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Posted at 04:30 PM ET, 10/20/2011

College Board reveals the real Occupy Wall Street problem


“This is the only dollar I have after my student loan payment.” (SHANNON STAPLETON - REUTERS)
Thumb through the Tumblr of the 99 percent, and one phrase comes up again and again: Student Loans. Student Loans. Student Loans.

On October 19 the College Board announced that Americans owe more in student loans than in credit card debt. Our student debt exceeds $1 trillion.

Need a coherent cause? Here’s one that’s long overdue.

Student Loans were supposed to be good loans. And we were encouraged to take out large ones. You can get up to the full cost of attending your institution -- even if that’s more than you need. Why not? You only require X dollars, as an in-state commuter student, but you can get up to Y, and Y is enough for a new car!

And now we’re paying.

Responsible people don't have debt. But of course responsible people have student loans. Student loans, we were told, were an investment in your future.

Until they weren’t.

Subtract the student loans, and we might not have an Occupy Wall Street movement.

Subtract the student loans, and we might still be solvent.

One trillion dollars in debt. That’s almost as bad as our country. Something has to give.

Maybe it's the notion that more people going to college is necessarily better. If everyone has the credential, then it becomes meaningless as a means of separating the qualified from the unqualified, and people are forced to pursue more degrees (and incur more debt) in order to set themselves apart from the pack. Meanwhile, study after study suggests that having a college degree is less predictive of success than getting into college in the first place.

Maybe it’s the idea that college conveys value regardless of what you study, or the concomitant fallacy that everyone deserves to get good grades because — hey, they were smart enough to get in in the first place.

Maybe it’s the idea that college needs to cost this much. Average college costs have doubled since 1988 , while income has remained stagnant. That’s why we need loans to afford it. Meanwhile, some would argue that it conveys less value than it used to. Consider: Rick Perry went to college in the 70’s, got C’s and D’s, and he still feels qualified to run for president!

CEOs supply us with goods that have actual value, like iPhones and the J. Crew shirts on our backs. College? Value? That’s more dubious. If you remember college, you probably didn’t have a good drinking schedule.

What’s hurting millenials the most, day to day, is not CEO bonuses, nor is it an unfair tax structure. We don’t have to pay for that each month. What’s keeping us down is the thousands of dollars of debt we incurred because they told us we had to. You Absolutely Must Have a Degree, society said. Sure, Steve Jobs didn’t, and Bill Gates didn’t, and Mark Zuckerberg didn’t, but they’re the exception.

They told us not to get credit cards. Credit cards, they said, were irresponsible. Bill now, pay later. Reprehensible. But student loans? Those were an investment.

Like most investments, it's tanked, and left us worse off than before, with the vague overarching sense that Everyone But Warren Buffett is to blame.

Look at us! The job market for millennials is so bad that thousands of us are now at grad school! Grad school says “Our only skills are Not Being In The Workforce, Not Waking Up Before Eleven, and Incurring Debt. Why don’t we do some more of that?”

We can't even console ourselves by reciting quotations beautiful from minds profound. No one ever taught us any of the dang things. Instead, we took courses with titles like "E. M. Forster’s Favorite Sexual Positions" and "Balls, Bearings, and Where To Find Them,” and "Cyberporn and Society." The last one actually existed! I'm not sure whether getting an A or a D (nobody gets an F these days) in Cyberporn would be worse.

And we‘ll be paying for it the rest of our lives.

Everyone likes to say that the protests are happening in the wrong place. “Go to the White House!” Herman Cain says. “Go to Congress!” says President Obama. “Get off my lawn!” says a crazed old man who thinks Zuccotti Park is a lawn.

But in the case of students, they make a good point. Why are you leaving campus to protest on Wall Street? As the College Board suggests, the real scandal is right there.

By  |  04:30 PM ET, 10/20/2011

Tags:  kids these days, Occupy Wall Street

 
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