Beth Bales: Hey, 99%ers! 100K in College Debt is Many Percentages Too High
Many of the stories coming from the 'Occupy' camps talk about huge college debt and lack of opportunity. Maybe there's nothing to be done about the job market at the moment. But there ARE options when it comes to college debt.
But I have seen calls for student loan forgiveness ... Just because. I’ve seen COUNTLESS video messages and photographs that talk about massive student loan debt coupled with an inability to get a job.
Here are two:
- “I have a BA and work as a cashier. Graduate school and more debt is looking like my only option. It’s time to hold job creators to their title and separate aspiration from avarice. I am the 99%; occupywallst.org.”
- “I want an education but because I’m not part of the wealthy 1% I will most likely pay outstanding student loans for a major in which 0 jobs will be available. It should NOT be this way. Things WILL change. I am the 99%.”
Some of the notes mention $50,000 or $60,000 or even more in student loans.
Add to such stories the news that last year, the amount of student loans taken out crossed the $100 billion mark, for the first time, and total loans outstanding will hit the $1 trillion—that’s TRILLION—for the first time. Students are borrowing twice what they did a decade ago, after adjusting for inflation, according to the College Board. And total outstanding debt has doubled in the past five years.
And I think of those Wall Street protesters, why on earth did you take out that much in loans, and why did your parents let you?
A total of $50,000 for an undergraduate degree? Maybe that’s worthwhile if your degree is in electronics, or engineering, or accounting, and you are pretty sure your future earnings will make that debt a worthwhile investment.
But there are options! No one, and I repeat no one, should have loans like the girl I read about recently: more than $100,000 in loans and a degree in women’s studies. Does that make any kind of sense?
Or there was the young man I read about in the paper a few years ago, someone we knew from the world of community theater. He was headed off to a state school, and had just signed on for $15,000 in debt for his freshman year. I can do math; $15,000 times four equals $60,000 and I’m guessing the total indebtedness, because of rising costs, will be more like $70,000.
Why? He could have gone to Elgin Community College for two years first and then transferred to a four-year school. That would have cut the anticipated debt in half.
Community colleges offer a wonderful way to trim the total bill. No, none of my children have started out there, but I assure you that between Daughters 1 and 3, I had become a huge proponent of the idea. It probably had something to do with watching the tab for a year at Illinois State University rise from roughly $16,000 a year to $21,000 a year, in only five years.
And around here there are options for going past community college, somewhat affordably. Simply can’t afford that private college you covet? Go to Waubonsee Community College for two years. Then, transfer to Northern Illinois University, but commute, instead of living in DeKalb. Perhaps one of the four-year private institutions in this area, such as North Central College in Naperville, Aurora University in Aurora or Judson University in Elgin would fit the bill better, and the student may be able to get scholarships to bring the cost down.
I am completely sympathetic to the costs of college; we have a senior at Marquette this year (who got quite a bit in scholarship money and has quite a bit in loans) and a freshman at Illinois State, who also has loans. I remain beyond frustrated that the days of a student being able to work a summer job and pick up much of what would be needed for the following year (which was basically the case when I was in college in the 1970s) are long, long gone. There’s no earthly reason why college costs have exploded so much past the inflation rate for way too many years.
But I also know that there are options that can—and should—be explored.
You may not ever be one of the 1 percent, in the parlance of Occupy Wall Street.
But you don’t have to be $100,000 in debt, either.