I'm a person that paid off a good amount of student loan debt and doesn't actually work in the profession I have a degree for. I feel like I have a pretty unique perspective on student loans and their value, mostly because I make much more money now than I did in my original career.
I guess the burning question for me and a lot of millennials is this:
Are student loans still worth it?
To put it delicately – millennials are freaking pissed off about their student loans. I can't tell you how many times I get semi-angry emails from people that have seen this site on Yahoo or CNBC. Most of the time they have stories about $100,000+ of student loan debt that they are completely drowning in and have no idea what to do.
I'll actually NEVER forget the first one I received, because it changed my entire perspective on student loans. At the time I was still a band director, and a woman sent me a message that read like this:
“I have $250,000 in student loan debt, and can't afford to make the minimum payments on any of them. I have no idea what to do; can you help?”
Stumped doesn't even begin to describe it, because I literally had no idea what to say. I *think* the response I gave was something like: “Don't give up, you can do it!” :)…which is a totally BS answer.
I wish I could go back, because now I would tell her to research income based repayment options and/or communicate with her creditors about the situation to get organized and stop the collector phone calls.
If she emailed me now I could have actually helped her with good tips and a strategy. *sigh*
There is a misconception about student loan debt and the vast majority of people that have them.
A lot of people would look at the above story and say something about how foolish she was for taking out that much in student loans. I used to be that way – but the reality is that most people are just doing what they thought they were supposed to do when they signed their name on the dotted line.
You can choose to call people like her dumb and brush it off as she's getting what she deserves, but that would make you an @$$hole (sorry). It's also completely non-helpful in a situation that may eventually have an effect on everyone in the near future.
The days of parents with student loans helping their kids take out student loans are here, and it should scare the crap out of you whether you have loans or not.
As a teacher, I freaking WATCHED 16 year olds get pushed towards college without any idea how to pay for it. I saw 10 year olds habitually bombarded by college advertisements in the hallways. I excused kids from class to go to college acceptance parties for seniors.
They were about to take on mortgage-level debt while the school gave them cake and celebrated.
“People with student loans made the decision as adults, so they should deal with the consequences”.
That statement that I see very often would be fine if the majority of people that took out student loans actually made that choice after the age of 18. However, they don't. If you think the former is the case then you have never been around 17-year olds struggling to fill out a FAFSA form with zero help from their parents or teachers.
But…student loans DO still have value.
With all that said, I still believe in the process. There is nothing wrong or shameful about being educated. However, newer student loan borrowers need to be strategic AF when they take out loans and choose their career with the long term in mind.
That starts with honesty about life from public schools instead of dream-pushing paired with a horrific lack of financial education.
Don't wait for the problem to fix itself.
College costs have increased exponentially over the past few decades and easily outpace inflation. Instead of waiting for the financial burden to get so out of hand that it literally forces people to opt for community college or trade jobs – we can all do our part to steer young people in a better (and more honest) direction.
As a society, we need to stop telling kids that they can be whatever they want in life while pushing them towards degrees that don't have jobs at the end of the journey. If you know a young person that is figuring out what college they're going to – do them a favor and be real with them.
The next generation needs to hear the reality that the market doesn't care about their dreams. It cares about how well they can produce. Period. If they can produce while following their dreams, that's totally cool and they should pursue it (I'm a good example).
Student loans can still be a great investment, but they shouldn't be presented as the only choice. Right?