Student loans. Bleh. I wonder how many of you are out there with heaping student loans. If this were a live audience, this is where I’d invite participation and ask you to raise your hands…but luuucky you, this is a blog.
Anyway, student loans and debt in general are a troubling reality Americans are making bigger and bigger. There are a few things going on here, and chances are you are being impacted in some way. If not, chances are you will be soon.
Allow an example. When I was a spry young 18-year old hungry for some book learnin’, I decided to go to the University in my backyard. I didn’t want debt and fortunately, it’s an excellent college. I fortunately got in, tied my shoes and went to school.
It was 2002 and there wasn’t a ton of talk on tuition increases. Maybe I wasn’t paying attention, but I do remember that while I was in school there was quite the hub-bub about it. I was grateful that I started when I did, acknowledging that things were about to get much worse.
In 2007, the year I graduated, it cost me $5,985 for a year of tuition at the University of Washington. That year I recall protests, campaigns and movements from worried students and faculty that tuition would soon spike. I thought it would surely increase, but nah, not too bad.
I was wrong. It has only been 6 years since I walked my pomp and circumstance and tuition has more than doubled, costing kids going for my exact degree $12,383 per year.
These are resident tuition costs alone, going to a University less than 10 miles away from where I grew up. I lived at home as long as I could to keep costs down, worked several part-time jobs, did everything that I could to get out of school debt free. I unfortunately didn’t make it and wound up with some loans.
How the hell are kids supposed to go to my school with tuition 107% higher than what I was paying? I fought with everything I had to avoid loans at the former rate, but now with tuition being so high, to me it’s a near certainty that you will need some loans. Tuition has risen a reported 1,120% since 1978, ridiculously faster than inflation, the consumer price index, freaking anything. The majority of students are affected, as 60% of students in college are taking out loans. From that, a scarier stat is that a third of student loan borrowers never even earn degrees.
Are we desperate to make sure that anyone who walks into college walks away with debt?
Maybe. Let’s take a look at graduate school. I went to another public University but this time in California – where, mind you, tuition used to be free – and therefore public tuition rates can be cheaper than the rest of the country. I fenaggled my way into getting in-state tuition by working for the University as a GTA. So, when I started my program in 2010, costs were $6,190 for two semesters of fulltime study. Remember, I’m just talking about straight tuition, not books, supplies, living expenses, lost income potential, nothing. I’m just talking about tuition, or “fees” as California likes to put it, pretending that they still don’t charge tuition.
Luckily masters programs are only two years, so I got outta there in 2012. For students that would like to begin my program this Fall, 2013, they will be paying $8,032. A solid 30% increase in a whopping 3-year span. At this pace students will be paying double what I paid by 2020.
These are just my stories. Two public Universities wherein I was able to pay in-state tuition. Both are great schools, but these aren’t private nor Ivy-leagues. Maybe there are some with slower tuition increases, but me thinks this may be indicative of a national trend of super spikes in tuition that aren’t letting up any time soon.
To add insult to injury, absolute rage caused me to want to punch a baby upon hearing about the increase in subsidized student loan interest rates, doubling from 3.4% to 6.8% a few months ago. Hell, why don’t we all punch babies, because I’m pretty certain that is exactly what this country is doing.
My point is, this is fucking ridiculous. I’m furious for students who live in poverty and upon graduation, then remain so under the thumb of oppressing debt. We try to cope by glamorizing the “broke college kid” or just normalizing it for the sake of pretending that nothing’s wrong.
Where is this money going? Ask a professor and most will let you know it’s not going to them. Ask a TA and they will tell you the stipend they are offered seldom covers rent, requiring them to take out loans on top of the stipend (that was my story).
Welp, we can sit here and complain, OR we can do something about it. Given where you are in your life process, there are different things you can do.
College student or soon-to-be college student:
- Don’t pick a crappy degree. Make a choice that is worth the investment. It doesn’t matter if you got a 4.0 in Underwater Basket Weaving, nobody cares. Take a good look at what kind of work you will want to do, and do your best to make sure your degree in some shape or form supports that.
- Attend an in-state college. Tuition is crazy expensive for non-resident tuition, and it’s silly paying 3 times as much for exactly the same degree you could get at home. I realize you may be sick of your hometown, but it’s only a little bit longer and this way you’ll have some cash to do some globe trotting upon graduation. In fact, Forbes says it doesn’t matter where you go to school anyway.
- Do you really need a college degree to live your dreams? Not all people need one and no, it is not a requirement to have a happy and successful life. In fact, a third of millenials regret going to college at all. Make sure the decision you’re making really is for you.
- Get a job. The college experience is an American myth, where you supposedly find yourself and drink a lot. College is actually not the greatest time in your life, the greatest time in your life is every time you’re alive. Suck it up and make some cash. Also, kids who work through college get better grades, so there.
Post college awesome with loans:
- Pay that shit off as FAST as humanly possible. Student loans are often confused with some kind of investment. While sure, you can spin it that way, this is an investment that will eat you alive if you don’t take care of it. The sooner you pay it, the less you’ll pay in overall interest, and the more money you’ll have later to live your life.
- There’s a great place to go when you’re in debt – work. While you are hopefully working fulltime, try to do something additionally on the side. At that, I suggest choosing something fun! Do you like music? Maybe you can be the guy who takes tickets at the front of the show. Or teach guitar lessons on the side. Into shopping? Get a job at Nordstrom, make some money for yourself and then you can have a little to shop with. The point is, when you’re working it’s easier to avoid spending money on playing.
- Make sure your loans are correct. I heard a story recently about a guy who realized the government had over estimated his loans by $30,000. I can’t find the article but I heard it on the radio about a week ago. Regardless, people make mistakes, and make sure those mistakes aren’t suffered by you.
Post college awesome without loans:
- Pat yourself (or your gracious parents) on the back, you’re free! You can start your life debt free. But stay that way. Just because you got out of school without debt doesn’t mean you need to rack up debt elsewhere, like cars or credit cards. Rather, I hope that this is you.
- Get involved. This crisis has to stop and while your friends with crippling debt are busy working 3 jobs trying to get themselves out of the hole, you can help them without writing checks. I know it’s cliché to say talk to your Congress representative but seriously….talk to them! There are orgs that you can get involved in and every voice involved is a move toward the solution. Here’s one to get you started.
> Student Debt Crisis: http://studentdebtcrisis.org
I’m of the opinion that a formal education should be accessible to all Americans. We want an educated population, and while University attendance does not equal brilliance, it teaches kids how to think critically and perhaps outside of the box. We do not want college to become out of reach for the lower income and middle class. After all, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,” – Nelson Mandela.