$233,921 in Student Debt

I persevered and read the whole damn thing.

I’d love to rip Jack for accruing over a quarter million in debt, and one might think he’s fair game as a hetero, white, male; but not for this hetero, white, male because of my economic privilege.

I can’t rip Jack because I haven’t even come close to walking in his worn-torn shoes. Back in the Pleistocene Era when college was affordable, my parents paid my college tuition which is just one example among many of the economic help they provided me and my family. My family and I are economically secure for lots of reasons, but “luck” is first and last on the list.

That’s why I can’t say, “What the hell Jack, step away from the loan application!” Nor can I go back in time and tell him to tell his kids in no uncertain terms that he can’t afford to send them to four year universities. Community college will have to suffice and then part-time jobs while working their way through public universities. Saying those things to Jack would be poor form.

It would even be insensitive for me to frame my criticism as questions like,”Jack, why the hell, loan on top of loan on top of loan? At what point do you just say ENOUGH debt already?” There has to be some personal agency, doesn’t there?

Other questions bubbling up in my pea brain are more benign. Why didn’t Jack’s “friends” stage an intervention? And how many Jacks are there out there? How can we help them avoid his fate? Where’s the urgency around this type of student debt? Is my university complicit, at all, in creating additional Jack and Jills?

In fairness to Jack, he hasn’t been seeking fame or fortune. Just a LITTLE job security. Previously homeless, and still on the edge of it, he deserves compassion.

So it’s a good thing I didn’t say anything too harsh to him.

 

Choosing Debt

Something’s wrong.

I just finished reading a batch of student essays about whether money is important or not and what recent social scientific research suggests about money and happiness.

Some of my students’ families struggle financially. Those students touched upon their parents’ debt and the negative consequences that have resulted from it, strained relationships marked by stress and unrelenting tension. Being well-to-do is more important to them than to my students who take their family’s financial stability for granted.

Many of these students describe the loans they decided to take out. “You have to spend money,” one explained, “to make money.” They are desperately in need of adults who model financial self discipline.

At age eighteen, they are eerily comfortable with five figure debt. And if statistics are any guide, their precarious family foundations make graduating less likely. Even if they graduate, there’s no guarantee they’ll find work that pays enough for them to dig out of their debt.

It’s great they want to continue their education, and I like having them in class, but someone has to wake them from their slumber and tell them there are much less expensive paths to getting a good education. In particular, community colleges and public universities.

Their fallacies overlap and multiply. The first is that loans are a logical solution to financial problems. The second is that attending an expensive university leads to higher paying jobs.

Universities absolve themselves of this problem, saying it’s up to the lenders themselves to assess peoples’ ability to repay loans.

I don’t know what to do. If I tell the “loaners” that there are much less expensive paths, they’ll probably conclude that I don’t think they can cut it at our pricey, private university. And if I follow my university’s lead and simply close my eyes when I know the train is about to jump the track, the students will continue down a very treacherous path.