Life Rants

Forever a Loan: Reflections on Higher Ed and Debt

As a librarian in higher ed, the cost of college has been on my mind a lot lately.  In his Netflix series Patriot Act, Hasan Minhaj recently did a really great episode about the awful business of student loans and those who profit from them.

Because my student loan payments are set to increase another $50/month soon, I do admit my feelings of anxiety and resentment are amplified just thinking about it. And it does make me sad that I may not be able to buy a house or feel confident that I can retire comfortably in part because of student loans (and partly because our world is so fucked).  It’s frustrating (not to mention unsustainable) that it’s become accepted and expected to take out hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans for an education.  It holds back progress in so many ways when talented, passionate graduates have trouble making a living wage or even finding a job at all–not to mention sending an incredibly damaging message about who deserves to learn and succeed in our world.

I have a friend on another social media platform who regularly rants about how people who can’t afford college shouldn’t take out loans, and it drives me up the wall.  To give you some context, this is also a person who says fat people should be kicked off of health insurance to make it more affordable for everyone else…

And I absolutely urge people taking out private loans to consider how unforgiving debt collectors are in that arena—the government as a lender is bad enough, yet it doesn’t engage in some of the more extreme practices of predatory private lenders.

It’s helped me immensely to think about student loans as medicine; like all meds, there will be side effects, but sometimes you need to take them.  Even with the cost and the side effects, ask yourself what you gain by taking them, and whether those benefits outweigh the negative consequences.

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Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

I do find it frustrating that 5 years after earning my master’s degree, I still don’t have a long-term contract.  I’m not sure what I’m doing after July of this year.  But I love the profession of librarianship, and I love the number of thoughtful, caring, social justice-oriented colleagues I’ve met.  I should have perhaps waited to have more experience before pursuing my master’s degree, and I don’t love the amount of money it cost me.  But I do love this profession, and I love the path that earning my master’s degree has led me on.  I know librarians are stereotyped as joyless authorities who demand complete silence—and I’ll be honest, we generally do like rules.  However, just mention banning a book or the profession’s problem with race or demonstrators protesting drag queen story hour and you’ll see there is a solid foundation of strong convictions behind the work we do.

I have seen the emotional and financial burden student loans have placed on current students, and I bitterly regret that.  And college isn’t for everyone, and it shouldn’t be expected that everyone attend college–though this is really a problem with the fucked up ways that we value different kinds of work.

But honestly telling people not to pursue college because they can’t afford it is another way of saying “I have very much bought into our current social order and am committed to maintaining it.”  The problem is not with the students taking out loans—it’s with the entire higher ed system and the business of student loans now inseparable from everyday college functions.  And, more broadly, it’s a problem with a capitalist society that commodifies education and undervalues the work of the public service sectors.

I do wish I could be more financially stable, even as I acknowledge I enjoy an amount of financial stability that places me in an extremely privileged position.  And there’s a lot of BS in higher ed, I fully recognize that.  But I would never work on Wall Street or as a part of the military industrial complex or in any number of jobs that benefit a small group of people while actively making the world a worse place for everyone else.  I wouldn’t change where I am or how I’ve gotten here.  And it will be people who push the boundaries, who reach for things that they cannot afford, that were never meant for them—they will be the ones to show that they are not wrong, that they do not need to change, but it’s the world around them that needs to change so it can catch up to them.

That being said–sign me the fuck up for free college if I ever live to see it happen.

Header image by Good Free Photos on Unsplash

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