Wait, students should take out more loans?

The Atlantic ran an article today suggesting students don’t borrow enough {to avoid high dropout rates in colleges). Basically, a study showed that of students enrolled in college in the 1990s,

23 percent of borrowers dropped out, compared to 44 percent of non-borrowers. The difference was most pronounced at two-year schools, which are generally responsible for educating the poorest students. At those institutions, about a quarter of students who took out loans never graduated, whereas 55 percent of non-borrowers dropped out.

A follow-up study from 2003-04 found more borrowers dropping out (29%), and a Gates Foundation survey showed only 3 of 10 dropouts had student loans. The article poses some reasons that these trends might exist, which include that the students aren’t delaying college or working part-time while going to school, but acknowledges more in-depth analysis is needed before drawing conclusions.

Finally, the article suggests that students can’t control tuition inflation (students in Montreal might object) and so should just borrow to finance their education.


We’ve been coached to believe that with a college degree, we’ll earn more money, which creates an incentive to continue college and to borrow more money just so we can complete that degree. So, students borrow more money and wind up with a ridiculous amount of debt, only to enter the current job economy — or lack of job economy. The student debt they’ve accrued is suddenly coming due and, if they’re like many of my friends, the debt seems insurmountable for the next several years (if not decades). They move home, or into a house with a bunch of people who are equally struggling with debt. They lie on their resumes so they can maybe, maybe get jobs that don’t require any college (or even high school diploma).

It’s easy to believe the lie that a college diploma is going to earn you a higher-paying job, but I’d like to know when this is really true (especially in this job market). I remember being told, as I worked on my undergraduate degree, that I’d need at least a master’s degree to stand out. After a while, I bought in. A master’s degree later, I found myself in basically the same position with regard to jobs as before. It’s a really good thing I loved my master’s degree program and the people around me. It helps me keep from feeling too depressed about the “real world” (read: corporate or non-profit industrial) work experience I might have gained. That being said, part of the reason I made the decision to go to grad school was because everything about the “real world” of work — which I participated in as an undergrad (and graduated just fine) made me a little sad for the state of the world.

One person who commented on the article in The Atlantic pointed out perhaps some people who don’t borrow don’t borrow because they’re already uncertain they’ll stay the full four years, at which point the decision is probably a goo

What Trails We Walk (Cheesy Caption!!)

d one for them. We’d like to believe that everyone both can and should (wants to?) go to college. But I’m not convinced this is the case — as someone who, in hindsight, might have done better choosing a different life path. I hated undergrad. I hated the particular school I attended. I didn’t even want to go through the process of applying for schools — I’d spent so much of my school-career bored in school, felt tired of sitting in classrooms learning things that didn’t seem relevant to my life. But I didn’t really know what alternatives I had, aside from the military. Even now, I don’t know what advice I’d give a younger me about alternatives. NCCC? Working some minimum wage job? Those are the only things I can think of (so if you know of other options that people in that same position who might come across this could consider, leave them in the comments). So I went to college — a major in mind, prepared to get a job — believing that with just a simple college degree, a great job would befall me.

I wonder now how many people become disillusioned with college. I wonder how many people are already juggling other distractions — family, illness, addiction. I wonder how many people get lost among the required gen ed courses when they’d rather dive into their major and give up. I wonder how much the structure of colleges is meant to just raise money, rather than to educate students — and I say that as someone who taught college after a week-long crash course in teaching one of those very gen ed courses students hate*. I wonder how much of this has to do with dropout rates. Let me know your thoughts. I think this debate needs to continue and that the idea that students should take out more debt (or more students should take out some debt) smells a bit like those in power trying to push the student debt bubble as far as they can before it bursts — especially as about 53% of recent college grads remain unemployed (just over 9% for the most recent statistic I could find) or work in jobs that don’t require that degree. Please notice that this article was written by the same person who wrote the article referenced at the beginning of this post.

*Despite what my former students might think, I loved teaching freshman and sophomore composition courses. I loved watching their writing and thinking evolve. I especially loved it when I earned the freedom from the head of the program to teach the students what they needed to know my way — that is to say, by finding things they could engage with from blogs to computer games to photo projects. I loved pushing them to grow.


One thought on “Wait, students should take out more loans?

  1. You’re saying a lot of things I agree with here. The conversation my sister and I (and others) have had many times is that we really needed a few years of life outside of high school and before college to learn more about the world, and what college had to offer, and how that might fit with what we wanted to do in it (or not). At eighteen you have such a small and limited perspective, and you don’t always know it. But that wasn’t the thing that was done or even encouraged where we were. Scholarships, college, go, go, go!

    I’d vote for programs that are designed specifically for recent high school graduates to spend time doing good around the country and the world – serving, traveling, seeing, developing new community, gaining new perspectives. Build in exposure to many kinds of colleges and career paths. And make this the norm. The “gap year” (or two, or three). High school is too crowded with other things, not to mention peer pressure and local limitations. Where are these kinds of programs? It seems like lots of them – Americorps, for example – happen AFTER college. But isn’t it better for them to take place before? So that we aren’t winding up with colleges and or degrees that don’t fit us, and then have to debate whether it’s worth it, or even possible, to go back for more, with plenty of debt following us around?

    To my understanding, German students are expected to spend a few years after they complete high school doing some kind of military or social service. I met a young man in Arkansas working with Heifer International, who’d gained skills and gathered lots of ideas to take back to his country and begin his college career with. I met another couple of Germans in their early twenties working in France, teaching the German language and helping to bridge the somewhat lingering divide between the French and the Germans. They were capable, and sweet, and also full of ideas about what they might study, based on what they had learned about the world. I found them to be surprisingly mature for their ages, and I envied them this exploratory time.

    Can this sort of thing find a place in a do-it-fast, do-it-now America? I don’t know, but I think we need it. And I get the sense that the up-and-coming generations are hungry for it, if only they can figure it out in time, and figure out how to make it happen.

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