I Am Not a Loan

In this Oct. 6, 2011 photo, Gan Golan, of Los Angeles, dressed as the "Master of Degrees," holds a ball and chain representin
In this Oct. 6, 2011 photo, Gan Golan, of Los Angeles, dressed as the "Master of Degrees," holds a ball and chain representing his college loan debt, during Occupy DC activities in Washington. As President Obama prepared to announce new measures Wednesday to help ease the burden of student loan debt, new figures painted a demoralizing picture of college costs for students and parents: Average in-state tuition and fees at four-year public colleges rose an additional $631 this fall, or 8.3 percent, compared with a year ago. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

For the last two years, Stand for Children has been teaching Stand University for Parents, ten weeks of classes to support elementary school parents to get more involved in their children's education. One of the most exciting classes to sit in on, "Pathway to College" introduces parents to the different types of college their children can attend, starts a discussion about what college ready looks like in elementary, middle, and high school, and provides some information on college cost.

When it comes to the cost piece, I wish we had better news. But what can we tell the parents? We know that not having a bachelor's degree cost the average American about $1 million in lost earnings over his or her lifetime (that's lifetime earnings of a worker with only a high school diploma compared to lifetime earnings of a worker with a bachelor's degree or higher). The parents discuss, and intrinsically understand, the enormous benefits of broadening one's mind and horizons through higher education. But even with a firm belief in the importance of higher education, the cost is still a tough pill to swallow.

Since the early 1980s, the cost of college tuition and fees has increased 538 percent. 538 percent! Unsurprisingly, this sharp increase means that, today, more than 2/3 of all college students are taking on debt to pay for their education. The total amount owed on college loans is now more than $1 trillion ($200 billion more than Americans owe in total on credit card debt).

It's easy to see the negative impact of all this student debt on college graduates. Take Stand's National Marketing and Communication Manager Adria Marquez. The eldest of four sisters, Adria and her parents tried to make sense of the college loan process as best they could but, admittedly, Adria was "the guinea pig." She enrolled in Arizona State University, from Texas, and was repeatedly denied in-state tuition. When she finally graduated she was more than $60,000 in debt and her parents had loans, too. Adria found a manager-level position right out of college but, when the recession hit, employment in the housing development field evaporated and she lost her job. "All of my unemployment money was going straight to my $600 a month in loans," Adria says. "Instead of finding a job that fit my skills, I had to take anything to pay the bills. I ended up working on the floor at a factory in Portland." Adria was recently promoted at Stand but she won't see any of that new money: the promotion happened the same day as one of her monthly private loan payments doubled. (Read another personal story about college debt here.)

And while we know that student debt bogs down millions of talented college graduates like Adria every year, it's even more concerning to recognize that the high cost of college today is preventing students from even enrolling. Cost is cited as the major reason more than 100,000+ academically qualified high school graduates do not go on to college every year.

Luckily, we can do something about this. Visit I Am Not a Loan.org to ask colleges to take a pledge to reduce costs. Share the campaign with everyone you know. Together, let's work to reduce costs and send more students, from all backgrounds, to college and a career.