Guide to Solving the Student Debt Crisis
|July 6, 2012||Posted by Editor under Graduate School, Politics, Work|
I’ll tell you how to solve the Student Debt Crisis, but first . . .
Imagine you’ve decided to check out a new restaurant that’s just opened downtown. You read the Yelp reviews and they are generally pretty positive, so you’re going to give it a shot. Saturday night rolls around and you head downtown. As soon as you arrive, you spot the crowd milling around out front. Good thing you made a reservation. But when you step up to the host, you learn that your reservation has been canceled because they were too busy. Hmm…that’s a new one, but okay whatever. Finally, after an hour wait, you are shown to your table, which is right next to the bathroom and has dishes on it from the previous diners. Ten minutes after ordering your meals, the waiter returns and informs you there’s a good chance your entrees will actually cost double the price listed on the menu. The managers are discussing it and they’ll let you know as soon as you eat it. The steak you ordered arrives well-done, charred far beyond the medium-rare you requested. The waiter returns to assure you the list price for the entree will actually still be honored, but the cost of desert could double—he’s not quite sure. Oh, and he will be adding five dollars to the bill for each of your bathroom visits. To top it all off, the food keeps you up all night with terrible indigestion.
What would you do if this happened to you? I doubt you’d go back to the place. You’d probably even tell your friends and neighbors to avoid it; maybe you would write a Yelp review of your own discouraging other potential patrons. When we get burned by a business, we don’t give them our money anymore. It’s the one foothold we consumers have. If we don’t like a business, we don’t have to support it.
Now, bear with me a minute. I know the transition I’m about to make isn’t exactly the same thing, but I think it’s close enough to warrant discussion. How might this concept of boycotting bad businesses translate to the student loan crisis? Think about it. Borrowers are customers. If customers are not being treated right, we can stop patronizing the business. This whole student loan debacle in which our country is involved is one big bad business deal. The implicit promise is: borrow our money and pay back the interest, and you will be rewarded with a job. I think we all know now that this just isn’t true anymore. Borrowing $20,000 or more for a college degree is not a worthwhile investment. Every year, more and more people are graduating with crushing loads of debt and waiting tables or working at call centers. This debt will be a weight around their necks well into their forties and fifties. It will limit their ability to buy homes and take vacations.
Even those people who are lucky enough to get a decent job will still be slaves to their debt. Corporations know that a person in serious debt is a person who has little bargaining power. The indebted can’t make waves—they must keep their noses to the grindstone or risk losing their jobs. Debt is now another tool of corporate oppression. It’s an unspoken way of making sure people behave themselves on the job (by that, I mean don’t take sick days and work long hours without complaining). “Hey, if you don’t want to work on Saturday, I’ll just have to find someone who can.”
Financial Literacy Counselor on the Student Debt Crisis
I read an article at Inside Higher Ed this morning by Aaron Broadus, a financial literacy counselor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine, about a novel way of dealing with the student debt crisis. Broadus’s solution is simple: Don’t borrow. Now, my initial reaction to this article was to bristle a little. I’m of the belief that higher education should be accessible to everyone. As the system currently exists, student loans are necessary to equal the playing field and make sure the poor have the same access to learning that the rich do. However, Broadus got me thinking a little.
Everyone is so fed up with the student debt crisis, the balance of which has now passed consumer debt and climbed over a trillion dollars. But, all we’re doing is complaining about it. If you think about it, we have the same options we do when we visit a bad restaurant. We can always choose not to return and also to tell everyone else how bad the place is. We’ve got politicians jerking our chains about raising interest rates and reducing access, and we’ve got a job market that is increasingly proving that the investment isn’t even worth it. I’m starting to wonder whether I would recommend this restaurant to anyone.
I do still have that one issue about how boycotting student loans might affect the already massive income chasm in this country. Anything that makes the rich richer and the poor poorer is not going to be okay with me. The ideal situation would be that the federal government literally pays the bill for students whose families fall below a certain income threshold. In this scenario, a student would get tuition covered as long as he or she maintains a certain GPA, or something like that. Personally, I would be glad to surrender some tax dollars for this cause. But, until a program like this is established, we just might have to work a little harder to go to college. I don’t like saying that because it seems unfair on the surface, but seriously though, sometimes adults have to make decisions. If we can’t afford something, we either have to not buy it, or we have to somehow come up with enough money to pay for it. Not because The Man tells us to, but because we want to take charge of our own lives and make our own decisions and not be strangled by debt.
I know a little something about this because it’s how I paid for the first half of graduate school. I paid for each semester as I went, which meant that I could only take one class each semester for awhile. Unfortunately, I got lazy towards the end and started borrowing. Once that free money starts rolling in, it’s hard to turn it off. Before I knew it I had borrowed twenty grand (much more than the actual cost of my tuition for a year). I fell into the trap that so many others have, and now I’m a slave to my debt. So, I learned a hard lesson that might be useful to others.
Sometimes we have to work harder for something or else we don’t buy it. That’s a tough and unpopular truth. And it’s a truth that I absolutely struggle with on a daily basis. But, as Broadus points out, it’s a truth that would stop the student debt crisis in it’s tracks. Remember, when a business treats us badly, we can always choose to stop shopping.