Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Will we become lost generations who all belong to this dreadful indentured educated class?

Dread. That's the best way to describe my feelings this evening about the student loan crisis. I am at a loss to understand why the major news networks in this country have not made a point to discuss this problem. Where are you Rachel Maddow? We need you! What about you, Ms. Winfrey? Hey, Michael Moore, I know you've been contacted, too! Don't y'all want to pick up this story? Is it not exciting enough?

There are not just hundreds of thousands of us - that's just what's showing up on Facebook. Rather we comprise millions of educated people who are drowning in this student lending nightmare sewer, which was created by those who claim to care about educating Americans. Ha! What a painful laugh that was!

Moreover, many of us are ashamed to admit we owe such ungodly amounts of money for obtaining degrees. So, we hide, feel that despair alone, and suffer quietly - these are psychic issues, but the ramifications are enormous in a pragmatic way, especially when it comes to job performance and the mental health of this country. That's why I encourage all of you to reach out to everyone you know. So many of you have shared your stories with me, and I urge you to tell your friends, your colleagues, your family about your struggles.

What about the Obama Administration? Will they continue to ignore us too? We are large, but yet it seems we are invisible. This evening that makes me feel quite small and powerless.

To whom do we turn? Will anyone listen to our pleas for help? More importantly, will anyone in power actually do something about this disaster?

We are honest, hard-working people who were told that getting an education meant something, that it would lead to a better life for us and for our children. I am like many of you, I will be unable to have a child because of my debt. (Funny thing is, if Obama hadn't written his memoir, he and his wife would still be paying their student loan debts).

I want desperately to have children, own a dog of mine again, and own a home. For now, and it seems forever, those things are out of reach for me.

That dream of achieving high things after college has been robbed from us, and I fear that we are all lost as a result . . . so, millions of us will cross the bridge of sighs to life-long imprisonment. Wow. I had no idea that in obtaining advanced degrees, this "noble" path would lead me to a small prison cell of nothingness.


Karen said...

"We are honest, hard-working people who were told that getting an education meant something, that it would lead to a better life for us and for our children." You have hit the raw nerve of this issue...until we do hear from someone/anyone in a position of power how about we STOP telling our youth that higher education is the path to job security? I know, it's painful. I too loved being a student and cherish my degrees as proof of the hours and effort I invested in my brain and my future. In this time of record unemployment I feel no economic recovery plan can or should ignore this linking of education to "the American Dream". We must get loan officers to stop calling student loan debt GOOD debt and admissions people need to stop telling students they are sure to find work if they pursue "marketable" degrees. Keep writing...and keep up the fight.

Cryn Johannsen said...

I will continue to fight, even if it kills me. It's worth it. This crisis is about future generations and the future of this entire country.

Thanks for the support, Karen.

Delver said...

Cryn...I'm sorry to hear the despair in your post. You are working around the clock for what you believe is an attainable solution -- the forgiveness of student loan debt. I admire you, I applaud you, but I wonder if you believe in your heart that the idea will really be taken seriously by the people who count. The notion of forgiving student loan debt has brought attention to the problem, but in my humble opinion, true relief from oppressive student loan debt will come with the restoration of consumer protections and the ability for destitute borrowers to discharge their debt in bankruptcy.

You are an asset to any endeavor you undertake, and I would love to see you spend your valuable time and talents right there in Washington, lobbying our legislators for these necessary reforms.

I apologize if I am overstepping, but I can't help but feel that with you there helping to fight the good fight, you would be a strong match to any obstacles Sallie Mae's lobby might throw in the path of meaningful legislation.

Cryn Johannsen said...

@Delver - you are not overstepping at all. I am reaching out to many people who have expressed deep despair about their current situation. I don't know how this problem will be solved. Obviously I want people in power to take Rob's proposal seriously.

