This is not really a political post. I don’t care if you’re a Democrat, Republican, Tea Party activist, Green Party member, anarchist… Whatever your political or philosophical beliefs about the role of government in our lives, there is one issue that — as an educator, as a researcher, as a new mom, as a holder of student debt, and as a first-generation college student — I’m intensely passionate about: the rising costs of higher education and the national travesty that is our student loan system.
“Higher education cannot be a luxury for a privileged few. It is an economy necessity that every family should be able to afford, every young person with dreams and ambition should be able to access,” President Obama said.
It sounds like a boring topic, and if your college days are long over — or you never went to college in the first place — and right now your kids are too little to imagine them in freshman dorms, it may sound like a cause that is not relevant to your present concerns as a parent. But today’s (and tomorrow’s) kids are facing a far different world of higher education than mine (Generation X) did. I graduated from college in the mid/late 1990s, and since 1999, student loan debt has increased 511%. Yes, that’s not a mistake. 511%, dwarfing the growth in all other forms of household and individual debt.
This financial and educational path is unsustainable. Student loan debt is an issue critical for your child’s future, for our country’s economic future and security, and for the future of the American dream of educational opportunity and upward mobility.
Because I’ve been living and breathing this stuff for so many years — student debt and educational costs are such important parts of my own life story and of the stories of the students that I interviewed for my dissertation — all of these facts have become repetitious to me. But I’m sure they’re not known to most Americans, or I would like to believe that there would be more national outrage.
Here are a few facts:
1. Our students’ collective student debt now totals more than $1 trillion, more than any other type of debt. Researchers have concluded that this debt will soon have a significant damaging effect on our economy, as more and more individuals aren’t able to secure home and car loans or take any form of financial risks, such as starting new businesses. This “ripple effect” will be felt throughout all parts of the U.S. economy, from the retirement sector to the housing industry.
2. The percentages of all Americans who hold student debt is skyrocketing, as well as the total amount of debt held by each individual and the number of defaults on those loans.
3. College costs, meanwhile, have risen by a staggering amount, with estimates of about 1,120% over the past 30 years.
President Obama during the past few weeks, as well as other legislators such as Speaker John Boener and Senator Elizabeth Warren, have put the student loan crisis at the top of the national conversation. Why? Because if Congress doesn’t take action by July 1, federal student loan rates will double. We could be cynical, and think that their motivations are to gain political advantage by stoking the anger of millions of angry young people. And that’s probably at least partially true. But I’m also a political optimist and would like to think that some of Obama’s outrage over this issue is his own personal history of being burdened by student loans and of feeling afraid that the same path of upward mobility may be blocked for other kids from scrappy backgrounds. There’s reason for genuine political debate about this issue because neither side has all the answers.
For the time being, let’s view this imminent student loan crisis as an opportunity. You are going to be hearing a lot about student loans on the news during the coming weeks. Predictably, the politicians in Washington on both sides of the political aisle are going to argue about it until we’re all sick of hearing about it.
What can you do about it? Make your voice heard. Because it matters for all of our kids, even if your “kid” is a newborn. (Especially if your children are small). Educate yourself on which type of plan for addressing this crisis makes the most sense to you, and demand that politicians take action.
- Here’s a good comparison of the proposals now being discussed in Washington: Student Loans 101 (What’s Really Stake as Washington Squabbles).Senator Elizabeth Warren is proposing a bill to allow students to take advantage of the same very low interest rates that big banks receive from the government. Sign your name to her petition here.
- If your rate or your child’s student loan interest rate will double on July 1, you can tweet about it using the hashtag #DontDoubleMyRate.
- You can also join the conversation on Twitter using the #studentloan hashtag to receive updates.
- Speaker of the House John Boehner has put out his own proposals for solving the student loan crisis. Tell your congressman or congresswoman what you think about the Republican and Democratic plans.
- Campus Progress, a student advocacy group, is declaring June 5 as Student Debt Day 2013. Sign their petition and share your own story about student debt here.
- Another petition in support of the Student Loan Fairness Act sponsored by Senator Warren has more than 300,000 signatures online. Add your name here.
Will the increase in student loan rates affect your family? How have student loans affected you? Do you have any other ideas about how to make your voice heard on this issue?
Janine Huldie says
My husband and I have three master’s degrees between the two of us (he has two and I have one). You can imagine the student loan debt we have right now. It is very frustrating paying those bills and seeing the state of affairs in our country and economy right now. I am fortunate that mine is consolidated, so my loan rate is locked in and it was very loan when I did this. My husband on the other hand not so much, so this could truly be a concern for us. Thank you for sharing and letting me know about this. Now will have to see what we can do and hope and pray for the best I suppose. But seriously, this is truly ridiculous.
Deb @ Urban Moo Cow says
It’s funny, I’m so focused on how I’m even going to afford pre-school in NYC that I can barely focus on this topic. But you are so, so right. Will share with the world.
Thanks, Deb. We’re in the same boat too. Preschool is so important but so expensive!
You are so right about this. I have a graduating high school senior and even with generous grants and a partial scholarship we are looking at about a third of his money coming from loans. Its a scary thought.
I know. That’s about what I had. It’s such a tough decision about how to pay for something as important as higher education!
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We’ve talked a lot about this in our house, because my husband is very politically active. I think what most people don’t get is that so many people are defaulting on their student loans that that alone is crippling our economy. The cost of education is far greater than the price of tuition.
Kristi Campbell says
The entire student loan issue is one that needs some serious attention. You make some excellent points. While my husband and I are putting away for my son’s future, I fear that we are not putting away enough. Add that he is on the autism spectrum and that we may need to use some of that money for therapies that will give him a better shot at actually being successful in college, and I’m truly frightened. I didn’t realize that interest rates would double if nothing is done by July 1. Thanks so much for another great article.
This is a GREAT topic to pick up, irrespective of political agenda! I signed the petitions and really hope something concrete will happen soon.
I honestly don’t understand the American system and why the costs for school are so ridiculous. College and University in Canada are expensive but not like the US. Not anywhere close.
But at least more people have the opportunity to go to school rather than not being able to.
Mary Kathryn says
This is such an overwhelming, crippling issue that it’s tempting (for me) to put my head in the sand and moan, “NO!” We have, right now, THREE (yes three!) kids in college. One in a semi-expensive private college, one in a cheaper private college, one in a state univ. We told them all up front that we simply can’t pay for their college educations, so they must do scholarships, grants, and loans. They all have loans. My 22 year old son says lots of his friends who graduate simply go on for a Master’s so they can defer paying their loans. It’s disastrous. Aren’t they calling this the next financial “bubble” that will burst?
I do think an individual student’s debt situation can be more manageable. I mean, if nobody offers you any scholarship or grant money, then probably you’re not a good candidate for college anyway, and taking out loans would be a waste of time and money. So many people really should get AA degrees, or certificates/licenses in particular trades/fields, and go out and make a good living! Do you think part of our loan crisis is because so many kids are being made to feel they MUST get a 4-year degree from a “real” college, in order to be culturally viable in the US? I wish we made it more socially acceptable for middle/upper class kids to pass on a 4-year degree with all its economic woes, and pursue something else. Academia can be a vicious cycle: only the truly academic go the limit for the PhD, with which they can only teach others in college, who will then in turn strive for their PhDs …. In order to make this little system work, they must suck in other students who’d be better off elsewhere. That sounds jaded 🙂 Just ruminating. How in the world can we get the costs down? I wish I knew.
Cindys Recipes and Writings says
As a mom with a daughter still having 80k+ out in student loans and a grandmom with a daughter approaching college age I’m very appreciative of your post!