Student Loans: What we know, and is there a better solution?


Pamphlets on out-of-state schools stand quiet on a shelf in the RBHS guidance office. Image by George Frey.

George Frey

It’s graduation and finally high school seniors have made it. Some even have been accepted into their dream school and will be leaving in the fall. Man, life can only get better from here.
Overall, higher education is an amazing experience which provides an environment for students to meet new friends and get a chance to reinvent themselves. But everything comes with a price… and that price is literally the cost of student loans.
Americans pay much more for education than a lot of other nations with an average American post-grad using 53 percent of our salaries on student loan payments. Interestingly enough, Americans aren’t number one on the list. The most expensive country to receive a higher education in is Hungary. With Hungarian students, 92 percent of their salary is spent on paying off student loan debt.
To Americans, whilst going to college is certainly worth itthe financial implications of attending post secondary schools can come as a surprise after graduating college and learning how much money they really owe. The pure shock is enough for anyone to crawl into bed and avoid responsibilities for the rest of their lives. The aspect of years of debt to pay off is daunting; money is daunting. Living is daunting; adulthood is daunting. Fortyfour million Americans combined hold a debt of $1.4 trillion, with Americans in their 40s holding an average individual debt of $33,765.
So, what can high school students do in getting ready to head off to college? Well, a lot of don’t know, and that’s precisely the problem.
It’s clear that no matter if a student is a freshman, sophomore, or junior, student loans aren’t often a factor one is exposed to until they’re seniors.
Being that Columbia is a college town with several schools, many of this city’s students will begin studying at one of them then go on with their lives from there. But, what if a student wants to go to school out-of-state? Then, serious financial sacrifices will have to be made.
For example, take a look at two of the most populous states in the country, New York and California. Both states have some of the best public university systems in the United States, with California having the U.C. (University of California) system, and New York has it’s S.U.N.Y. (State University of New York) system.
The largest U.C. school in the state system is UCLA (aka The University of California at Los Angeles). UCLA is already one of the most applied to schools in the entire country, and one of the best public universities in the world. But, the price difference between in-state and out-of-state students is dramatic. According to UCLA admissions, California-residents pay $33,604 per year; whereas non-California-residents pay $61,618 dollars per year.
New York State is no different. One of the best S.U.N.Y. schools, SUNY Binghamton in Upstate New York, costs $6,870 annually for New York residents, whereas for out-of-state residents, the cost is over three times as high at a whopping $21,550 per year.
The draw of moving out-of-state however is worth it for many students, due to the fact that they can establish themselves in a different part of the country and escape the barriers of their small town, the issue is though, that money can hold them back from truly achieving their dreams.
But, one has to ask, is there a better solution to paying vast amount of loans, or to the way we fund education in general? Is it normal for students to go bankrupt and have to pay off loans for the rest of our lives? The answer is yes, and no.
American students studying in many places around the world, in countries like Norway, Finland and even Slovenia are able to essentially go to college for almost nothing.
In Germany for example, German citizens pay higher taxes, which in turn are used to finance the education of the nation’s students. This is obviously not something many are willing to do in the US, so this is an issue of course. The problem is that German students also tend to have less flexibility in school, so that means that universities, both public and private, would be more strict with students. Another unfortunate issue is that Germany has a smaller population, meaning in many ways it’s easier to pay for students.
‘But wait,’ some may say, ‘Those countries are microscopic in population compared to the United States and therefore, don’t need to have as much money to send all their students to universities!’ Well, that’s not exactly true. While these nations are infinitely smaller in population, that does not mean that American students don’t still have the right to a free or at least cheap education.
In the United States up until a few decades ago, we had a form of free education. Believe it or not, in-state students in California were able to go to college for essentially nothing but a small fee until the 1970s. And in New York City, many public universities which are part of the S.U.N.Y. system were virtually free for in-state-students for decades.
Much of the country’s first universities were founded on what are called, public land grants. Meaning that the state governments and federal governments would pay for them. Schools founded on public land grants include Cornell, Penn State, Virginia Tech, Auburn and Mizzou. Making the statement that free or reduced education is impossible hypocritical to say the least.
So really is the idea of a tuition-free/reduced higher education, really that new or radical?
In this situation, we as a nation need education reform because it is every Americans right to be educated. While we receive education from Kindergarten – 12th grade, a college degree makes it easier to get a good job, and in the process earn a reasonable salary. Education is how we advance as a species; it is how we figure out the unknown and impacts our understanding of the world; therefore, it is imperative for American students to campaign for education reform. Organizations such as SFER (Students for Education Reform) have clubs at various high schools, and not only campaign for lower student debt, but also for safer educational environments in schools around the country.
Concerning colleges however, the organization I Am Not a Loan, campaigns directly for lower student debt. They write on their website; “The I AM NOT A LOAN campaign empowers students to speak out about skyrocketing student loan debt and work to make sure that no one is shut out of higher education because of cost. We’re calling on colleges and universities across the country to take action in support of the students they enroll. After all, the first step, as it’s said, is admitting that there’s a problem. No two institutions [Universities] are identical, and not every solution will look the same. But every institution of higher education needs to be doing something to ease the burden of student debt.”