Friday, April 09, 2010

Student Loans Vs. Taxes

One of the big reasons I have never finished college is money. My grants ran out with a quarter left before finishing my transfer degree, and without transferring to a university, I'm not eligible for more money. My college, for very good reason, cut out the student loan program over a decade ago. They found that access to student loans didn't actually increase graduation rates, and instead just left already low-income students with a huge debt and no degree. They worked pretty hard at keeping tuition rates under the pell grant amounts instead.

I could have gone to another community college and gotten a student loan. And once I transfered I could have gotten more student loans to offset the huge economic cost of not being able to work full time and going to school. But I have a child who in 3 years will also need to go to college, and racking up a mountain of debt for college leaves me in a shit of a place. If I do that, I need to make sure that as soon as I get out of college I can get a job that pays well enough for me to both pay off my own student loans AND pay straight out for the Kid's education because a job that pays well enough to pay off college debt will make the kid less eligible for financial aid and my having a degree makes him less eligible for financial aid (kids with parents without college degrees get more aid for being the first in their family to go to college, even if their parents went to college and didn't finish). A BA in poly sci will not pay for those things. Without already being part of the power structure, a BA will only make me eligible to drive a cab. And there is no way I could even think about grad school until after the Kid is fully launched into the world. My plan instead is to 1) stay dirt poor 2) stay un(der)educated 3) get Kid into college the old fashioned way, with pell grants.

So no degree for me. Also, no college debt for me. Uhm, yay me!

But I know a gazillion people with college debt that is crushing them and have no job to show for it. The amounts that they owe for an education that is not serving them is staggering. It may be the single shittiest investment ever. Maybe worse than handing over money to Bernie Madoff. I'm not saying college isn't good and useful and people shouldn't go. I'm saying that the way we pay for it stupid.

A quick google tells me ( and since I am not sure of the sources, I am not linking) that the average student loan debt is about $20k (not including all the fat interest the students will pay over the lifetime of the loan) and that over 100 BILLION dollars worth of federally backed loans are made every year for college.

This is where the Costco analogy for taxes comes in pretty fucking handy. Did you go to college, do you want to go to college, do you have children that you want to go to college? Then perhaps instead of paying full retail price plus all that fucking loan interest, you'd like to join our bulk buyers' club. It's called Taxes Pay for Really Good Shit for Much Cheaper than Market Rate.

Here's how it works. You pay a little bit of your income out over the course of your lifetime, like those membership fees you pay at Costco only instead of Costco you write out a check every year to the IRS and lucky you, you already have a membership card. It's that weird blue and white paper card that you're not supposed to laminate. Yeah, that one. Then when you need it, right next to the 8 thousand pill bottle of Advil, is OHHHH AHHHHHHH Super Cheap or Nearly Free College!

And here's the even cooler thing, it's still there if you're middle class and your kids don't qualify for pell grants. It's still there if you're super poor and pell grants won't pay for everything. It's still there if you're a brown kid in my old neighborhood considering walking into the Army office because you know your momma don't have no way to pay for you to go to college when she's still got 2 other babies at home. Ohhhhhhh Ahhhhhhhhhhhh.

Now this might make those of you who are middle class a little uncomfortable. I know, you put yourself through college by eating ramen noodles and taking out giant loans and dammit those poor brown kids could do the same if they just opened a book instead of playing basketball with their friends all the time./snark.

Look, if you still need to feel superior to poor/brown people, I am sure colleges will be more than happy to assist you with that through their admissions requirements. But dude, I have a fucking 3.8 gpa. And I can't finish college. So suck it.

Wouldn't you rather feel superior without a gazzilion dollars in student loan debt than with it. It just makes way more sense, and I'm the un(der)educated one.

(This post was inspired the frequent bitter ramblings of the good peeps at But I Did Everything Right, who, from what I have read, do not feel the need to feel superior to brown people. They are lawyers. They are used to being made fun of. Even by people who like them)

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