by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Megan Arnold writes for the Martin Center about a group hit particularly hard by student loan debt.
I can’t remember a single alternative to college proposed to me, for me, my entire school-age life. That I would go to college after high school was presented by adults and taken by me as a given.
How I would pay for it was always a thing to be figured out later. My mom had a modest state-based Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) account for me; it was assumed I would be awarded some merit-based scholarships, and whatever remained could be paid for with student loans. I started college in 2008; my freshman year required all of the TAP funds, a chunk of my mom’s 401k, a Pell Grant, federal loans, and a private loan.
Oh, and I guess I did get $750 from the school for academic achievement.
My story is an all-too-common one; the public policy of American higher education has left over 100,000 25-39 year-olds with some college, no degree, and, most likely, significant debt. Yet, in policy discussions, we rarely hear from this group. The problem goes deeper than student loan forgiveness. …
… Sometimes I think back to my freshman year of high school when the vocational/technical school gave a presentation to encourage students to sign up for vo-tech. I felt inspired by it and talked to my parents about their culinary program that night. The response I received wasn’t exactly “you’re too good to learn a skilled trade; you’re going to go to college,” but that’s what I took away from it. The next year, I doubled up in science and honors classes and chose extracurriculars that would boost my college application.
I have no interest in avoiding accountability for the decisions I made that got me to where I am: in debt, living at home, and without an undergraduate degree to show for it. For her part, my mom regrets enabling or not challenging my insistence to go deeper into debt.
But I have to give myself some space to reflect (or deflect) that the amount of foresight and self-knowledge required here is a bit of an unreasonable ask of 18 year-olds. They have been told that they’re bright for their entire lives and they must go to college so they can succeed—which, it turns out, was also a lie.