Student loan forgiveness is a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t target the core issue. The truth is that college isn’t worth it if you’re in the working or middle classes and can’t reasonably pay your tuition. When taking on student loans, the goal is for you to get a return on that investment. You need your money to work while you study, so you can eventually work for more money post-graduation.
I say this as someone who is only now, in my third year of my master’s, having to pay the majority of my tuition. I got lucky in my undergrad and luckier still during the first two years of my master’s in spite of my lack of financial literacy.
What Your Mentors Tell You
Teacher after teacher, counselor after counselors. Parents, too. Everyone told me that college was the next step. But, as someone who couldn’t vote in the presidential election the year I graduated, I had no clue what it meant to sign on for that much debt.
I lived off-campus with family for free, which saved me half of my tuition. The other half was paid by Cal Grants, aside from a couple thousand I paid out-of-pocket. If I hadn’t gotten room and board free, received state funding, and chosen a “cheap,” public institution, I’d be stuck. I’d be one more of countless people stuck in debt.
Hot Take on Financial Literacy
Financial education is underrated. From the moment we’re born to deciding on college, we are not prepared for the huge decision that is college. When I said I’d attend, I wasn’t thinking about the price tag I’d likely be paying for thirty years. Most of us made this decision in the middle of our senior years before we can drive without an “adult,” buy alcohol, or probably vote.
Student Loan Forgiveness
With all of this talk about “forgiving student loans,” we’re putting a (much-needed yet insufficient) Band-Aid on the problem rather than doing the work to fix it. Higher education takes too much from young people before they’re old enough to understand the weight of their actions. It’s “the next step” rather than considered as seriously as marriage or buying a house. We don’t have the same visceral fear or stress about taking that debt on until we’re seeing our barely-there net-worth’s plummet.
College is a Privilege
It’s a privilege to attend college, and I’m grateful that I did. But, I see the effects of debt on the people around me; I see the way it affects their decision to get a house now or later. They decide between twenty people at their wedding or a hundred, to go to their dream destination or one an hour from home.
Just like it’s a privilege to attend college, it’s also a privilege to understand what student loan debt means. We tell our high school students that it’s “the way out.” Yet, we don’t tell them how they should avoid incurring debt as much as possible. Instead of spending time educating young people about debt and student loans, we have them take quizzes about which college is right for them. We invite speakers to talk about the benefits of college. We even tell students to take classes solely designed to prepare them for college.
We See the Problem, Now What?
Student loan forgiveness acknowledges the problem that we all know exists, but it doesn’t solve the problem. It doesn’t educate young people on the severity of making a decision before they’ve graduated from high school.
Student loan determines the amount of money you’ll allocate away from the life you want and toward the life you left behind. College is only worth it when that one four-year decision you made at eighteen doesn’t limit what you can do with the opportunity that degree gave you. If the point of college is to open up job opportunities for financial security, then any student loans that keep you from achieving financial security outweigh the benefits of getting a degree.
To Attend or Not To Attend
As a college graduate who has always loved learning, I’d tell everyone to attend college if it aligns with their goals. Get a degree to give you financial stability. Get a degree to qualify you for your dream job. Don’t get a degree if the university charges more than any mortgage you’d be willing to pay. Paying tuition is an investment in yourself and I’d argue it’s a necessary investment, but it shouldn’t be your only investment.
Diversify your investments and understand that college isn’t the only path. Sometimes, the best option is to put it off for a better time in your life. Choose an institution that fits your needs financially, academically, and logistically because, no matter what the college entrance season makes you think, colleges should fit you.