A New Perspective on Education Costs

Nastassia Davis [www.nastassiadavis.com] / Foter.com / CC BY-NC

I recently read a Chronicle article discussing how student loan debt, specifically private debt, is going to seriously affect the economy. Once upon a time, someone with a college degree was almost guaranteed to own their own home. Now, the exorbitant total-cost of higher education, coupled with the fact that wages haven’t risen, means college-educated folks are too scared to buy a home, or car, or ANYTHING, because we can’t afford it.

I’ve been lucky that I was able to pay for my degrees with Federal loans–the total dollar amount is staggering, but I am lucky enough to qualify for Income-Based Repayment and my payments are manageable. Ellie however, had to float almost her entire MSW on private loans (her B.A. & M.A.T. are essentially paid for). There is no flexibility in the payment, and neither the total dollar amount nor the monthly payment are considered when trying to do something like apply for income-based repayment so you can qualify for the public service loan forgiveness (long story, ask and I’ll regale you with the tale of 6 drama-filled months of emails, phone calls, and tears that happened during the same time-frame as we were trying to finalize the wedding. trust me, you don’t want to miss that!).

As we’ve gathered documents to apply for a mortgage, it struck me that we’re ALREADY PAYING A MORTGAGE, at significantly higher interest rates. I’m surprised that little tidbit didn’t hit me sooner. As difficult as it is to believe we will soon be homeowners, it’s harder to believe that this:

Our new house!!

Our new house!!

Costs only a little more than these (pretend there is another diploma here to represent Ellie’s MSW):

My B.A. & M.S. diplomas.

My B.A. & M.S. diplomas

An education is important; I would be a poor educator if I believed these pieces of paper were worthless, please don’t get me wrong. Is it worth all the struggle and hardship people my age and the current generation (I’m barely GenX) are/will experience though? Between federal and private loans, Ellie pays almost half of our mortgage each month–that means we are technically paying for a mortgage and a half. I still vividly remember the political cartoon of a student moving back home to his miss-understanding parents. Did you realize that was drawn 7 years ago?? That’s pretty messed up.

Honestly, I think everyone’s to blame for this–Americans have placed higher education on such a high, golden pedestal that it now trumps all other things, including the so-called American Dream. This heightened worth has allowed schools to jack up the cost and private loan providers to take advantage because federal loan limits are too low, or student’s don’t know enough about taking out loans. Conversations, like in the article above, are happening, but I wonder how/when change will happen–and in what form that change will occur.

I really wonder about the magic Ellie and I could do if her private loans offered an IBR payment option.

Do you or anyone you know have private loan debt that’s holding you/them back? What would you do/where would you be if your student debt (private or federal) wasn’t so large?