Awareness | Posted by Julie Z on 05/30/2011

Feminism and Education: The Truth About Student Loans

I would argue that the most difficult thing about the entire process of higher level, collegiate education is not getting in, though that is what the public conversation at large is about. The most difficult, troubling part of higher education is paying for it once you do get in. Even with financial aid, even with other scholarships, so many people end up with crippling debt by the end of their college years.

These past few months, I’ve watched my class celebrate getting into college. Then I’ve watched everybody have an “Oh, shit” moment trying to figure out where the money is going to come from to fund the next four years of their life. I’ve watched brilliant people decide to go to schools they are beyond over-qualified for because they were offered more financial aid. I’ve watch people resign themselves to the reality of student loans (in fact, 2/3 of college graduates right now have student loans). A lot of kids my age approach student loans as an inevitable necessity. They figure they’ll take out the loan then pay it back once they graduate and get a high paying job.

Here’s the thing though. Really good jobs are hard to come by these days, and they’re getting scarcer by the minute. Then faced with the reality that student loans involve interest, forebarance, penalities and all of this stuff that can double or even TRIPLE the amount you owe based on your original loan, the prospect of paying back these loans slowly becomes further and further out of reach. But what does an 18-year-old, signing on to these payment plans, know about that? The whole college process is huge, daunting and overwhelming, that that reality often gets buried in the muddle.

And here is where I start to get really, really pissed. As a feminist, ESPECIALLY as a teenage feminist, this issue is incredibly relevant to my life and to the people in this community. I believe that education in all forms is the answer to so many of the problems that feminists combat. As a country, as a society, we need to be better educated. But how can we – teenagers, the future of this country and this world – better educate ourselves and better prepare ourselves to face all of this shit older generations have gotten us into, when those same generations are making those tools completely unaffordable and, thus, unavailable? Older generations are pushing us into lifelong debt, which the process of paying off will preoccupy our talents and energy – the same talents and energy that could be put towards actually SOLVING some of these huge problems. And even in one of the best-case scenarios, when kids are able to pay for college due to scholarships and financial – but they’re receiving an inadequate education in accordance to their level of intelligence, and thus are not reaching their full potential (read: we are not putting to use some of the greatest minds available to use) – we know we have a really big problem.

There are a lot of reasons why the world is so fucked up right now. But let me tell you, virtually ALL of them could be solved, or at least alleviated,  by better educating the masses. And when that option because unaffordable, and therefore not an option at ALL, we’re seriously impeding all progress. And as a feminists, as human beings, the fact that these problems all have a fairly basic answer (education, if you haven’t been paying attention) which we are making impossible because of capitalism makes me really, really angry.

I know that student loans isn’t the sexiest topic to cover here on the FBomb, but it’s so incredibly relevant to our lives (and, yes, my life right now as a rising college freshman) that I had to bring it up. I’ve really only skimmed the surface of this problem here, and thankfully there are people who are doing really great work in raising awareness about this issue. For example, there’s been a documentary made about student loans – Default: The Student Loan Documentary.

The bottom line is we need systemic change. But until then – and this is especially a message for younger FBomb readers who have yet to face the college process – educate yourself about all of your options and be aware of the truth of student loan debt. It’s not something that teens are really educated about, or even aware about at all until it’s an immediate option, but you owe it to yourself to find out the truth.

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  • Zoe @ at 1:43 pm, May 30th, 2011

    I graduated from college a year ago. I finally got a job in April after being part of the unemployed portion of America for 6 months. I’m currently budgeting and saving up to move into my own apartment. I have to pay $190 each month for student loans and I’m going to have to do this for probably 15 years. It’s depressing and infuriating how much debt college gives you. And it’s not like I got some amazing job that would easily pay back my loans…I’m going to be struggling to make these payments. I went through college to come out living flat out broke.

  • Oliver Leon @ at 2:53 pm, May 30th, 2011

    OK, so I can’t entirely relate, being Canadian and having better security when it comes to paying off this crap. But I’m currently in the midst of applying for a student loan and I gotta tell ya, I am not excited. I don’t want to have to pay off tens of thousands of dollars for education when I could be traveling or starting a business or building a queer community center.

  • O'Phylia @ at 6:13 pm, May 30th, 2011

    I’m a junior in college, and right now, here is my advice:
    SCHOLARSHIPS.
    SCHOLARSHIPS.
    SCHOL. AR. SHIPS.

    Look for them high and low. Ask your parents if they’ll look for you while you’re studying and whatnot. I’m not joking.

    And keep studying, and beware of depression that is caused by overwork. It’s real.

  • A @ at 7:54 pm, May 30th, 2011

    I’m going to be a high school junior next year, so this is coming perilously close. I have so many college friends who have had to make crazy decisions and work incredibly hard to afford college.

    Also- “There are a lot of reasons why the world is so fucked up right now. But let me tell you, virtually ALL of them could be solved, or at least alleviated, by better educating the masses. And when that option because unaffordable, and therefore not an option at ALL, we’re seriously impeding all progress.” – that is positively brilliant, Julie.

  • Talia bat Pessi @ at 8:26 pm, May 30th, 2011

    As an extremely poor high school sophomore who’s done lots of research on scholarships, it’s really very easy to get a lot of them. For students who have the financial need, aid is given readily, and scholarships are really very easy to find.

  • Ramy @ at 12:51 am, May 31st, 2011

    Great post but I think your “pissed off-ed-ness” is misplaced. You talk of “older generations” getting you into lifelong debt. That’s completely innaccurate. This has been happening for a long time. I’m nearly twice your age and I have a massive amount of student debt. this is not the fault of “older generations” but a major problem with our system. The government guarentees lenders will get their money back with interest on these loans and allow them to go to lengths that only the IRS is allowed to go to to acquire the money. You’re on the right track in thinking twice about not wanting to take on debt before you graduate college. But blaming the wrong person is a classic symptom of the “divide and conquer” strategy of the elites. As long as you blame some of the people who are equally affected by this problem, you’ll never see that the real enemy is the system itself – and those in charge!

  • Liz @ at 8:08 am, May 31st, 2011

    As someone who is going to be a college senior, it doesn’t really matter where you go for undergrad. I’m “overqualified” for my university, but that means I can be a star student, but I’m not going massively into debt before graduate school. Getting into a grad school with a big name is a bigger deal, and state universities or colleges that are “below” your level can be challenging and offer lots of opportunities for a lower price!

  • Julie Z @ at 9:54 am, May 31st, 2011

    @Ramy I think you misunderstood. I’m blaming older generations for creating many of the world PROBLEMS that we won’t be able to solve because of the debt that blockades us from education. However, there ARE people of older generations who are enforcing this debt (not all, obviously, but some) and there are people of older generations who have more power to do something about this than me and my teen peers. Although I recognize that there are systemic issues at play as well.

  • Steph L @ at 10:09 am, May 31st, 2011

    In Britain our student loan situation has just changed for the worse, and one of the commentators, talking about social mobility, said that one of the biggest changes that have lowered social mobility is the education of women, because we’d be getting the jobs that the hard working lower class boys could have originally got. Like educating women isn’t social mobility in and of itself. Sheesh.

  • Former College Idiot @ at 1:21 am, June 28th, 2011

    It amazes me to listen to people’s comments on topics so difficult as this one is. College education has become the “fountain of debt” in our society and people can’t stop drinking from it. Billions of dollars are wasted on degrees where students never get to use the skills they learned. Hopefully our economy changes.

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