The Seattle Times
By: Stephannie Stokes
April 19, 2011
College students are getting hit hard by tuition increases, requiring them to seek more financial aid and resulting in higher student-loan debt. Columnist and student Stephannie Stokes argues that burdening graduates with high debt is counterproductive.
While Congress and the White House tackle the federal deficit, a greater threat to the financial security of America's future is ignored. Student-loan debt in the U.S. will hit a staggering $1 trillion this year.
At this pace, the system of higher education in this country is set to leave the next generation of students crippled by debt before they've thrown their caps in the air at commencement.
What is most unfortunate about rising student debt is that most of us have gotten used to it. We are blind to how absurd it is to pile debt onto those expected to lead the nation's economy. When the average American student finishes a degree $24,000 in debt, the graduate is encumbered before having the chance to compete in the professional world.
Where is the common sense? I thought we wanted the next generation to "win America's future," as our president put it. Placing a series of roadblocks and hurdles directly in their path to success is counterproductive.
Student-loan debt is not affecting only a small population. It now nettles the majority of American students and their families who struggle with the rising cost of tuition and who see loan payments stack up firsthand. Sixty-seven percent of all students graduating from four-year schools in 2008 carried debt from student loans.
While nearly all students attending private for-profit schools complete a degree with student-loan debt, there remains a large fraction of students who graduate debt-free from less expensive public universities. But that will likely change.
In Washington, fewer students have the option of getting a quality education at a lower cost as institutions like the University of Washington accept fewer in-state students. Students lucky enough to get in will still face annual tuition hikes as high as 16 percent for the next biennium, making even the cost of a public education out of reach for many families in the state.
All of this means more loans to get through college and more debt after graduation. It's unlikely this will be a generation rushing to buy a house or start a family.
"The consequences are mammoth," said student-loan activist Alan Collinge. "No other generation has had to face this (level of) debt."
The burden of debt hurts the future of those who have made the choice to work harder and pursue goals. They are in debt simply because they chose to go after a degree.
How did seeking an education become a punishable pursuit?
UW student Claire Fox will soon graduate with $16,000 in loans. This is what remains after significant help from her parents and holding down a job through college.
"It's something that's going to be part of my postgraduate life for a very long time," she said.
There are some who actually consider student-loan debt to be a good kind of debt: taking out loans can be viewed as an investment in the future, because college degrees result in higher-paying jobs.
As shocking as this might be, high-paying jobs are hard to find these days. Students are stuck working low-income jobs with thousands of dollars of debt on their shoulders.
In the unfortunate cases, students still can't keep up with their debt and they default on their loans. An interesting thing about student loans is they don't come with the same consumer protections as other kinds of loans -- no option of bankruptcy, no truth-in-lending requirements, etc. Once you default, among other consequences, the agency holding the loan can take your wages directly from your employer.
Yes, this is clearly good debt. So good that we're making sure the next generation gets plenty of it.
We're all very excited about winning the future, Mr. President. A recent poll revealed that most students continue to be optimistic about their lives. Students like myself are anxious to succeed in the professions we chose in college.
But it would certainly be easier if debt weren't holding us at the starting line.
Stephannie Stokes is a senior at the University of Washington. Her columns appears occasionally on editorial pages of The Seattle Times. She can be reached at email@example.com