I can’t help it: I’m a date geek. I have all sorts of dates parked in my head of things that have happened in my life, both big things and little things. And sometimes I make mention of these things on the appropriate days. (My family thinks I’m nuts.)
Today marks one of the big things. It’s the 30th anniversary of the day my husband and I graduated from college. I guess you could say we graduated together, though we were sitting on opposite ends of the enormous building where the ceremony was held. He sat with fellow new grads of the architecture program, while I sat with my fellow journalism grads, many of whom were passing around a joint in celebration (how I hated that smell!)
But I digress. I have fond memories of college, and I’m glad I went. But it was a different time. You could actually graduate from college debt-free if you worked your way through. In my case, my parents paid for two years and I paid for the other two by working on-campus jobs during the school year and summer jobs over summer vacations. My husband did not work during the school year, but paid for all of his college expenses by working summers at a very good job and taking out a small college loan (less than $1,000 @ 3%) that we paid off within a few years of graduation.
How times have changed! As the parents of one college grad and one in process, we’re well aware that today’s college students don’t study nearly as much as we had to study. (I’ve heard this from other parents, too.) Finals week does not appear to be the traumatic event that it was back in the 1970s. So we’re not sure that today’s college students are learning as much as we did. But they’re sure paying more than we did! College costs are out of control, going up at an annual rate of more than 6%. To make matters worse, the college loan industry has become a cesspool.
Just yesterday we got a very friendly letter from SallieMae kindly offering our daughter a “Sallie Mae Smart Option Student Loan.” It urges her to make a “smart choice,” to “invest in your future,” and “Apply now—20 minutes is all you should need!”
My favorite part? “By making timely monthly payments before graduation, you’ll begin to build a credit history. That may make it easier for you to buy a car or purchase a home after graduation.”
“May.” They use that word a lot in the letter, along with “could “and “potentially.” None of these words indicates certainty, of course. But the upbeat tone of the letter is meant to keep students from worrying about any negatives in their offer….and there are plenty of them.
Don’t take my word for it. Read the complaints of some who have taken out Sallie Mae student loans. Here they are, 71 pages of them. I found them while doing research for the college chapter of my upcoming book.
People who take out student loans from Sallie Mae (the largest of four privately owned companies chosen by the federal government’s Department of Education to manage and service federal student loans) often discover that the amount they borrowed expands over time due to a variety of fees and rule changes that they were never warned about. Some people now owe twice what they borrowed only a few years ago, particularly if unemployment caused them to miss payments on their loans somewhere along the way.
In an economy with high unemployment, it’s very likely that a new college grad may not find a job right away or may lose the one they get. Our kids need to be aware of the dangers of these loans. The stakes are high. As one borrower said, “I will likely have to deal with this debt for the rest of my life.”