On Student Loans

This goes out to all those who say, “You knowingly put yourself in the situation where you’d have student loans! Don’t complain about being thousands of dollars in debt!”

I went to college with a full scholarship plus some. I worked all through college, starting in high school. My last year, I worked two jobs. I still graduated with almost 30k in debts, largely because I couldn’t find a major that fit me at first and kept switching.

My boyfriend started college the next year, when full scholarships were no longer offered. He started working part time his sophomore year. He was able to escape with only about 10k in debt.

I was able to find a job right away. He graduated a year and a half ago and hasn’t even been able to find a shit job. We have the same degree, and he’s actually more qualified than I am, but finding work is harder for him. I’d rather not reveal the reasons behind this as it is his personal info, but they do go beyond shit economy.

We financially can’t get married because I refuse to take on his loans with so many of my own to pay. Yet we got off easy, because my job is good enough I’ll only be in debt a few years.

Yes, I signed up for loans, but I had no idea what that would mean. I was a kid making an adult decision that will continue to affect me, my life goals, and my relationship for years to come. Age of consent laws exist for a reason, and blaming a 15-18 year old for taking on a bad financial decision is akin to blaming a child for saying “yes” to sex.

I’ve heard the analogy that you wouldn’t sympathize with a person who signed up for a mortgage and then said “Oh, I’m thousands of dollars in debt just because I wanted to own a house, I desperately need help”. This breaks down for a couple of reasons.

First, as I just mentioned, nobody who would otherwise need to worry about student loans goes out and buys a house right after high school. Banks wouldn’t even think of granting a mortgage to some punk kid with a shitty part time job.

Second, not owning a house is different from being denied the opportunity for a decent education. The former is an object; the second makes intelligence a privilege of the rich. There can’t be a true democracy without educated populace, because otherwise you have a few of the elite in power and a bunch of idiots voting (not necessarily idiots but severely uninformed or misinformed people). Investing in educating people is investing in the future of our country, and we’re past due for realizing and implementing this.

Third, owning a house is much less of a necessity to be successful in today’s world than a college degree. There are lots of options for apartments that don’t require a 30 year, $80,000-$200,000 loan. There are far fewer options for jobs that pay enough to cover $400 monthly rent (which is a shitty little apartment in my neck of the woods), plus food and other such luxuries. Federal minimum wage in the US is $7.25/hour, and the highest state minimum wage is $9.32/hour. That means someone who can’t go to college might end up grossing just $1160-$1491.20 per month, depending on where they live. After taxes, that’s barely enough for rent in many places, let alone utilities, food, clothing, inevitable transportation costs (shitty old car breaking down unexpectedly with $900 repair bill, bus or train fair), unexpected medical emergencies, etc. Most of us want a better life than that, and for all most kids in high school know, college is the best route to that. Most high school students are aware other options exist, but they are made to sound less appealing by counselors and normally parents. So, we end up thousands of dollars in debt… and often still making barely enough to cover expenses, which now include a few hundred dollars each month to pay for the “privilege” of education.

Community college might be a great alternative for some kids. In my situation, I think it would have been a terrible mistake.

The main reason that I didn’t do community college was because I wanted to go somewhere that I could graduate from. I’d transferred into high school as a sophomore, and always hated the fact that I never quite belonged because everybody already knew everybody else. People told me that college was different, but I didn’t believe them. Based on what I’ve heard from transfer students in college, the social life aspect might not be a problem but everything else is actually worse, like finances. I met one person whose student loans came due when they transferred between colleges. I know someone else who couldn’t get as many scholarship opportunities or the job they wanted on campus because they were a transfer. In any case, I saw going to community college as not an option, and although my reason at the time was perhaps unfounded, in hindsight it was a great decision.

I likely couldn’t have made friendships like I have now without going away to college (with exactly one exception). With my homeschooling background (I’ll probably explore more detail about that later), I was extremely socially awkward during high school. That wasn’t magically fixed in college, but living in the dorms helped force me to be social, and it is probably that more than anything else that gave me friends. Further, my situation essentially necessitated getting away from my parents’ house to become my own person. My parents were pretty strict and actively isolated me for as long as they could. Had I decided not to go to college at all, I may still be living with them, probably still in their conservative religious bubble, and possibly even a suicide victim. That’s another topic for a different post, but I’ve struggled with at least minor depression, and college directly and indirectly is one of the things that helped force me away from the causes of that.

For all of this, I’m being punished; further, the weight of debt is extremely stressful for me, and I don’t have a coping mechanism other than paying it off as quickly as I can, even throwing half my income at my debt load every month. Do you really want to argue with me that I’m not allowed to say the system forcing me to start my adult life under crushing debt is broken? That it’s my fault for having that debt load?

Remember, I’m one of the few who got off easy. I have a chance to not be in debt my whole life. Many of my friends have a much worse debt load and/or worse paying jobs.

I know I’m not the only one suffering from the way America treats education! What’s your student loan story?

2 thoughts on “On Student Loans

  1. Personally, I think the angst against student loans is misplaced. The problem isn’t the loans. The problem is the tuition.

    The loans are actually a good thing. As you acknowledge, education is a very important thing, but it is prohibitively expensive for most people. It is not expensive because of the loans. It is expensive because colleges and universities have been increasing tuition at an alarming rate, well beyond the rate at which inflation or standard of living have increased, for the past few decades. Student loans are often the only things that make this tuition a conquerable obstacle.

    If you needed food, and when you checked out at the grocery store your bill was incredibly high, would you blame the credit card company which helped you purchase that food for your debt? Similarly, if you are angry at how much debt you’ve accrued to facilitate your education, you should be angry at the school and not the banks.

    1. Thank you, you are absolutely correct, and I should have said that the real problem is the expense of college. Were it not for tuition and other expenses such as books and dorm room rent being so high, most of us would not need loans, at least not to the extent that many of us have them.

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