I would argue that the most difficult thing about the entire process of higher level, collegiate education is not getting in, though that is what the public conversation at large is about. The most difficult, troubling part of higher education is paying for it once you do get in. Even with financial aid, even with other scholarships, so many people end up with crippling debt by the end of their college years.
These past few months, I’ve watched my class celebrate getting into college. Then I’ve watched everybody have an “Oh, shit” moment trying to figure out where the money is going to come from to fund the next four years of their life. I’ve watched brilliant people decide to go to schools they are beyond over-qualified for because they were offered more financial aid. I’ve watch people resign themselves to the reality of student loans (in fact, 2/3 of college graduates right now have student loans). A lot of kids my age approach student loans as an inevitable necessity. They figure they’ll take out the loan then pay it back once they graduate and get a high paying job.
Here’s the thing though. Really good jobs are hard to come by these days, and they’re getting scarcer by the minute. Then faced with the reality that student loans involve interest, forebarance, penalities and all of this stuff that can double or even TRIPLE the amount you owe based on your original loan, the prospect of paying back these loans slowly becomes further and further out of reach. But what does an 18-year-old, signing on to these payment plans, know about that? The whole college process is huge, daunting and overwhelming, that that reality often gets buried in the muddle.
And here is where I start to get really, really pissed. As a feminist, ESPECIALLY as a teenage feminist, this issue is incredibly relevant to my life and to the people in this community. I believe that education in all forms is the answer to so many of the problems that feminists combat. As a country, as a society, we need to be better educated. But how can we – teenagers, the future of this country and this world – better educate ourselves and better prepare ourselves to face all of this shit older generations have gotten us into, when those same generations are making those tools completely unaffordable and, thus, unavailable? Older generations are pushing us into lifelong debt, which the process of paying off will preoccupy our talents and energy – the same talents and energy that could be put towards actually SOLVING some of these huge problems. And even in one of the best-case scenarios, when kids are able to pay for college due to scholarships and financial – but they’re receiving an inadequate education in accordance to their level of intelligence, and thus are not reaching their full potential (read: we are not putting to use some of the greatest minds available to use) – we know we have a really big problem.
There are a lot of reasons why the world is so fucked up right now. But let me tell you, virtually ALL of them could be solved, or at least alleviated, by better educating the masses. And when that option because unaffordable, and therefore not an option at ALL, we’re seriously impeding all progress. And as a feminists, as human beings, the fact that these problems all have a fairly basic answer (education, if you haven’t been paying attention) which we are making impossible because of capitalism makes me really, really angry.
I know that student loans isn’t the sexiest topic to cover here on the FBomb, but it’s so incredibly relevant to our lives (and, yes, my life right now as a rising college freshman) that I had to bring it up. I’ve really only skimmed the surface of this problem here, and thankfully there are people who are doing really great work in raising awareness about this issue. For example, there’s been a documentary made about student loans – Default: The Student Loan Documentary.
The bottom line is we need systemic change. But until then – and this is especially a message for younger FBomb readers who have yet to face the college process – educate yourself about all of your options and be aware of the truth of student loan debt. It’s not something that teens are really educated about, or even aware about at all until it’s an immediate option, but you owe it to yourself to find out the truth.