The Occupy Student Debt campaign, including its Debtors’ Pledge, has quite frankly gotten under my skin. The more I write about it, the more riled up I get, and this whole thing has prompted me to examine my views on student loan debts in general. So here I go, on another rant.
If a student chooses to pursue a college education, they have a number of opportunities to partially or even completely cover the cost of tuition. There are grants available for those with financial need, and scholarships available for those who are able to qualify for them. In many states there’s the opportunity for completely covered in-state tuition if students maintain good grades, participate in community service, or meet other requirements.
If a student chooses to attend a college or university whose tuition isn’t covered by grants and scholarships, they can choose to get student loans to help cover that expense. Those loans should have clearly explained terms and conditions, should be upfront about fees and the total cost of borrowing, and the student/consumer should be able to make informed decisions between different providers.
A student should also be able to make informed decisions about whether or not an education from an expensive college or university is worth the cost. They should be provided with meaningful information about the value of an education from the school in the workplace, and they should be given the best information available about job prospects for graduates in their chosen major.
And if I, as a legal adult making informed decisions about my higher education, choose to attend a very expensive college and pursue a degree that doesn’t offer lucrative job opportunities, that’s my choice… If I choose to borrow to pay for that expensive tuition with the understanding that my job prospects will not be as great because of my chosen degree program, then I should still reasonably be expected to pay back that debt even though I will financially struggle because of my choices.
Personally, I squandered the opportunity to get a free college education. My parents participated in a prepaid college program for me, half of which I blew on courses that I signed up for and then never finished. And because I didn’t go through the hoops that would’ve gotten me a scholarship from the state, I had to get student loans to pay for my final three semesters of undergrad and my Master’s degree. It was my missed opportunity, and as a result I am paying those debts as promised.
I also chose an in-state community college for my first two years of completed college, and an in-state public university for my upper-division classes, in order to keep my tuition costs as low as possible. Once I got my act together and became serious about my education, I earned excellent grades in my upper-division coursework, and worked hard to get into a Master’s program in Business Administration. In business school, I studied hard and got good grades, and applied myself to finding a good career prospect with steady and lucrative income, because I knew that I had a lot of credit cards and student loan debts that I would need to repay.
Would I have preferred to go to a fancy private school and possibly pursued a less lucrative degree program? Sure. I’d have been perfectly happy to go to a private school and study fields that I was interested in but which wouldn’t pay well upon graduation. But as an adult, I made my choices about which schools to attend and which degrees to pursue based on the reasonable expectation of consequences for those choices.
Not everyone will make the same choices I made, and that’s okay — but don’t complain to me that you have huge student loan debt as a result of your choices.