Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The Catch-22,000

This Alternet article, sent my way by Liberal Arts Dude, is a seriously eloquent and illuminating testimony from one type of person most hurt by student loans. It seems this young woman, who now owes over $70,000, had just the wrong combination of low family income, high achievement, high aspirations, and an enduring belief that more and more education would vault her over the wall into the mythical "middle class" where hours are shorter, salaries bigger, and debt no big deal:

"To be fair, I made the choices that put me in this situation. I attended an expensive university 3,000 miles from home. I stayed at that school, even though I could get a cheaper education elsewhere. I studied an impractical subject that I loved, then continued my studies at an obscure foreign university. I wasn't always aware of financial consequences.

Yet I made my choices based on the values I had been taught -- that helping others is more important than making money for yourself, meaningful career is more important than net worth, and brains, determination, and charisma are the key ingredients of success. I realize now that I subscribed to the fantasy of an equal society, when in fact everyone's options arise from class, race, gender, and a thousand other subtle differences in our experiences, assumptions, and privileges...What is writ large in corporate bankruptcies, withering federal programs and industrial outsourcing is writ small in stories of impossible choices and shattered educational dreams. The real tragedy is not that America's young people can't afford their college education -- the tragedy is that they are told their entire lives that education is their birthright and a chance to social mobility, and then are forced to watch that birthright crumble under the weight of unbearable debt."

I think this girl is totally right, and it's terrible what happened, but she also made mistakes that others can learn from. I so wish I could give everybody this news:

1. You likely don't need a graduate degree to do what you love, unless what you love is to practice medicine. (this girl decided to enter a master's program in "social change.")

2. Your first job is probably going to suck. You stuck out school for four years, so give the first job a chance for 2 years [she was "burnt out" after 6 months as a union organizer and "retreated" (her words) back to school. Big mistake.]

3. Big student loan debt is a big deal.


redante said...

Hi Anya

Many thanks for posting this. I couldn't help but feel for the young lady who authored the Alternet story. In my opinion, she mistakenly trusted in society's message that the way to social mobility and a middle class life for the working class is through education. She didn't realize (or no one advised her) of the pitfalls of relying on loans to finance your education. I agree that she made some major mistakes in terms of her personal choices which has led to her being $70K in the hole.
She fell prey to the allure of a system that preys on young peoples' dreams and aspirations of upward mobility which at the same time provides young people plenty of rope and easy opportunities with which to hang themselves. I will not to belittle or mock her like many of the people that placed comments in the Alternet article. I do think her coming out in public with her story took a lot of courage. It also serves as a valuable public service and a reminder to young people out there -- especially smart, ambitious, working class young adults who are first-generation college students -- that the system is full of traps and if you are not careful it will swallow you up. It will encourage you and make it very easy to sign away and mortgage your future and is not averse to preying on the dreams, aspirations, naivete, and inexperience of young people.

A. Lin said...

My cousin just signed on with a major corporation after graduating in May with a degree in Computer Science. His classmates with the same degree are going to go for their masters. The inside scoop is that once they have their masters this same corporation won't hire them because3 they put master's degree graduates at a higher "band" that requires a good deal of experience. My cousin will wait and see about getting his masters as he is working on this job.

And, of course, as he pays back his loans.