According to research provided by The Washington Post, millennials have the unenviable distinction of being the most indebted college students in history. An analysis from New America explains that consumers under the age of 34 owe a combined total of over $620 billion in student loans as of mid-2019. As students try to navigate these uncertain economic times, that number only increases.
When you consider that many college students are financially inexperienced and many apply for more loans than they need, it is imperative that students match loans to expenses and only borrow what is absolutely necessary in order to complete their education.
Understandably, it is often necessary for students to take out loans to pay the full cost of their education, and even more so on average for students who attend a Historically Black College or University, such as Alabama State University. To avoid a buildup of loans after graduation, students must carefully consider how they use the money they receive. Mismanaged money could have a profound impact on life.
Student loans have the same effect that most forms of debt have on individual credit. Making timely payments ensures that an established credit score will not be adversely affected. However, many students who graduate may not be in a position financially to start paying off loans right away, leading to missed payments and postponed payment deadlines, resulting in a lowered credit score. Student loan debt can hold graduates back in many ways, even affecting relationships, career choices, and quality of life for years to come.
Some students from Alabama State University voiced their opinions on how taking out student loans has affected them so far.
“Make no mistake about it, college isn’t free or inexpensive,” notes senior business major Noah Fields. “It’s a great investment, and for someone like myself who plans on continuing my education in grad school, it can be hindering to see the number of loans that you have to take out in order to get an education in this country. Coming from a one-parent household made paying for school a lot tougher. Fortunately, I was able to get some academic scholarships because I saw how much debt my mother was in from putting my older sister through school. Students really have to be hopeful and optimistic that the investment will all be worth it in the end.”
While it may be a significant expense, going to graduate school can mean the difference between a low-to mid-range salary and living comfortably in the corporate sense. For instance, the average starting salary for someone with an undergraduate degree in business administration was a little more than $57,000, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. Compare that to the entry-level earnings of someone with a Master of Business Administration (MBA) at almost $85,000. Before making that decision, students are encouraged to weigh out the potential costs and the likelihood of how much they will earn in their career field after graduation while factoring in their current debt load.
“I think education should be free,” begins sophomore marketing major Brianna Williams. “I don’t think that it’s fair that years after school we should be working ourselves to death just to pay back thousands of dollars in debt, for the education that got us a job.”
“As an HBCU student, it’s all-too-common to witness peers that I started school with not returning the following year,” states sophomore accounting major Marketa Noel. “At least two people that I knew didn’t come back this semester because they were unable to pay and finish school. It’s sad to think about, but at the same time, I’m only a sophomore, and I know that I already owe the government thousands in loan money. Sometimes you ask yourself, ‘Is it really worth it?’”
Students who are prepared to jump into a career right away that pays well, do not have high unemployment rates, and are willing to stick with it until middle management and middle age, then incurring high student loan debt may be worth it. However, a risk-taking, free-spirited entrepreneur may find that student loans can be quite the determent.
“Personally, I have a lot of anxiety about student loans after graduation because they don’t just keep you from pursuing your dreams,” begins junior secondary-education major Micah Maldives. “They also keep you from starting an independent life. Even with a job, you may not be earning enough after paying loans and other bills to pay rent or a mortgage. Consider that you could be stuck in a spiraling cycle of financial ruin. Maybe it’s a stretch, but it’s something that I think about a lot.”
If students find themselves in the all too common scenario of many recent graduates, they could have enough student loans to keep paying on for decades. If that is the case, students are likely to save less and evidently have less money to set aside for basic necessities like health care, consumer goods, or even time away from societal pressure. In addition, since home loans are more difficult to get after the mortgage meltdown, student loan debt could keep graduates renting for longer periods of time as opposed to building wealth and equity by buying a home.
Perhaps in this modern world, it is high time to explore deeper into a question that might be more relevant today than ever before — Should college be free in America? This question deserves a lot more than a simple yes or no answer. It deserves an open mind and a balanced exploration of the potential benefits, drawbacks, and alternatives. After all, America’s future is at stake, and it is evident that education is one of the leading factors that will determine the nation’s fate going forward.
College affordability should be prioritized. When the cost of attending college, university, or trade school is too high, many students simply choose not to pursue higher education. This leaves many of them ill-equipped to find suitable employment, let alone attain the “American dream.” In addition, high costs also leave some college graduates with levels of debt that hamper their abilities to attain at least a middle-class lifestyle.
“After recently attending a financial literacy forum, I learned the impact that student loans can have on not only your life but your mental wellness as well,” notes senior communications major Destiny Holder. “Never enter into the decision to take on student loans without considering how they will affect your life. They may help you go to your dream school, but they can also keep you from living the life you desire, which is interesting as college is supposed to help you attain the skills it takes to live that life, not hold you back from it.”
The issue of why college should be free is not just an economic one but rather a moral and philosophical one. Should every American, regardless of social standing, have an equal opportunity to reach their fullest potential? These are the principles that this country was founded on. However, social mobility has been eroding for the poor and middle class. Without efficient and affordable access to quality higher education for all citizens, the collective intelligence and goodwill of the nation could also gradually be destroyed.