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.