Student loan obligations are making it difficult for many university graduates to financially get their feet on the ground.
Higher education can be an investment in the future, but sometimes that future doesn’t look so bright for students who have accumulated large debts from student loans.
It’s one more factor in keeping higher education affordable for middle class students who don’t qualify for scholarship aid.
A recent Journal-World story looked at the case of a Kansas University student who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English and about $60,000 in debt. He’s now working full time at a local bookstore. He likes his job and it includes benefits, but the only way he can make ends meet is for his mother to pay half his $560 monthly loan payment.
Obviously, this student is not alone, especially in the current depressed job market. Too many students borrow money while they’re in school without a clear picture of how much their subsequent loan payments will be or whether they will be able to afford those payments on the salary they can expect to earn.
Student loan decisions are primarily the responsibility of students and their families, but Kansas University and the federal programs that support these loans should have a responsibility not to make it too easy for students to accumulate a debt that will be difficult to pay off. Making sure to alert students to the financial commitment they are making is the first step, but lenders also need to be realistic about the loans they are making.
Because it’s almost impossible for students to get out from under their loan debt by declaring bankruptcy, a key element of risk has been eliminated for the lenders. They know they will get most of their money back one way or another. That makes it a lot easier for them to make the loans without a realistic evaluation of the borrower’s ability to repay the loan. A university degree could be considered collateral for a loan in that it supposedly enhances a person’s earning potential, but some degrees offer more potential than others, especially in this economy.
So what’s the bottom line? For too many students, the debt they incurred make them wonder, as our bookstore employee does, whether they should have gone to college at all. Tales like his serve as a cautionary tale — or even a strong deterrent — for students trying to decide whether to pursue a university degree.
Some of those students may choose to attend less expensive community colleges to earn freshman and sophomore credits or pursue an associate’s degree that has strong job potential. For some of them, that would be a good choice, but for others, it could be a significant loss not only for themselves but also for the state, which needs a work force that includes people with bachelor’s and advanced degrees.
The situation is something that should give state universities — and the legislators considering funding for those schools — food for thought. Growing costs are putting university degrees out of reach for many Kansas students. Increased scholarship money can help, but increased loans are a burden that can drag students down for years after they leave school.