Yep, that photo above is what my monthly student loan payment is; depending where you live that amount might well be the cost of your monthly rent or mortgage payment. Sad thing is I am not alone in having a lot of student loan debt, hell it’s a club. My local paper this weekend did a feature on student loans and it’s worth reading along with the comments. (Comments I am convinced reveal a lot)
Suddenly it seems student loans are the emerging new bubble that everyone is talking about; of course the conversation is never fully complete since when most people think college and student loans, everyone assumes we are discussing youngsters say 18-25. The fact is though that student loans are affecting everyone, for starters most people don’t go to college straight out of high school and finish by say 22 or 23. In recent years the average age of college students has risen, add in a shitty economy that has even mid-career folks struggling to stay employed and thus deciding to return to college to earn degrees. A few weeks ago on NPR, I heard a piece about how 5% of Americans over 60 are still paying off student loan debts and unlike most debt even tax debt that can under circumstances be discharged in bankruptcy, student loans stay with you until you die. Hell, the student loan folks can snatch a portion of your social security check to pay those bad boys off.
When I decided to go to college back in 1998, I thought I was way behind the curve since I was well into my 20’s, I graduated in 2001 earning a BA and amassing a cool almost $30,000 in student loan debt. At the time that seemed high but knowing that I needed a degree and even an advanced degree, I sucked it up. In 2002, I started graduate school earning an M.Ed and graduating in 2006 with a total student loan debt of $100,000. In the 6 years since I completed grad school, I gave had a few periods of being in forbearance and deferment and over the past 6 years my loans have grown from $100,000 to $125,359. Not good at all.
Too many times when folks add their two cents about the state of student loans, it comes from a place of ignorance as far as modern day schooling and cost. In the good ole days, working one’s way through school was optional before school started costing as much as a house did 40 years ago. For most adults who make the decision to return to school as I did, they were already working to survive and can’t squeeze out any more cash to pay for schooling. Sure, you can get your employer to pay towards your education but generally such arrangements(if they exist) comes with restrictions, so say you work in a field you hate, your employer typically wants to pay for something that benefits his operation, not you eventually leaving his operation. Of course there is always the option of paying for a class here and there but the data is clear most adults who go part time paying for a class here and there don’t ever finish. In the US we tend to think that everyone has a degree, but that’s not reality. Many people start college, but only 30% of Americans have a bachelor’s degree, but 56% of Americans have some college education. That means a lot of start school and stop and if we used any student loans, we are still on the hook even if we didn’t finish the program.
The way I see it, the whole damn system is flawed, instead of looking at educational attainment as a straight line therefore assuming a kid will go to college right after high school we need to truly consider the fact that learning is a lifelong process. Hell, most Human Resources professionals will tell you that when they are looking at resumes, it’s no longer enough to have graduated from college 20 years ago. They want to see that you are constantly striving to improve yourself, even if it’s just earning a certificate. Well, having looked at a few certificate programs in recent months let me tell you they aren’t cheap! At the same time, can we also admit that our K-12 educational system is also flawed, in too many cases, we are graduating young adults who when they do go to college are in need of remedial classes for basics such as math and writing. We have a system that tells every kid they ought to go to college when the fact is not every kid should go to college, some kids would be well served by a vocational track and apprenticeships, last I checked we haven’t started outsourcing our plumbers and electricians.
It’s easy to place the blame on individuals and say well they don’t have to go to school or they should only study and earn degrees in high paying fields. Really? So you don’t want any teachers, social workers or countless others who work in fields that require and do need degrees (let’s face it, you might want your therapist to be able to actually help you) but whose salaries are not high? You think shit’s bad now, if we truly become a every human for themselves kind of world we might as well blow up this place and start all over.
The truth is the educational system in the US is deeply flawed and it’s not just student loans, it’s the whole damn system and until we actually get real loud about it, change won’t happen.
PS: Mitt Romney’s suggestion of just borrowing money from our parents definitely won’t help us!