Thompson: Student loans hinder the pursuit of the American dream

Madison Thompson

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

As I sit here writing this article, the student debt crisis has reached about $1.6 trillion. For some perspective, the U.S. military budget is about $686 billion. Economists project student loan debt will reach the $2 trillion mark by 2021.

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Many students at Colorado State University know this struggle far too well, but this is not our burden to bear. We were lured in under the pretenses that going to college would make our labor more valuable, and it has, which is why our country has never been wealthier. Billionaires and corporations have the money to make this go away, and it’s our turn to be bailed out.

Getting student loans is almost too easy — after you submit your Free Application for Federal Student Aid and your awards are posted, all you have to do is click a button to accept or deny them.

I’m no stranger to FAFSA and the student loan system. When I was 17 years old, I was asked to consent to a payment plan that would last well into my 30s, maybe even longer. What 17-year-old do you know that has enough foresight to make a decision that monumental?

I can’t help but feel like my government took advantage of me under the guise of the American Dream.”

The argument could be made that it is the parents’ responsibility to ensure a bright future for their child, even if that means derailing college plans in return for financial stability. That sounds ideal in theory, but it’s just not the reality for most.

Personally, my brother never went to college, so the last time my parents had to deal with higher education was in the ’70s. So much has changed since then, so it’s foolish and irresponsible to expect that from them.

I can’t help but feel like my government took advantage of me under the guise of the American dream.

Nobody wants to talk about student loan debt because, quite frankly, it’s embarrassing. My debt will not die with me, so any child I bring into this world is going to have to pick up where I left off. Part of me is ashamed knowing that I signed on to such an egregious plan that can impact my family for generations.

I certainly would have decided differently if I’d fully understood the repercussions of my actions, but as we all know, most 17-year-olds aren’t that insightful.

Student loan debt is also inherently sexist. Women hold over two-thirds of student loan debt, further shackling us from becoming financially independent and professionally successful.

The cost of school is only getting more expensive, too. It’s no secret that funding for public education has been dwindling. Between 2008 and 2018, state funding and subsidies were cut by more than $7 billion.

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The rising salaries of university presidents and sports coaches also increase the cost of attendance. These are almost double and triple what staff and faculty are being paid. Why should Mike Bobo get $1.8 million a year for a measly 4-5 record? That money would be better spent going back into student services because we deserve better.

Many were hoping for the sweet relief of Public Service Loan Forgiveness, which launched in 2007. It was supposed to forgive the remaining balance of your student loans after 120 payments, roughly 10 years, under a qualifying payment plan for those working in the public sector. 

Since its inception, over 100,000 applications have been rejected. Only 1,216 people have reaped the benefits of this program. It’s important to note that many who applied were rejected for not making qualifying payments or for filling out the forms incorrectly.

Sure, there are several types of repayment plans — Income-Based, Income-Contingent, Pay As You Earn, Revised Pay As You Earn — but young professionals have enough to worry about. Loans are a burden to our professional and economic development.

There is also a significant mental health burden associated with student loan debt. A 2013 study from Social Science and Medicine found that higher levels of relative debt to household assets caused subjects to report higher levels of stress, depression and poorer self-reported general health. Feelings of significant indebtedness also raised diastolic blood pressure, which can increase the risk of hypertension and stroke. 

High school counselors should be urging students to pursue other means of education in any way, shape or form. 

The only solution to student loan debt is to cancel it. Forgive everyone’s debt, and make public school free. 

Madison Thompson can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @heyymadison.