Education, Poverty, & Student Loans: Things Need To Change
Education is one of the few tools stronger than the chains of poverty.
Education helps people escape poverty and live their hopes dreams.
You've heard this before right?
And yes, it is true. But like any truth, there's (almost) always a loophole.
While there is plenty of research and anecdotal stories showing the power of education, education is not always the magic bullet to the injustice of poverty.
As the world continues to propel forward into the future, training beyond a high school degree has become a requirement for earning a living wage in many countries. The problem with continuing one's education, however, is the price tag that comes with it.
A U.S. college degree, on average, leaves a student with $37,172 in student loan debt. That amount of debt can take years for young adults to pay off depending on the career path they embark on. For those seeking to break free of the constraints of the cycle of poverty, such debt can be an insurmountable mountain to overcome.
If you pursue education with the aim of leaving poverty behind you, the crippling affects of student loans can destroy your dreams. Sacrificing the present for the future is catchy advice unless that sacrifice also comes with an interest rate of 20-30 years of loan payments.
And student loan debt does not affect everyone equally. In the United States, for example, African-American students - for a variety of reasons - bear a disporportionate weight of student loans. You can read more about why this is the case here.
Student loans are quickly becoming the greatest obstacle in the lives of our emerging generations. And everyone involved is should be held responsible for it. From the inadequate government programs to the ravenous for-profit loan companies to the universities who don't warn students of the dangers of taking out $100K of loans - no one gets a pass on this.
To put it in the words of one of my mentors:
"The way our universities handle tuition and loans is not just unfortunate. It's downright sinful and immoral."
What do you think?
I have lost count of the number of my friends who have had to say no to the jobs of their dreams, the mission trips they feel called to join, and philanthropic giving opportunities because their hands are tied by their monthly loan payments.
Now - don't get me wrong - student loans can be necessary steps that pay off down the road if you are in a field of study that guarantees high compensation (ex. doctors) but it requires choosing well-paying jobs and being able to afford to live with the weight of their debt until you reach that big payday.
It's kind of like when I play Monopoly (which I don't do much anymore because I like having friends).
My strategy is this: Buy as many properties as possible. Mortgage those properties strategically and buy more properties. Go to the brink of bankruptcy in order to own as much of the board as possible. And - if I'm lucky - I'll survive long enough for my "investments" to begin pay me back until the board is covered in hotels sprinkled across my monopolies. But if the roll of the dice doesn't go my way, if people don't land on my handful of un-mortgaged properties, then I lose everything pretty quickly.
Yes, you do have to risk big in order to achieve big results. You have to lean into the unknown in order to attain your dreams.
But - when it comes to student loans - that risk is even bigger if you are coming out of a life of poverty and without a safety net of any kind.
I can go for broke in Monopoly because the worst case scenario is having my competitive ego taken down a notch.
Something needs to change or our future as a society is a bleak one - full of sunken economies and under-qualified workforces.
But not all hope is lost.
We don't have to give up on education, throwing out the baby with the interest-rate bath water.
Because creative alternatives to the traditional multi-year, debt-heavy student journey are being created.
From apprenticeship programs for high schoolers and training for formerly incarcerated individuals, visionary leaders are beginning to reimagine what education can look like. And online platforms like edX and Khan Academy are rewriting the script for classroom learning.
One of my favorite concepts is: MissionU - a one-year program that you pay for after you graduate and only if you make above a certain pay threshold. MissionU developed their education program because "only 18% of students who start a bachelor's degree graduate in 4 years, and less than half of those strongly agree that it was worth the cost."
We need to be more creative with education.
Research alternative education platforms in your own city and help support their work in educating our future generations. And if you don't find one, figure out how to get one started!
The future of education is not in diplomas sponsored by tens of thousands of dollars of student loans.
Especially when it comes to those faced with the injustice of poverty.
For our young people in poverty, they need better options.
Education may be the key to a better future. But education with insurmountable debt perpetuates the cycle of financial instability.
We can do better.
We must do better.
So, what ideas do you have?