Good News Bad News: Student Debt Roundup

Oh hi there. We’ve been out of touch for the past week, but I’m pleased to report that the last tofurkey coma of my undergraduate career was delicious, and we’re that much closer to … something.

While we wait, let’s think about student debt. Everyone else certainly seems to be, thanks to the efforts of a working group sponsored by some of the students and educators at our very own fine institution.

The Occupy Student Debt Campaign, launched last week, is asking students to stop paying loan payments after the campaign’s pledge gets one million signatures.

Below, the group’s major claims:

* We believe the federal government should cover the cost of tuition at public colleges and universities.

* We believe that any student loan should be interest-free.

* We believe that private and for-profit colleges and universities, which are largely financed through student debt, should open their books.

*We believe that the current student debt load should be written off.

Since this group is organized in New York City, most of the folks behind it are NYU, New School, and CUNY students and faculty. Unfortunately, a student debt campaign advocating for free public education is slightly awkward coming those of us at NYU supporting an institution that charges $200,000 per diploma. From one comment on a Huffington Post article about the group:

Does anyone else find it amazing that two professors from two of the most expensive schools in the country – one high on the academic list – the other known as a “party school” are helping with this idea of causing problems for:
1) these students that took out the loans
2) the financial institutio­ns that made the loans in good faith to these kids.

I do not see either of them or OWS suggesting that students boycott colleges until they lower their tuition.

True, but lots of people seem to be in trouble with their loans, or at least there are some very visible forums on which they can now voice their complaints. Adding misery to misery is a new Tumblr devoted to telling people’s super-sad student loan stories, in the style of the We Are the 99 Percent Tumblr.

Here is a sampling of what you will find there:

I went back to school in 1999 to earn a law degree. I initially agreed to student loans, expecting to be able to repay while practicing law. But shortly after graduating, I was shot three times and left for dead. I survived, but since had no health care and was unable to work at all, I had to live off my savings, and was unable to take the bar exam, or even afford a bar review course. I had to re-learn how to walk, everything. Now I am disabled, and my student debt exceeds $100,000!!!

Well, I guess these slackers should have just gone to a school they could afford, and worked hard to stay out of the path of gunfire and ensure their loans and interest didn’t spiral out of control. Not necessarily true, says yesterday’s Huffington Post article, which focuses on students who choose lower-cost schools and take on multiple jobs while in college to stay out of debt.

“Students who take extreme steps to avoid debt at all costs, [educators] say, may get stuck with something much more financially damaging than moderate student loan debt. They may not wind up with a college degree.”

There’s lots of doom and gloom here, but it the good news is that all this angst about student loans seems to be sparking some frank discussions about student loan debt and restructuring higher education.

— Arielle

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