Former students who are unable to pay their loans and are defaulting because of it have been all over the news lately. With calls from the public to have the government save them from the problems created by their own choices, even though they may have been young enough to make poor decisions but old enough to be held accountable for them, some are wondering, “why”?
Let’s start with this infographic created by collegescholarships.org. The long form image, while informative on the history of how college debt requirements has changed over the years and why, shifts blame from the individual taking out the loan to the government for passing legislation which disallows those having loans from discharging them due to bankruptcy filing. It seems to suggest that instead of saving, living frugally, working or finding other financial aid sources such as scholarships to fund your education you should fight Congress and get them to change the law so that you are no longer treated like a “criminal” for failure to pay back your loans.
However, even with laws which strip consumer protections from students carrying loans, people are still flocking to college in droves and many of those people will be unable to find a job which will pay off their student debt leading people to wonder, is higher education really worth it? There are some fairly eye-opening statistics which show numbers of college grads working in jobs which definitely do not require college experience such as the 18,000 parking lot attendants, the 317,000 restaurant servers, and the 365,000 cashiers all working in those positions after obtaining a bachelor’s degree or higher. While many of these college grads probably fall into the other listed statistics about those who spend very little time studying, reading and/or writing, one has to wonder what their reasoning for attending college was in the first place.
I recently spoke with a taxi cab driver who was originally from Ethiopia and working in Las Vegas during my recent visit there. His dream was to attend college and become a pharmacy technician so that he could make more than the ~30,000/year he was making working long hours. Being that I worked in college admissions for a couple of years and was intimately familiar with the pharmacy tech program at that institution, I felt it was my duty to suggest to this young man that he might want to look at some other options due to the simple fact that:
1. College admissions departments like to cherry pick the best wages of those alumni who report back about their work.
2. Private colleges, which generally offer pharmacy tech programs, are magnitudes more expensive than a state operated institution and are many times not even regionally accredited.
3. You can get on-the-job training at just about any Walgreens or CVS to become a pharmacy technician and degree or not you’re probably going to start at around $10 to $12/hour or less. To this he responded, “but I make more than that now!”
It was these things, among others, that I told him that he had no idea about. He spoke to one college admissions department, had no idea what accreditation meant, and wasn’t even told to look at other options within that same institution which may have been a better fit for him. He was simply a sale to the admissions person and one who would likely never be able to fully afford his loans which he’d probably carry with him for many years to come.
However, not all colleges are just looking to make a sale. A community college in Virginia is requiring all students this coming fall to submit detailed budget worksheets which will show how they plan to repay their obligations both now and after graduation. While the institution readily admits that not everyone will be diligent, forthcoming or even truthful about what they write if the school detects any sort of issues it will be cause to deny their financial aid eligibility.
But even with all of these complaints about the government, higher-ed institutions, and even the work being done to try and fix the root of the problem, it simply comes back to poor decision-making by the students themselves. Plenty of people have worked hard and found scholarships (educational or athletic), waited to find a workplace which would help or outright cover the cost of college, and most importantly chose and attended an institution they could afford to attend instead of shelling out tens of thousands more a year just so they could attend a private school with a fancy name.
Should we really just be ignoring the problems these individuals placed upon themselves because they were young and impressionable? Should we suddenly forgive them for their debt load because they were hoodwinked by admissions personnel who doubled as shrewd salesmen? Are people really suggesting that instead of saving, working before and during college, and finding alternative payment methods that students should fight for the right to avoid their loan liability? Whatever you have to say about this one go ahead and comment on as I’d love to hear your thoughts.