Student debt has almost become a pejorative term at this point, and is denounced by many as being not worth the degree. Whether or not the debt is worth it is to be discussed, and ultimately to some extent a matter of personal preference, but there is no getting away from the fact that student debts are mounting and becoming increasingly difficult to justify. Debts to the level where it can have poisonous effects on the rest of people’s lives, and all from a decision we make at such a young age.
Americans in 2018 graduated with an average debt of $29,000, with some of those having parents who took out debts of around $35,000 in federal parent plus loans. This is a significant amount, which doesn’t include the costs of food, studying resources and housing. Graduates are expected to have double lifetime earnings on average than high school graduates, though it can vary widely depending on the major. However, when opportunity cost is factored in – the time during college that could have been spent working and gaining experience – then suddenly gaining $80,000 in debt for higher future earnings may not always be the right choice.
Regardless of which option has a greater monetary outcome on aggregate, there is also a cost to our creativity. When 60% of student debt recipients are expected to finish paying off their loans in their 40s, then steady employment, particularly once already gained, is the sensible option. Ultimately, one is less likely to start up a company when you have student debt. The burden of debt tends to be a driving force towards traditional careers, which can be either good or bad depending on the person. Entrepreneurship though is something that we should place a greater value on. Not only is it an expression of hard work, creativity and ambition, but small businesses are the basis of most developed economies and heavily drives demand. Taking risks is a great way to grow as an individual as well as being great for social mobility, but the appetite to take such risks is stifled by debts.
In this sense, taking on student debt is the antithesis of the American dream, and is to concede to a life (for the most part) of employment. While this may be fine for some, it’s strange that this is incentive for the brightest youngsters in an economy – a perverse paradigm. It also goes against the new movement of financial independence, which promotes living debt free in order to save up enough wealth to retire, and be free from.
If the loan repayments weren’t already enough of a burden for your future self, then just dealing with lenders can be off putting enough. Student loan recipients complained to a federal watchdog over 12,000 times in 2017. Such problems were surrounding things such as attempts to consolidate federal loans and accessing promised rewards from companies, such as lower interest rates.
With student debt in America reaching $1.25 trillion in 2018, the accumulation of debt is drawing parallels to the 2008 mortgage crisis. Much of the premium on the student loans is actually the risk of the student not graduating, too. It is entirely possible scenario to mount up $10,000 in student loans, fail to graduate, cannot turn to bankruptcy yet only have the wage opportunities of a high school graduate.
It is objectively a risk-seeking attitude that taking on large amounts of debt without substantial capital and highly probable future earnings in place. Conventionally, the narratives around this behaviour is to determine it as highly risk-seeking, but it is strange that this isn’t the case when it is framed as student loan debt. The power of it being a culturally normal thing to do can blind us from an objective and rational decision about it. The probabilities of not acquiring a high paying job should be more realistically analysed, and coupled with the opportunity costs. It also seems the possible direct and opportunity costs of college loans are drastically underestimated, and are suitable for a fewer number of individuals than commonly believed.