I am going to tell you all a true story:
One evening in 2007, Jan Yoder of Normal, Illinois noticed that her son Jason seemed more despondent than usual. Yoder had been a graduate student in organic chemistry at Illinois State University but after incurring $100,000 in student loan debt, he struggled to find a job in his field. Later that night, Jason, 35, left the family’s mobile home. Concerned about her son’s mood, Jan Yoder decided in the early morning hours to go look for him on campus, where a professor she ran into joined her in the search. The two of them discovered his body in one of the labs on campus and called campus police at 8:30AM. 32 minutes later, Jason was declared dead due to nitrogen asphyxiation.Even with the death of Yoder, student loan companies had no mercy on his soul:
While she was preparing for Jason’s funeral, student debt collectors were still phoning her about the money her son owed. As reporter David Newbart wrote in a 2007 article for Chicago Sun Times, she was gruff when confronted by these calls. “You are part of the reason he took his own life,” she told them and then hung up the phone.Yoder is not alone. This is a very grim reality for many students, who after graduating from college, cannot find a job in their respective field, are stranded in minimum-wage jobs or jobs, which do not pay a living wage or require a college degree and feel utterly helpless
Suicide is the dark side of the student lending crisis and, despite all the media attention to the issue of student loans, it’s been severely under-reported. I can’t ignore it though, because I’m an advocate for people who are struggling to pay their student loans, and I’ve been receiving suicidal comments for over two years and occasionally hearing reports of actual suicides. More people are being forced into untenable financial circumstances as outstanding student loan debt has surpassed $1 trillion. And people simply aren’t able to pay all the money they owe. In the past few years, the rate of defaults for federal loans has increased at an alarming rate. According to the Department of Education, those recent graduates who began repayments in 2009, 8.8 percent had already defaulted on their federal loans. That compares to 7 percent in 2008. Currently, 36 million Americans have outstanding federal loans. I can’t help but wonder how many of those millions are feeling distressed or suicidal, or how many have attempted suicide because of all that debt hanging over their heads.While there has been no formal study to map the correlation between student loan debt and suicide, studies have been done, which prove that long-term unemployment is a factor in rising suicide rates:
A statement published on the website by the American Association of Suicidology (APS) notes, “There is a clear and direct relationship between rates of unemployment and suicide. The peak rate of suicide in 1933 occurred one year after the total US unemployment rate reached 25% of the labor force. Similar findings have been documented internationally. At the individual level, unemployed individuals have between two and four times the suicide rate of those employed.” The document adds, “Economic strain and personal financial crises have been well documented as precipitating events in individual deaths by suicide.”And there is no running away from student loan debt while one is still alive. The only options it seems are to somehow manage to pay back loans or die trying.
Those who default on their student loans are at risk of having their bank accounts drained and wages garnished — more than 30 years after the fact, according to a Bloomberg report.Additionally,
Student-loan debt in the United States totals $1 trillion -- eclipsing the amount owed on credit cards. The average borrower graduating from a public or private institution owes $25,250. When not repaid, the U.S. Education Department is at liberty to turn borrowers’ names over to federal prosecutors, who in turn hire private law firms to retrieve the money. These firms then take a cut for themselves.
As a result of a 1998 change in federal law, student loans can rarely be discharged. Deanne Loonin, an attorney with the National Consumer Law Center in Boston, told Bloomberg that student-loan borrowers who default are being pursued and punished more severely than almost any other kind of debtor -- despite President Obama’s public statements emphasizing leniency on the matter.
Furthermore, the government does not need a court order to garnish money from student loan debtors:
Even without a court order, the Education Department can seize portions of borrowers’ paychecks, tax refunds and Social Security payments. Last year, the department retrieved $11.3 billion, and expects to collect 85 cents of every dollar that defaults.Yet free access to a college education is prevalent in countries with less GDP than the United States, which is a real shame.
Here are a few of them (some of these are actually third world countries):
ArgentinaI believe in order to relieve Americans of the student loan crisis it is imperative to support the principles outlined by Occupy Student Debt:
Trinidad and Tobago
The Four Principles/Beliefs
* Tuition-Free Public Higher Education
The single, largest step we could take to alleviate future student loan debt would be to guarantee tuition-free education for students enrolled at public colleges and universities. In the case of systems in California and New York that were formerly free, this would be a restoration of the status quo. For others, it would be a restoration of the spirit of the GI Bill, which provided a free college education to tens of millions, and established U.S. higher education as a democratic gold standard worldwide. According to a recent estimate, drawn from Department of Education data, the cost of covering tuition at all the nation’s two- and four-year colleges and universities would be about $70 billion. Put in the perspective of the federal budget, a recent audit found that the Pentagon “wastes” this sum in unaccountable spending every year. Ending the Bush tax cuts ($80 billion annually) would easily cover this cost.
* Zero-Interest Student Loans
Student loans are not consumer loans, and they should not be packaged as if they were consumer credit debt. At a time when a university degree is considered to be a prerequisite for employment in the knowledge economy, debt, for most students, is a precondition for entry into the workforce. They cannot work unless they have gone into debt–a condition akin to indenture. This arrangement does not correspond in any meaningful way to a consumer choice. Zero-interest student loans are the only justifiable kind of lending under these circumstances. The current scenario, in which government agencies, banks, and other private lenders set extortionate rates and extract lavish profits is corrupt and abhorrent.
* Private Colleges Must Open Their Books
Students at private and for-profit universities and colleges have a fundamental right to know how their tuition dollars are being allocated and spent. These institutions are fiscally dependent on student loan debt, they enjoy a tax-free status, and they are beneficiaries of federal largesse in all sorts of ways. Withholding information about the conduct of their fiscal affairs is a violation of the ethos of shared governance and transparency that liberal institutions like universities should be promoting, and practicing.
* Student Debt Written Off In The Spirit of Jubilee
The student loan industry has profited from borrower vulnerability through predatory lending practices such as compounding interest rates, high collection fees, and few consumer protections. Inflating tuition costs have been financed through student debt that will soon exceed 1 trillion dollars. The morality of perpetuating this unjust system by continuing to pay these predatory loans is questionable. In times of fuller employment, the student loan debt system has yielded no end of private suffering and humiliation for at least two generations of debtors. In a time of chronic underemployment–and the worst may be yet to come–the burden is beyond tolerance. Immediate forgiveness in the spirit of a jubilee, where the injustice of an unpayable debt is redeemed through a single, corrective act, is the only just response to this crisis.