Higher education setting us up for … debt?

I am sure we all know someone who is up to his/her/their ears in college debt. For perspective: (1) the USA student loan debt totals $1.44 trillion, (2) there are 44.2 million USA citizens with student loan debt, and (3) the average monthly student loan payment is $351 (https://studentloanhero.com/student-loan-debt-statistics/). Attending college and/or graduate school is becoming a huge burden for millions of people. And we are “told” that attending college is the only real option to be successful.

So, where does that leave us? We are financially burdened if we seek higher education degrees. But we won’t get a decent-paying job if we don’t seek higher education degrees (or so we are told). Either way, we are financially stressed.

I am one of the very fortunate ones. I had a full academic scholarship for my undergraduate degree and am in a field that typically pays students to go to graduate school. So, I am student debt-free. But, I am the minority. The majority of my friends and family with any higher education degree are swamped in student loan debt. Swamped to the point where they can hardly afford to pay rent and their loans, let alone for food, gas, etc. It is a real problem, one that I don’t know how to fix.

We need to find a way to make higher education more affordable for the masses. People should not be in debt for 20, 30, 40+ years because they want to learn. The question is, how do we do this?

Image result for student debt meme

Scholarships, fellowships, and grants help reduce some of the financial burden for many; however, many people either do not know about these awards or do not want to put in the effort to fill out applications. For those who don’t want to fill out applications, there is not much that can be done – but I do think that high schools, colleges/universities should try to do a better job about advertising different financial aid packages. Students also need to do a better job at researching different scholarship options – I hear of scholarship money not being used because nobody applied (shake my head)!

But scholarships, fellowships, and grants don’t solve the problem alone. Does anyone else have any thoughts on this issue? How do other countries (i.e., Germany) make higher education so much more affordable? How can we get a different model implemented in the USA?

4 Replies to “Higher education setting us up for … debt?”

  1. Erin,

    Your post about student loan debt is very interesting. I agree with you that “Students also need to do a better job at researching different scholarship options.” I also think loan borrowers should spend time researching loan forgiveness programs. I visited the website you referenced. I am surprised that only 611,598 people have been approved for Public Service Loan Forgiveness. According to the U.S. Department of Education, “If you are employed by a government or not-for-profit organization, you may be able to receive loan forgiveness under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program” (U.S. Ed, 2017). I think more borrowers will take advantage of this program in the future, as they become eligible.

    U.S. Department of Education (U.S. Ed). (2017). Public Service Loan Forgiveness. Retrieved September 17, 2017, from https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/repay-loans/forgiveness-cancellation/public-service

  2. Erin,

    I will add another comment related to student loan debt. Cancer patients may find it stressful to keep up with loan payments. The Deferment for Active Cancer Treatment Act was introduced to address this issue (Ritzel, 2017). It “would let borrowers defer their student loan payments when they get a cancer diagnosis — and for six more months after their active treatment is completed. It’s a courtesy Congress extends now to borrowers who are unemployed, deployed in the military or volunteering with the Peace Corps” (Ritzel, 2017). I think it is important to recognize illness can affect someone’s ability to make student loan payments.

    Ritzel, R.J. (2017, September 22). Give Cancer Patients a Break on Student Loans. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/22/opinion/cancer-patients-student-loans-deferment.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

  3. We can start by making textbooks more affordable. Currently the prices are increasing at a rapid pace. We need more affordable options like other online resources and open textbooks. Average student will save around $1000 per year that way. We also need to make some changes in the loan repayment system so that student doesn’t have much difficulty in loan repayment.

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