The topic of student loan debt, and more specifically the idea of erasing it, became a hot-button issue in the final months and weeks heading into the 2020 election, and while we are likely to see a more progressive position from the new administration in Washington, there is a mountain of trouble brewing for students and their parents here in California.
There are a wide range of issues to address when it comes to student loan debt, but the one idea that addresses just about everything is that many students aren’t educated on all of their options before (or even after) they sign up to be on the hook for expenses occurred on account of their education.
At the same time, there are some even less-frequently-discussed ways that college loans can impact parents and extended families for years to come. And had they had the benefit of understanding this information up front, there is a good chance that many students would choose a different path heading out of high school. (This is especially true for students from lower income families.)
Pell Grants Aren’t Enough
Pell Grants are advertised as free and easy money to help students from lower income families with the burden of paying for a college education.
And while that is certainly true, and they do help to an extent, it needs to be pointed out that there is a maximum amount of money available for each student that qualifies, and that amount rarely covers the bulk of college expenses.
Standard Student Loans are Complicated
The next step for many students is to apply for a student loan on the assumption that they will have a decent job and be able to make payments when they graduate.
However, as many young adults are now learning, saddling yourself with school loan debt can make entry level pay in any field feel like less than minimum wage.
Parent Plus Loans
Another option that many families choose to help cover the cost of college is a Parent Plus Loan, where the parents of the student apply and are responsible for paying back the cost of their child’s education.
This can be a great option for the students, but it often amounts to more debt than the low-income families that apply can possibly afford to pay. It is also worth noting that many families in this position incur a double cost because the students heading off to college were counted on to provide childcare for younger siblings while living at home.
Limited Work-Study Positions
Many universities encourage students to seek out work-study programs or resident assistant positions that can be traded for reduced or free room and board. However, these positions are extremely limited, and can be too much of a time requirement for students who are struggling to reach a college level of studying in the first place.
No matter how you choose to break it down, college educations are outrageously expensive, but they are also a requirement for a long list of fields that many young people are interested in pursuing as careers.
There is no good answer in sight for how to make college more affordable, but getting young people better educated about the costs and options to cover those costs before they start making life-changing decisions is something we should all be pushing for.