Allow me to rant. I don’t know how many of you out there are in my same boat: approaching 60 years old but nowhere near retirement, due, in large part, to student loan debt! When I was younger, in my early days of working, I always imagined that when I was approaching 60, I’d be winding down, getting ready to do projects like putting old pictures into albums or organizing my closet. But here I am, 57 years old, and, instead of picking out a retirement village or planning a cruise down the Nile, I’m putting in my 40 hours a week and, even with that, trying to figure out how we’re going to pay tuition for another 9 years—at a minimum—for our 3 kids who are still in college!
Here’s our story, but all you have to do is change the small details and you’re hearing the story of lots of so-called “middle class” people in America: my husband and I both attended graduate school using student loans. Since we married fairly late—and, as a result, had kids fairly quickly—and therefore couldn’t earn as much as we might have if we’d gotten an earlier start on things—we couldn’t pay off those student loans until we were well into our forties. So, about the time we got completely free of our own student loan debt, we had only a few years before we had to take on new debt to help our kids go to college. And why did we have to take on that new debt? Because we made enough income at that point to not qualify for the kind of financial aid that could have made it possible for us to do it without loans. In fact, we would have had to live at or near the poverty level to qualify for that kind of financial aid!
And, in case you’re wondering: the debt is pretty much the same, no matter where your kids go to school—unless he/she qualifies for a few amazing scholarships that are out there for the straight-A kids who play six instruments and five sports and started their own non-profit while in the 9th grade! The fancy private schools offer great financial aid, if they have good endowments—but that only brings down their massive tuition to the same level as the public schools—and the public schools offer only minimal financial aid. We’ve had kids at a big public university and at two small, liberal arts colleges—and the bill has, in each case, been about the same.
I have to say: it’s not hard to envision a time when our colleges, especially fancy private ones like Yale or Princeton or Duke or Davidson, will have as their student body a mix of only extremely wealthy kids, whose parents can pay their way, and extremely poor kids on scholarship. It’s happening!