Although debts as high as $40,000 may seem manageable if one is able to secure high-paying employment after graduation, even in an ideal situation it takes a decade for the student to work that debt off. But what happens when that person's life takes an unexpected turn? Sickness, unemployment, any substantial change in life circumstance can usher the debtor into a financial apocalypse and personal despair.
Little help is to be expected on the horizon from Washington. Despite billions being doled out in bailouts, student debtors have been left holding the bag. Unlike homeowners who walk away from their homes, those who took on debt to improve themselves are stuck with the financial burden forever, hounded viciously even if they can't pay. The message of the system of higher education lending is simple—don't go to college if you need to borrow. It can ruin your life.
Not everyone, of course, considers stories of personal financial despair to be indicative of a larger problem. According to a recent article, "A Lifetime of Student Debt? Not Likely," by Robin Wilson, appearing in the May 2009 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education, the voice of America's higher education industry, most people borrow amounts that they can manage and only a “vocal minority” has problems with the repayment of their loans. Wilson holds up as an example the case of a young woman who must live with her parents because the costs of her student loans prevent her from living on her own, writing that this is the normal, silent majority that is coping just fine.
Colleges, while providing some advice about the impact of the loans, ultimately can only advise. They can't prevent the student from borrowing.