It would be an honor and a privilege to be a lobbyist for this cause. I'm ready for the fight!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for taking the time to take up this cause. I think we are all in for a long road ahead of us in terms of reforms, and hopefully, eventually, people will start to listen. They will have to.
I saw this article abouit Michael Moore and I thought you might find it worth reading. Looks like he is ready to stop making documentaries and maybe thats partly why we havent heard a response. http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5iRmEDXX8SS3TD0HcP4SZF021S7vAD9ANMQ4O0

And here is some news about Jesse Jackson, but the article doesnt mention student loan debt

Cryn Johannsen said...

Thanks for the links and the continued support, Karen. I really appreciate it.

Spekkio said...

@Karen: I second this.

I've become of the opinion that the American Dream is dead. I suspect it has been for awhile now - I recall Michael Moore writing in one of his books ("Stupid White Men," maybe?) about how we pump kids up with big, improbable dreams.

If we accept that to be true, then it logically follows that we, as a society, have been and continue to lie to children, and perhaps ourselves. In his speech to America's school children (well, those whose parents or schools actually let them watch the speech...), President Obama informed America's youth that they needed to do well in school not only for themselves, but for their country. If that's the case, the USA is screwed unless we make some major changes. Good grades aren't going to reverse decades of increasing income inequality. Good grades aren't going to compensate for a lousy health care "system," a lousy higher education "system," or a prevailing ideology that holds the market up as the one true god.

In his speech, the President said, and I quote: "Here in America, you write your own destiny. You make your own future." Do we really believe this anymore? President Obama's rags-to-riches tale is what statisticians call an outlier - an exception to the norm. By and large in today's America, your future is decided by things largely outside of your control. If your parents are wealthy and connected, you'll probably do just fine. If you happen to be genetically blessed, your chances are decent, even if your parents are poor. But not every person is special. Not every person can have a white-collar job. No amount of hard work can truly make up for a drastically distorted "playing field."

And no, college isn't the great equalizer or the panacea anymore. After all, a degree from Yale is worth a lot more than a degree from, say, Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania. If you can afford Yale, your ticket is essentially written. If you can't, no amount of hard work or résumé padding will make up the difference in prestige or connections. If mommy and daddy are paying for your Ivy League education, you graduate without debt - so you can probably major in whatever you like. Between your trust fund and your family connections, even a degree in basket weaving will do nicely. Graduating summa cum laude from Slippery Rock with a degree in computer science, biology, or engineering - well, you're probably at least $20K in the hole to start. You probably didn't get a good internship because of the paucity of opportunities. You have no experience and every job listed requires at least two years' worth. You can't get a job because you don't have experience, and you can't get experience because you can't get a job.

There are now companies to whom you can pay thousands of dollars for the privilege of obtaining an unpaid internship at strong and important companies. So if you can afford it - and chances are you can't - you can get your foot in the door in your chosen field. If you can afford it, it's another feather in your cap - along with your social network and your valid membership card in the Old Boys' Club.

If we continue on the path we're on, the future is bleak indeed.

Brenda Lyons said...

Despite the despair of our situation, I do feel a slight bit of comfort in knowing I am not alone in my fear and hopelessness from these student loans. Hearing your words, essentially mirroring my own thoughts, makes me believe that perhaps those who have the power to aid us in this problem may listen, because it's not just one voice. There are many of us who cannot be productive members of society because of our student loan debt.

I should be teaching college art somewhere in the country. I should be getting ready to start my life, consider purchasing a home or car and spending money and thus stimulating the economy. Instead I am living with my father, literally not spending a penny on anything other than essential groceries, bills, and of course, those student loans. I cannot get a college teaching job because in order to accept such a position, I would have to move to another state and pay for my own apartment. But with my monthly loan payment, I could never afford that. So at home I stay...

I just wish I had a future. I just wish I didn't look forward and see over $100,000 of financial imprisonment. I find it painfully tragic how if I had gotten into debt with gambling, I could at get rid of it with bankruptcy. But because I wanted to give back to society by being a professor, and teaching the children of others, that I am stuck with this debt.

