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The Jefferson Journal is JPR's members' magazine featuring articles, columns, and reviews about living in Southern Oregon and Northern California, as well as articles from NPR. The magazine also includes program listings for JPR's network of stations.

Debts & Dreams

Along with the national debt in the USA soaring to $22 trillion, student loan debt in this country is $1.3 trillion. Come on, that can’t be right. Well, it says so on the Google, so I’m trusting it to be fairly accurate. Lots of links confirm that debt is how this country does business. While the national debt is its own horror show, the student loan debt in this country is Debtzilla, raging and sinking the economic boats of millions of Americans who find themselves enslaved to massive debt at a time in their lives when they should be beginning to build their economic futures on the foundation of a college degree.

Pointing fingers and laying blame at colleges, parents, guidance counselors, the insatiable loan industry and students themselves--they, after all, do sign up for the loans at some point--only avoids confronting the beast by stirring up self-righteous rage that solves nothing. 

While some people have the support and personal tenacity to tackle that kind of obligation, most of the students I know wish pursuing their college dreams didn't cost them their futures.

Nothing. It is a problem for everyone, even those with no student loans. When a whole generation of young people defer taking chances on meaningful careers or work that matters in order to pay down their massive debt, we, as a whole society, suffer vast repercussions. We lose out on their creativity, their energy, their innovation and ideas. We are all feeling the dire lack of primary care doctors in our rural areas, but how can we attract new doctors if the prospect of becoming a family doctor does not hold the promise of paying off debt before Medicare age? The teaching profession is hard enough without having to face the prospect of loans three times a first-year salary. The average student loan debt is some $37,000—with over 2 million in this country owing over $100,000. While some people have the support and personal tenacity to tackle that kind of obligation, most of the students I know wish pursuing their college dreams didn’t cost them their futures.

One fairly easy way to avoid the clutches of Debtzilla is to take seriously the option of Community College. I am really tired of how this option has been denigrated and demeaned by the above-mentioned stakeholders. Parents and counselors need to be real with their young adults and clearly advocate for their futures by forestalling any school-related debt to at least their upper division years. College of the Siskiyous in Weed California offers the Siskiyou Promise, which promises young people of Modoc and Siskiyou County a debt-free education with transferable credits to higher institutions where they can finish their degrees. I am sure all community colleges offer counseling to help young scholars avoid tying a lodestone of debt around their necks in the pursuit of whatever dreams they have. Our daughter, herself a college graduate, is now attending affordable classes in pre-nursing at Rogue Community College and is in a program that pays her to become a CNA. I know that with a little research, college degrees and the college experience—dorms, parties, interesting people from all over the world, oh, and a high-quality EDUCATION---can be obtained without compromising future hopes, dreams and plans.

Since our government is slow to respond to this catastrophe, we all need to be smarter about how we counsel our young people. Dream Schools become nightmare memories if the Bachelor’s Degree earned comes with an insatiable monster of debt. Face it, college is just a few years of your life, don’t compromise your entire life to pay for it. Check out your local community college and thank me later.

Madeleine DeAndreis-Ayres is a proud COS alumnus and looks forward to the 50th anniversary of the Performing Arts department in October. Contact the COS Alumni Department for more information.

Madeleine DeAndreis-Ayres developed a passion for writing for an audience as editor of her high school newspaper, the Eureka High Redwood Bark. She comes from a long line of teachers and became a teacher herself, retiring from teaching in Scott Valley. She now lives in Ashland with her husband Jim.