Loans go hand in hand with education

Published 12:01 am Sunday, May 17, 2015

All across the country, it’s cap and gown season. Many high school commencement exercises will be filled with inspiring stories and good, common sense advice from former presidents, Biblical scripture and even Dr. Seuss.

People give lots of advice about everything from listening better, to how to be confident and get ahead in business. Speakers suggest the secret to life may be in living it more fully and not worrying about what others think.

Commencement speeches pontificate about successes and failures and how a well-lived life includes some of each.

Email newsletter signup

But something we don’t mention often enough to graduating high school seniors is the amount of headwinds they face as they start their adult lives.

On the surface, that’s no different than it’s been for generations.

Graduates — and those who don’t graduate — face the daunting rite of passage of figuring out what they seek to do with their lives. For many, they’ll take the path of continuing their education by furthering their studies at a college or university.

But something has vastly changed since most of us went to college — student loan debt has become a hefty burden.

For the class of 2013 — the last year for which data appeared readily available — Mississippi college graduates enter the workforce with approximately $27,500 in student loan debt coming along for the ride.

That’s the cost of a pretty nice, new car and the hefty note that comes along with it, just to get an education. Experts suggest that debt average may be underestimated as well, as not all colleges and universities report their numbers.

The trend seems to be getting worse, too. In total, some $1.2 trillion in student loan debt exists in the United States. That’s a significant pile of cash.

To put it into proper perspective, that number looks like this:


Some $3,000 in student debt is accrued each second, on average.

A large factor appears to be hefty cuts to the higher education programs across the country by the states in which the universities reside.

A recent study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities indicates the majority of states —including Mississippi and Louisiana — are spending far less per student than the states did prior to the recession of 2008.

For Mississippi, that figure is down more than 23 percent in the 2014-2015 school year versus the 2007-2008 year.

For Louisiana, the figure is far worse, down 42 percent over the same period.

The result is a greater percentage of the cost to earn a college education is being pushed to the students themselves.

On its surface, that’s a frightening thing. The last thing we need for this generation is to enter adulthood with the weight of commercial debt burdening them as they walk through life.

But then again, perhaps the real issue is that parents, educators and friends much do a better job of educating students on the front end to understand that running up a $200,000 Ivy League education for a career in which the starting salary is $22,000 per year may not be a good idea.

We also, as a society, need to remove the stigma associated with students who choose not to immediately obtain a four-year university degree. Tons of successful citizens start lucrative and fulfilling careers in the military or by learning a trade.

Somehow, we seem to have suggested those options are less important than earning another degree.

That’s probably because the people giving all the advice at graduations chose the degree path and now view it as the only way to go. That’s simply not so.

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or