I have had people blame me. They blame me because "I knew what I was getting into when I took all that money." They treat US like some sort of irresponsible children who took too much money, and now can't pay it back. But we never expected it to be like this - to be stuck with no jobs, when all we wanted to accomplish was the dream our teachers, mentors, and guidance counselors said EVERY person, regardless of how rich they were, had the right to.

The right to higher education. This is the same country who condemns the uninsured to lifetimes of debt because they get sick. We are a third world country when it comes to both health care and higher education for the less fortunate. The structure of this country will surely collapse, unless we do the right thing...which is make higher education affordable for EVERYONE. And that starts with giving those of us who cannot start our futures because of this debt a chance to be human, to be citizens, not silent sufferers in a world of education debt.

Anonymous said...

I know that feeling of dread alright. I am in my senior year at Sarah Lawrence College and as of this moment, I have $120,000 in private debt (not including stafford loans an all). Furthermore, my intention is to work in the non-profit sector - which is not known for terribly high pay.

I'd love to have the opportunity to pursue a master's or even a PhD, but I simply can't afford it. And frankly, I am terrified that I will never be able to afford a home, let alone provide for a child.

I incurred this ungodly amount of debt at my parent's urging, so that I could attend one of the best (and most expensive) schools in the nation. I was promised that a degree from SLC would take me where ever I wanted to go, and that I was sure to make all that money back. My parents believed this so much, that they co-signed on my loans. So not only is my chance at financial stability fucking shot, I feel like my parent's future is riding on me as well.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, thank heaven for this movement. It may be the only thing to save my partner and I from 30 years of destitution.

-Gabrielle Amato

Cryn Johannsen said...

@ Brenda - while I hate to think that my own feelings of despair mirror your thoughts, I am glad you have found us and that you don't feel so alone.

Never believe that the decision to go to school was a mistake, or that you should take the blame for doing so. You are, like millions of others, a victim in this dreadful student loan crisis. Victims are always the ones who take on blame, when in fact it should be those who have cast them into hell(s). Perpetrators, whether a person or institutions, always try to assert a blameless position. Those who just accept the status quo defend those perpetrators.

We need to say no to this absurdity! If we do not receive help, we will turn into a third world country - I've said that to naysayers on countless occasions.

I've been attacked, too. People have told me that I'm an Ivy League snob, and assume that I'm irresponsible - that is not the case at all. Just as it's not the case for you.

We will continue to fight for you and for millions of others.

Obama inspired me to enter society and become a community organizer - so, here I am!

Cryn Johannsen said...

@ Gabrielle - you are so brave for sharing your fears with all of us. Of course, I wish I had met you and other talented individuals for different reasons. Alas, we come to know one another under difficult circumstances.

We are finding ourselves in "extraordinary times," and that comes with fear and doubt. On the flip side, such times also allow us to contemplate new strategies for how we run things, work with one another, and live in this world. That provides us with some hope, even if it's fleeting and covered over by despair.

There is so much we are up against - there may be fate's hand more involved than I'd like to imagine. Perhaps we will have to accept the hand that she to dealt us . . . perhaps . . . But if we think hard about the world we wish to also create, we also know that even when we're dealt a certain hand, there is a joker hiding in the deck of cards. That joker is the key to a certain type of freedom and flexibility. The joker means we're still in the game.

Let us hope that the joker appears, and we may do with it what we may.

Rest assured, Gabrielle, I am watching for that joker right now. Who knows? Perhaps I hold it in my hand already? Wouldn't that be great?

Thanks so much for sharing.

Julie Hendrix said...

