There’s a joke I’ve heard a few variations on over the last semester: ‘if I won the lottery, I’d pay off my student debt, and with the last five dollars I’d go get frozen yogurt’. I laugh every time I hear the joke, and yes, every time I tell it as well.
It seems amazing that there are so many students who share the same sense of humor, until you take into account that debt is a looming presence throughout these years of our lives. If not student debt, as the joke suggests, then there are a plethora of other options for young minds to dwell on, ranging from housing prices to insuring a car. In the modern world, dealing with debt, avoiding debt and taking advantage of debt is part of life.
But student debt seems to be the most salient issue for many of us, and with good reason. About seven in ten students currently graduate college with debt, and that owed money accrues quickly. The United States currently has $1.3 trillion in outstanding higher education debt and plenty of stressed-out students who feel personally aware of size of that figure.
I have heard friends talk about plans to bring down their debt to something more manageable, like only $60 thousand dollars by the time they’re thirty years old. And yes, some of those conversations have involved a lucky lottery ticket. No matter how tongue-in-cheek the approach may be it’s an intimidating and worrying conversation to have over coffee, but one which happens consistently no matter the group of friends I’m with.
Clearly this is an important topic for many of us at this point in our lives, and I don’t think that is necessarily a bad thing. Being able to speak about money and plan for the future, even if that that includes paying off loans is an important skill to have in life.
The negative aspect comes when the prospect of debt becomes so intimidating that our future develops powers of stupefaction. Friends that look into the next five, ten, or twenty years and worry that all the money being poured into their future prospects is futile or foolish, that they would be better served by dropping their degree and trying to find work now, avoiding loans they cannot pay with jobs they are worried about finding.
Usually, I am the first to advocate that people need to undertake college at the time best for them, and in their own way. That is not what this conversation is about.
Students who want to be in school and desire to get their degree making the choice to drop out for purely financial reasons does a disservice to both the students and to the institutions which loose dedicated learners alike.
Worries about the cost of colleges and universities are not limited to those of us within the system. Student debt and what to do about it has been brought up on the presidential campaign trail during 2016 as well as in Congress. Despite the recent spate of attention, tangible solutions to the problems facing students have been sparse, most involving either sweeping promises or back-seated reform bills.
The course of progress is a slow one, but looking around at my friends and ahead to my future, I cannot help but worry that the debt issue is only gaining momentum.
I don’t have a solution to the student debt crisis (if I did, I’d doubtlessly have written a happier article), but I do know that there is a value in solidarity; that’s probably why jokes like the one mentioned before are so popular on college campuses. They say the first step to solve a problem is admitting that one exists, and I count our generation of students lucky to have passed that first step.
For now, as we weigh the value of a cup of coffee against the risks of a torturously long day, I’m glad that we have something in common to laugh about.