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How student loan debt keeps people enslaved

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Illustration by: Karina Herrera | Staff Illustrator

As Rousseau said, “man was born free, and he is everywhere in chains.” Education may set us free, but debt is only meant to keep us enslaved.

It is ironic people go to college to receive a degree to increase their quality of life, but in doing so, are likely to enlist into monetary servitude, forcing them to live in debt to institutions. That is what they see as a supposedly better quality of life.

From all angles, we’re informed getting a degree is an investment for our future. What kind of investment is it if you’re obliged to be drowning in debt? It is as much an investment into your future liberty as an individual as it is an investment into the financial future of your loaning institution.

Student debt is a cycle of entrapment which serves the debtors and exploits the economic emancipation people seek to harness in the first place. For instance, two-thirds of students graduating from American colleges and universities are graduating with some level of debt, and the average borrower will graduate $26,600 in debt.

We all know people affected by this. At a place I used to work, one of the head managers at the store graduated from Texas State about a decade ago with a degree in political science. One day, I worked up the nerve to ask her why she was managing a random corporate store instead of doing something relevant to her degree. She answered, “Because my $30,000 student loan debt arbitrates my decisions in life, and I can make more money here than doing political science stuff.”

This was not my first experience with the vicious cycle of student loan debt. My older brother finds himself in this same exact struggle, except his debt easily exceeded $30,000. The cycle of student debt is a damning one.

The student loan debt industry has put a new spin on the phrase “wage slave,” because not only are these people slaves to wage, but to debt as well—accrued by trying to obtain a better wage!

It almost seems like a designed scam. Since the 1990s, we have cultured an attitude mandating everybody should go to college. How convenient for tuition to skyrocket through the roof! Concurrently, state and federal funding per student regularly fell during this time while loaning institutions raked in profits off of the debt accrued by this country’s future workforce.

We definitely need more people graduating with professional and graduate degrees, but not at the expense of the very purpose of doing so like our current system promotes.

Rising student debt is exacerbating the massive wealth inequality in this country, and it places a ceiling on the economic mobility of generations of students—the opposite effect of what obtaining an education is supposed to have. The detriment this problem has on our society is intensifying, and will not solve itself any time soon.