MLA Platinum Award Press Release

Student Debt: Background information when reading Sounds Like Titanic

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Sounds Like Titanic

A Memoir

by Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman

Sounds Like Titanic by  Jessica Chiccehitto  Hindman X
Sounds Like Titanic by  Jessica Chiccehitto  Hindman
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2019, 256 pages
    Feb 2020, 256 pages


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Student Debt

This article relates to Sounds Like Titanic

Print Review

Students protesting education debt In Sounds Like Titanic, author Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman recalls the extreme lengths she went to in order to fund her education, including selling her eggs and touring the country with a crooked classical music composer. The price of tuition for a 4-year private college in the United States was, on average, $34,740 for the 2017-2018 school year. For the same year, public universities charged an average of $9,970/year for state residents and $25,620 for out-of-state students. Room and board can easily add an additional $10,000+ per year. Many college students take out loans to pay for tuition; roughly 70% of college graduates leave school in debt and the average sum of this debt is $28,446, meaning they graduate from college and begin their adult lives in a precarious financial situation, particularly given that, according to LendEDU, the average variable rate on private student loans is almost 8% and the average fixed rate is 9.7%.

A 2017 Federal Reserve study showed that there were 44.8 million Americans with student loan debt, with 16.8 million of those being young people aged 18-29. 4.7 million Americans have defaulted on their loans, meaning they are not currently making payments and their loans are not deferred. When a loan goes into default status, an individual's credit rating is damaged and the debt collector can sue to have their wages garnished. Unlike other types of debt, student loans cannot be forgiven by filing for bankruptcy (except in cases of particularly dire financial hardship).

The effects of student debt on the U.S. economy are dire. It has been widely reported that millennials (those born between 1981-1996) are not buying houses. According to Nerdwallet, the class of 2018 will not be able to afford their first home (with a 20% down payment) until age 36. A survey by Student Loan Hero found that 41% of student loan borrowers have delayed purchasing a home due to their debt, while 27% are living with their parents (this figure is backed up by the U.S. Census). Those in debt from student loans also put off getting married and having children, and are less likely to attempt a risky venture, like starting a new business, all of which impede economic growth. NerdWallet also reported that the class of 2018 will likely retire around the age of 72. As people stay in the job market longer, positions are not freed up for the next generation, leading to higher unemployment rates.

Many countries around the world offer free or low-cost options for higher education, including Denmark, Sweden, Finland, France, Austria, Germany, Greece, Spain, and more. Arguments in favor of a similar system in the U.S. have been gaining traction in recent years, with some concrete headway, including the 2017 passing of a bill granting free community college to all residents of Tennessee. The tuition-free program comes with a $10 million price tag, which is funded by the state lottery. In New York state, individuals whose family income does not exceed $119,000 are entitled to free tuition at any state or city-sponsored school (those in the SUNY and CUNY systems). Those who take part in the program must agree to live and work in New York for the same number of years they studied following graduation, and if they fail to do so, they must refund the money (on a prorated basis).

In addition to being a boon for the economy to have fewer people graduating from college mired in student loan debt, broader implementation of programs like those offered in Tennessee and New York would help to even out income inequality in the United States. Many low-income people are unwilling to saddle themselves with student loan debt and, knowing they cannot afford tuition costs, choose not to attend college. In this case, a rising tide could lift all boats.

by Lisa Butts

Student loan debt protest, courtesy of The Badger Herald

This "beyond the book article" relates to Sounds Like Titanic. It originally ran in February 2019 and has been updated for the February 2020 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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