The upshot of it all is that while young Americans are getting way over their heads in student loan debt, while they’re mortgaging their future for education, they see a financial aid counselor at the school. The counselor that they talk to when they’re on their way to taking on this tremendous personal unsecured debt, the person they confide in with their most intimate financial details, just might not be their friend. Many financial aid representatives are getting scandalous kickbacks from the banks.
Is anyone on the side of the college student?
Of course there are the parents, but mom and dad are already borrowing heavily from their retirement funds and mortgaging their homes so their child can go to school. The cost of the education is going far beyond what the middle class American family can afford.
Here are some of the facts, thanks to Anya Kamenetz:
Nearly two-thirds of our nation’s college students are now borrowing to pay for school.
There’s no official figure, the numbers are hard to track, but the average student loan debt for graduates in 2004/2005 was as high as $23,485.
Credit card companies aggressively market to students, with rates of 20 to 30 percent.
Tuition at public colleges went up four times more than the medium family income in the 1990s.
When people graduate with a four-year degree, often they realize that they will not be making enough money to pay off their loans, so they go back to school.
In 2002, graduate student debt burden was over $24,000 for master’s degree holders and over $100,000 for law and medical students.
In the PCUSA, seminarians now accrue $32,959 in debt.
Young Americans are in an excruciating position, with the convergence of staggering student loans, high rents, unobtainable mortgages, and stagnant wages.
When I’ve spoken to higher education officials about this, they say that the students simply need to have more personal responsibility. Well, many students are 16 when they apply for college and 17 when they enter as freshmen. Do we really expect students to understand the full ramifications of their loans as teenagers? Can’t we do better? As a society, shouldn’t we be looking after the least of these?
I must say, it’s difficult. Most of us are concerned for the “real poverty,” the homeless and the hungry. We’re concerned about the war in Iraq. We’re concerned about the atrocities in Sudan. We’re concerned about the environment. We’re concerned about Palestine and Israel. Our concern runs out when it comes to the less pressing issues of the economic injustice toward our young middle class.
But while we’re not looking, our society increasingly heaps more and more financial stress on people in their 20s and 30s.
Our churches can start talking about these things. We can begin to understand the issues and how they affect the young adults in our congregations and the young clergy who are leading them.
We must begin fighting for economic justice for young adults. After all, someone’s got to take the side of the students.