A response to student loan reform: Our education is worth the investment

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By Lauren Brown

While I agree with Grover’s premise that the student loan crisis is indeed a detrimental one, the solutions he has proposed are both misinformed and detrimental to our higher education system.

The many instances of misinformation aside, I will focus on two aspects of Grover’s flawed argument: the assumption that some majors are better than others and warrant better funding, and that the prestige of an institution means a better likelihood of paying off student loan debt.

It is true that the amount of student debt, along with the rate of delinquency on these loans, has been rising for years. But at the same time, so have education costs. The student loan crisis is not something that can be excused without blame. College prices have spiked 150 percent since 1995, which is a major contributing factor to this student loan bubble.

While it is indeed important to lighten the load of student debt and somehow alleviate the cost that is shouldered by the student, redistributing loan rates so at the end of the day some students arbitrarily deemed more deserving receive a better loan than others, based solely on his or her major is reckless and unsustainable, especially in this economic climate.

Although we are bombarded with horror stories about recent college grads working at two unpaid internships and owing upwards of $100K in debt with no way to pay it off, this scenario represents an extremely small percentage of people who owe money. According to a chart published in The Atlantic last month, less than 10 percent of indebted students owe anywhere from $50 to $150K in debt. And only 4.2 percent of students owe between $75K and $150K.

Meanwhile, the economic value of a college degree is undeniable, even with increasing college costs and debt rates. It’s not about the prestige of an education; it’s the importance of getting an education, period. A combined 32.2 percent of the unemployed in 2011 had some college education but no degree, a high school diploma or no high school diploma. For those with an associate’s degree or higher, the unemployment rate drops drastically after this point. With a decrease in unemployment rate comes an increase in weekly earnings.

There are also costs of a lack of education. Making education less accessible for American citizens will inevitably raise unemployment rates, putting more stress on welfare and other social services. If a college degree is so essential in this job market, then prohibiting people from accessing the funds necessary to obtain a degree will hinder upward mobility, not help it. The most important factor in upward mobility is an education. Prestige or major doesn’t matter. During these difficult economic times, it is precisely an education (and yes, the loans that are required for an education) that will help us out of the rut, not withholding funds from the less fortunate. This is not to say, however, that everyone deserves to go to the most expensive institution. But education should not be accessible to only the upper class.

I will be graduating from Union in six weeks in substantial debt. Attending a private (or public, for that matter) institution would not have been possible for me or my family without the substantial financial aid package that I received from Union—a large portion of that package consisting of loans.

I know that I’m going to be faced with a long road of unpaid internships and underpaid jobs in order to get what I want—that’s the reality of this job market and not the kind of degree I have or the caliber of school I attended. And yes, I do have post-graduate plans that are both paying opportunities and related to my major. I didn’t major in STEM nor did I go to a so-called elite institution that under Grover’s tutelage would have awarded me a better loan rate. At the end of the day, a degree is a degree, and it is up to the individual to find a place in the job market post graduation, armed with the skills that a degree in any field from any four-year institution is supposed to provide.

Finally, the idea that being old enough to take out a loan equates to having a definite life plan—and that includes mapping out one’s entire academic career—is impractical. It is not guaranteed that matriculation into a college automatically allows a student to make the definitive decision to pick a field of study that will remain unchanged. The beauty of going to a school like ours is the ability to change a major, career path or academic interests.

If we were to give out loans based solely on intended major or SAT scores, then this would leave a lot of underprivileged students without access to loans—oftentimes, the students who need the loans the most. Furthermore, there is an inherent flaw in the argument that certain majors deserve better loans over other majors—wouldn’t this just force students to enroll as STEM majors and then change their majors, falsely inflating the statistics showing that we have adequate degrees in these fields to enroll in the workforce? Unprepared or uninterested students would pursue these degrees, falsely assuming that an engineering degree will allow for post-graduation employment. Students who are not genuinely interested in pursuing these fields will not enjoy the field enough to continue with it for the rest of their lives. Of course loans aren’t doled out based on academic merit or the rigor of one’s high school education; that’s the definition of a scholarship.

The job market is such today that a college degree is required in almost any field, and is the most worthwhile investment a student can make in his or her future. While it is true that both loans and educational costs have gotten out of hand, a step up in the job market is a risk I, along with many other students, are willing to take.

 

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