If you haven’t heard, we are in a student loan crisis. As I monitor my bank account closely for my automatic payment to go through for my own student loans, I wonder – how they hell did this become a crisis?
On Yahoo, they have had people share their stories about student loans. You have all types of stories featured here – the overwhelmed graduate who can’t afford their loan to the students who are well able to take on the burden of their debt. You can tell by just reading the comments the story we all would rather hear.
Call me naïve, but why weren’t any of us more prepared? How the hell did this become a crisis?
Here’s how I think this happened – in my 101 economics minded brain.
1) The competition and pressure for the elite colleges (and the lack of respect for attending community college at the university level).
Now, I will preface by saying that not everyone feels the pressure or need to attend the elite college. Not everyone has a lack of respect for attending community college either.
When I was in high school, during my senior year, the school newspaper published which college you were going to and my senior year teachers all bragged about students who went to four year schools. I even heard a teacher laugh about a student who went to community college. Many of my classmates who were going to community college felt slighted (me included).
Now, jump me ahead several years and I’ve transferred to a university from a community college and I’m mentoring students. Among my fellow mentors – those who were maintaining a heavy and impressive work loads with high GPAs – often looked down on the community college students.
To sum it up in one sentence, up until recently of course, there isn’t a lot of pressure to save money on college.
2) There is little preparation for the “career” part of your degree.
I’ve blogged about this before, although I wasn’t exactly meaning to relate this to the student debt crisis. But I have no shame in admitting the career part of college – the part where you are supposed to figure out what the hell you want to do (and how) – doesn’t actually exist. For my university, the career center was a joke. I got more out of my trips to Starbucks then that place.
I even remember a professor telling me that no one should go to college with the expectation of getting a career (rather use it for learning, opening up your mind, obtaining new points of view, etc.). And tragically, I felt “on my own” (with the support of my mom, of course) in terms of how to build up my career. I’m lucky in that I’m a self-driven, resourceful person, and at 26, two years out of college, I can say that I’m pretty proud where I’m at in my career.
As for everyone else? Well, if you believe what you read in those stories I have been reading on Yahoo, not everyone can make their career happen (whether it’s personal or economical reasons).
3) The pressure to pursue a higher degree.
When I was in my last year of college, I received a lot of pressure about going for my master’s degree. I was encouraged to apply for programs to increase my chances of going for my PhD. I even heard mentors I worked with encourage their first year students to prepare for masters programs.
I resisted the pressure and instead found a job in the field I was interested in and I’m gaining the experience I need to work in the jobs that pay the better salary.
I want to emphasize that some careers do need you to go for a higher degree and do require additional certificates to obtain certain jobs. It really depends on the field you want to work in, of course. But it shouldn’t be the answer for everyone.
When the master’s degree isn’t your answer, it means you need to have patience or tenacity. If you don’t have experience in a field, you will probably get an entry level job (and more than likely, you will get paid low). I’m in those set of circumstances and many jobs that don’t require a degree (and need a specific skill set or experience) are paying more than what I’m making now. On the other hand, it isn’t too bad of a place to be in if you are entrepreneurial. If you have tenacity, you may just have the skillset and mind frame to make that better paying job happen for yourself.
4) We can’t afford our student loan payments.
I’m lucky in that I can afford my student loan payment. Yet, I read a lot of stories that say that students aren’t able to make these payments. I pay about $250 each month in loans and I am only less than $20,000 in student loan debt. I can’t imagine how others are doing with an even higher amount to pay back.
And here in lies the “crisis” of the student loan crisis.
Well, see point # 3 above – low paying jobs out of college. We aren’t getting jobs that pay us enough to make our bills. Then see point # 1, the colleges we do end up in are charging a huge amount for us to attend. Then point # 2, there isn’t enough preparation to get the career that can pay us well enough to pay the loans.
This sick and tragic cycle is why we are here today. The problem isn’t that the government needs to offer some type of break to students on their loans – and I don’t agree that should happen.
We need to prepare students for what comes after college and prepare students more to figure out the jobs they want, what major is right for that job, and help them get that job. Internships, on-the-job learning programs, mentoring from those in that field, and ongoing communication with students on they really want to do and really enjoy doing should be part of the curriculum. Help students become entrepreneurs (and that shouldn’t be left for the business majors). Help students be creative and inventive with their careers.
The university may have started out being an institution of learning and knowledge, but that has changed and evolved. It is also an institution for us to obtain a higher form of existence. When we learn how to apply the reasons students go to college into the university itself, then we might see our way out of this crisis.