Graduation mortar board cap on one hundred dollar bills

Martin Center column highlights student debt’s impact on dropouts

Megan Arnold writes for the Martin Center about a group hit particularly hard by student loan debt.

I can’t remember a single alternative to college proposed to me, for me, my entire school-age life. That I would go to college after high school was presented by adults and taken by me as a given.

How I would pay for it was always a thing to be figured out later. My mom had a modest state-based Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) account for me; it was assumed I would be awarded some merit-based scholarships, and whatever remained could be paid for with student loans. I started college in 2008; my freshman year required all of the TAP funds, a chunk of my mom’s 401k, a Pell Grant, federal loans, and a private loan.

Oh, and I guess I did get $750 from the school for academic achievement.

My story is an all-too-common one; the public policy of American higher education has left over 100,000 25-39 year-olds with some college, no degree, and, most likely, significant debt. Yet, in policy discussions, we rarely hear from this group. The problem goes deeper than student loan forgiveness. …

… Sometimes I think back to my freshman year of high school when the vocational/technical school gave a presentation to encourage students to sign up for vo-tech. I felt inspired by it and talked to my parents about their culinary program that night. The response I received wasn’t exactly “you’re too good to learn a skilled trade; you’re going to go to college,” but that’s what I took away from it. The next year, I doubled up in science and honors classes and chose extracurriculars that would boost my college application.

I have no interest in avoiding accountability for the decisions I made that got me to where I am: in debt, living at home, and without an undergraduate degree to show for it. For her part, my mom regrets enabling or not challenging my insistence to go deeper into debt.

But I have to give myself some space to reflect (or deflect) that the amount of foresight and self-knowledge required here is a bit of an unreasonable ask of 18 year-olds. They have been told that they’re bright for their entire lives and they must go to college so they can succeed—which, it turns out, was also a lie.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...