Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Let us be forgiven

A few weeks ago, Representative Virginia Foxx of North Carolina made her thoughts on the student debt crisis clear in a radio interview.

“I have very little tolerance for people who tell me that they graduate with $200,000 of debt or even $80,000 of debt,” said Foxx. “There’s no reason for that. We live in an opportunity society and people are forgetting that … You don’t sit on your butt and have it dumped in your lap.”

Rep. Foxx’s opinion matters: she is the leader of Congress’ Subcommittee on Higher Education. As astonishing as it may be that such a key lawmaker could be so out of touch with an issue she leads, her comments shed light on why student debt has reached crisis mode in the United States.

Lawmakers in the United States have, for too long, allowed the cost of higher education to spiral out of control. Public schools like the University of Massachusetts have seen their state funding drop precipitously over the past few years – in 2010, state funding represented 24 percent of UMass Amherst’s total revenue, down from over 40 percent at the start of the decade.

The cost has been put on the backs of students: the CollegeBoard estimates that a year at UMass Amherst costs an in-state student living on campus a total of around $25,000. A decade ago, this cost was around $13,000.

Contrary to what Foxx’s comments suggest, student loans are not taken out frivolously. They are a response to these soaring costs of tuition; in an age when more and more Americans are going to college, students need to take out loans in order to stay in school, get their degrees and  be competitive job-seekers when they enter the workforce.

Foxx may not have tolerance for students in tens of thousands of dollars in debt, but what about $1,000,000,000,000? Yesterday marked 1T Day – the day the collective student debt in the United States surpassed more than $1 trillion. This astounding number is greater than the total credit card debt in the country.

The average college student now graduates with more than $25,000 in loans. Our generation is often criticized by people like 68-year-old Foxx for being lazy, for moving back home after college, instead of striking it out on our own, like prior generations. “I went through school, I worked my way through school, I never borrowed a dime of money,” said Foxx. As someone who has worked multiple jobs at UMass, I and others like me would gladly welcome the same chance to work our way through school. But we can’t: higher education simply costs too much in 2012 to do this.

Students thus take out loans out of desperation – the avenues through which to pay for college, after side jobs and scholarships have been exhausted, are very limited. The logic is sound: student loans are often described as an investment in one’s future. Borrowing money now allows a student to earn more in the future, and  pay off the loans while still making more money.

But the student loan industry has become an unfair game for students to play in. The aggressive, unfair and greedy practices of the private loan sector are designed to take advantage of those desperate students. The total national student debt is a testament to how successful these loaners have been.

Take the practices of Sallie Mae, for example, one of the largest providers of student loans in the country. Sallie Mae has been riddled with controversies in the past decade, all based around one common theme: increasing student debt in order to make more money.

In 2005, a former Sallie Mae employee filed a lawsuit alleging Sallie Mae deliberately engaged in forbearance, an agreement between lender and borrower to delay foreclosure, in a concerted effort to raise total student debt. In 2007, it was revealed Sallie Mae had attempted to use the Freedom of Information Act to obtain students’ personal information, asserting its dangerous role as lender and collector. Later in 2007, the company was sued for allegedly discriminating against black and Hispanic loan applicants by charging them higher interest rates.

Sallie Mae has been known to unilaterally raise interest rates on its lenders in order to make more money off the loan. Like Pac-Man gobbling up tiny dots on a game screen, the lender eats away at a student’s money and overwhelms them with debt. The burden this places on the student can be a nearly insurmountable obstacle – especially considering that, unlike the vast majority of debts, student loan debts aren’t forgivable by bankruptcy. The system, in the hands of leaders like Representative Foxx, once again works for big business like Sallie Mae, not for the people.

The people, though, must and will work to change this system. Forgiving student debt would be a great boom to the entire economy – it would increase the spending power of an entire generation, and allow them to invest in other markets the money that would otherwise go into the pockets of big businesses like Sallie Mae.

The student debt crisis is rapidly becoming the defining issue of the Millenial generation- our generation. Whether or not we overcome the crisis will set the course of our generation’s history.

Billy Rainsford is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected].


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