Opinion: The Student Debt Trap

Albion College was recently named one of the schools with the highest average student debt in the state of Michigan. The Albion College Financial Aid Office, located in Ferguson Hall is available to help students figure out the best plan for them financially when it comes to paying for college (Photo by Maclean Robertson).

A common phrase at Albion College is “make your home among Albion.” A house is never a home without the element of comfort, and in a college setting, comfort means minimal stress. 

Stress can entail many aspects of student life, including midterms, finals, friend group conflicts and student debt. 

We all hate the feeling of knowing we owe someone something, especially when that someone is a four-year institution. Yet Albion College seemed to have been the top college in the state of Michigan for the highest amount of student debt as of 2017. A report from The Detroit News compared 2017 student debt rates, stating an average total debt of $44,140 for Albion students, a 74% increase from 2007. 

“In a July 2019 report on Michigan Radio’s website, Dr. Rob Kniss, director of student financial services, said, ‘it was relatively affluent families who took on most of the 2017 debt,’”  said John Perney, chief communications and marketing officer at Albion College. “According to Dr. Kniss, there has been a 19.5% decline from 2017 to 2019 due to larger scholarships and grants and smaller loans being incorporated into students’ financial-aid packages.” 

Albion College Students on Student Debt

College students, unfortunately, are not feeling this decline in student debt here on campus.  They are neither less stressed or less uncomfortable because of the apparent decline.

“I just think education should be free. We shouldn’t have to beg the government for money just to go to school,” said Camerial Williams, a sophomore from Chicago, Ill. “I remember at my school our guidance counselor, who at the time was in her late thirties, still was paying on her student debt.”

Students are hearing stories from their teachers and faculty while transitioning into that same cycle.

“Student debt is crippling me right now because I have to worry about that and worry about my grades,” said Isaiah Quarles, a sophomore from Chicago, Ill. “ I’m not that financially literate, yet I think everyone should have financial literacy to be able to know what to do with that loaned money.” 

Quarles went on to explain that although he didn’t want to accumulate debt, there sometimes isn’t another viable option for students who want to attend college.

“I took student debt in order to pay for college; there is no way around that unless you pay it out of pocket, which I don’t have and my parents don’t have either,” said Quarles.

Students shouldn’t have to feel that borrowing money is the only way to get a quality education, especially when they don’t have familial support. Yet this seems to be the case for many students not just at Albion, but across the country.  

“I feel like in general, financial aid services aren’t really understanding and helpful to students that have to do everything on their own, and I’m never going to be able to live comfortably with student debt weighing over my head,” said Djenne Toles, a junior from Detroit. “Everyone’s not an overachiever and scholarship granters shouldn’t be allowed to say, ‘We’re not going to help you if you’re not an overachiever,’ and I see students who perform good, but good is average, nowadays. It’s frustrating!”

Student loans also provide a gateway into eternal debt, which some students see once graduating and trying to purchase houses and cars.

“Student debt is meant to falsely provide hope and optimism to people while simultaneously tying a noose around their necks,” said Jayson Sawyer, a junior from Evanston, Ill. “20 years ago, roughly 80% of public school funding, for colleges in particular, came from the state of Michigan, and roughly 20% came from tuition. However, today, those numbers are flipped. My stance on debt is that we make these institutions run, and we have the power to impact those seats in the institution. But social prestige is skewing that power.” 

Students aren’t just speaking for themselves when they mention the barricades student debt creates. They are speaking on behalf of most people seeking an education in this country.

“I think student debt is the barrier put in place so that the vast majority of the population can’t become successful and move up in economic status,” said Khaiylah Johnson-Bustamente, a sophomore from Brooklyn, N.Y. “I think student debt is just a hindrance to everyone getting an education.”

Not only does debt have the capability to impact education, but it potentially impacts the way students look at themselves.

“I’ve always been taught that GPA reflects how much money you’re worth as a student, and it’s a battle of who’s worth what,” said Alexander Valdez, a sophomore from Houston, Texas. “Student debt feeds into this consumerist, capitalistic society, but education is about people bettering people not making more bank for your buck.” 

Student debt is something which impacts not only students’ future stress, but their current stress as well, thus lessening their enjoyment of their current college experiences.

“I’d love to go to school if I didn’t have to worry about how much it costs, and that’s the sad thing about it,” said Valdez.

Remarks from Faculty 

Student debt is an inevitable reality for most students, regardless of a decline. 

The topic needs to be talked about more regularly, and that’s why Smooth Transitions coordinator Vanessa Jackson has a statement for all students being burdened by student debt.

“There is no way to get away from student debt, so don’t go to a graduate school solely based off of prestige. Be realistic,” said Jackson.“One thing undergrads aren’t told is that student loans affect your housing. It’s apart of your debt to income ratio.” 

Students are entitled to a quality education and deserve to have it be relatively stress free when it comes to finances. After all, the young are the future. Thus, students should be invested in, not investing in. 

“Student Debt affects you for the rest of your life, and students need to know that,” said Jackson. “It’s my responsibility as an older person to let you know that as students, we all have to move and make things shake.”

1 Comment

  1. A good class at Albion that can improve financial literacy on assets and liabilities is “the mathematical theory of interest“ offered by the mathematics department (math 388). Topics include savings accounts, different types of interest rates, loans (including payments and refinancing for mortgages, car loans, and student loans), annuities, retirement planning, and bond pricing. Contact Professor Darren Mason for more details.

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