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


"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

About Steve Robinson

Steve Robinson is the former editor of The Maine Wire and currently the executive producer of the Kirk Minihane Show. Follow him on Twitter @BigSteve207.

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