After reading the selections from Ken Ilgunas's Walden on Wheels: On the Open Road from Debt to Freedom, Steele and Williams's "Who got rich off the student debt crisis" (also available in modified form as "Lives on Hold" from Consumer Reports), the excerpt from Rebekah Nathan's My Freshman Year, and (optionally) the first chapter of Alan Collinge's The Student Loan Scam (all available in the Resources -- Required Course Readings on our Sakai site), please reflect on one of the questions below regarding student debt.
College debt in the U.S. is rapidly nearing a staggering $1.5 Trillion, becoming a hidden drag on the economy and a secret drag on many people's lives. I say "secret," because most Americans do not talk about their debt in public, and therefore few of us recognize just how widespread a problem it is. Our readings today reveal many of the lives touched by debt and thus offer us real insight into the ways that student debt shapes the lives of many college graduates. The readings also touch on (in Steele and Williams's article, Collinge's story about the privatization of Sallie Mae, and in Ilgunas's stories about his best friend, Josh Pruyn, who goes to work for a for-profit school) the sleazy relationship between colleges and the student loan industry, as well as the very troubling practices of for-profit schools and private banks that have made student loans such a profitable area for both bankers and investors. For this discussion, I want you to take a closer look at the way widespread student debt (which is a relatively recent phenomenon) has changed the lives of students and their experience of college (especially by making it less of a route to financial and cognitive freedom), or to look at the ways that the system seems rigged in favor of the banks and those associated with the banking industry.
Answer one of the following in the comments below, then respond to someone else:
Question Option #1: "Is college no longer a 'liminal' space for self-discovery?"
In the excerpt from her book My Freshman Year, Rebekah Nathan discusses how the cost of college seems to have changed the experience of many students, making college less a place for free exploration and discovery and more a place to focus on preparing for the job market or the pressures of debt. How does Nathan's argument connect to at least one of the other readings for today, and what does that reading suggest about Nathan's thesis? Is college no longer a 'liminal' space of freedom between childhood and adulthood? Or is it still possible to make college a place where people can freely choose who they want to become or how they want to live -- or where they can learn how to think freely (which is the essential meaning of "the liberal arts") so they can solve the problem of debt?
Question Option #2: "Does debt destroy freedom?"
Based on the readings -- and citing specific evidence from two of them -- answer at least one of the following questions: How does debt affect the lives of debtors? Do students make choices that get them into debt or is it a trap they fall into? How is debt sometimes caused by limited choices -- and how does being in debt itself constrain choice? How can debtors regain or reassert their "freedom"? What do you think students can do about the growing problem of student debt and the larger problem of income inequality it exacerbates?
Question Option #3: "Are the banks to blame?"
Based on the readings -- and citing specific evidence from at least two of them -- how does the larger system of higher education privatization and the student loan industry effectively transfer wealth from poor students to bankers and wealthy investors, thus furthering the ways that college maintains inequality? Are the banks to blame? Or are they less to blame than government and even the colleges themselves? What do you think can be done about the growing problem of student debt and the larger problem of income inequality it exacerbates?
Respond to this question using the comments feature below, making direct reference to two of the readings in your comment, before we meet on Tuesday. Then comment on another student's comment.