Student loans ruined my relationship with money. It ripped out executive functioning of the prefrontal cortex, spit, stomped, and rolled it flat with a rolling pin. The critical-thinking components died an unfriendly, brief death. Suddenly, I couldn’t think straight or make sense of the “cost” of anything. I was the walking automaton with a mantra that wouldn’t stop: click, swipe, buy, repeat.
When you own nothing, the bank owns you. The lack of money became a thief of sleep, calm, and patience. This emotional vertigo sucked the fun out of future-oriented goals and dreams, as everything had reservations: lives comprised from decades by debt. In this confusing, cyclical spin, I temporarily lost the clarity that can be found within goals.
New questions refused to leave me alone. Why did I pursue this route in the first place? How will I possibly pay this off? Who can actually help me if something goes wrong? Where do I go for objective advice and feedback?
Then came questions about aging. How old will I be when the debt is done? What age will I be when I retire? How will I retire? Will I ever retire? How can, potentially, six-figures of student loan debt be paid off?
Lastly, were the questions about life and debt. What happens to my debt if I die before paying it off? Will it be passed on to a spouse, child, etc.? What if I left the country and never came back? What would I do if I got injured and either missed or was no longer able to make loan payments?
I briefly considered debt forgiveness plans. In some circumstances and areas of study, the federal government “forgives” debt after on-time payments after agreed upon periods of time. Debt forgiveness would allow me to wipe the slate clean, and be free faster. But I couldn’t wrap my head around the concern that might come from not graduating or being able to pay on time. What if something/anything interrupted my plans?
Debt is the ultimate restriction of freedom. From dreams at night to dreams of the future, debt knows no boundaries. It doesn’t politely wait for your day to begin or end. It’s the constant burbling and gurgling noise that confuses focus. And I’d be shocked if debt doesn’t restrain students’ ability to study and proficiently pass through school.
Nobody deserves this discomfort and stress. While many parents fork over gigantic savings for their children to attend college, countless undergraduate students pay their own way. As a culture, we’ve exalted the role of higher education and repeatedly shown statistics for success. “You’ll make more over your life as a college graduate,” they say. And they’re right, most people do.
Unfortunately, not everyone can or will take the same path. What if you aren’t excelling in college and decide to drop out? What if you get hurt in the four years of college? What if, what if, what if…?
For every student that decides to pay their own way through college, they take a leap of faith in themselves. Our culture admires their choice, risk, and self-investment. But despite this admiration, we do not reward them by heavily subsidizing their educations. Instead, we enshrine them in debt bubbles that are ready to burst.
Debt becomes the great opportunity maker; unfairly, as only some of us will carry this burden and it totals over $1.2 trillion.
As a country, we need to attack this debt — the wealthy and impoverished, together. The United States should be a leader in education for the masses. Between 5 and 18, we suggest that people deserve it. We say it’s a right. Children should receive a rounded education. Then, you graduate high school and — poof! — the right becomes a privilege afforded to the wealthiest among us.
To solve the debt crisis, we must rethink the entire privilege-based system of higher education in America. Fundamentally, we need to wrap our heads around our economic needs for an educated, working-age populace. The immoral shackles of debt that we place on hardworking students shouldn’t exist.