The Contrarian: An Education

When I was in high school, I applied to three four-year colleges, two private, one public, keeping in mind what sort of monetary clout I was working with and how that would effect my decision regarding what would be best for me in terms of my education and my ability to reap its benefits without an oppressing cloud of debt following me around the rest of my life. Luckily for me, keeping in mind my monetary clout was largely stewarded by parents whose main priority was setting up their spoiled child (unaware of the toils and tribulations associated with needing money) with a degree, so I honestly had no idea what I was getting into.

I had no idea why we were filling out a FAFSA form, how an automated monthly loan payment system worked, or how loan consolidation worked. All I knew is that the entirely of my high school education was dedicated to preparing for college in the only way I knew how: I made Honor Roll every semester, joined the National Honor Society, bulked up on extracurriculars (two competitive choirs, the Gifted and Talented Visual Arts Program, the senior musical, Future Problem Solvers and several more I can no longer recall), forwent “Senior Study” so I could take the full schedule of AP classes, studied enough between SATs that my score went up 150 points, fussed over my rank at its calculation each year, and graduated with a cumulative GPA of 3.7. Scholarship guaranteed.

With great thanks to my parents, I was innocent to the idea of student loan debt, but had a slight understanding of the factors that would play into deciding that school I would go to. Years later, I have a better idea of how F’ed my peers and I are in regards to the loans we took out to obtain the income that continues to elude us in this weak economy and atrocious job market. On top of a large inability to concentrate on paying off loan debt (finding a job and eating tend to take priority), the confusion regarding the various provisions meant to alleviate the looming burden and educate on the best practices obscures the mutual effectiveness of reconciling these affairs.

Last Wednesday, President Obama announced plans for new programs meant to ease the burden of student loans. For students graduating next year and thereafter, the applied provisions mean to lower monthly payments based on income (it is being called a “Pay As You Earn” type of program); for students with “a mix of direct federal loans and loans under the old Federal Family Education Loan Program,” the program provides the opportunity to consolidate these loans at a lower interest rate.

Having graduated two years ago, I’d like to suspend reality a little and write the President for a request to grant me all these applications under a “Grandfather Clause.”

How much lower of an interest rate for past graduates is not entirely clear at this time. Do all the research you want and see how relieved you can possibly be. The intentions behind the implementation of these programs, however broad in scope, are more discernible. This country cannot afford to have everyone in debt, and it cannot afford to make it difficult for people to afford a degree. A Bachelor’s degree is the new high school diploma, and the base line for education is placing more and more people in loan debt, people who are still having trouble finding jobs that match their once-qualifying credentials.

Recently, I came across a beautiful photograph of the Occupy Wall Street Movement featuring two little cherubic girls holding signs made of cardboard. Their signs read something to the effect that their parents will have trouble figuring out a proper payment plan, let alone actually pay, for the eventual education for their children, because they are still so knee-deep in their own student debt, ending with the now customary “We are the 99 percent.”

According to The College Board, the national average for attending a public four-year college has increased 8.3 percent as of this fall, and 4.3 percent for private colleges. This increase is being attributed to recent cuts in federal grants and tax benefits.

On this information alone, the parents of those little girls (the girls themselves surely have no idea what their signs mean) are correct in lamenting the present and future financial toll a college education takes. A lowered interest rate sounds great , but with this increase in tuition costs, it more than balances out. Additionally, private loans will incur no changes as a result of these “new” provisions of which Obama speaks; most people affected by student loan debt have at least a portion of their loans taken out privately.

However, an anonymous comment made a good point; the parents of those children should have been more educated about their decisions regarding their loans and what sort of financial burden they would carry into the lives of their future children. Maybe they were, maybe they were not adequately informed, but more emphasis should be placed financial preparedness, both monetarily and intellectually.

As of Oct. 29, all colleges are required to post a “net price calculator” on their websites that will help students and their families figure out how much freshman year will most likely cost. So far, this is the most concrete improvement on the movement to relieve the heavy burden of student loans.

Education yields education. Always.