Home > The Problem > The Trouble with Student Loans

The Trouble with Student Loans

Over the past twenty to thirty years, a college education has become increasingly necessary to the pursuit of the American Dream.  In a Spring 2007 article in the Harvard Educational Review, Bridget Terry Long and Erin Riley note that, “on average, people with a bachelor’s degree will earn $1 million more over the course of their lifetimes than those with only a high school diploma.”  The decision to go to college seems like a no brainer.

But that decision isn’t cheap.  As Long and Riley report, for the 2006-2007 school year, the average total cost at a public 4-year University was $12,796 per year.  For private schools, that figure is even higher – an astounding, $37,367 per year.  These mounting costs mean that many students are forced to take out student loans if they want to go to college, and the debt they take on often has major ramifications in the choices they have later. 

A June 5, 2008 article in the Boston Globe noted that the average debt load is now $20,000 for undergraduate students and $45,000 for graduate students.  The authors talk about the impact of such debt on life choices:

The high costs of carrying student loans echo through dozens of life-shaping decisions. Big student loans? Don’t become a public school teacher, a firefighter, or a police officer – the pay is too low. Better not go into business for yourself – too risky when you have big loan payments every month. Don’t apply to graduate school – just more debt. And don’t even think of moving back to Iowa or Oklahoma – pay scales aren’t high enough to support debt payments. Today’s students talk about delaying marriage, not buying a home, and working full-time when babies are born, just so they can keep paying those student loans.

These are the stories that I want to tell, the stories of people who took on student debt in order to make better lives for themselves and are now faced with the painful choice of giving up their dreams or living with drastically lower standards of living than they were led to expect when they decided to pursue their educational goals.

These are the idealists, the artists, the dreamers, the entrepreneurs who weren’t.  These are the students whose parents couldn’t or wouldn’t pay for college but who chose it anyway because they believed in the American Dream.  They do not always get much sympathy.  They are told, “You didn’t have to go to such and such college,” “You didn’t have to try to become a fill-in-the-blank,” in short, “You didn’t have to have dreams.”  These are the students who didn’t settle for the hand they were dealt because they believed fully in the myth of equal opportunity.  And now they are paying the price.  These are their stories.

Categories: The Problem Tags: ,
  1. David
    November 3, 2008 at 8:36 am

    I grew up indoctrinated with the notion of going to college for a better life. As a welfare child being broke all of the time, I yearned for the day I could go to college. I was so stoked that I could get a chance to go to college, as long as I paid them back after I graduated. So at an early age I developed a knack for computers and electronics.

    It’s been 4 years since I got my 2 year degree from ITT Tech, which put me in the hole 16k and some change. I was going to stick through for a 4 year degree but another private school New Horizons CLC sold me on getting a series of certifications that were in high demand in the I.T. industry.

    “Don’t worry” the representative told me, “I have some really great job leads, just you wait, sign these papers, and go through these classes”. The classes were supposedly going to cost me $18,000, so even though I wasn’t qualified for the loan, the rep managed to “pull some strings” as he told me and got me in. Took out 18,000 in my name with my sister as co-signer.

    I was working part time for minimum wage when I started attending the classes. I took one test, and got an A+ Certification, but every class there after I was not allowed to take the test. Something was up. My job hunt wasn’t gong all too well, and it was apparent that I was left high and dry by the sales chump that thew fuel on the already bad fire.

    Place after place would give me excuse after excuse, the bottom line was my credit in the end. I would be told “your credit is bad, pay your debts, we give you job then,” I ask “how can I pay them on starvation wages? I gotta pay my mom rent, utilities, and food”, they tell me to just pay them. The great catch-22 they never teach kids about in college.

    My first encounter with a bill collector from Sallie Mae tell me that they could have a sherrif kick down my door, take everything I owned, and throw me and my sister in jail because we stole the money. That really had me freaked out, and that became the norm, and after every call about fifteen minutes later, my sister would call me in tears because of the earfull they gave her. Needless to say the phone calls used to really mess with me, then I learned the art of not talking to them, and the FDCPA.

    I managed to get a job in sales, which the nature of it gave me some insight to the nature of the credit industry as a whole. While working there, I learned that I wasn’t alone, and the system as a whole is completely f#$k’ed!. Every day for the couple of years I worked in that industry I would talk to atleast three people who owed a significant amount of $ on student loans, and were in dire need of help with them some worse off than me. Unfortunately due to the lack of consumer protection, there’s nothing I could do. Bottom line it’s SLM’s way or the highway, exiting at garnishment ave.

    Fun job but not stable, and if you don’t make your monthly quota… you’re fired. Telemarketing works that way. I never envisioned myself graduating from college to get cussed out by people on the phone because you’re unable to assist with their kind of debt and they don’t have any options.

    The real kick to the teeth is when people tell me “you should be working in computers, why aren’t you” it no longer feels humiliating to me. After a while, just like the phone calls you get used to it and start not to care anymore. All in all I feel that it is the fault of not just Sallie Mae and all of the bankers who securitized the debts, but it’s also the fault of employers who have this wild idea that your ability to pay your bills somehow affects your ability to work. Don’t get me started on the Private Institutions that charge outrageous tutions for non-transferrable credits, I promise I won’t mention the complete hijacking of the student loan checks. Yea… I’m being sarcastic but it is true, in order for me to attend an expensive private college I had to sign docs directing all student loan funds directly to the school.

    I understand that employers have the right to screen for what they may perceive as a good candidate but for the love of god!!! If I am stuck with the debt for the rest of my life and they got me by the short n curlies, over look the debt so I can atleast complain about paying and paying and getting jerked around on the interest!!! I want to thank the companies for their efforts in shattering my dreams, preventing the pursuit or outright ruining of my relationships, and wasting perfectly good talent.

    I fought long and hard to get out of the poor house, because I wanted a better life. I now feel like I committed a crime just because I wanted a better life for myself. My sentence hasn’t been a physical imprisonment, but imprisonment from a decent standard of living. It’s been almost 5 years since college and things are the exact opposite of what I envisioned. In fact I am going backwards especially now with the messed up economy.

    It sucks, but oh well

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