The term “college dropout” is commonly associated with one of two things: Kanye West’s debut album or the glorified boy-genius-turned-billionaire-techie fairytale.
Absent from that list is the indebted former student victimized by both the higher education system and the student debt crisis. Some of these students come from low-income families and lack the funds necessary to complete a college degree. Others find that university life isn’t for them and would rather learn a trade. Whatever the reason, these dropouts have one thing in common: lingering student loan debt.
Stacking The Deck
Those most likely to default on their loans aren’t the most indebted; they’re college dropouts.
A recent analysis from think tank Education Sector revealed that 30 percent of college students who took out loans ended up dropping out of school. Without the job opportunities afforded by a college degree, dropouts are burdened with student loan debt for far longer than their graduated counterparts. In fact, they were four times as likely to default on their loans.
This has been exasperated by our struggling economy and the rising cost of college. More and more students must work their way through school in order to complete their degree, but are inevitably forced to choose between finishing college and their day-to-day livelihood. For this reason, many low-income or financially independent students struggle to see their efforts through to graduation day.
Without a degree, the odds are stacked against them.
“Access and success are not linking up.”
Those who do earn that coveted piece of paper aren’t exempt from financial hardship. A tepid labor market and stagnant wages do little to temper the sting of student loan debt, especially for those in non-STEM fields. The rising cost of living and the decreasing value of the bachelor’s degree leave many wondering where they went wrong.
The fact that one third of student debt holders don’t have a college degree is a testament to our flawed education system. Education, a basic human right, is increasingly reserved for a specific type of American. As the price continues to rise, so do the barriers to entry and so do society’s expectations. This disparity between what’s required for a comfortable life and what’s realistically attainable is growing, leaving many out to dry.
This alters the lens through which we view higher education and the student debt crisis. Instead of treating student debt holders as one in the same, legislators should target the unemployed and underemployed graduates, the low-income fifth year seniors and the college dropouts to provide relief to those who need it most. Another option is to subsidize community college. Those unsure of their future and those at a financial disadvantage could test the college waters and find what works for them without taking on suffocating amounts of debt.