January 5, 2021

Student debt lingers long after college

Student debt lingers long after college

By Sana Sethi

When a problem exists on such a large scale that 743,000 people in this state are experiencing it, carrying it with them for years, and still nothing is being done about it, you have to ask yourself, why? Why aren’t policymakers addressing this issue that affects so many Coloradans in such a massive way?

The issue? Student debt. The average student debt burden in Colorado is $38,000, totaling to $28.6 billion owed collectively. This is not just a “young person’s issue” that goes away after college. Adults continue to carry this debt late into life, preventing them from making purchases and reaching milestones that many look forward to, like buying a home or settling down, which in turn affects the health and stability of our economy.

Hundreds of thousands in Colorado alone experience this issue, and it has a ripple effect on the livelihoods of Colorado’s families and economy.

So why do policymakers still fail to meet the student debt crisis head-on? Perhaps toxic cultural beliefs still exist, even in our supposedly forward-thinking state, that if people work hard enough, they undoubtedly succeed. However, the fact that so many students, and now middle-aged and older adults, will continue to struggle with this debt for a majority of their lives flips that narrative on its head.

We cannot keep telling students that they will be able to succeed if they only try harder, because for too many, as hard as they may try, they will never pay off their debt unless serious policy changes are made to protect borrowers and limit the predatory behaviors of lenders.

The rugged individualism argument also fails to acknowledge the serious structural barriers that the student loan crisis lays bare. Sure, some students will be able to pay off their debt without assistance, but for students of color and low-income students, the system is set up to work against them.

Borrowers of color and low-income borrowers are more likely to fall behind in repayment due to financial distress, bringing forth the question of whether these loan services are purposefully targeting and preying on students that fall into these categories. The disproportionate student loan distress of people of color and low-income people, which is compounded by systemic economic oppression, only confirms that students are being forced into a system that sets them up to fail. And servicers are profiting off that failure.

Policymakers must work to make the lending process more transparent and hold lenders accountable when they deceive and prey upon people merely trying to seek an education to create opportunities for themselves.

This is not just about student debt, this is about racial and economic justice, too. We must call on our elected officials to pass legislation to bring justice to communities of color and low-income communities, and end this student debt crisis once and for all.

Sana Sethi lives in San Jose, Calif.

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