" Release Students From Economic Captivity "
Rev. Peter E. Bauer
A few years ago, a Social Work student told me that they were eighty-thousand dollars in debt, due to college loans, and that they were going through a divorce. Then I heard from a friend of mine who had been out of school for the past ten years , that this individual is carrying a debt of ninety-thousand dollars.
I nearly fell out of my chair when I heard these confessions.
We are generating a whole new culture of indentured servitude. Instead of having people languish in debtor's prisons, we are having young people languish regarding the development of their lives.
Yes, we are seeing a decline in home buying by people in their 20's and 30's, marriages are being postponed, if not totally forgotten and also having children will be greatly delayed by young people.
Currently, average student debt per student, for graduate education, is hovering between $ 23,000 and $ 35,000 dollars. If a young person plans to work in a low paying profession like Teaching, Social Work, or the Ministry, it will take a long time, if not an entire life time, to pay off this kind of debt.
This year, it was reported that student debt has now overtaken consumer debt in the United States; the student debt figure now being at 1.2 Trillion dollars.
What kind of a life are we giving our young people ? This will not generate a sense of "we can do anything, we can accomplish anything we want " that was typical of the baby boom generation.
No, instead, big dreams will go bust, life will definitely be more down-sized and down-scaled for this new generation.
So what can we do to change this situation ?
The Obama Administration has made a good start by advocating their policy for having two years of free community college education. This will greatly help a lot of students and their families to save money for the last two years of undergraduate education at a university. There will still be the costs of housing and other incidentals.
Also universities need to reassess their policies regarding incidental student fees. Is it fair to charge across the board an athletic fee or a student center fee if the student elects not to use the gym or the other facility ? Is it fair, is it ethical if universities spend huge amounts of money on their athletic programs, their stadiums, their other athletic amenities and they don't invest aggressively in academic departments including development of curriculum and continued development of faculty ?
In October 2007 the Public Service Loan Forgiveness ( PSLF )Program was established. This program allows for the forgiveness of student debt if an individual has worked ten years for a public government agency i.e. in a local, state or federal setting.
This policy could encourage young people to really make a career out of public service. We are going to need a lot of talented hard-working Social Workers, Teachers, Nurses, Psychologists etc. in the future. The current and future needs of Veterans and families returning from Afghanistan and Iraq alone will more than justify this kind of expenditure in infrastructure supporting social services.
Child Protective Services, in various states, have programs that will pay employees their graduate education for Social Work in exchange for their continued employment providing critical services to children and families.
We also need financial institutions, universities and other partners to develop a thorough program of education regarding helping students and their families plan for the funding of higher education and to avoid the morass of getting into serious financial debt.
Publishers of educational textbooks and resources need to evaluate ways they could provide cost effective resources to students. Right now, there are students who are experiencing a difficult time being able to afford buying text books.
The United States will need to work hard in order, once again, to be the leader in education for the world.
But to do that, we will need to commit ourselves to free our young people from economic captivity.
We need to do it now.
Our future depends upon it.