We are not alone. We just have to band together and keep telling our stories. Take advantage of every opportunity you have to share with younger (middle school and up) students and parents that they DO NOT have to indenture themselves. Tell them about people like us, authors Matthew Crawford "Shop Class as Soul Craft" and Charles Murray "Real Education." Tell them about teachers like Wicke Sloane over at Inside Higher Ed who believe the college degree may be obsolete. Tell every child to do what they love, what they are good at, what they possess natural ability and talent for. Tell them that there is going to be a student loan default crisis that will make the mortgage crisis look like chump change. And yes, tell them we need debt relief and/or forgiveness, too.

$40K+ in the hole and counting

Cryn Johannsen said...

Julie - well said. I too have fears about younger people going to college. The average debt now is $23K, and for an undergraduate degree! (That number comes straight from the DOE).

That's absurd.

When I see kids nowadays, I think, "will their dreams be smashed after they graduate from college? Will they be as destitute as my generation and those older than me, etc.?"

I do not regret any of the time I've spent in academia. I was close to becoming a professor . . . and I value that and people who choose that career path. But there have been many nights recently, with the loan debts squeezing our minds and our wallets, where I've sobbed and asked my husband, "what the hell is the worth of knowing about Goethe's work (auf deutsch), understanding Nietzsche's concept of the uebermensch, or appreciating the historical significance of Beethovens's work vis-a-vis the Enlightenment? Who cares? Aaaaah, I'm so worthless . . ."

But we, collectively possess all these things - these gifts - now. As a result, we all have something to offer this growing movement. Those who have become professors, doctors, lawyers, scientists, etc. - we have been given the ability to combat that which oppresses us. We shall overcome, even if it kills me. Ha!

That's why I hope we - the indentured educated class - will be able to tear off these shackles and make the U.S. a better place.

Tracey said...

Your words really echo mine...I sent an email filled with the same language of despair and hopelessness that you refer to off to my federal representives this past Tuesday, and as I type this, my phone is ringing with the collection agency on the other end who holds the articles of my indenture. I am typing this email from my desk where I work as an adjunct instructor...brutal irony? I did have children, imagine the frustration of not providing for my family, despite the fact that I work, and work, and work...

Delilah said...

Wow I identified with just about every comment on here. It's always been on my mind that with my and my partner's loans (we both have around 50k private loans each, 25k direct/stafford) we will never, ever, get engaged, married, own a house or have kids.

I agree that the biggest injustice is not being able to bankrupt private loans. On the same note, I think an equally awful problem with private loans is that the deferment/forbearance options are seriously, seriously limited. If I'm unemployed or want to take a position with Americorps, the Direct and Stafford loans get postponed indefinitely. They are incredibly helpful over the phone and there are always a lot of options. Not so with my private loans through Wells Fargo. The $660 payment comes out of my bank account automatically because I signed up for auto payment when I got promised a .5% interest rate break... and when my payment remained the same they told me that the discount is taken off the loan PERIOD... as in I don't have to pay my last couple payments or something. WTF. I am unemployed right now, not collecting unemployment because I didn't work there long enough, and Wells Fargo tells me there's nothing they can do, I had a forbearance March-April 2009 so I cannot do anything at all until March 2010. If I chose not to have the funds in my account, I'd have a $35 per day overdraft fee, and they'd go after my grandma (cosigner).

Also, I think it's unfair that food stamp qualification does not take student loan payments into account. I suppose the assumption is that with a degree you won't be broke for long... which is completely untrue nowadays. Sure, I decided to take on this debt, but my next door neighbors decided to not use birth control and have five kids and not have to work because state aid takes care of everything. Why do they get food stamps?

Ugh, ranting feels good :) Nice post.

Cryn Johannsen said...

@ Delilah - I am glad you ranted. It helps. It also helps to be aware that you are not alone. That's one of the reasons I started this blog - to focus on the student lending crisis with the hopes that people like you would find it.

Your point about the foodstamps is excellent. There is definitely the assumption that if one possesses a degree, then everything is fine. That's obviously not true.

I hope to hear more "ranting" from you again!

We're here to support you.