Student Loan Structure Changes Change the Way Students Dream

James Edmonds | Staff Writer

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One of the most exciting things about meeting new people in college is talking to them about their goals and their dreams. Even seemingly quiet students will light up and tell you excitedly about the non-profit for at-risk teens they really want to start, or the biomedical technology corporation they want to build and make thrive over the next fifteen years. Some will tell you they don’t plan on jumping immediately into chasing their dreams because they plan on studying in post-graduate programs to gain the experience they need to become a lawyer, doctor or professor. What all of these dreams have in common, though, is they’re becoming more difficult to reach because of recent congressional actions.

According to an Oct. 30 article in the Boston Herald, graduate loans will not defer interest until after graduation from now on. Those who dreamed of being a lawyer or professor will have to face the choice of finding something menial and mentally unchallenging to pay their bills and save up until they can consider graduate school without breaking the bank or facing constant growth of their debts throughout the duration of their studies. Undergraduate loans could follow suit shortly.

Another part of the 2012 budget changes effected recently by the Senate is the elimination of the six month grace period after graduation when it comes to paying back student loans. We no longer have six months to find a job. We will be expected to take whatever opportunities present themselves to us so that we can make ends meet long enough to get out of debt. While these may be extreme examples, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that the student who dreams of opening a non-profit to help change their community might start out their professional career making coffee for the local Bank of America manager (which will be followed by 8 hours of wallowing in self-loathing each weekday) until they can pay off enough of their loans to feel secure enough financially to take the risks associated with starting up a non-profit. It’s possible, and even likely, that the student who dreams of erecting a biomedical technology empire from the ground up will start out selling someone else’s creations when they could be improving our quality of life, because they don’t have the 6 months to set up their own research and production staff.

While those examples of effects of the structural changes in federal student loans may only involve individual cases, these changes will affect a huge number of people across the nation. According to Finaid.org, two-thirds of all undergraduate students borrow significant amounts of money to pay their way through college. The average student graduates with about $25,000 in debt. Both the percentage and the average indebtedness have risen rapidly over the past decade, and are still on their way up. Even in the generation before ours, middle and lower class students struggled to make good on their student debts after graduation. Failure isn’t an option when it comes to paying off student loans; declaring bankruptcy doesn’t exempt a person from their student loans.

According to Dr. Colleen Reilly of the UNCW English Department, two of her peers from graduate school had to declare bankruptcy even after earning positions as tenure-track faculty due to their student loan burdens. She also said a colleague of hers from conferences had to do the same. If stable jobs weren’t a guarantee that students who have to borrow to complete their studies would be able to pay off those loans comfortably in the past, how can anyone (excepting students from wealthy backgrounds, and lottery winners) expect to be able to pay off their student debts without facing hardship after these recent changes?

Please don’t think I am telling you that if you have taken out student loans, you have to put your dreams on hold. That is absolutely not the point I had in mind, but rather that a lot of students who took out loans will have to put their dreams on hold because of the bleak outlook of their financial situation with student loan payments impending.

I usually like to offer a solution step when I point out an issue, because to point to an issue and say, “that is an issue” without offering a solution seems similar to drawing an arrow to a math test question and saying, “that’s a problem.” In this case I don’t feel like there is a clear solution. I’d like to invite you to offer ideas though. I’m genuinely interested in hearing your perspective on the issue and thoughts about possible solutions. I hope you’ll take the time to write a letter to the editor on The Seahawk’s website (theseahawk.org), tweet your idea to The Seahawk (@TheSeahawk), comment in the section below, or Facebook us. (facebook.com/TheSeahawk)