Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Pay Or Die?
By Julie Buntin

While recently perusing the Internet in search of helpful tips and schemes for dealing with college debt (a problem impending on my future with lightening speed), I uncovered a helpful segment from an article posted on www.nextstudent.com. According to the website, if you have a federal student loan (I have three so far), it is only possible to have your loan debt discharged or reduced under a handful of special circumstances.

The first of these is death or permanent disability. Insert image of college student spraying a mouthful of water across the room in a torrent of painful surprise. What a cinch. I’ll just kill myself, and the trillions of pounds of debt weighing me down will vanish into thin air, like a lovely dream.

Just to be fair, I’ll include the website’s additional suggestions for eliminating those hefty loans. Filing for bankruptcy (this one isn’t highly touted, apparently bankruptcy courts rarely excuse student loans), the closure of your academic institution before the attainment of a degree (uh, what? Thanks world, now I don’t have to pay back loans for a degree I didn’t receive), and finally, working in designated public school service positions (blackmail anyone?).

A little contribution to that last option—working as a bombarded, disrespected high school teacher in the Bronx for two years often only entitles you to a grant of around five grand, intended for use toward college loans. If you need that money for a mortgage payment, a new baby, or a hospital bill after one of your students’ trips you going down the stairs, you’re flush out of luck. And, if you’re among the average college graduates, you have around $20,000 worth of debt anyway, so a cool $5,000 isn’t going to get you that far.

If I had known the phrase “going to college” could be literally interpreted as “chaining yourself to a money vacuum for the rest of your life, severely reducing your chances of achieving nirvana,” I might have skipped college all together. Currently, I entertain the idea of dropping out, living off the rest of my loan money, and spending six hours a day in the NYC public library. I’d certainly learn more, and public libraries are free!

Bohemian dreams aside, living in New York City provides an all too concrete reminder of the necessity of a college degree. Imagine the look on an interviewer’s face if I applied for a job teaching college English, my credentials simply; complete knowledge of 16th, 17th, 18th, and 19th century literature, several unpublished works on Dante, Plato, and Issac Babel, passion for learning and teaching. Passion, which got many liberal arts majors into this position from the get-go, is no longer a hallmark of American success. In fact, that loaded, treasured word may just be the new hallmark of American debt.

Somewhere during the course of this brave nation’s turbulent history, college became first highly valued, and then (like all things desirable) highly priced. The lengths students are willing to go in order to attend that shiny Ivy League (I can’t help but think of the college market as a car dealership) are often at the sacrifice of learning and academic growth. What percentage of a student’s college choice revolves around projected volume of learning, and how much revolves around the institution’s reputation (and along with that, projected income)?

One thing is sure. My generation will graduate, if not with a thorough knowledge of whatever they majored in, at the very least with a vivid understanding of what it means to pay, pay, pay.

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