Rolling Stone Takes on Student Loan Debt

Posted By Eliana Osborn on December 29, 2015 at 12:05 pm
Rolling Stone Takes on Student Loan Debt

It may not be rock and roll, but student loans are a big deal for most young Americans.  A recent major story in Rolling Stone magazine addresses the challenges of loan debt—and ways to improve the situation.

Writer Mike Konczal explains the issue like this.  “Student debt has serious consequences for the type of work people can do, and how they can do it, as well as their transitions between the stages of life, from building a family to retiring.”  That means we’re talking about a situation that doesn’t just matter to individuals but to communities, industry, and the whole economy.

You may expect that advanced degrees involve significant debt—law and medicine in particular.  But farming is an area where college is necessary to keep up to date on technology, growing practices, and more.  It is a field where making a living is hard, even in the best situation.  If you add in student loan debt, things are nearly impossible.  Having debt from college means you can’t take out the loans you might need for start-up costs or new equipment.

Another way student loan debt is affecting the country is by pushing new graduates toward careers that have high earnings.  Public service jobs, caregiving, and teaching are all things we need and value on an emotional level.  But becoming a public defender after paying for law school?  The numbers simply don’t add up.  Like farming, these jobs are ones we can’t afford to leave empty.

A shift in the conversation about borrowers is that more people outside of education are concerned.  An example given by Konczal comes from the real estate world.  “Tom Salomone, the president of the National Association of Realtors, tells Rolling Stone, “I might be with a young buyer today, and their ratios of debt to income are out of line because of student debt. But tomorrow I might be with a buyer, and their ratios are fine, but their down payment isn’t there because they’ve paid down their student debt.”

Democratic presidential candidates have their plans to reform college costs.  But, even less revolutionary debt-free degree proposals rub many the wrong way.  What is clear is that student loans are no longer a niche issue.  In another education story for Rolling Stone earlier in 2015, Konczal predicts a dismal future where the gulf between large endowment private universities and failing for-profit schools grows.  “If we want something done, we’ll have to do it ourselves,” pushing elected officials to change the status quo.

GoodCall contacted Konczal about this story and asked what had surprised him in all that he discovered in his reporting.  “You forget how tight young people who want to start businesses need to run their budgets and credit, and a giant education bill really throws off that dynamic. It makes me realize there were probably a lot more occupations that are much harder to sustain with the extra debt, a factor we don’t normally see or worry about in the discussion.”

Eliana Osborn
Eliana Osborn is an associate English professor at Arizona Western College, with degrees from Brigham Young University and Northern Arizona University. She’s published widely in forums such as The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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