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“College is a Must,” But at What Cost?

Addressing the Lack of Student Loan Education for Millennials

It is no secret that the pursuit of higher education is an expensive one. There is a reason that age-old cliches about broke college students persist; they are largely the truth. But for so many students today, even ramen to eat and a roof to sleep under have become luxuries that not all can afford. In 2014, the California State University system, which is home to nearly half a million students including myself, conducted a study that estimated 8.7 percent of their campus population was experiencing homelessness, while 21 percent of students faced food insecurity at some point during their college careers. This epidemic is indicative of the ways that the rising cost of college, both tuition and living expenses, has affected the Millennial generation. To meet their most basic needs, so many students must  turn to forms of financial aid to support themselves, despite lacking critical knowledge to understand the loan system.

In the past three decades alone, average tuition and fees for degree-granting institutions have more than doubled after accounting for inflation. This drastic increase has forced more students to turn to loans in an effort to finance their educational endeavors. A report by the Pew Research Center found that nearly 7 in 10 college students now graduate with some form of debt as compared to 5 in 10 during the early 90s. Not only has the number of students taking out loans increased, but the amount of money students are borrowing has also increased from an average of $12,434 in the early 90s to $26,885 currently.

I am one of the many students who must rely on loans to finance my higher education career. When beginning college three years ago, I did not know much about the financial aid system. Growing up, I was consistently told, “College is a must. If you want to have a good job, you have to go to college first.” However, as a first-generation student, I was not given much information about how to make higher education a reality, especially in regards to finances. I knew the basics about filling out the FAFSA, but beyond that I had never received much information about student loans – how much to take out, what kinds to use, and the ways they affect your life. Because of this, I will be graduating from my undergraduate education with approximately $35,000 in debt. In retrospect, I wish I’d received more guidance about the ways that student debt can affect my life, for I would’ve more seriously considered the option of attending community college or my local state school at a lower cost. I am not alone in my naivety with regards to financing higher education. A global financial literacy report found that 53 percent of student loan borrowers would make a change if they could go through the process again. We need to better equip young adults with financial literacy and knowledge of how to navigate the student loan system. There is not enough education about the ways loans and debt can affect our lives as young adults.

During my undergraduate career, students loans have altered my life’s ambitions. As a prospective law school student, my loans have a massive impact on my decisions for life post-graduation. Although I would love to go straight to law school and continue my education, it is difficult for me to justify taking out more loans when I already feel that I’m drowning in debt. For many, the impact loans have on life decisions extends beyond their education. A report from the National Association of Realtors found that among older Millennials who do not own homes, 79 percent say that their student loan debt is causing them to delay buying a house, and borrowers are not the only ones feeling these effects. A report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau outlines the ways that student loan debt has an effect on health care, retirement security, and education for all Americans. It is clear the effects of student loan debt are felt nationally, and if we hope to alleviate these issues, we must find a way to support young adults attempting to build a life while inundated with student loan debt.

As the national amount of student loan debt surpassed $1.3 trillion in the U.S. in 2017, it is clear that something needs to change. We need education ensuring young adults are equipped with proper financial literacy skills to make decisions regarding how to finance their education. We need protections to be put in place that enable student loan borrowers to live lives that allow them to contribute to our economy in meaningful ways. We need policy makers who understand the importance of investing in higher education and keeping college affordable for all people. Millennials want the same things Baby Boomers wanted years ago: a house to live in, employment that allows them to support their families, and the ability to contribute to society in impactful ways; however, in order to achieve this, we need a system that supports us rather than sets us back before we’ve even entered the workforce.


Jeremy Mauritzen is a rising senior at California State University, Northridge studying Deaf Studies and Child Development. He is a Young Invincibles West Organizing Scholar for the summer. He is passionate about educational equity, young adult leadership, and good coffee.