Columns

Corvese ’15: The limits of loans

By
Opinions Columnist
Sunday, April 19, 2015

One of the most jarring parts of the senior year career search was learning which jobs I wouldn’t be able to accept — not because I’m unqualified, but because I couldn’t afford them.

Like many other Brown students from middle-class backgrounds, I took out a combination of federal and private loans to pay for my education. And since I will be paying off these loans for months to come, I have no other choice than to prioritize my salary when making career decisions. It’s not even a salary that would let me live in the lap of luxury, but one that would permit me to pay my monthly loan payments while trying to maintain a somewhat comfortable lifestyle.

When I admit to others that salary is a nonnegotiable consideration for my post-graduation life, I feel as though I am betraying the liberal arts ethos instilled in me over the past four years. But as wonderful as an unpaid Hollywood internship or position at a magazine in Manhattan may sound, their requirements and rewards do not mesh comfortably with paying off loans.

While the decision to take out loans is individual, it is influenced by images of Ivy League grandeur — a top-notch education culminating in an emotionally fulfilling and financially rewarding career. For this reason, I can’t help but feel frustrated at the end of my Brown career. The dreams I was encouraged to pursue don’t align with the path my financial background forced me to take, and I suspect that this is the case for many of my peers.

The University occupies a unique and troublesome position in regard to loans. Unlike the majority of Ivy League schools, Brown offers loans in financial aid packages due to the “function of resources,” Director of Financial Aid James Tilton told The Herald in November. Brown’s class of 2013 also had the highest student loan debt per borrower in the Ivy League — a title that Brown graduating classes have held for the last five years, according to a report published by the Institute for College Access and Success. With Brown also reporting the second-lowest default rate in the Ivy League, not all of the numbers are ugly, but there is a clear loan problem nonetheless.

The growing student loan burden will also drastically affect our national economy. Last May, the New York Times reported that student loan debt will affect the creation of small businesses — and consequently jobs at those businesses — as well as home ownership. The Times also reported on a study that found that students with loans were less likely to pursue careers in the public interest, including those in government, education and the nonprofit sector, which is likely motivated by those positions’ lower salaries.

It’s difficult for me to internalize these long-term consequences, especially when thinking about monthly loan payments. But the individual consequences can also be dramatic — US News reported that students with a large amount of debt were “less likely to be thriving physically” as well as less likely to maintain a sense of purpose in their actions.

To some, raging about loans may seem symptomatic of the entitled millennial mindset — why can’t I have my debt-free cake and eat it, too? Perhaps I should have studied computer science or attended a cheaper public school! But when the growing burden of student loans demonstrates that debt is fundamentally incompatible with certain career paths, a liberal arts institution like Brown must act accordingly.

If the University truly wants to preserve its value of passionate, exploratory education, it must prioritize the removal of loans from financial aid packages. The portion of students to which Brown offers loans is not small — 46 percent of undergraduates are receiving need-based aid that includes loans and grants this academic year, according to the University’s website. Brown can address the national problem of student loan debt by improving its internal processes, though this would not be an overnight solution due to the host of other factors determining financial aid distribution.

While article after article reveals the economic dangers of taking out student loans — both personally and nationally — it is difficult for me to say that students in similar positions should not take them. My loans permitted my Brown education, which was an incomparable and unforgettable experience, and I am sure they have done the same for many other students.

Happiness and financial success are not mutually exclusive — it’s okay to pause the pursuit of happiness to maintain financial footing. Since there isn’t much more that those of us with loans can do, we can at least hope Brown students after us see some improvements.

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