Student loans: A backbreaking burden

It’s so easy to borrow and so difficult to repay. As long as the cost of college continues to rise and the necessity of having a college degree continues to be hawked, some college graduates will find themselves under a backbreaking debt.

There are exceptions, of course, and these are graduates with family resources that mean they never need to worry about that first nickel for tuition or books or meals in a restaurant off campus or transportation to the variety of events which make college fun, fun, fun.

What does college cost in 2018? Just ask a few current college students what they paid for their textbooks this semester. You will be appalled. $500 plus if they’re lucky and in some disciplines twice that much.

For students without family money, it’s working two or three part-time jobs at or slightly above minimum wage to avoid the loan traps.

And woe unto those who earn degrees in fields I won’t mention because they will find themselves with tremendous debt and unqualified for the jobs of their dreams- jobs that don’t exist, never existed, or exist in such small numbers that only those with connections will be considered. At this point I would advise students to Google “Occupational Outlook Handbook,” a site maintained by the U.S. Department of Labor, to determine the employment outlook for majors/jobs that interest them: what workers do, where they work, education/training requirements, wages, job outlook, state/area data, and contacts for more information. There are also tabs that provide links to state occupational projections (No point in preparing for a job that doesn’t exist in a geographic area where student must reside for one reason or another).

And if perchance, as in the case of my niece, a borrower happens to die unexpectedly, woe be unto the person who co-signed for the loan. She will need to mortgage her home or deplete her savings set aside for that rainy day as the banks begin flooding her with demands for repayment.

Banks are in the catbird’s seat, always have been, and those who owe money are reluctant to admit that they do. It’s one of those big secrets in our culture, and this comes from embarrassment. They ask themselves the following question among others: How could I have been so stupid?

Traditional-age college students are making decisions about borrowing money and choosing college majors at a time when the brain’s prefrontal cortex is not fully developed. One of the functions of this sphere is the cause-and-effect function, the ability to process the possible results of particular behaviors.

As with any issue, this one is complex and a few states have recognized the importance of a well-educated workforce and offer free tuition for residents ( New York, Tennessee ) This doesn’t , however, cover the total cost of attending college. Other states offer incentives for students majoring in high-demand areas.

And then there is the issue of colleges’ need to attract and retain students by offering a plethora of amenities such as water parks on campus, successful and expensive basketball or football programs, expansive curricula, new and emerging technologies.

I am called regularly from my alma mater to donate, and I usually don’t answer when my phone identifies the caller. Last week , however, I did answer and told the person calling -probably a student on work- study- that I read the Chronicle of Higher Education each week and the university does not need my piddling amount of money, that it can be used better at Edison State Community College for student scholarships. I added, “Please take me off your list.”

Some of my students are wise in considering college degrees and debt. As part of a career unit, I was speaking with one today. He lives in Anna, Ohio, population approximately 1,500 but who’s counting? He told me initially that he plans to transfer to Columbus State because he wants to live in a city. A minute or so later, he revealed another part of his plan: to transfer to The Ohio State University later after minimizing the cost of college attendance and loan debts at the community college. Smart guy, and he’s now attending Edison State via a program that allows him to attend free and earn college credits while completing his high school graduation requirements.

Am I rambling in this week’s column? Yes. My final plea is for students to spend more-than-adequate time in deciding where to attend college, their majors, the job outlook, and the costs. It’s so easy to look at these important decisions with rose-colored glasses or to rely on a counselor to make these decisions. Information is out there on the web. Use it. And students and graduates need to become informed, organize and lobby those in Washington for relief for this backbreaking debt.

Contact Dr. Vivian Blevins at vbblevins@woh.rr.com.