Op-Ed: Student loan debt – it’s not the governments fault

(Photo: Flickr / jjinsf94115)
"Occupy Rally" (Photo: Flickr / jjinsf94115)

by Sam Adolphsen

I still remember the day.

I was sitting at my kitchen table, pen in hand, and I signed the dotted line to borrow a significant amount of money to pay for my first year of college.

The funny thing was, despite what you might hear in the media these days, no one was standing over my shoulder forcing me to. No government official told me I had to borrow the money. It was my decision then and it’s my debt today. I weighed the price of borrowing against the value of a secondary degree, and I chose education.

My decision, my responsibility.

That’s not what you are hearing today from most of America’s youth though. There are rallies in the streets of Portland, and in cities across America, with “Occupy” inspired students and graduates whining about their debt and how they need a way out. Students that have borrowed too much, of their own free will, for degrees that haven’t led to a job, are now demanding a handout.

My generation is looking for a bailout. It doesn’t matter that many of them are in tough positions, loaded with debt, because they made poor choices. It doesn’t matter that borrowing money is a personal decision and requires personal responsibility. They want the easy way out.

Take the example of Stephanie, featured in a recent story from the Philadelphia Inquirer that re-ran in the Portland Press Herald. Stephanie, the story laments, owes over $100,000 in student loans. Poor Stephanie. Then we find out that, for one, Stephanie is in law school (really, becoming a lawyer costs money? Who knew…) and even worse, we find out that Stephanie, had a FREE RIDE to Rutgers, but instead chose to borrow money to go to a smaller private school because she, “fell in love with it.”

So Stephanie didn’t have to take on student loan debt. She chose to. Why should I feel sorry for her? Why should the government lower her interest rates so taxpayers can help her pay those loans back? It’s her debt. Not the taxpayers of America.

Other decisions factor into this discussion as well. The Press Herald ran another story a couple days ago, highlighting several students who carried student loan debt. One of the students was a Social Worker who owes $97,000 in student loan debt. A cursory search of the Internet will tell you that social workers don’t earn enough to warrant that kind of debt. The same goes for a Maine student who will owe more than $27,000 for his degree in Philosophy.

Seriously, I know Walt Disney told my generation we can “be whatever we want to be” if we “believe in ourselves” but borrowing $27,000 for a career in philosophy…in Maine? That’s a questionable decision at best, and it’s not the government’s fault.

The government already stepped in quietly and took over the student loan industry as part of Obamacare, and they already used taxpayer money to lower interest rates on current government student loans to 3.4 percent. Now those taxpayer subsidized interest rates are set to expire, and more than double, and the “gimme gimme” nation doesn’t like it.

Naturally, those who want government to take care of them are calling for the interest rates to be held at 3.4 percent, with the taxpayers chipping in for the difference. But make no mistake, even if those rates are held, this won’t be the end of the discussion. Now that the government holds all student loans, they have the opportunity to “bail out students” by forgiving loans. “Occupy” camps in a park near you are already chanting to the beat of the “forgive all student loans” drum, and you can expect that cry to get louder this summer. (It’s warm so they can start “occupying” again.)

Now don’t get me wrong. I agree that college costs are too high. And that IS partly government’s fault. Consider the University of Maine, piling on raises for their teachers, while simultaneously jacking up rates for students. In just a few years, university salaries were up 29% overall while at the same time tuition costs jumped 30%. That’s unacceptable and it’s a problem that needs to be addressed.

It’s also the government’s fault that anybody considers a bailout a legitimate solution to our problems. The bank bailouts and Obama’s absolute boondoggle “American Recovery Act” set the precedent and taught my generation that poor decisions and failure can be fixed with a government check. Shame on them for that, and shame on us for looking to government to bail out students now.

Ultimately, students and their parents make the decision to borrow money for school. And it’s their responsibility to pay it back. I’m tired of the whining, I’m tired of the blame game and I’m tired of people relying on government to bail them out.

It’s your debt. Pay it yourself.

Sam Adolphsen is the Managing Editor of TheMaineWire and runs the Center for Open Government at the Maine Heritage Policy Center. You can email him at sam@themainewire.com


  1. For far to long the left has pushed the ‘ no personal responsibility’ mantra down our kids throats, from the classroom to the media. But I also fault parents for bailing out and not teaching their children to be responsible. And then comes along Dear Leader Barry who wants to give the freeloaders a easy street bailout, and the ‘Occupy’ dimwits demanding a free ride for everything.. it’s going to be a very bad summer.

