An Argument Against Student Debt and the Price of Education

There is no way to justify the exorbitant price of college education in the United States. Something seriously wrong exists in the way the entire business of academia conducts itself if students must contemplate spending years clearing their names of debt before they even get a job. The price of education should allow the institutions to receive some return, but it should not allow that return at the price of the student’s employability and professional life.

The Necessity of College Degrees in the Modern Market

There are people who put themselves in debt from a combination of bad life choices, irresponsible spending, and excessive indulgence in luxury. For these people to be saddled with debt and then served with the consequence of working it off makes sense because they’ve made a conscious and voluntary decision to spend money that they do not have.

While it is true that college education is optional in the case of the student, the overt and ubiquitous credentialism of the United States means that a college education is an essential part of landing a conventional job anywhere. To earn a competitive salary and a stable job usually requires one to enter into a four year program at a college or university.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows this trend more obviously in its reporting of the relative rates of unemployment across college graduates and high school graduates that have not attended college. It is a difference of 2.5% in comparison to 5.3% respectively, showing that the unemployment rate of high school graduates not attending college is double that of college graduates.

I believe most reasonable people would concede the point that getting a college degree opens up significantly greater prospects for any individual. So, it is not a stretch to say that students must take on considerable amounts of debt in pursuit of a career that will be profitable as well as stable with a degree of economic mobility in the long run. If we accept that premise, then it follows that the debt that students must take on loans as a matter of becoming employable.

Necessary Debts Are No Different From Indentured Servitude

In other words, they have no choice but to put themselves in debt if they intend to have a future. Now, taking on debts does not constitute anything debatable in itself. The problem arises when there are reports from various media outlets on the fact that it takes the average college graduate around 20 years to pay off that debt. This implies that students must continuously pay off their entry ticket into the workplace for 20 years before they are absolved.

This prospect is honestly not too far off from indentured servitude, a historical form of contractual agreement where people agreed to work for a set amount of time in exchange for some sort of benefit. In the past, indentured servitude represented a way for impoverished Europeans to pay off the price of immigrating to the United States. Of course, this practice is presently categorized as slavery and as an affront to human rights.

Things have just been renamed to make the concept more palatable. You pay the university an amount so large that you will have to spend a decent portion of your life to crawl out of debt, then you also pay the bank interest for borrowing their money over time. Putting yourself in debt is necessary to gain the benefit of employability.

The Usual Counterarguments

Many will probably see an issue with drawing an equivalency between indentured servitude and simply paying off your loans to a bank because of the degree of choice you have to take on loans, and the manageability of most debts. The idea that student loans are reasonably priced and that they can be paid off at a rate that doesn’t crush your financial future is one that is commonly cited by conservative commentators bringing up generic arguments on the issue. You know, the line of thought that goes “Millennials are too entitled. They should take responsibility for choosing expensive colleges,” and “There’s plenty of ways to pay off student loan debt if you choose the right career and work hard.”

While the conservative viewpoint that espouses prudence when making financial choices and advises hard work to overcome financial obstacles represents a respectable principle and something to aspire towards, reducing student loans to the responsibility of the student induces a sort of myopia with respect to the responsibility of colleges and universities to set reasonable market prices.

Saying that the government shouldn’t get involved in subsidizing student loans to the extent of bailing students out might be reasonable, but saying that the student debt crisis is a circumstance brought solely upon students by their own lack of foresight is a bit disingenuous.

This is to say that one can use the idea that prudence and hard work and apply it to any amount of student debt. For instance, everyone would probably agree that universities charging $500,000 for a four year education would be exploitative. But you can apply any of the conservative viewpoints in the above article to dismiss it by saying something like “If students budget reasonably at $300 a month they might be eventually able to pay it off” and “You’re unable to pay off a student loan because you didn’t invest in the right major.” Though it sounds absurd at this point.

The deeper issue here is the breaking point, where is the price where people start to consider a college education too expensive in comparison to the benefits it grants. Further, colleges should not be putting people in that position, but it is a reality nonetheless. We should all think about whether coming out $20,000, $100,000 in debt, or maybe more should be worrisome for the future financial lives of recent graduates.


Written by richardkyu May 8th, 2018