Rudnik > The Great Student Loan Myth

| August 5, 2015

Student loans are a problem, but the crisis is not, in a word, monolithic.

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Nick Rudnik, Valdosta Today Opinion Contributor

Few would disagree that the extent of student loan debt in the United States is truly extraordinary. In 2014, according to U.S. News and World Report, the average, accumulated loan debt per student graduating from a U.S. college or university approached $30,000. The student loan burden in Georgia is slightly lower coming in around $24,000.

Undeniably there are serious economic consequences to recent college graduates saddling enormous sums of loan debt from their postsecondary studies. Recent graduates may elect to delay purchasing a home, a new automobile, or postpone marriage and starting a family. This also affects the economy’s bottom line.

What is also clear is that college tuition’s meteoric rise in recent decades strongly correlates with a significant increase in administrative and bureaucratic positions at American colleges and universities. Students loans burdening recent graduates have been used to hire more administrators, to erect new (often unnecessary) facilities, and to attract new students with enticing diversions like climbing walls and swimming pools, rather than fund course instruction and research—the underpinning mission of the academe.

Frustrated with these trends, an increasingly popular movement gaining steam in some corners of the net and the media is to encourage a nationwide student loan debt strike. The theory is simple, if student loan borrowers, who overwhelmingly drew the lion’s share of their college debt from federal aid, simply refuse to pay, Congress or the U.S. Department of Education will be forced to act. This, however, is a very, very misguided idea.

Aside from the obvious, material consequences born from defaulting on loan obligations (particularly federal student loans), proponents of a nationwide debt strike equivocate on a number of significant premises. Most importantly, America’s student loan debt crisis is not monolithic, for not all students are shouldering the same debt load. Some students have been able to secure scholarships, fellowships, or assistantships to aid in financing for their college educations. What’s more, others have elected to attend smaller, often public, institutions where they’re offered more attractive aid packages.

Not every American student chose to attend an expensive private university. Whilst some made a savvy financial decision to purchase the economy “Honda,” attending a smaller or public school with generous financial support, others consciously chose to finance the more bourgeois “Cadillac,” the big ticket, often private school where the annual cost of attendance rivals an entry-level yearly salary. And when that the car payment is finally due, many look upon that old, corroding Cadillac and feel frustration.

It’s my belief that there must be two conversations in the student loan debate: one on a granular level and another on a systemic level.

I can look at the systemic, national conversation and see a dire need for reforming our postsecondary institutions and curbing costs. But in the uncertain landscape of colleges, debt, and career prospects, on an individual level, students and their parents must learn to be discriminating and adept consumers in paying for a college education.

The “debt-for-degree” culture overtaking American higher education is both untenable and irresponsible. But attending an institution far out of one’s financial reach, intentionally incurring massive amounts of debt, and then trying to concoct schemes to not pay those loans is equally untenable and irresponsible.

This is the element of the student loan debate that is most troublesome: the notion that personal responsibility no longer has any part to play in where we go to school and how much we pay for it.
And that is the great, objectionable “myth” in this whole loan debate.


rudnik-thumbnailNicholas A. Rudnik is currently pursuing a degree in political science with a concentration in American politics at Valdosta State University. Previously, he’s served as a congressional page in the U.S. House of Representatives during the 111th Congress and in the Office of U.S. Congressman Sanford Bishop. Further, Nick has served on staff at an institutional interest group, the Association of American Law Schools, in Washington and has worked in the private sector. He has presented his research, focused primarily on congressional parties and elections, at regional academic conferences and hopes to pursue a graduate degree in political science. Nick is currently completing two manuscripts relating to southern congressional elections and judicial decision-making in the area of campaign finance; he can be contacted via e-mail at narudnik@valdosta.edu. Follow Nick on Twitter: @NickRudnik.

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