I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how I got to the place that I am at with my student debt. Exactly what were the things that I did that got me to where I am today? What other people and organizations were involved? How much of the responsibility for my situation is wholly mine, and how much warrants sharing?
I do a lot of research on student debt. I’m always looking for better and more complete statistics on the state of student debt today. I’m having trouble finding statistics on graduates with BA degrees that have more than $30,500 in debt. According to a study from Collegeboard Advocacy and policy center that is the cutoff point in their statistics for BA graduates with the highest debt. That doesn’t mean that that is the high water mark for student debt, it just means that the number of graduates with more than that amount is small enough that it doesn’t warrant including a specific higher number in the statistics.
According to Collegeboard the BA graduates with the most debt are those that went to for profit four year schools with 53% graduating with $30,500 in debt or more. This is followed by private not for profit schools with 24% graduating with that much debt, and of graduates from public four year schools, only 12% finished with a debt load that high.
Those are great statistics to know, and they reinforce that student debt is a growing problem in this country, but I want to see specific statistics on graduates with $50,000, $100,000, and $150,000 in debt as well, since I am in that category. I know why these statistics are hard to find. Most people that graduate with anything like that much debt have usually completed an advanced degree, such as a medical or law degree, not just a BA. I went to culinary school, and managed to accumulate that much debt in three years rather than four. I am still baffled as to the justification of the outrageous cost of the culinary school that I went to. I take full responsibility for this. However it is hard to assess the true reputation of a particular trade school from outside the industry. I took my schools word that they were well respected and that the cost of the school was reflective of the type of salary I could expect to get as a result of going there.
Today I feel like this was an outright lie.
The only justification for the massive increase in school costs in the past ten years is that it is enormously profitable to both the schools and the organizations providing the financing that is required to pay for the schools. Student loans are simply to easy to get. Don’t ge me wrong here. I believe that education is worth paying for and I wouldn’t begrudge anyone the right to get an education, but the current system is not set up to benefit the students; it is set up to benefit from them.
I started sign loan papers when I was 18 years old. My previous experience with any type of credit at all was a $500 limit credit card that I racked up to $800 dollars and managed to settle for about $200. My entire credit history was a black smudge on my credit report, but Sallie Mae stepped right up an handed me $6000 for school, virtually no questions asked. Yes, I had to do online loan counseling, but to be honest, that barely registers in my memory and I certainly don’t feel that it in any way prepared me for the realities of graduating with a large amount of student debt.
The story was the same a couple of years later when my federal aid wouldn’t quite cover the cost of school and I sought out a private student loan from my bank. I applied online and in a few clicks school costs were covered.
Should it even be this easy to get so much money on credit? Especially with virtually no credit history, other than other student loans?
Yet a couple of years later and I was again changing schools, this time to culinary school, something that I thought would be a gateway to a high paying job and a satisfying career (for the record, I still believe that it will be exactly that, the only thing that has changed is my understanding of what will be required from me), and once again, there was an organization ready to put a huge amount of money at my disposal virtually hassle free. That is one thing that I can say for sure about getting student loans, it’s easier than getting a pre-approved credit card; there are always organizations ready to throw debt that they know there will be no way out of at you.
If you take nothing else from me, take this. Do all of your homework before borrowing money to pay for school, know, implicitly, what you are getting yourself into. Know that there is virtually no way out of it, and your lender isn’t likely to tell you that. Education is the best investment that you can make, but like all investments, the decision should be made very carefully.