Student loan debt is one of the strongest animating forces in modern life—but for years it has not been the discussion of polite company. The specter of 44 million Americans having to pay back $1.47 trillion (not to mention the amount that Americans have already paid) lurks beneath the surface of conversations about declining birth rates and homeownership, about mental health and climate change and TV-viewing habits. Every year, a new class of matriculating students notes how important a college degree is and trades a good education for years, if not decades, of financial burden.
It’s time to talk about it more. We want to help: by collecting—and telling—the stories of people whose lives have been shaped in part by their student loans. If you’d like to share yours, please contact us at the email address below.
A few generations ago, it was feasible to pay for college by working a part-time job in the summer. Now, the loan issue has swelled to such an extent that rather than further endow Morehouse College, billionaire investor Robert F. Smith chose to pay off the student debt of its 2019 graduating class. Smith’s gesture inspired days of coverage and internet debate. Student loan debt has doubled in the last decade alone, reaching a record last December. And it’s not just a problem of the young, urban middle class: Borrowers are taking their debt into old age, with Americans over 50 owing more than $260 billion in student loans, up from $36 billion in 2004. Black college graduates are five times as likely to default on their loans than their white peers. What was once a straightforward launch upward—a college degree—has instead tied a weight to the ankles of millions of graduates, and people in power, like Smith, are taking notice. Universities are increasingly committing to ensuring that their students graduate debt-free and a once unthinkable idea—canceling all student debt in the country—is now being seriously debated. It’s hard to say what will happen next. In one scenario, the recent graduate cohort might be the last generation to deal with crushing student loan debt. In another, there is only small relief. But either way, there is no hiding from the problem. And this is why I want to hear stories about how student debt has impacted your life.
When I started thinking about college, it went without saying that I would take out loans: The question was how much. That question affected my decision-making process for years, and the outcome of those decisions continues to affect the choices I subsequently make. I want to know how similar decisions have affected you. Just paid all of your loans off? I want to talk to you. Afraid of never paying your student loans off? I want to talk to you, too. And I’m as interested in stories of debt that turned out to be manageable as I am about debt that has been a burden. To participate in the project, drop me an email at email@example.com. Tell me when you graduated, how much you owed at the time, how much you currently owe, and a brief description of how the debt has influenced your life up to now. I look forward to hearing from you.
Email us your story at firstname.lastname@example.org.