Student loans


Before anything else, we need to remember that a lot of people never go to college, that you don’t need to go to college to be smart, or well informed, or a great citizen–we all know this from personal experience. There are issues throughout our economy, for people with and without a college education, and we can’t advocate for policies that improve the situation of those with a college education without also fighting for everyone else. That said, student loan debt is an enormous problem that deserves our attention.

One of the readings for today showed student loan debt graphically, comparing student debt in different years. These graphs are astonishing, showing two things. First, that more and more people are winding up with student debt, and second, that the amount of student debt a typical household owes increases dramatically. Unfortunately, we don’t have the ability to show these graphs in this room, but if you are able to access this on your phone, it is worth your while; the increase in student debt is so enormous that the scales are basically unreadable, with the line for 2016 10x as high as the line for 1989.

The increase in student debt has extraordinary human cost. Another reading for today reported on people who had committed suicide over student loan debt. It’s difficult to read, and the suffering inflicted on people saddled with crippling student loan debt is terrible, even if it doesn’t end in suicide.

Our final article looked at the fact that while educational attainment has gone up, but poverty has gotten worse. Since the 1990’s, we have increased our educational attainment–we have more people who have finished high school, more people with college degrees, more people with masters degrees, etc. This push was started because it was believed that education ends poverty. That might make sense–if people with college degrees have a lower poverty rate than people with a high school diploma, then if we find a way for people with a high school diploma to get a college degree, there should be less poverty.

But it didn’t work that way. We succeeded in increasing the number of people with higher education, yet a higher percentage of people are poor. Education doesn’t fix poverty.

Overall, we have an extremely irrational higher educational system–financing through student loans is so inefficient that it winds up being more expensive than if universities offered free tuition.

Discussion questions:

  1. Feel free to complain about your own student loans. This issue needs to be discussed.
  2. Education doesn’t fix poverty. So what is the role of college education in society? What should it be?
  3. If education doesn’t fix the answer, then what is?
  4. Do student loans pass poverty onto the next generation? Is there a racial component to this?
    • Unless you are very wealthy, the way you build wealth in this country is through home ownership. In decades past (unfortunately, this still occurs today), housing discrimination was legal and people of color could not become homeowners. This meant that there was no way to build wealth. When wealth was passed down, it was often used for college education; so housing discrimination in one generation led to fewer educational opportunities for the next generation. When people who need loans to go to school can’t afford to buy a home because they can’t afford their student loan payments, we’ve essentially recreated housing discrimination, with predictable results for the next generation. The legacy of racially-based housing discrimination means that this disproportionately affects people of color.

Some points that were brought up in discussion:

  • Social Democratic nations have very low poverty, low inequality, and yet they have far fewer advanced degrees. They limit poverty, and education is not the strategy.
  • For-profit colleges