There has been a lot of talk lately about the student debt crisis facing university students. We heard in the last election a lot of promises of eliminating student debt, and we are likely to hear even more in the upcoming election cycle. Some students are fearful they will finish paying off their student debts with their Social Security checks, and for some that might be a reality! Naturally, politicians like to tap into those fears and promise voters if they are elected they will make those debts disappear.
The problem is real. Many students leave school with huge student loan debt. I knew a pastor whose student loan debt was over $60,000 and several others who completed their education with debts over $40K. I’ve heard people call into financial management programs asking what to do with huge student loans sometimes in the six figures. Some of these were doctors and others whose careers would handle that debt, but others graduated with degrees that would not begin to service that debt. Still others dropped out of school and had a large student loan debt and no degree..
Some of the blame needs to be placed on the schools themselves. I question the ethics of allowing students to rack up huge debt for degrees that will seldom pay for themselves. Some of the blame is on the parents who allow 18-year-olds to make financial decisions that will haunt them for the rest of their lives. Perhaps they are old enough to make those decisions, but part of parenting is offering wise counsel. There are many ways to get a college education without going into debt which should be explored by the parents and the student.
One of those ways would include going the first one or two years to a local college to get the core classes completed. These local schools are usually far less expensive than public and private universities and they would allow the student to live at home eliminating the cost of room and board as well as paying lower tuition fees.
When it comes to selecting the school the primary focus should be on cost and not prestige. Right now the news is filled with stories of wealthy individuals who wanted their children to attend a “prestigious” university. These parents are likely facing prison time now for the illegal acts they allegedly committed to get their children enrolled in these schools. If you can afford to pay for a Harvard education, then go for it. If you can only afford to attend a public university, then that’s what you should do. Do you know what they call a student who graduated from a public state university? A college graduate.
The third way of going to school without incurring debt is one that has been around for a long time. It’s called working your way through school. Despite what some people think, it is not degrading to work while you attend college. Yes, you might miss out on a few parties now and then and you may have to forego the sorority or fraternity experience, but that’s a lot better than spending the rest of your life paying off an outrageous student debt. As one of my leadership mentors often says “You can pay now and play later or you can play now and pay later, but at some point you will have to pay.”
One of the advantages of working your way through college is that many employers will pay your tuition. UPS makes a big emphasis on the fact that they pay the tuition for their student employees. The factory where I worked paid my tuition saving me a lot of money I didn’t have to go to school.
Let me close by sharing some of my experience. I did not begin college until I was 39 years old. I was working full-time in a factory and serving as a pastor of a small church when I begin college. I had a wife and two children. It took me seven years to complete my studies. In 2002 I decided to enroll in a master’s program. By then I was working in a ministry role full-time. That degree took me four years to complete at which time I then enrolled in a doctoral program. My employer gave us funds each year for continuing education which I used to cover part of my expenses. In 2010 I completed this degree. At no time did I ever had any student debt. Yes, it took me awhile to complete my education, and no, I didn’t get to run away to the beach for spring break, but I have spent many vacations with my family at the beach. (I also never had to worry about embarrassing pictures showing up on social media.)
The student debt crisis is largely self-inflicted. It’s due to schools allowing students to incur too much debt to attend, parents who refuse to parent and young people who make very foolish choices when it comes to the schools they attend and how they will pay for them. Although we live in a time when no one wants to be held accountable for the choices we make, it’s foolish to think any politician can wave a magic wand and make your debt go away. I hear students being interviewed who demand their student debt be eliminated, but when they are asked who will pay it they have no answer. It appears they’ve never stopped to realize that someone will have to pay it, either they will or the taxpayers, and I think the taxpayers are getting tired of bailing everyone out of the mistakes they’ve made. So, I wouldn’t put too much trust in a politician making your student debt go away. Follow the steps outlined above and avoid that debt in the first place.