By Ramsey Solutions
The student loan crisis in this country has become way too serious to ignore. Right now, federal student loan debt in the U.S. is coming in at $1.58 trillion (as of summer 2021)—with over $1.7 trillion in total student loan debt.1,2 That’s insane.
If you’ve had personal experience with student loan debt, you know the stress and anxiety that debt causes. And for a lot of people, their student loan debt limits their options. They’re delaying marriage, unable to buy homes and hesitant to start families because they have so much student loan debt. It’s a cycle that needs to stop.
The Pressure to Go to College Starts Early
It’s a common mindset in this country that if you don’t get a degree, you can’t win in life. So, it’s easy to see why high school students are freaking out, worried they won’t get a decent job if they don’t have a degree. And they’ve been fed the lie that the only way to afford that college degree is to take out a loan. That’s a lot of unnecessary pressure kids have to deal with on a daily basis. And that pressure can kick in way before they even start high school.
Dr. John Delony, Ramsey Personality and host of The Dr. John Delony Show, has two PhDs and over 20 years of experience in counseling, crisis response and higher education, including 16 years in university administration. He has several insights to share about how student loans are affecting our kids.
“My son was in first grade, and he was already being told in school to start thinking about what college he wanted to go to.” Dr. Delony explained. “Man, I was shocked. I remember thinking, Wait, what? They’re in first grade, let’s teach them how to kick around a soccer ball.
“The message that the only way to success is to get into the best college you can regardless of price and we’ll just figure it out later—that’s insane,” he added.
That message is not only crazy—it’s totally untrue! Plenty of people who never went to college have succeeded with plain old hard work. There are lots of opportunities out there to make good money without getting a college degree.
College May Be the Right Choice, but Student Loans Never Are
Sometimes students definitely need a degree to go into the field they want. But we’ve lost sight of the fact that a degree is a degree no matter where it’s from—and it’s 100% possible to get a degree without loans by choosing an affordable school. That might even mean going a community college—a choice a lot of students resist.
“Community college is such an underrated option!” Dr. Delony said. “When you just look at the pure data, you can’t deny that you will make substantially more money over the course of your life if you go to college. So, when people ask me if I’ll encourage my kids to go to college—absolutely, yes.
“But I will also tell them that my mom went to a local community college and then went to a local university down the street,” he continued. “She graduated with a PhD and is now a fancy research professor who travels the world for her job. The idea that you have to go to the big, private, name-brand school because community college is for losers is nonsense. I know too many people who work in community colleges who are professors and administrators, and they are incredible.”
Student Loan Debt Often Leads to Regret
The truth is, students have plenty of options they never really hear about. They’re left believing there’s no way to get an education without taking out loans and piling up debt. We’d like to think student loans make life easier for students, but they do just the opposite—they create harmful money habits while students are in school. And the negative effects of student loan debt aren’t just financial.
Research from Ramsey Solutions shows that 53% of those who took out student loans say they regret it. And 43% of those who took out student loans regret going to college altogether. Living in regret isn’t emotionally healthy for anyone.
Dr. Delony has personal experience with the burden of student loan debt.
“Between my wife and I, we have five higher-ed degrees. And we went into debt to get them,” he explained. “We’re good now—that debt is gone! But I remember the stress it caused in our marriage. The sleepless nights. And I’ve seen it weighing on new teachers who can barely breathe because of the debt they’re carrying.
“Do I think an education at a private college is a great experience? Sure. But in the same way I would never tell someone to buy a Lexus if they can’t afford it, I’m not going to tell anyone to go $60,000 in debt for a private college degree,” he explained. “If you can’t afford it, you can’t afford it. A Corolla is a great car too, and it will get you where you need to go.”
Teachers Can Help Students Find the Right Path
Dr. Delony and Ramsey Solutions are huge fans of higher education. And we’re on a mission to make sure young people know that taking out a loan isn’t the way to get it.
“Additional education is important no matter what you want to do in your career,” Dr. Delony said. “I think teachers can play a big role in opening their students’ eyes to the possibilities.
“Look, the kids who are on a track to go to big-name schools, quite honestly, are going to go to those big-name schools—hopefully on a scholarship,” he explained. “It’s the kids whose futures would be radically different if they went to a two-year trade school or two years free at a community college and then transfer to a state school who feel less than.”
Dr. Delony said one way teachers can make a difference for those students is by talking up trades, tech and community college and painting a picture of the lives they can have if they follow those paths. They can help kids answer questions like, “What kind of home can I buy?” and “What kind of lifestyle will my family have?” Once students have a clearer understanding of what those options can mean for them, they’ll be more likely to pursue them.
“They don’t have that understanding right now because the message is simply, ‘Go to college. Go to college!’” he added.
Parents and teachers can also help students have a better—more realistic—understanding of what it means to pay for college with student loans and how that actually limits their options in the future. Ramsey Solutions produced a documentary called Borrowed Future that uncovers the dark side of the student loan industry and exposes how it’s built to work against student loan borrowers.
It’s a message all students need to hear—so Ramsey Solutions is making Borrowed Future available for any teacher at any school to screen in their classroom for free! Borrowed Future is available now on Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV or Google Play.
The Borrowed Future documentary is a great way to start the conversation with your students about their options after high school—and how they can choose to set themselves up for success by saying no to student loans. You’ll hear from Dr. Delony, Dave Ramsey and other industry insiders like Seth Godin and Seth Frotman as we lay out the truth: Our students do not have to take out loans to get a college education. They can graduate debt-free and avoid the predatory student loan industry!
Schools can take that a huge step further by offering real, practical personal finance curriculum to their students. Ramsey’s Foundations in Personal Finance curriculum for middle school and high school will teach your students everything they need to know about how money works. It’s all the stuff you wish you’d known before you got out into the real world.