Borrowing from the Money Store

In case you aren’t painfully aware that the student loan situation has gotten terribly out of hand, consider this: the average college graduate owes $25,000 in debt—what do you say to someone in that situation? Add to this the sublime impossibility of finding a job (days and days spent, dozens of CVs sent out… it’s like a ritual of sorts) and the proliferation of unpaid, or “for credit/experience/exposure” internships, and moving back home to your parents seems like more of a dire necessity than a sensible decision. But that’s just the average; certain graduates owe 50K, even over 100,000 dollars, and struggle to keep up with exorbitant monthly payments while working part-time jobs neither in their field, nor duly recompensed.

This is, of course, only part of the full picture: students attending trade schools or for-profit colleges like The University of Phoenix or DeVry have their own problems to deal with: a corporate, bureaucratic system ranging from bloated tuition to irrelevant or worthless diplomas and certificates. Considering all of this, it almost seems as if college isn’t worth it, as if the last decade has flooded higher education with irrelevance like TV static. Neither a form of social advancement nor a means toward attaining fair employment, higher education has become some sort of strange formalist crucible for my generation; a perverted rite of passage I suppose.

But it’s not really a rite of passage: our parents, the two generations preceding us were better off: they had jobs available, they had reasonably affordable institutions. Now, Isaac Asimov said that the autodidact is the only truly educated man, and I agree that the Ivory Tower is no longer necessarily the seat of knowledge absolute. What, however, does it mean for a society to mistreat and condemn its students so? This isn’t the case in other countries— systems like the HECS-HELP Scheme  in New Zealand or the very reasonable tuition prices in Europe for EU citizens make studying at university both possible and affordable. It does not seem unreasonable to ask for the ability to graduate without selling one’s soul for the next twenty or so years. There are even plans currently in effect, such as the Income-Based Repayment plan enacted in 2007 which approaches something like HECS-HELP: repayments are assessed as a percentage of whatever income the debtee makes in a given month.

One might ask several questions, however: how did the situation reach this critical juncture? Why have tuition prices so skyrocketed in the past twenty years? Can any solution to these manifold problems be reached? This problem, I propose, is cultural as much as it is economical: the college loan market is in a bubble and it will burst much like the housing market did. When masses of students default on their loans, bailouts and restrictions will result, and students will be the ones who suffer.

What sort of society are we that we proverbially crucify our students for an education?