Recently I had the opportunity to be involved with a “round table” discussion regarding the damaging effects of student loans on at least two generations now as more and more people are getting hooked into the idea that they must get a college education. We were actually discussing the merits of a college education along with whether it was always necessary to graduate from high school and immediately go to college. For the most part, our social norms have moved to that realm. However there was an eighty-year-old individual at the table who explained that years ago, college was the exception to the rule rather than the norm.
The following information is largely my own opinion, rather than verifiable statistics, but I share this information from the vantage point of having, not only walked this road myself, but also, having seen the stress and havoc for people being pulled into a system that dictates, “You will not succeed if you do not have a college degree.”
When I graduated from high school, my mom who was single and had raised 3 children, handed me the payment book for my car and said, “You’ll need to find a job and start making payments on this car if you want to keep it. I know you might want to go to college but you’ll have to figure that part out, because I don’t have the money to pay for it.” I found a job and in the fall took one English class at night (because that is what I could afford).
Thus began my journey of working my way through undergraduate and then later law school (as I could pay for it). Did it take me a while? Yes! Absolutely. Did I appreciate my education? Oh yes I did!! Needless to say, I didn’t drop too many classes along the way and I knew the GPA I needed to keep so I didn’t have to take the class over again (which would mean paying for it twice-which I did a couple of times, unfortunately).
Is College a Necessity?
Granted college was more affordable at that time, however, in our discussion, we were all struck by the very prevalent message that college is a necessity rather than a possibility. In fact, I have found, over the course of many years, many people have literally spent tens of thousands of dollars to obtain a degree that they are not even using…largely because they cannot find work in the field of their degree.
Additionally, I have counseled hundreds of parents and even grandparents that have obtained or co-signed for student loans because they felt “obligated” to “give their child a good education.” These student loans total many thousands of dollars, and when parents or grandparents should be contemplating retirement, they are trying to figure out how to pay student loans (when they are in their 70’s and 80’s).
Other Options Besides Obtaining a College Degree
Our eighty year old family member explained that before they graduated from high school they were required to take a “trade class” (i.e. auto mechanics, wood working, home economics, and so on). When they graduated, they had a viable skill with which they could go to work and earn a living. We began discussing the benefits of trade schools and learning a trade such as welding, becoming a plumbing apprentice, or becoming an electrical journeyman. These are skills that provide great incomes and cost far less than earning a 4 year degree (which you may not be able to do anything with except hang it on a wall).
I had the opportunity to have a conversation with a young man last week who was attending a local university and was in the ROTC program. He had already been in the Army for close to ten years and had traveled all over the world. I also want to mention that while he is attending the university and in the ROTC program, he works two part time jobs. He was very energetic and positive regarding his future and we heard no complaints from him about how long or hard his road has been.
You see, he was working his way through college and had figured out a way, even though long term, to obtain a degree that he knew he really wanted. He knew his path now because he didn’t jump right into college from high school. He was appreciative of his station in life and I was struck by his maturity and well-rounded outlook.
You Do Have Options
I am in no way trying to diminish the importance of a good education, but I do feel that it’s time we all take a step back and remember that we still need skilled workers. Most certainly, we need education, but consider the cost carefully. Investing in an expensive education and being strapped with loans for the next…lifetime may result in poor credit, inability to obtain a home loan, high interest rates for necessary expenses such as a car, and very little discretionary income (for things like eating out, entertainment, or travel). I have a friend that always says, “Make decisions today that you’ll be proud of tomorrow.” I quote that to myself often.
If you already have student loans and are struggling to make payments on those debts, or make ends meet each month, please call one of the Bond & Botes offices right away to schedule a free consultation. You will meet with an attorney to review your options. We are here to help you move into a bright new future.
Suzanne Shinn is a shareholder of several of the Bond & Botes Law Offices throughout Alabama and Mississippi. She holds a Bachelor of Science from the University of Alabama, Birmingham, and a Juris Doctorate from the Birmingham School of Law. She joined the Bond & Botes team in 1992 as its first associate attorney and has been helping clients navigate the bankruptcy process ever since. Read her full bio here.