When President Trump rolled out his recent budget proposal, it made some cuts that were always going to cause controversy. For one thing, his plan would slash subsidized student loan repayment plans, and let the government crack down on missed payments. To left-wing politicians who think the state should hand out more subsidies, this might as well have been Armageddon.
Yet while 45 million Americans are on the hook for more than $1.4 trillion in student debt, Americans should realize that millennials don’t need a government bailout or intervention. The student debt crisis isn’t as bad as it seems, and it’s a “crisis” of our own making.
Choices Have Consequences
The average college graduate leaves school with around $31,000 in debt, which certainly sounds like a lot, but that’s just a monthly payment of approximately $300. So why are students really struggling to repay their loans?
Much of it comes down to choice. If you choose to study business, economics, engineering, computer science, or anything practical, you could see a starting salary of anywhere from $50,000 to $70,000. For people who make this much, it’s not very difficult to pay a few hundred dollars per month for student loans. With unemployment at its lowest levels in years, the labor market is tight enough that a new graduate with a useful degree shouldn’t have any trouble getting started in the workforce.
But if you major in philosophy or gender studies, you might struggle to find any job in your field, let alone a well-paying one. According to The Atlantic, “Underemployment afflicts more than 50 percent of majors in the performing arts, anthropology, art history, history, communications, political science, sociology, philosophy, psychology, and international affairs.”
Not everyone can be an engineer or a doctor, but anyone can find an area where his interests intersect with actual job prospects. Students can also double major, and gain practical experience in one field while exploring another. So if you decided a career in art history was worth the price, it shouldn’t be the government’s job to pay the bill for your student loans––even if it’s not your fault that the cost of college has exploded in recent years.
You Don’t Accidentally Rack Up Six Figures in Debt
Part of the reason the reaction to student loans has been so extreme is because horror stories once viral now seem normal, and most people know graduates with $100,000 or even more than $200,000 in debt. If bureaucrats weren’t wasting taxpayer dollars, and state governments weren’t pulling back their financial support for higher education, maybe these students wouldn’t be in that situation.
Still, there are only a few ways to acquire hundreds of thousands in debt. Maybe you went to an expensive private college for four years, or got a graduate degree. If you chose a lavish, $60,000 per-year private school like Trinity or Fordham, that’s your own fault. Average cost of attendance at a four-year public school is around $20,000 (and that’s before financial aid or scholarships, which many students receive)––so if you’re buried in hundreds of thousands in debt, it’s because you made a decision you couldn’t afford.
For graduate students, it’s understandable that they’ve taken on so much in loans, as some advanced degrees can take seven or even eight years to complete. But they don’t need the government’s help to pay back their debt. The expected lifetime earnings for someone with a doctoral degree totals $3.3 million.
I’d Rather See a Concert than Pay My Loan
Many millennials aren’t paying back their student loans. But is that because they truly can’t? In 2016, 1.1 million graduates defaulted on their loans for the first time, yet their ability to make payments might not be the problem.
When a survey asked recent graduates what they would sacrifice to pay off their debt, “less than half were willing to do without concert tickets, lattes, food delivery, alcohol purchases or travel.” Around 15 percent didn’t even know how much money they owed. Nearly a third of students polled planned to use some of their student loan money to pay for their spring break trips, while 23 percent said they had used loans to purchase alcohol, and 6 percent said they used the money for drugs. We have a student debt crisis, but the real issue isn’t the number on the balance sheet. It’s a generation trapped in perpetual adolescence, confused about how to get out.
Years ago, people in their early twenties used to have mortgages, marriages, and children to take care of. Things have changed in ways beyond my generation’s control, but it’s still embarrassing that some now think that a $300 monthly payment constitutes a crisis, and that the government needs to save them. Maybe millennials need to realize that they can’t afford to live in expensive cities, and that paying one’s debts should come before planning your next vacation.
In his recent book, “The Vanishing American Adult,” Sen. Ben Sasse wrote that “Letting the next generation believe someone else will solve their problems imperils not only them but our whole society.” Well-intentioned politicians might want to provide a solution for student loans, but millennials won’t start making smart decisions unless they have to foot the bill for their own education. Unfortunately, no bailout or special program can save students suffering from a lack of responsibility.