What Do We Do About Student Debt?

The whole issue of massive amounts of student loan debt is in the news (election season, don’t you know). Most recently I saw an article about a young woman offering her Bachelor of Arts (cum laude) in Theater from Florida State University for sale on eBay. Price: $50,000.

The young woman in question graduated in 2011 with $40,000 in student loan debt. She now lives in Los Angeles and is a personal assistant, not what she was trained for, but it pays the bills, barely. She says:

I’m doing the exact same things and probably getting paid the exact same amount as people that dropped out halfway through freshman year, except I’m still $40,000 in debt and they’re, well, not.

Of course, I saw this on Facebook, and of course there were lots of people expressing the opinion that she was an idiot for getting her degree in Theater. I was a little kinder. Here’s what I said:

She probably got her degree in theater because she had to get it in something and had to declare a major by the end of sophomore year, when she was twenty and had no idea what to major in. It’s a crappy major, sure, but let’s face it, 95% of majors at any university aren’t worth four years of a young person’s life and years of living with Mom and Dad while trying to pay of thousands of dollars of debt spent getting a diploma that isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on. If she had actually wanted to work in theater (which I question), she could have started by applying for jobs in theaters and getting to know the people and jobs from the inside, and spend the four years she would have spent in Jacksonville actually working in theater. She’s young, and if she decided the theater wasn’t for her, she could have examined other options, including going to school. We’ve brainwashed kids into believing they must go to college immediately after high school without taking time to find out what they want to go to school for. And listen, the meme about college graduates making lots more money is demonstrably false, especially in this day and age where it seems that every kid getting out of college can’t get a job. Parents, college counselors, and university marketing departments need to stop telling kids that.

Years ago, people were all up in arms over advertisements on kids’ TV shows, how they had a captive audience and were basically brainwashing kids to tell their parents that they wanted all these sugary snacks and toys, and pressured the broadcasters and sponsors of those shows to stop marketing to kids and be more responsible to the actual needs of children. Today, we see the kids being subjected to the same treatment when it comes to going to college, by the same people who complained about the TV shows. That doesn’t seem right.

What do you think needs to happen? I have my ideas, but I’d like to hear yours first.

6 thoughts on “What Do We Do About Student Debt?

  1. Where I agree something had to give with the mounting debt, I don’t think waiting to go to college is the answer. Maybe for some but waiting on some professions can be the wrong choice. Take mine, accounting. For financial reasons, I was the non traditional student. With a full time job and classes 2 per semester, it was a long hall to the end. Sure I had no debt but I was a bit older than my peers entering the accounting industry and now 17 years later age is a factor and I will likely not make partner. If I had to do it all over again, I’d take the debt but my career choice is more likely to find a job than most.


  2. Let’s start with what $40,000 means. For those of us who spent anywhere from $300 to $5,000 per year for school, this sounds ridiculous. HOWEVER, there is this thing called inflation. $40,000 today is equivalent to around 13,000 in 1980, and that doesn’t seem to be that much. I bought a Subaru in 1979 for $4,500, so that student debt equals about 3 cars; today, a Toyota Corolla, a very similar car, sells for around $18,000, so the student debt equals about 2 1/4 cars. In June 1980, the median home price in the US was $64,000, so the student debt would be equal to about 1/5 of a home; in 2015, the median home price in the US is $285,000, so the student debt would be 1/7 of a home. The point? There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics. One individual gets a THEATER DEGREE then finds out it doesn’t prepare her for better paying jobs, and her student debt feels excessive to her. Boo fucking hoo. At least she has a degree, and there are many high paying jobs that, just by crossing that simple hurdle, are open to her that are not open to the other leeches, er, “personal assistants,” in Hollywood.

    If student debt is a problem, and I don’t believe that it is, it is a problem because individuals are allowed to borrow money for school regardless of its likelihood to improve earning potential, well beyond their ability ever to pay. When the service of student loan debt outstrips the ability of the average student to pay it, then it’s trouble. $40,000 over ten years at 6% interest equals $450/month, what many of these students spend in cable television and cell phone bills. The numbers are there to shock us old fogies, they don’t scare many of the graduates, whose bigger worry is a rent payment that is twice as high as our mortgage payments.

    College has never been a guarantee of a job or higher earnings. Your degree and the quality of your school helps, but even that guarantees nothing.


  3. I also heard on the news this week, grumblings about the cost of earning a university degree and I also think it is only being mentioned because it’s an election year. I believe STRONGLY that free college is the worst thing this country could do. Free college would mean that any menial job (e.g. BurgerJointXYZ) would soon require a college degree in much the same way that those jobs now require a high school diploma or GED – which puts pressure on many young adults to look for “easy money” from selling drugs or burglarizing homes. Why would an employee need a GED to work at McDonald’s? Personally, I have two university degrees and if I had it all to do over again, I would have attended the vocational high school that we all made fun of. You want to be wealthy? You want to own your own business? Plumbing is the way to go. I should have done that.


  4. The value of a college degree for everyone is vastly overly hyped. I think that a college education should be free, but the standards of entrance should be raised much higher with high school laying the groundwork for who goes. Likewise I think trade school educations and other alternatives should be free as well. And I don’t mean everyone gets a free ride. There should be some kind of payback in the terms of service or something that gives a return to society what was gotten on the tax dollar.

    Taking out loans for college is not a very good idea in my opinion.

    Arlee Bird
    A to Z Challenge Co-host
    Tossing It Out


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