  2. I agree with you competly Sam – well written. Read “Waking the Sleeping Giant” for good insight about how we can take our Country back from control by the far left.

  3. Isn’t ironic that the older people took to the streets demanding America to balance it’s budget, pay as they go, be responsible to its citizens, keep within the Constitution. Now we have thousands of young people many by the way being paid to protest their debts which they VOLUNTARILY  incurred by attending colleges of their choice then wanting us old taxpayers to pay their way? If somebody isn’t supporting these occupiers how are they able to spend weeks living in these parks? On the other hand I knew many people that wanted to attend tea parties but were  unable to because they had responsibilities and taxes to pay so they had to WORK.  

  4. Chellie threw Seniors under the bus, what makes these people think she wouldn’t do the same to them?
    See Chellie vote against seniors:

  5. Not! This is the same as if your Dad told you he would back a loan on any car and you would not have to pay for 5 years as a reward for passing your driving test. Then the Car salesman, knowing that, sold you the best car  on the lot. Who is basically at fault? Sounds like Dad encouraged you & the salesman to overload your butt! 30 years ago the govt started that with college loans(same with mortgages).  Now, who will pay, mr politician?

  6. Well, look at the bright side; at least they aren’t on the outside looking for work and inflating unemployment statistics even more.

    Pretty slick; getting a student to borrow money to keep them out of the job market by paying for an alternative ‘occupation’. 

    Who knows, they might even land one of those learning experiences call internships; providing ‘white collar’ labor for overworked professors?

    No wonder that Florida took a hard look at all the ‘ZONKER HARRISES’ filling up State colleges; never graduating—which would terminate the loan; but changing major over and over again, and extending their loan seemingly forever. Jeb Bush pulled the plug by setting limits on how long you can remain a student and be eligible for loans, purging the system of tens of thousands of ‘ZONKERS’.

    One wonders how bad the situation is at the U. of Maine system, given the amount of debt.  Is it a deliberate strategy designed to fill up the colleges and keep them out of the job market; or simply designed to provide free labor for research projects?

  7. Logic has little effect on the entitlement generation which is really a euphemism for living off the dole. I think we need to refer to these people as free-loaders and try to make them feel embarrassed about their stupidity and lack of responsibility.

  8. The signs these “educated” dim bulbs are carrying should read…


    The fact that the government offers such insane loans without real conditions is not a reason to say it is government’s fault.  If an adult  offers candy to a two year old…yes, it is the adults fault because the kid has no autonomy or reasoning power. That is not the case with young men and women who are going to college or their parents.  If the dumb masses are in financial trouble because of how much they borrowed the fault lies with them.

  9. What’s next?  Part of the government’s answer to rising healthcare costs has been price controls on hospitals and doctors and restrictions on construction of new medical facilities.  Will Obama “confront”  his friends in academia who have obviously been engaging in “greedy” price increases?

  10. It’s the same thing with mortgages!

    If you bought a house you couldn’t afford, and borrowed $300,000 to buy during the Boom Times… and now your house is worth $200,000 — WHY do the clueless liberals like Obama think you should be able to “refinance” the loan based on the lower $200,000 figure that applies today?

    If the value of the house increased, from $300,000 to $400,000… the same rationale would mean you’d go to the bank and refinance based on the new, higher $400,000 value – right?

  11. Hi!

    All of this debt, which is government supported, that the students have taken on contributed to the high cost of college education which is just another “bubble” ready to explode.

    I saw one woman on tv recently claim that a college education is a “right.” Obviously, this woman is totally uninformed as to what constitutes a “right” versus a “privilege.”

    These students made the choice to borrow so they are obligated to pay it back.

    Lise from Maine

  12. As long as we have government, especially federal, offering to “give” this and “give” that, there will be takers.  We must focus on changing the direction our government has taken.  We must elect leaders who will abide by a system our Constitution set forth, and then hope these leaders proceed to route out embedded bureaucracies. 

  13. Sam,

    While obviously personal responsibility is key, the fact is that unlimited federal loan guarantees to students has, by the law of Moral Hazard, drastically driven up the cost of higher education.  100 years ago Harvard had to seriously consider raising the cost of attendance; even a 5% increase would mean quite a few students being unable to participate.  Today, these concerns are absent from colleges, and tuition has increased thousands of percent since the introduction of federal loans and incentives in 1965.

