As my daughter grabs onto her stuffed elephant, pulling it to her mouth, a smile of accomplishment comes across her face. I say to her, “Maybe you’ll grow up to be an elephant doctor and see them up close!”
It’s a simple thought, one that parents of children of any age have every single day. We think, what will my child be when she grows up? But hidden deep underneath my thoughts of imagining her as a zoologist, or a writer, or president, is a nagging fear.
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I wonder, how will my daughter pay for the education she needs to get her dream job?
Together, her father and I have a collective sum of $42,746 in student loan debt. That accounts for a completed Master’s, several graduate-level courses, and two bachelor’s degrees between us. Compared to the national average $28,400 per person (according to the Institute of College Access and Success), we’re lucky. Our debt is slightly below average.
But even our below-average debt is substantial. It prevents us from traveling to Africa to see the elephants. Heck, we often can’t even afford to take our daughter to the zoo or buy her elephant-themed clothing.
I fear it will only get worse – because, like 40 million other Americans, we’re held back by our student loan debts.
I want better for my daughter. She shouldn’t have to graduate owing tons of money. Nor should she move back home to afford her loan repayments, or have to choose a lesser school because of cost. Most importantly, I don’t want her to ever give up her dreams because she can’t afford a college that will nurture her ambitions.
Annual tuition in 2033 – ’37, when my daughter will be graduating high school, will hit more than $133,000 for public schools and nearly $262,000 for private schools, According to an estimate by NerdWallet and College Board. When I first presented this number to a childless friend, she said, “Better get saving!”
But therein lies the issue. Many of us millennials were pushed into college like cattle. We were assured that taking on massive amounts of debt would be worth it in the long run.
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I estimate that my husband and I will be paying for our educations for another decade. This leaves us just eight years to save for our daughter’s education.
All this means she’s going to have to face such debts without help from mom and dad.
We will, of course, help her in every way we can financially. And we’ll present other options, like a community college, working, scholarships, etc. But I’ve worked in higher education before, and I’ve seen the reality.
The truth is, even the most ambitious students I have met have failed to graduate debt-free.
So, even if she exhausts every available avenue for financing her education, I can’t see her graduating college without taking on high levels of debt.
I wish I could end this post with a solution or some light at the end of the tunnel. But instead, I want to open it up for a dialogue. As a society, student loan debt is one of the most glaring problems facing us and our children.
How can we fix the problem? Should we lower expectations across the board? Can we reorient our views of higher education? Whatever the solutions, we need to find them fast, before student loans debt robs our society of writers, presidents… and elephant doctors.
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