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In Defense of Higher Education, Loans and All

Thanks to Facebook’s settings, I am privy to whole conversations on others’ timelines simply because my wife makes a comment. A couple years ago, I read through a “discussion” about the movement to forgive student loan debt, which continues to linger, though it has passed through many different phases over the last couple of years, with hosts of groups offering different solutions. The best, I think, is to wipe out all current debt for students who have completed their degrees and are currently working in a field relevant to their education. In addition, the government should reform the whole system so that students pay back their loans with little to no interest (I’m thinking no more than a fixed 5%-10%; not an APR, but literally payback the amount barrowed plus an additional 5%-10% of the total amount barrowed). I could go on and on, talking about this issue because I have plenty to say, but I want to focus on something else right now. The following statement stood out in the conversation in which my wife engaged. I want to be nice, nonjudgmental, and not to call the gentleman who said this less than intelligent, so I will let you judge. Again, this is in reference to the possibility of student loan debt forgiveness:

“Serves me right for working three jobs to pay for my schooling. Oh, and here is a thought, if someone is going to go into social work, maybe they should go to a cheaper school. It never ceases to amaze me that people are surprised when they finish school with a degree in 18th century French literature that they can’t find a job that will pay off their debt. Amazing.”

Let me begin by saying that my wife and I have a substantial amount of student loan debt. I am not afraid to admit it; neither have we ever expected to do anything but pay it back. We knew the consequences of our actions. We are intelligent people. The problem with the whole system is the crazed interest. While I am not making mounds of money, I make just enough for our needs. Because of our income and family size, we cannot possible afford the normal student loan payment amounts. Fortunately, there are “pay grades,” so to speak, where one need only pay what he or she can afford based on income and family size. As a result, we are left with a payment that is manageable. The problem is that it covers only a fraction of the total interest due every month. So we could pay on our loans for eternity and never see the amount owed go down. In fact it will go up. In the end, when the remainder of the debt is finally forgiven (which currently happens after 20 years), we will have made no payments toward the principle amount we originally borrowed.

Now, to address the above quote. I always love it when people judge others based upon their own experiences because, of course, everyone is the same. First, let me address the superhuman claims. I am sure that the man did work three jobs in college, but he likely did not work them at the same time. Also, I would not be surprised to find out that they were part time jobs. I have known a lot of people who worked while going to school. I mean, I did spend 11 years in college, 7 in grad school. I knew very few people who could successfully pull off full time work and school. I did my share of that as an MA student at Boise State University. For most of my two years there, I worked 37-39 hours a week between two different jobs I held at the same time. I made it work because both jobs worked around each other and my school schedule. That is rare. One was an on-campus job; the other was as an operations manager for an auto glass company. I just happened to become good friends with the owner, whom I still consider a friend, and with whom I remain in contact. Situations like that don’t come along too often. Leah Marie worked around 30 hours a week the first year of her MA program (we were MA students at the same time), and the second year, she had a Graduate Assistantship, which waived her tuition and paid her. Sounds like we were doing well. Well, even though we lived within our means, we still needed student loans to supplement our income just to make ends meet, and by the time we moved to Florida for my PhD program, most of our funds were exhausted.

At Florida State University, I was blessed with funding and five years of teaching experience that went with it. I still had to pay fees, but I was compensated a whopping $10,500 per annum to start. Well, that didn’t go very far even with the two of us. Try paying a year’s worth of rent on that even before taxes. Well, Leah Marie bounced around trying to find steady work and ended up with something fairly steady that she could do while working on her own PhD. Even with our combined income, we continued to need student loans to maintain economic balance, while still living within our means. I even found outside work at a local community college. I eventually had to quit that for two reasons. My PhD program started to crack down on funded grad students engaging in outside work. I thought that was ridiculous, but with my funding at stake, and the dissertation looming, I needed to drop the extra work and get focused. By then, Leah Marie and I had a two year old and one on the way. Try raising a family of four on $12,000 a year (after a raise when I became a PhD candidate, i.e. ABD). Even when I did do outside work, it taxed me to my limits because I was a full time PhD student teaching what was essentially a full load for a professor in the department. It was far more important to finish and find a job to support my family and stop relying on student loans for support.

I have only focused on one aspect of the ignorant man’s comment. I don’t even know where to begin with the way he knocks schools based on their cost or particular majors. But as far as the financial aspect of attending school and graduate school, some people need a wake-up call. No two situations are alike. Did I have to attend graduate school? No, but to fulfill my dreams, I had nowhere else to turn. And part of that dream involves serving others. My profession allows me to serve countless numbers of students who are seeking for their own direction in life. Where would some of them be without someone who put the time and money in to putting himself or herself into a position to serve them? So are we going to quit on higher education or quit providing it just because people should not go to school unless they can afford it? That, more than anything, shows how busted the system is. And this article sheds all the light on that we need.

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Comments

  1. Irrespective of that personal insight, student loan debt forgiveness simply makes sense as a matter of economic policy.

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