  14. You equate the government to your father?  Wow, that’s pathetic.  YOU are at fault, and YOU will pay.

  15. Am I the only one in the western hemisphere that recognizes that “college” is a business? The mission of an “institution of higher learning” is to provide a comfortable income and life style for the employees……especially the ones at the top. Educating the riff raff that apply to their particular institution is of only a secondary importance. They are consumers who are completely on their own concerning how much of their personal future they are willing to mortgage. Think of a “college” as a used car dealership. They show you all the bells and whistles and praise your choice of “such a beauty” of an automobile. Then they rub their hands together while counting your money as you drive off into an uncertain future. But with a car dealer at least you get a warranty. 

  16. You know if Obama will get China to forgive our debt then the colleges may be able to get their fees down enough so anyone can pay them off.   OOOH …I forgot…they will still need a job to do that.

  17. http://www.bigeye.com/griffin.htmIt
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  18. Ok, here’s the thing. Debt forgiveness is not a bailout, it is adjusting the balance to zero. Government doesn’t pay it, they just remove it from the books and its actually good for the economy because it reduces the national debt.

    In 1933 we were all promised a free education with the New Deal and again in 1950 with the creation of the dept of education. This was part of the trade off for us accepting the New Deal, fiat money, and unlimited credit. Now people are being guilted into paying something that was promised to be free.

    The United States Code defines a Note as …”promise to pay” so what is a Federal Reserve Note? We use them every day but how can money be a promise to pay? The gold standard hasn’t be removed from the Constitution. It has only been suspended. The USCode knows this and it is a promise to pay if and when gold and silver becomes available again.

    Nobody has any real money but everyone argues over who owes who more when NOBODY can pay it back. We are all just moving numbers around on a ledger that decides who is further in debt when we should be arguing over WHY there is no REAL money. If you don’t know what fiat currency is then you have no right to complain about anything having to do with money.

  19. Lenders and For-profit colleges since bankruptcy law changes in student loans and rollbacks in regulations have actively been working hand-in-hand perpetuating the worst financial crisis this country has ever seen. Their predatory lending makes the housing crisis look like a joke. The for-profit college industry & student loan industry has more tools to hide/cook the books. It is absolutely the government’s fault. Bush’s cronies wrote the laws that allowed the student loan bubble to blow up this big. They created a free money machine that the for-profit college industry is STILL using to print government money and tack it to the back of vulnerable students and veterans who will NEVER be able to pay it back. The programs created by these schools are designed to lure in impulsive people that have no financial background or advice. They use high pressure tactics, false statistics, lies, and deceptive marketing to lure in anyone and everyone they can. They charge prices that are double if not triple that of Harvard with the quality that is worse than most community colleges. Calling the industry is a diploma mill is giving it too much credit, as most of their students end up dropping out. The product the students get is debt, pure and simple, making these schools Debt factories. They are preying on students in droves and the regulators won’t stop them. It is absolutely the governments fault. Obamacare patched it a little bit but that wound is still bleeding bad. For-profit colleges need to be curbed, bankruptcy laws need to be changed on student loans, and the loans created by these fraud farms need to be written off.

  20. you are so far from reality you would have to take a plane, a train and a bus to get there. the reason the forgive movement started is not just because loans today are high but the debtor is sabotaged by capitalization and the rolling over of every fee and charge the people who are handling the loan want to pile on…plus 8.25% interest on the whole huge mess AND the debtor has no rights to argue, fight in court, have a say…just shut up and pay. Not everyone has a smooth road out of college and the ability to defer and put on forbearance was not always information that was readily available…

    they changed the game for many of us after we had gotten in it…we never signed new papers but our rights to have our day in court were taken away even though these were not the papers that we signed.

    plus colleges are getting free government money paid for with high interest by the students, the one group that probably can least afford it…let me see if history has a similar example…oh yes back 230+ yrs when people could not afford to make a better life for themselves in the new world they were offered money to make the journey and indenture themselves for a period of time. this proved to be problematic and abuse ridden…it is the same today.

    why interest? government could give grants to students…and then the students could pay back the money they borrowed…not just pay interest for the rest of their lives….


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