Who paid for your student loan? Who will pay for your children’s student loans? If you agree with Anya Kamenetz, a senior writer at Fast Company magazine, the government should relieve the debt of our children and our peers who took out too many dollars in student loans through bankruptcy student loan relief programs. She writes that it is not only fair of them to do this, but “it’s the first step to a more functional market in higher education.” She also believes that defaulting on a culmination of $1 trillion in debt will:
- Result in innovative, lower-costing opportunities for education
- Actions from the government to control spending
- Decrease private loans that can carry higher interest rates
Does Student Loan Debt Relief Really Help Our Kids?
When I read about Kamenetz’s opinion and those of college graduates who are pushing for debt relief – in fact calling it a giant step toward a solution for the failing economy – I shudder to think of the lessons that are being taught.
The high student debt loans for graduates in the United States are not just because the economy has tanked. The loans are because of:
- unrealistic expectations – Students believe that a college degree will equate with financial security, including the ability to pay back extraordinary amounts in college loans.
- bad decisions – Students choose colleges based on factors other than cost, such as prestige and change of location, and then take out the full amount allowed and live off of it instead of working part-time and living at a lower standard of living.
- undue sense of pressure to attend college – Parents, friends, and society pressure kids to attend college, even when they don’t have a personal drive to do so.
- feelings of entitlement – It blows my mind how children who graduate from high school assume that they can just continue their education at a cost to their parents or the government, which in turn costs the rest of us.
If there is a national student debt relief program instituted on a grand scale, it won’t teach our children to have realistic expectations, make better decisions, feel reduced pressure to attend college, or earn the things to which they are entitled.
How Can My Kids Attend College Without Falling Into the Debt Trap?
Reevaluate with your children whether or not college is a necessary means to the career ends that they envision for themselves. While there seems to be a prevailing wind that there are no opportunities for high school graduates unless they attend college, the reality is that a degree does no good for them if they a) don’t have a passion for the career on which it focuses, and b) have to spend the next 4 decades working to pay off that loan.
Help your children determine whether or not they need more than a two-year working or four-year focused degree (a Bachelor’s in psychology won’t get you very far). This is not the economy for kids to pursue Open Studies or Underwater Basket-Weaving.
Make sure that their high school transcripts will prepare them for college – if that is the direction they are leaning. Transcripts go beyond classes. Have your kids do volunteer work, apprenticeships, and take community classes. Not only will these things help on a transcript, but they will help your children learn more about the real world.
Don’t give up on scholarships, and don’t assume that state colleges are the cheapest way to go. If you wouldn’t consider buying a car after just looking at the one dealership closest to your home, why would you encourage your kids to treat choosing college with less care? In-state tuition rates do offer helpful savings, but sometimes private colleges give away more “free” money. Just make sure the extras like room and board at these places would be worth the cost.
It might sound like I am the college-nay-sayer. However, I have 4 kids who all talk about college, one who is planning on veterinary medical school – no small chunk of time or change invested. I think it will be wonderful for them to pursue their passions. I just think that they need to plan ahead, think realistically, and be responsible for their own debt. We plan to help where we can and we began by preparing them early for the academic challenges of high school and college. By the time our oldest graduates high school next year, she will also have completed her sophomore year of college through dual enrollment - all debt free thanks to taking advantage of post-secondary enrollment options offered in our state.
If you’re worried about how to help your kids have the best possible future, don’t assume that a bright future means defaulting on a student loan. James Poulos struggled through his own student loans and became even more determined to be responsible for paying for them, even though the education he had acquired hadn’t given him the future for which he had hoped. It does have something to do with the integrity he feels is a part of the equation. We need to teach our kids these same lessons. If it means they don’t go to college for a few years, have to study harder to earn more scholarships, or work through their higher education (like I did), the payoff will be much higher than a debt right write-off would bring.