Reflections

Student Debt Bondage

Congratulations graduate. Here is your degree and debt. For the next ten to twenty years you’ll pay for a decision made in high school before you knew the average salary for your profession, credit card interest rates and apartment prices, for food, transportation and entertainment. This is the reality most graduates face. Last October, after a three year hiatus, 28 million graduates resumed their payments.

Who benefits from this system? Colleges get customers who pay tuition. Financial institutions gain debtors who can’t use bankruptcy to default on their debt.

Student loans are like a starter drug into a life-long addiction to household debt. We want bright and shiny products, the newest mobile phone, the best clothes, vacations and cars. College financial aid offices facilitate the prospective student’s entry into the debt habit and when you graduate they take no responsibility for whether your degree was worth it. Their focus is on the next group of high school students ready to try the adult debt drug.

There are alternatives to large debt. First, parents can teach their kids personal economics, be transparent about their family budget and debt obligations.

College provides personal, educational and social benefits so I believe it is worthwhile and using loans may be the only way to get there so parents and students might write a contract with financial incentives including debt relief for completion of college. Next don’t assume a degree from a status school means a job. Employers care more about your knowledge, skills and abilities than where you went to school. One can start at a community college, explore what profession you want and then transfer to a public college for the last two years. A master’s degree more often is the professional credential you need so debt for that is easier to justify.

4 Comments

  1. Your choice of the word “bondage” really hit home with me. I graduated in 2003 and still have a balance on my student loans, which will hopefully be canceled with the new Biden-Harris forgiveness plan. I came from a low-income family and was the first one to go to college, so my parents encouraged me and my dream to go to Film School, but didn’t really have the financial know-how to support that decision or the debt that I was signing up for. I remember during my freshman year there Citibank had a table set up outside the dining hall getting kids to sign up for credit cards. It really is the “adult drug” and I have struggled with debt ever since. In my opinion, if we are going to continue to allow higher education to be so expensive, we should be offering more support and education on debt, finances and budgeting in high school. Of course, I also think that there should be more and better options for college that are actually affordable or free. Thank you for sharing your opinion on this!

    Reply
    • Raeanne, Thank you for responding and adding your voice. This situation is immoral. The Biden-Harris move to forgive student debt is one step toward justice. They are supporting the creativity and contributions of America’s energetic people. Thank you again for all your help and support for me and our community.

      Reply
  2. Great article Ed. The cost of college in the last thirty years is the only thing where costs increased more than the cost of our privatized for-profit health care system. There are many areas than need reform on cost, but a major one for me are the banks and lenders. When we were doing our post high school education there were Federal Usury laws that put a limit on interest charged. Sometime around the mid 1970s’ the Supreme Court declared them unconstitutional. Just as today’s Federalist Society Supreme Court, we have a history of courts that believe the Bill of Rights was for property, not people. Any limits on interest rates are now up to the states. See pay day lenders who get away with 300% interest on even short-term loans. They did put the mob connected loan sharks in my neighborhood, with the stand rate of six for five, out of business. In my view they are criminals and a large part of the problem of student debt.
    Hope you are well old friend.

    Reply
    • Jim, Thanks for your reply and contribution to this conversation. “Some men rob you with a six gun and others with a fountain pen”
      There is so much to protect and so much the Trumpists want to do to destroy democracy with their lies and legal theft. I miss you, your clarity and commitment. I am doing well, have some aging issues but my mind and spirit make my voice strong. All my best wishes brother.

      Reply

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About Ed

Ed Murphy Portrait

Ed Murphy has a long history as a leader in public policy, organized labor, economic and workforce development.

He lives in Saratoga Springs, NY.

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Ed’s Books

92 Newberry Ave: 100 Years of Murphys

92 Newberry Ave: 100 Years of Murphys

Vietnam: Our Father Daughter Journey

Vietnam: Our Father Daughter Journey

Working Stories

Working Stories

Becoming a Leader

Becoming a Leader

Creative Lives: An Anthology

Creative Lives: An Anthology