College debt can be overwhelming. The College Board reveals a “moderate” college budget for an in-state public school in 2013-2014 averaged $22,826. A moderate budget for a private college comes in at around $44,750. College debt currently rounds off to about $35,200 when graduation time comes around- the pooled student loan debt currently exceeds $1 trillion. Fewer than 30 years ago, college costs were 538% lower than they are today, compared to an average increase of 121% in other consumer goods. Loan debt for students in college is going up at a rate of around $2,853.88 per second. How have costs for education risen so quickly? And how can we make education an opportunity available to all?
The average college student’s view on this financial change is predominantly that college prices need to be adjusted to appropriately reflect value and inflation- and fast. In fact, many students and sympathetic proponents for class equality advocate for free education for all. As Noam Chomsky so simply puts it, “These opportunities ought to be available to everyone. They are at the forefront of creating the opportunities for a decent society in which a sane person ought to want to live.” When college tuition is so high, the opportunity for higher education is only available to an increasingly limited segment of the population. This is further complicated by the burden of debt that many students will face for years. This crushing debt will shape the foreseeable future for many of these students. It forces students into jobs they did not want but had to take in order to afford the price to live. College students become worker bees: indebted to their queen, the government, through loans. Many will not be free from debt until they have worked for their whole lives to pay off the financial hole their education dragged them into.
Matt Taibbi has unwavering beliefs when it comes to college debt. “But the dirty secret of American higher education is that student-loan interest rates are almost irrelevant. It’s not the cost of the loan that’s the problem, it’s the principal – the appallingly high tuition costs that have been soaring at two to three times the rate of inflation, an irrational upward trajectory eerily reminiscent of skyrocketing housing prices in the years before 2008,” he says. One point of view is that college tuition skyrocketing is not some sort of accident or inevitable occurrence. In fact, it was designed unjustly to benefit two major players in the game: the government and the colleges and universities. You may ask how the government is benefiting- aren’t they the ones doling out the safest and most reasonable loans in order to keep America’s youth safe from corruption and crippling economic dues? Doesn’t Obama’s loan reform help us rather than hurt us? Wrong. The government is predicted to make a profit of at least $184 billion over ten years from the student loan system they have created- much more than all banks were making when they were the ones doling out loans. Colleges and Universities are not as innocent as one might guess either- they use these puffed-up tuition prices to purchase lavish yet unneeded additions to their campuses. Taibbi expands on how colleges themselves are corrupt. “First in line are the colleges and universities, and the contractors who build their extravagant athletic complexes, hotel-like dormitories and God knows what other campus embellishments. For these little regional economic empires, the federal student-loan system is essentially a massive and ongoing government subsidy, once funded mostly by emotionally vulnerable parents, but now increasingly paid for in the form of federally backed loans to a political constituency – low- and middle-income students – that has virtually no lobby in Washington.” Basically, the colleges are in on the money scam as well. The current tuition prices are no accident.
Many students, when applying for loans, are not careful enough to read all the fine print. The loan papers and loan sellers trick students into buying loans that are not good for them. These scammers make the loans intentionally vague and confusing, so many graduates end up with extra debt they never even knew was coming. After all, federally backed student loan providers do not have to share the annual percentage rate of their loans to possible candidates. Carla Ruiz, a 53 year old woman in New York, lives in an attic apartment and owes $120,000 in college debt. She says that her student loans ruined her life. “When my daughter enrolled at state college, she signed for a $10,000 loan. After her first year, I took her out and she now attends community college and works at Kmart to pay for classes. I cannot see her fall into the same trap I did,” Ruiz says. Kyle Laffin is also indebted with $100,000. “I took out $10,000 in student loans from Sallie Mae…Now, I’m working for a technology solutions firm, earning $40,000/year and facing $1,200 monthly payments I can’t afford. Sallie Mae calls five times a day. We tried to lower my monthly payments, but they said my dad didn’t qualify because his records showed a negative income. That’s because he’s been taking money out of his retirement savings every month to help me. He works full-time, plus a part-time job at Dick’s Sporting Goods to help. That was the most infuriating part of this entire ordeal. I can’t express the guilt I feel from putting this financial burden on my dad.” Robert Boardman, owner of a doctorate from the University of Michigan, puts it bluntly. “I try not to look at the balances because the prospect of paying them off with my shit salary is so goddamn depressing it makes me want to chug vodka until I pass out.”
There are not one, but two cherries on top of the college sundae mess. The first is that Congress has made in next to impossible for college graduates to be able to declare bankruptcy. The second cherry comes in with a backhanded blow. A college degree is now substantively equivalent to a high school diploma decades ago when looking for a job. In the end, you can either go to college or skip it. If you skip college, you’ll probably scramble around the hamster wheel endlessly searching for a well-paying job, which is essentially unattainable. That, or go to college and try to fight off the loan sharks the rest of your life while trying to hold down a job and simultaneously try not to drown.
The above choices are both abhorrent- but, as Taibbi says, nobody is actually doing much about it. “But nobody hates it enough, except for the people actually trying to pay the bills with increasingly worthless degrees. Instead, the credit keeps flowing and the debt bubble keeps expanding, thanks to leaders like John Boehner (whose daughter reportedly works at Sallie Mae’s student-collections firm, General Revenue Corp.) and Dianne Feinstein (who introduced legislation to increase limits on Pell grants while her husband was heavily invested in for-profit colleges).”
