Thursday, September 27, 2012


The Pew Research Center released a new study today on student loan debt, which has mushroomed in the past five years. he Pew Research analysis finds that “whether computed as a share of household income or assets, the relative burden of student loan debt is greatest for households in the bottom fifth of the income spectrum [emphasis mine], even though members of such households are less likely than those in other groups to attend college in the first place.”

I read this and it just infuriates me. I know that colleges and universities do the best they can to put together financial aid packages for students that come from families of limited means. Back in the dinosaur days when I went to college, I received a generous package comprised of some grant money, a work-study job, and a couple of student loans. My parents did not contribute any cash, because they didn’t have any. I didn’t expect them to; I worked all summer to make sure I would have some money to buy books and I was pleasantly surprised when my grandparents gave me a check for a few hundred dollars when they dropped me off at my dorm.

My family expected me to go to college and to finance it in whatever way possible. I accepted this; I was very eager to go to college, and very eager to leave it when the time came. I was able to get a decent entry-level job and was horrified by how much of my check was eaten up by my pesky student loan payments. It never occurred to me not to pay them, or to negotiate their amount in any way. However, the burden of that student loan debt made me leery of going to graduate school, which I regret today. I pinched pennies and paid my undergrad loans off over a period of ten years; and I was thrilled at that point, in my early thirties, to feel I could begin to contribute to a regular savings account, and pay cash for things like TVs, and contribute to my 401K.

Sweet Dub went to law school straight from undergrad, and we will be paying off his student loans for the rest of our lives, it seems -- if we ever get back to paying them off, as he has deferred them since he was laid off in 2010.

A higher degree used to translate into a higher standard of living. The Pew numbers are really discouraging for--well, pretty much anyone. But I feel the pain particularly of those college students who come from low-income families that can’t help them out of the hole post-graduation. It makes my stomach hurt just thinking about it.

Other studies have shown college graduates make 84 percent more over their lifespan than do high school graduates, and they have considerably better job prospects even during times of economic uncertainty. No need for alarm--if these statistics hold true in the future. I suppose only time will tell.


Bridget said...

My situation was (freakishly) similar to yours. My parents had nothing to contribute either. I was on my own if I wanted to get through college. Added scholarships helped me keep my loans to a minimum compared to many. And working my behind off through the summers kept me alive.

I just got a report from a professional organization I belong to and it was disheartening. Women in my field make less than men (still) and we are now the majority, and there is no added value (a less than 4% increase in earnings) to a post graduate degree unless you want to teach (which in that case it's just a requirement). Salaries in my field have not risen with inflation for more than a decade and have actually gone in reverse. It had to hurt for them to send that out to their members but I suppose it's not like we didn't know it anyway.

Like you said: Time will tell. I just don't know WHAT to think anymore.

Lisa Blah Blah said...

Wow, that is disheartening - especially because I love what you do and if I were going to make a career change it would be that!! Aggggh! Maybe I'll go to nursing school. Apparently there's a real shortage. There's that nasty business of having to deal with blood and sickness, though. Hmmm...(rethinking)