A different kind of scare
While everyone else was getting spooked by last week's Halloween festivities, I was forced to face my own terrifying reality more than four years in the making.
The repayment period for my college student loans began.
I knew it was coming. After all, those loans were the only reason I was able to graduate last May. But I still liked living in a cloud of self-inflicted ignorance over these past few months. My bank account stayed relatively comfortable, as rent, groceries and utilities were my only true financial obligations.
Nonetheless, here I sit reluctantly staring at a large hole of debt that's slowly growing bigger as interest accumulates. I'll admit, it's quite an intimidating scene. I never thought I'd owe such a huge sum of money, but I've realized I'm much more lucky than most of my friends. I didn't have to pay out-of-state tuition, I didn't need to take any extra semesters of class, and I was fortunate enough to find employment immediately after graduation.
Things could definitely be worse.
I'm no doubt facing a drawn out struggle with loans for the foreseeable future, and that's a reality I've come to accept. However, my plight is but one example of a larger issue that's become the norm here in Iowa and across the nation. Student loan debt and the increasing cost of a college education have shackled America's younger generation for the decades to come.
The numbers don't lie. According to various studies and government statistics, the nation’s collective student loan debt has surpassed $1 trillion; the average student finishes college with a cloud of $26,500 of debt hanging over their head; and 41 percent of graduates work jobs that don’t even require a four-year degree after they receive their diplomas.
This doesn't exactly correlate with what my guidance counselors were telling my as I shopped for colleges five years ago in high school. They were constantly giving my fellow classmates and I the time-honored lecture that a college degree was the all-powerful key to future success. I don't recall them delving too deeply in to the financial side of things, other than reminding us to fill out our federal loan applications so we could actually pay for our classes.
I'm not bitter about all this debt, however. I'm glad I went to college and experienced a world outside of my small hometown in northwest Iowa. I met new people, learned about different subjects and experienced things I never could have if I hadn't gone. They say a college education is an investment for the future, and I guess I bought into that adage both figuratively and literally.
Even so, I think it's important high schoolers start looking more closely at whether or not college is the right fit after they graduate. Quite a few people I met during my time at the University of Iowa dropped out one or two years after they started. Their reasons were many, but most quit because they didn't know what they wanted to do, and they were racking up quite a large bill trying to figure it out.
There are many alternatives out there for students besides blindly jumping into college on a wing and a prayer. Our state has an excellent network of community colleges that allow people to test the waters and earn credit at much lower cost than a four-year institution. The college experience is great, but it's costing more and more each year. It's important students investigate all their options before they sign on to such an expensive contract.
I suppose all of this analysis is somewhat hypocritical. I had my sights set on Iowa since I was a kid and probably would have gone there no matter what. It was a great four years and I'm happy I did it. However, I can't help but think I would have thought twice if I had really looked long and hard at the mountain of cash it was going to cost me. I know now, and I'll be paying for it for quite some time.
Oh, how ignorance was bliss.
Nick Pedley is the regional news editor of the Hampton Chronicle, The Sheffield Press and Pioneer Enterprise.