When students take out loans to pay for graduate and undergraduate school, most of them probably don't think they'll still be strapped with debt in their 80s. But according to new research, senior citizens account for nearly half of student loan debt in the U.S. ($36.5 billion). Some of them are still paying off loans from early in life, while others took on more debt when they returned to school during middle age. For these Americans, a college degree resulted not in a successful career but in a lifetime of debt.
And as if it weren't hard enough to start a new career and make your student loan payments, colleges are now withholding transcripts from graduates in loan default and playing bill collector for the U.S. Department of Education:
The US Department of Education says only that it “encourages” colleges to withhold transcripts, a tactic which the department, in a letter to colleges, claims coldly “has resulted in numerous loan repayments.” But particularly in a time when the real unemployment rate is stuck at over 15 percent, or, if long term unemployed who have given up looking for work are included, at 22 percent, it seems not just heartless, but counter-productive for schools to block their own graduates from obtaining a document they need to move on to a higher degree or to get hired in their chosen field.
“It’s worse than indentured servitude,” says NYU Professor Andrew Ross, who helped organize the Occupy Student Debt movement last fall. “With indentured servitude, you had to pay in order to work, but then at least you got to work. When universities withhold these transcripts, students who have been indentured by loans are being denied even the ability to work or to finish their education so they can repay their indenture.”
The growing tsunami of student loan defaults is more than a series of personal tragedies. It is killing the dream of many low-income students who saw college as the best chance to rise out of poverty, only to find that after borrowing heavily to pay for school, they cannot get the paper needed to document their accomplishments, cannot get a job and cannot even declare bankruptcy to escape their plight. Congress, after pocketing wads of bank lobbying cash, made it all but impossible to use bankruptcy to escape student loans, requiring a court finding of “undue hardship”—an almost impossibly high legal hurdle.
Last October, student loan debt topped the $1 trillion mark, easily surpassing the total credit card debt. Last year alone, as tuitions soared and scholarship aid plunged, college students borrowed a record $100 billion for tuition and expenses.