Liquid Ink

The official website of Gint Aras, Finalist 2016 CWA Book Award

Student debt

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Something occurs to me about the rhetoric regarding American student debt, and the question about whether college is worth the price. Not to oversimplify, but there seem to be two general sides to the argument. One suggests students should have to pay a high price for a good education; if not, they might become irresponsible and take opportunities for granted. The other suggests college should be cheaper than it is, an opportunity expanded to more people. Both sides, however, repeat some variation of this phrase over and again: “saddling our children with debt”.

The assumption behind this rhetoric is curious. It seems we’ve finally gotten to the point (perhaps we’ve been at this point for so long that it’s become standard fare) where we expect our children, having attained adult age, to raise themselves. Because the phrase people are throwing around is not “saddling the parents of college students with debt.” That phrase just doesn’t come up. Am I sure that parents across the country are paying their kids’ debts? Without question. But what does this rhetoric reveal about us? How many of us expect a young person in her 20’s to navigate this (asinine, confusing and downright idiotic) labyrinth we’ve constructed between high school and a professional career? Start saving for college, kid. Because it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there.

I wish there were a way to figure out how many American parents fit which category. Their child comes to them with news. “Dad, mom! I can’t believe it! I got into Yale!” Their possible responses:

1.) That’s wonderful. What an opportunity. Register and focus on your studies. Your mother and I will find a way to pay.
2.) Well, sonny, we just can’t afford it. If you want to go, it’s on you. We’ll have to sit down now and show you how much you’ll have to borrow to go there. Here are the numbers, and here’s how long it’ll take you to pay back this debt for your education. Don’t expect us to do it.
3.) Yale? Are you nuts? There’s a community college down the street where you can pay for classes by driving pizzas on the weekend. Get a job, and get these delusions out of your head.

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