Meet the Ambitious Achievers Hurt by America’s Student Debt Crisis

They did exactly what they were told to do to succeed, and now they’re paying a major price for daring to dream.
Jul 10, 2015·
John Walsh is an editorial intern at TakePart.

Student debt is an enormous problem for American college graduates, but it can be hard to assess just how crippling our national $1.2 trillion educational debt is without hearing from young debtors.

This video, provided by AJ plus, an online news channel from Al Jazeera, confirms the “overwhelming,” “crushing,” and “ astronomical” burdens these students live with because of the debt they accumulated to afford their college education.

Studies show college graduates make more money over a lifetime, which is one reason 70 percent of Americans believed advanced education was “very important” in 2013, a significant increase over just 36 percent in 1978, according to a 2013 Gallup study.

But absurdly high levels of student debt are undercutting the opportunity and social mobility that higher education has long promised.

“It brings up a lot of shame. It’s hard to talk about. Because I should have known better. But what I knew was that I really wanted an education,” says Dawn Lueck, a former business management student, in the video. Her story highlights the worries about how much her college debt could hurt her future: “Will I get married? What would this mean for partnership?”

In the 2012–2013 academic year alone, students borrowed a whopping $110 billion, according to a 2014 Pew Research study. There are more than 40 million borrowers, and they carry an average balance of $29,000.

“I currently have $81,000 in debt. I didn’t end up finishing my degree. When I did get loans, they were never enough to cover rent and food and school because the school cost so much money itself,” says Sam Bahu, who studied motion graphics in college, in the video. “I ended up sleeping in my car, which made it much, much more difficult for me to do anything at all.”

As a result, many students regret ever trying to go to college.

“My parents were both immigrants to this country. For them, getting a college education is like the Holy Grail,” says Jorge Courtade, a former communications major who has around $30,000 in student debt, in the video. “I do not think that education is worth it. I think nowadays you can teach yourself a lot of things just from the Internet and YouTube.”