The real problem is that often nobody is going to care unless they are directly affected. So of course, the middle class and poor stand to gain much more from decreased tuition fees, because it will help them the most. Warren Gunnels, senior policy adviser for Vermont’s Sen. Bernie Sanders, explains why the price is sky high and who it is affecting. “It’s basically a $185 billion tax hike on middle-income and low-income citizens and their families.” Middle and lower class members of society are most impacted by the now ludicrous college tuition, so they do become the first group in society to gain from education prices plummeting. However, many people like Noam Chomsky believe that decreased debt will help our society greatly as a whole. “Students who acquire large debts putting themselves through school are unlikely to think about changing society…When you trap people in a system of debt they can’t afford the time to think. Tuition fee increases are a “disciplinary technique,” and, by the time students graduate, they are not only loaded with debt, but have also internalized the “disciplinarian culture.” This makes them efficient components of the consumer economy.” This, Chomsky believes, is the real goal of the government with loans and debt. The money we owe to our country essentially ties us in as “Debt Slaves” for the remainder of our lives. We, or at least most of us, will assure the economy does not crash. “How?” you might ask in a confused tone. The remainder of your life, you will probably have a bunch of loans to pay off. The money you owe will insure that you and most Americans will search very hard for a job- any job really- to pay these off. Thus, you are a worker bee until the day you buzz out. College gives you a degree to be a modern slave.
Republicans tend to act as if students with debt deserve what’s headed their way. For example, President Romney said “There are 47% of the people who will vote for the president no matter what … who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims…these are people who pay no income tax…and so my job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” If you have excessive debt and no way to pay it back, you’re essentially an irresponsible failure in their book. Neal McCluskey summarizes the Republican standpoint. “You could take a job at Subway or wherever to pay the bills….it seems like basic responsibility to me.” Obviously, it isn’t that easy, and the repercussions of excessive debt are numerous.
In a poll on ForgiveStudentLoanDebt.com, 8% of college students said they would be disposed to kill themselves “as an aggressive form of protest” to wake up Congress about their student loan extremity. This isn’t just a statistic; students have ended their lives in order to be free from their debt sinkholes. Revise your beliefs if you think student debt can only lead to lack of money and longer hours at a job. The situation is much more dire than that.
Current law in many states dictates that all professionals with state licenses, like doctors and lawyers, lose their licenses for these jobs when they default on federal student loans. When you default on student loans, they begin to grow very quickly and exponentially. Not only are they permanently indebted- they lose their jobs too. Michael Smith, a health attorney, says this “effectively eliminates 98% of your employment opportunities.”
Matthew Bridges fled the country to escape his $1.75 million student debt. His loans started out at $104,000- however, because of his physical disabilities and dyslexia, he struggled through years without work so he could not pay off his loans. Many of the loans had 25% interest: over 25 years, they climbed up to $1.75 million. Bridges left the country with his wife due to their constant fear of loan agents. “They ridiculed me, my degree and my humanity,” he says. Eventually, he lost his wife; she could not stand to live in constant fear away from her friends and family. Bridges has to change his phone numbers every few months, and he has no old friends because of his constant running and hiding. He has said that agreeing to end his marriage with his wife is the “least he can do for her.”
There are many students that are suicidal after college because of their debt. Often, these students will post their plans on the internet for public consumption. For example, a man named Jordan posted his suicide plans on a blog. “I plan to douse myself and light myself aflame on the Capitol steps, to draw attention to the dire situation of the millions of indentured educated citizens who, like me, have no options, plus a predatory banking system coming after us. There is no political solution to this problem…I will be setting myself on fire, and the student debt debacle will hopefully come to the forefront of public consciousness.” Many of these students are hopeless: their debt has essentially become their life. By killing themselves, they end it- for themselves at least. As Nicholas F. Benton says, “this…Combined with the record numbers of suicides and otherwise psychologically damaged young adults coming home from America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, being unable to find rewarding work, or work at all, we are witnessing a nation almost literally devouring its own young.” Jan Yoder, mother of college student Jason Yoder, was still receiving countless calls from student loan collectors while she was preparing for his funeral. She coldly told them they were the reason her son took his own life. Her son killed himself in the very building where he completed his research to earn his master’s degree.
There are few people in power who are very concerned about the college “crisis.” Obama’s fix-it plan hardly changes anything; some people believe he is skewing the whole system more unfavourably. The Occupy Movement, college graduates, and college students are the most concerned, as they are the victims in the whole situation. Thus, students have them most to gain from cheaper tuition. After student debt recently reached 1,000,000,000,000, more and more people began realizing what a problem we have. Now that it has reached a such shocking level, people are actually noticing- whether they want to do anything about it or not. There are many people and websites with ideas and plans on how the whole system should change. Students especially are advocating and protesting for change. However, none of these people have the extreme power and influence required to put these revisions into action. Until higher-ups start caring more about the college issue, very little change seems likely to come.
So- is college really worth it? Eighty-six percent of students believe so. In this economy it is nearly impossible to get any job without having graduated college. College offers you more choices and job options in life. Yes, college will you help you in the greater scheme of things- but only if the price is right.