3 or more they spend on gourmet coffee each day and start brewing their own.

"It's about living within your means and controlling your costs, because that affects your options in the future," says Erika Lim, director of career services at Seattle University's law school. Lim talks to the students she advises about the need to skip gourmet stores and to buy a Thermos. Many students complain to Lim that their loans preclude their taking jobs as prosecutors or public defenders, let alone for public interest law groups, she says. In fact, some of them might be able to do so if they skipped the gourmet coffee and borrowed less money, she says.

Lim's ideas led to the creation of a Web site (completely independent of Seattle University) that allows people to determine the long-term financial impact of their coffee habits. Gourmet coffee can cost people thousands of dollars a year, an expense that goes up if you factor in interest on student loans, which already tops six figures for plenty of graduate and professional students.

It may shock students today, but Lim is among the millions of Americans who attended college before gourmet coffee could be found in most student unions, and that doesn't mean she didn't need her caffeine fix. "We all carried Thermoses," she says, suggesting that students could do that today as well.

Lim and several other student aid experts were quoted in The Washington Post on Saturday about their cause.

Since the article was published, Lim says that not everyone on her campus has embraced the cause. Seattle University happens to be located in the same city as the headquarters of a certain ubiquitous coffee company that happens to have many Seattle University alumni who are employees (not to mention potential donors to the college). Lim agreed to discuss her campaign on the condition that it be made clear that she was not carrying out official university policy and that her comments were about "gourmet coffee," not that particular brand associated with Seattle.

Of the reaction she is receiving, "I should have known better," Lim says.

Starbucks public relations office did not return calls or e-mail messages seeking comment.


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