The Student Loan Racket | Opinion
The American Dream should never be placed this far out of reach.
High school graduates are offered scholarships — and three decades ago Troy University gave me $100 a semester to attend the music department.
It may seem like a drop in the ocean, but school only cost around $400 per semester back then.
My grandmother sent me a check for $300 every month and my parents covered all my bills. I also worked as a student at the University of Troy library, where I earned minimum wage, but had enough hours each week to earn a decent check.
I also had a few odd jobs over the years, at the grocery store, at the video store (remember that?) and at a fast food restaurant.
So why, 30 years later, am I still concerned about student loans? Why did I ever borrow so much in the first place?
My frustration is that the financial aid people lied to me and my parents at the time. Big, bold promises. “If you are a teacher, your loans will be forgiven” was what I heard – now there were other details such as “if you are a teacher in a low-income schoolyour loans will be forgiven,” followed by another I heard later, “if you are a teacher in a low-income Title I school for three years, your loans will be forgiven.
What they said each time was – your loans will be forgiven.
It was a lie. It was not true. It was never true. Maybe for a specialist teacher or a teacher of a major subject (science, math, social studies, English). Certainly not for a music teacher.
I was among the first in my family to go to university. I didn’t need to borrow any money. Yet the financial aid people dangled the possibilities before me – taking out a loan that helps you with living expenses and pays for textbooks. Oh yes! So I could pay for those expensive textbooks, but keep what was left over for other important college things. Like, I don’t know, beer and cigarettes. Or whatever was needed at the fraternity house at the time.
Once I graduated, I felt like those loans would never come due. I worked in a low-income school, as they said. Sure, I might owe a few hundred bucks here and there, but no one really came to call then.
I estimate I’ve borrowed about $12,000 over the seven years I’ve been in college – five working on a bachelor’s degree in music education and two getting my master’s of science in K-12 education. year.
How the hell did this ball get to $37,000 in those 30 years, even though I was paying between $200 and $300 a month?
How come my loan was bought and sold five times to different lenders? It was KHEAA, then Sallie Mae, then Regions, then Navient, then EdFinancial, then whoever else.
It’s time to call it what it really is – a racquet.
Loan companies make outrageous offers. Colleges are inflating their prices. Banks are paying colleges, colleges are charging students, tuition is going up, loan applications are going up, students are being hit with high fees and interest rates.
Last week, President Joe Biden tried to fix the situation with a $10,000 rebate for people earning less than $125,000 a year – and where that figure comes from, I don’t know, because it tells me would take several years to earn $125,000.
But it is a positive step. That people say, “If you borrow it, you pay for it”, that’s true, but it’s not just another government giveaway in my opinion. This is partly an admission that they have been wrong in the past and are trying to correct it.
Will this fix anything? Who knows. Lending companies are not in on the game at all, and until they have a place in the game, they are unlikely to change their predatory ways. And colleges are scrambling to bring people in – once the Covid era of virtual learning hit, the toothpaste was out of the tube and some people decided they’d rather just join the workforce (or stay home) instead of getting the great American college experience.
Where does this lead us?
I remember the letter I wrote to President Barack Obama in 2013 when I was informed that my minimum student loan payment would increase to $439 per month.
“Dear President Obama,” I wrote, “I know you’ve had student loans before. “I have no credit cards, I have a month left for my car payment, a house bill and utility bills,” I continued. “But with seven kids, I can’t get permission for food stamps because I’m a primary school teacher and have three other jobs after school. Do you have any idea how I can reduce my student loan repayments? »
The president responded with a personal letter, on White House stationery.
“I’m glad you took the time to share your thoughts,” President Obama wrote. “Higher education is the surest path to the middle class. Yet if a college degree has never been more important, it has never been more expensive,” he continued.
As he read the rest of the front page, he talked about things he was going to try to get Congress to do to prevent situations like mine from happening, like putting a cap on loan repayments and re-igniting competition between colleges to try to keep their always- rising costs down.
On page two, I realized President Obama wasn’t going to address my personal situation, when he directed me to two government websites where I could find more information on loan repayment options!
He did, however, sign the letter.
I therefore have a presidential signature and, thanks to part of this pardon, a light at the end of the tunnel: my final payment will be in October 2023.
Michael Bird is a music teacher for schools in the city of Tallassee and co-hosts “The Saturday Morning Show with Michael Bird and Scott Adcock” on 580 WACQ and FM 98.5.