A personal essay on the college debt crisis in America
College has become a fixed subject to me. I know that no matter how much I might debate it, or how little I think it will help me decide on a career or perhaps how much money it will take from my savings and debt-free living, that I will attend it. I can’t really tell why just that I know it’s something I need to do. I can’t tell if I was socialized to believe that I have to have a degree to be successful or if it’s my self-sabotage already trying to put me in debt. I know that I can’t afford a degree. I also know that I cannot afford to live without it.
We have created somewhat of a safety net for high school graduates that come from poverty. This comes in the form of scholarships and financial aid, but the main problem of these helpful practices is the application process. Some of these scholarships require playing sports, being a first-generation college student or having excellent SAT scores. It’s my understanding that you won’t be able to afford college if you don’t fit into at least some of these scholarship categories. It’s terrifying to think about accumulating debt a year after you’re legally an adult. According to Nitro College, the average student debt payment per month is $393 which is more than I have in my bank account. Further down the article, there is a graph that shows how tuition, room, and board have only been rising, leading me to believe that I need to save up significantly in order to not have to take out student loans.
I often ask myself why I should even go to college. When you look up “why you should attend college” into a google search bar, the first article is titled “5 reasons your teen should go to college”, in which two reasons are “make more money” and “have more opportunities”. It’s hard to say no when presented with data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that on average, people with college degrees make $1856 more a month than those with high school diplomas. With rising living costs, people need to prepare themselves with the highest salary they can manage and if that means going into debt first, it can almost seem worth the risk when the reward for getting a high school diploma is the opportunity to work for the rest of your life.
In its entirety, college was created to be unattainable. It was meant to be for ministers, then after the American revolution broadened the university’s spectrum to include the ministry, medicine, and law, according to The History of Higher Education in the U.S., an article by Cleary University. These careers, for all intents and purposes, are above the rest of the population. Better than, making more money than, holier than the middle-class workers that had trade jobs and repetitive work. Today, the belief is that you will never have a job that you love, that makes enough money to support you and your family unless you attend college and get a degree. Largely, this is even true if you consider that the minimum wage is not synonymous with a livable wage and people living in poverty often have to take up second and third jobs because of how little the government is willing to help them.
College is designed to be the middle of the ocean and the government is only throwing out flotation devices to the people that would drown without it. The 1% is already in a yacht and the middle class is meant to just tread water. We are expected to remain swimming in the same spot despite rising living costs that threaten to sink us. In an article from Market Watch, it states that “average monthly rents have risen 28% over the last 10 years,” as has insurance premiums and gas costs and even though the median wage has increased when you account for the rise in living costs, real wages actually declined by 1.3%. There is hardly anything you can do when rent increases if you’re working off of a fixed paycheck, that is why it seems so important to have a degree so that you can start off with a higher-paying job rather than to try and claw your way up the ranks through nothing but back-breaking work.
College seems like an inescapable obstacle that you must tackle in order to be a successful human. It seems like a requirement to even stay afloat as a human. Without a degree, you’re not making as much money. Without a degree, you’re going into work directly after college and will probably never save enough money to retire. Without a degree, there’s nothing to lead you into a career. I have no idea how people live without a degree, but it seems just as hard as living with the debt of getting one.
Nitro College. “Average Student Loan Debt in the U.S. - 2019 Statistics.” Nitro, www.nitrocollege.com/research/average-student-loan-debt.
Cleary University. “History of Higher Education in the U.S.” Cleary University, 7 Jan. 2016, www.cleary.edu/international/history-of-he/.
Staff, GreatSchools.“5 Reasons Your Teen Should Go to College.” Parenting, 23 Aug. 2018, www.greatschools.org/gk/articles/cb-extras-1-2-havecollegetalknow/.
Paul, Kari, and Quentin Fottrell. “The No. 1 Reason You're Still Broke Even If You Received a Pay Raise Last Year.” MarketWatch, 20 Jan. 2019, www.marketwatch.com/story/despite-wage-growth-the- average-american-suffers-as-cost-of-living-rises-at-a-faster-pace-2019-01-10.