We all once believed that graduation from most American colleges meant success. Now, most graduates realize that four years of college means little more than unemployment and thousands (sometimes hundreds of thousands) of dollars in student loans to pay back. Their stories are real and their stories are sad. They are about broken dreams, destroyed lives and destitution that requires sacrifice so great that many of them see no alternative but to withdraw totally from society.
The story of a perfect student
This is the story of a wonderful boy named Jorge (I change real-life names to protect the family) the son of migrant farmers. After his father died, Jorge helped his mother raise his baby sister by working in the fields while attending high school.
He studied diligently in high school and graduated with honors. He believed the stories printed in the papers proclaiming the earning potential of the person who has a college degree. Like many students, he desired to attend a top-tier Ivy-League university but could only get on a waiting list.
As a last resort he decided to attend a widely known university that had a nationally ranked football team. The only issue for him was affordability. This could be overcome through the help of his family's meager savings and student loans that were easy to qualify for.
At the turn of the millennium Jorge got his degree, graduating with top honors in each of his four years. He networked, sent out resumes and met many in industry. But there was no professional entry-level job for him.
The Collection Agency Suggests an Advanced Degree
When he missed several loan payments the Department of Education and a private lending agency handed his account over to collection agencies. They called him every week. One night a representative from the collection agency suggested he get a masters or law degree. He could borrow more money and defer his existing loans, and the agency would not harass him until he graduated with his degree. This was the only alternative as Jorge saw it.
After he received his masters degree there was just as little a chance for a job as there had been with a four-year degree. Then the loan companies, once again, came calling. They called every week. Then they called several times a week. And since he missed some payments, the agencies added interest and late fees to the principal of the loans. The amounts of the loans for his four-year and masters degrees became monstrous.
The last alternative
Death comes to graduating students in many ways. For most it is death to their belief in a system that promised prosperity and success with a college degree. But for those like Jorge who have no employment prospects and a huge debt load that cannot be discharged in bankruptcy, they see a quick end to their hopelessness as their only choice. (note: I continually counsel graduates in this situation that suicide is never an acceptable alternative. I will discuss options in other papers).
Other graduates and students are living this same nightmare throughout all areas of our country. We promise our students the world, make them pay for it, and give them nothing.
So what's your point Professor Roberts?
Our laws must change. We must allow students to declare bankruptcy and give them at least a fighting chance to rejoin society, leaving their mental prison behind.
Our politicians say that as a result of the refusal of bankruptcy, student loans are available to all students. I say politicians will always find an excuse to allow themselves to make money (in this case PAC donations). But more importantly, there is no justification for any law that is responsible for the death of even one citizen of this country-even if the law benefits the majority.
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