Dodging the Tuition Debt Bullet

 

Anna Hunt

Activist Post

In the US, a college education is so insanely unaffordable that only the wealthiest students from the wealthiest of families, or the ones fortunate to have been granted full scholarship, can afford to go to school without racking up tens of thousands of dollars in debt.

Some – for example PhDs and medical students – will enter the work force with the burden of a six-figure student loan debt. As a result of high tuition fees in the US, the student loan debt stands at about $1.2 trillion and is the second-highest form of consumer debt in the country. The US Institute for College Access and Success reports that two-thirds of today’s students will leave college in significant debt, estimated to average at $26,600.

These staggering statistics make it difficult to realize that many colleges in the US were either free or very inexpensive only a few decades ago. In 1970, average tuition and fees for a 4-year state university averaged around $500 for a public school and $1,900 for a private institution. In the 2013-2014 school year, in-state tuitions averaged about $9,000 for a public 4-year university and $30,000 for a private 4-year school. None of these fees include room and board, books, supplies and other living expenses. As a result, young adults graduating from college start their careers under pressure to find a good-paying job because they are already buried under mounds of debt.

Interestingly, many countries throughout Europe either offer free higher education or place a cap of what universities can charge.

The notable exception is the UK, whose government lifted the £3,000 tuition fee cap in 2010, resulting in many students now failing to pay back student loans at such rates that it seems to be costing the UK government more money than they would have saved keeping the cap system in place, as reported by The Guardian. Despite this, the UK tuition fees are still capped at $14,550 per year, a fee that many (wealthier) parents of American students would gladly pay.

On the other end of the spectrum, Germany has recently abolished tuition fees, which were already extremely low, making higher education free throughout the entire country. In Germany, the government has been committed to making higher education universally available to everyone.

Although the Constitutional Court ruled in 2006 that limited fees and loans were allowed, the motion proved unpopular and German states that allowed fees for a short few years once again made them unlawful. Even during the timeframe when Germans had to pay for undergraduate study, tuition fees were completely reasonable – if you’re from the US – at around EURO500 (~$630) per semester.

We got rid of tuition fees because we do not want higher education which depends on the wealth of the parents. ~ Gabrielle Heinen-Kjajic, Minister for Science and Culture, Lower Saxony, Germany

In Germany, it is believed that tuition fees discourage young people from pursuing academic studies, especially if that is not part of their family tradition and history. In the US, the situation is much different. During high school, tremendous pressure is put on high school students to go to college, making them believe that a college degree is an absolute necessity to getting a good paying job, finding a fulfilling career and being able to afford all the necessities of modern living. Trade and blue-collar jobs are often belittled, although trade and technical careers in the US are lacking qualified job candidates and are pursued by college graduates competing in an over-saturated market lacking well-paying, stable jobs.

In today’s economy, the difference in the average income of a college graduate, when compared to a high school graduate, isn’t as significant as it was a few decades ago. An average salary of a high-school graduate is about $653/week and that of a bachelor’s degree holder is about $1,300/week. The trade-off is starting work with $26,000-$27,000 of school debt.

Let’s also consider that all major universities in the US have installed a plethora of ATMs throughout their campuses, resulting in a combined average school and credit card debt of US college graduates in 2013 at $35,200. Keep in mind: most student loans are not interest free. If you’re lucky to be locked into the lowest possible interest rate – around 3.8% – the average figure of $26,600 in student loans, compounded for interest year over year using the standard 10-year-payback plan, translates into a total of $38,600, meaning a $320 monthly payment towards your student loan over the next 10 years. God forbid you lose your first post-graduation job or realize you hate your first job and realize you’re not even sure you want to pursue the career you chose when you were 19! It’s no surprise that about 11% of US 20-somethings are on antidepressants (and in the UK the number is estimated at a staggering 25%!)

Researchers revealed that the top three causes of stress are money worries, work problems and lack of sleep. DailyMail.co.uk

So what can today’s young people do about this?

Perhaps the best course for a free quality college education is to learn multiple languages and explore opportunities with universities in Europe that offer English-speaking courses. For example, English is becoming more commonly used as the primary language for courses in German universities, to the point where it is possible to earn your entire degree or complete a full course in Germany without having taken a single German language class. Today’s reality for US teenagers, or anyone seeking a college degree, is that learning an additional language or two – German, Spanish, Dutch, French, etc. – could mean a top-quality college education abroad and the freedom to enter the workforce with curiosity and passion, and a much lower debt burden.

Do you feel this change is likely within the next 10 years?

Resources:

Here are some great online language resources:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/languages/
http://lingopass.com/
http://livemocha.com/
http://www.italki.com/

Here are work exchange programs if you want to gain some experience:

WWOOF – http://www.wwoof.net/
Workaway – http://www.workaway.info/
HelpX – http://www.helpx.net
The POOSH – http://www.thepoosh.org/

Sources:

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