Written after seeing a handful of reports on Facebook.
One of the main problems with our current society – in both Britain and America – is the conviction that you simply cannot rise very high without a college/university degree. This is absurd – my old job at a university library was one I could have handled before spending three years at university – but it seems that most employers are reluctant to change. On one hand, I see their point; someone prepared to spend three years studying [whatever] is likely to be motivated to do well; on the other hand, just how useful are the university courses in preparing someone for real life?
However, most youngsters go to college/university … and, because these places tend to cost money, they take out loans to go. And that is where the trouble starts.
I’ve blogged before about the difficulty in paying off my student loans when I had the money to do it (a problem caused by bureaucratic stupidity). It was a great deal harder to think about them when I was working for minimum wage, unable to pay off even the merest fraction of my debts. Those loans would have followed me for the rest of my life, if I had not managed to pay them off. Students who are unable to pay them off will have them overshadowing the rest of their lives.
This is no idle matter. Credit ratings and other such issues depend on how well you repay money you borrow. Most people just entering the job market earn minimum wage and wind up living hand to mouth. (Assuming a bare minimum wage, a person in the UK would earn roughly £1100 per month.) If you happen to want to buy something expensive – a car, a house, a computer, etc – you are going to need a loan. Bankers are not going to issue loans to people who have a poor credit rating – and having student loans depresses your credit rating. This is common sense. If you borrow money, you have an obligation to REPAY that money; if you don’t repay it, you cannot claim to be surprised when no one agrees to loan you MORE money.
I write this because of a link forwarded to me about a student loan strike. To sum up a long story, a number of students of Corinthian Colleges (a degree mill in the United States) have basically stated that they intend to refuse to repay their loans. Their manifesto states that they blame Corinthian for their problems (a quick look at Wikipedia told me that Corinthian degrees are not universally accepted in the USA) and that they will not be paying back the money they owe.
They had a bad experience, I’ll grant them that, and I am not unsympathetic, but there are two problems with their stance.
The first is that they probably don’t owe money to Corinthian, which is a degree mill, but to lenders who leant them the money in good faith. Yes, they probably were taken advantage of, yet it was not the people who leant them the money who took advantage of them. The mere fact that their educational experience was bad doesn’t change the fact that they accepted an obligation to repay the loans.
Look at it this way. If you buy a new car at £15’000, taking out a loan to do so, and you crash it the day you take it home from the garage, you are still responsible for paying back that loan even though you crashed the car. There is no such thing as a free lunch. You borrowed the money and now you have to repay it, even though the car is totalled.
The second is that they didn’t do anything resembling due diligence before signing up with Corinthian. If a simple glance at the universally-accessible Wikipedia is enough to raise red flags, a student searching for a prospective place to study should know to be careful and check what he or she was being told before signing on the dotted line. Once again, the lenders are not responsible for staggeringly bad judgement shown by students who really should be old enough to know better.
To go back to the car analogy, if you purchase a car that turns out to be a lemon, you cannot complain to the bank that loaned you the money you used to buy it. Check out everything BEFORE you sign a paper that commits you to repaying a loan.
But there is another point that should be borne in mind.
The students are almost certainly unable to pay, not just unwilling. (It might take some readers a while to see this, as their letter practically screams entitlement.) You cannot really get blood from a stone, nor can you tap someone living hand-to-mouth for money they don’t have. Leaving someone to literally starve to death because they cannot pay their way isn’t smart, not if they owe you thousands of dollars. Their death or absence from the job market will leave the bag in lender’s hands.
So tell me … why are lenders still lending to students?
I’ve seen nothing in my career, either as a librarian or a writer, that suggests that college/university degrees are actually important. Much of my university course could reasonably have been compressed down to a single year, with a little effort. Indeed, if half the stories I hear about American colleges are true, less politics and social justice would probably ensure that more students wound up with usable degrees.
My very strong advice? Learn to take some responsibility for your own life and choices. Decide what you want to do with your life, then plan your educational journey to work towards that goal. Investigate each college thoroughly and don’t let yourself get attached to any of them until you know they’re good and their students go on to good jobs. Don’t take out money unless you are prepared to pay it back – and you believe that you WILL be able to pay it back before it blows your credit rating out of the water. And don’t be afraid to jump ship and complain if your lecturers are unqualified/politically minded/useless.
And don’t blame others, no matter how easy they seem to hit, for problems you caused yourselves.