Student Debt Stigmatization

The college experience has become a mainstay of the American cultural zeitgeist, an apparently necessary prerequisite for a life of prosperity and success. We categorically run off to college for four years after high school, studying, partying, and preparing ourselves for the stressors of the adult world. At no other point in life will many of us have the luxuries of the collegiate lifestyle, so ephemerally ensconced in a world where classy accommodations and a generally secure lifestyle are guaranteed for the small cost of an arm and a leg.

This cost leaves a great number of people with crippling student loans that follow them for upwards of twenty years. Paying off college while trying to start a family, buy a house, and settle down is a daunting process, one that looms heavily over those who would otherwise be living a normal life. These days, many question the value of a Bachelor’s degree when they are so proliferated, so overwhelmingly common that undergrad degrees offer no solace for employment. With no guaranteed method of paying off one’s degree, the education itself becomes a pyrrhic victory, entirely useless in the utilitarian sense.

Meanwhile, state schools offer a cheaper education without the prestige factor of premiere private colleges and universities. South Dakota’s Northern State University boasts an estimated total cost around $17,000—compare with Columbia’s $58,742, according to CBS news. Though these examples are extreme, the question of net yield becomes a major factor in determining one’s future educational institution. Depending on one’s chosen field, especially those where prestige holds little value, the cheap BS or BA remains a tempting offer.

We at Williston are more often freed from this crisis on account of our relatively privileged lives. Many among us need never worry about paying for college, as parents or grandparents freely shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars with little need for financial aid. The unfortunate product of this ease of education is an attitude of entitlement, a pretentious, arrogant derision for those who will inevitably work with industrious fervor to pay off crippling student debt.

Surely, we view this as a necessary evil, but there is no definitive way to know if the debt is really worth it. Winston Miller, Assisstant Director of College Counseling, said that “Being able to afford going to college without going into debt is a real privilege and should not be taken for granted,” and that the value of college “depends on how much a student puts into their college experience and how many skills they actively seek to acquire.”

Others have more critical opinions of the situation. In an anonymous interview, one source said “I knew I was getting in deep with my second degree… I figured it would take me a while to pay it off even then, especially as I’ve made this low-interest loan a low priority compared to other debt, taking all the breaks on monthly payments and deferments I can.  In my world, student debt hasn’t just started to be a big deal; it always has been a reality and a big deal!”

She continues. “I think one issue nowadays is the uncertainty about getting a good job after college to pay down that debt.  We all just assumed a good job would be the natural outcome of a college education.” Though these times are uncertain, the sheer number of individuals with large amounts of debt point to issues more with the luxurious lifestyle of college than any wrongdoing on the part of the individual.