Not Enough Loans?

From the Associated Press comes an article about the problem with student loans. Only this time it’s not the normal problem. Some students are apparently avoiding taking out loans. Maybe if they took out some loans they’d be more likely to graduate, suggests the AP. Well, maybe, but this seems like a focus on the wrong problem.

Justin Pope writes:

Even as college prices and average student loan debt rise, educators in some sectors of higher education report they’re also seeing plenty of students [who refuse to take out student loans]. After watching debt cause widespread damage in their families and communities, they’re determined to avoid loans no matter what.

What’s surprising is this: Educators aren’t sure that’s always such a good thing.

Students who take extreme steps to avoid debt at all costs, they say, may get stuck with something much more financially damaging than moderate student loan debt. They may not wind up with a college degree.

Students who avoid loans work long hours, live at home, attend less selective universities, and take fewer credits. All of these things are predictors of dropping out.

So maybe students should take out some loans. The proof for this theory appears to rest in the fact that most students who take on debt to go to college (86 percent) are able to attend full time. Students who don’t borrow are usually attending college part time. And full-time students are much more likely to graduate than part-time students.

This is an interesting idea, but it’s not the loans that lead students to graduate, is it? It’s the ability to pay for college and have a normal, four-year full-time experience that leads to graduation. This is actually not a student loan problem; it’s a cost of college problem.

The anecdote in the article is Jesse Yeh, a student at University of California-Berkeley with unemployed parents who doesn’t buy textbooks, skips meals, and sleeps five hours a night in order to avoid taking out student loans.

Well of course living like this it isn’t a good idea, but it’s what colleges have forced upon students. If the only way to have a normal college experience is to take out loans—to attend a state university—that means something is very wrong.

The real problem is not that students aren’t graduating because they’re not taking out loans. The real problem is that they may not graduate because college costs too much.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer