In three years, I will be graduating from the University of Colorado Boulder. I can imagine the excitement and pride I'll feel when I receive my diploma, shake the chancellor’s hand and go out into the world. But I, along with two-thirds of my fellow college graduates, will be leaving with more than a bachelor’s degree. We will be leaving with student debt.
According to Forbes, student debt has ballooned to over $1.2 trillion. The average student owes on average $27,500 but around 10% of graduates owe more than $40,000. The majority of loans since 2010 have been taken out from the Department of Education, but a lot of the debt comes from private banks.
While some of these loans do not have to be paid while you're in college, the interest may accrue to the general principal (the original amount of the loan), meaning graduates have to pay more. If students default on their loans, which happens around 9% of the time, banks or the federal government depending can garnish their wages, withhold their tax returns and hurt graduates’ credit.
Unfortunately, it is getting harder to get a degree as tuition rates inflate. Increased demand is a factor in the rising cost of education, but many states are cutting funding for higher education - putting pressure on the students to pick up the tab.
Student debt wasn’t meant to be this financial monster for the young. It started in 1965 as the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) program, a part of the so-called War on Poverty by President Lyndon B. Johnson. It was meant to minimize cost to the government, but provide an education to as many students as possible.
However, the system was managed by the private sector whose loan terms are often less fair than that of the government. During the 2008 financial crisis, the government stepped in to keep the money flowing - making it the main lender to students. While the terms for the government are fairer than private loans, the fact remains that our government is keeping our generation in debt.
We will have to take some debt for our education, but it shouldn't prevent our social mobility. Part of the solution relies on advocacy to apply pressure on legislators to increase state funding and have universities create financial aid policies that would assist low and middle-income families. To that part, the organization Higher Ed Not Debt provides resources and opportunities to advocate on the state level to support college affordability.
Another part of the solution relies on you. Tuition rates are increasing, but there are ways you can offset the cost. Try to find scholarships from websites such as fastweb.com - it's free money. Taking community college courses can also reduce costs.
Student debt is a blight on our future, but advocacy is a great way to combat it. By cutting costs and by increasing financial aid packages, our generation can worry less about their debt and focus more on making a difference.