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Till debt do us part: Tuition loan burden is literally killing US college grads

Robert Bridge
Robert Bridge is an American writer and journalist. Former Editor-in-Chief of The Moscow News, he is author of the book, 'Midnight in the American Empire,' released in 2013.
Till debt do us part: Tuition loan burden is literally killing US college grads
The mounting cost of a US college degree has not only discouraged would-be students from pursuing a higher education; it has triggered mental health issues too. But is hyper-capitalist America ready for free education?

In addition to the daily pressure of passing exams amid the partying, college students in the United States are now encumbered with another serious stress: finding enough money to pay for their education in the first place. And as tuition costs continue to explode, the lender of last resort is no longer cash-strapped Mom and Dad, but some savvy financial service – and at considerable interest.

Last year, US student loan debt hit an all-time record of $1.465 trillion, more than double the $675 billion reported in June 2009 when the embers of the financial meltdown were still glowing.

That astronomic figure represents the second-highest category of US domestic liability, behind home mortgages. What is most worrying about this unprecedented debt load is that many of the estimated 44 million borrowers are having trouble returning it. More than one-in-10 borrowers is at least 90 days behind on their payments, according to Bloomberg Global Data.

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Aside from proving that wages for new graduates have been less than stellar, there is a deep psychological toll that this indebted demographic must pay as well. According to a recent survey by Student Loan Planner, college graduates are experiencing high levels of emotional stress due to their current situations, to the point of actually contemplating suicide.  

The survey of 829 people showed, among other things, that one-in-15 student loan borrowers have had suicidal thoughts due to their financial situation; nine-in-10 borrowers felt significant anxiety due to their loan burden; one-in-9 borrowers who owe $80,000 to $150,000 in student loan debt also contemplated suicide. And so on.

At this point, some may be asking themselves the $1.4 trillion question: Why isn't a college education in the United States free-of-charge, exactly like it is in dozens of other countries? The short answer is that America is first and foremost a cutthroat corporate jungle that indulges in something that was summed up long ago as 'socialism for the rich, capitalism for the poor.' In other words, the entire system is rigged to the advantage of the rich. Indeed, it is the lower and middle class that must take out high-interest loans to pay for their educations, while the offspring of the golden one-percent are wealthy enough to pay cash, and in some cases even bribes, as one recent criminal investigation revealed. But some countries have shown that there just might be a better way.

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Consider the case of Germany, for example. In 2014, this European economic powerhouse, the largest in the EU, scrapped tuition fees in all of its 16 republics.

"Tuition fees are socially unjust,"explained Dorothee Stapelfeldt, a minister from Hamburg, which canceled tuition payments in 2012.

Another German politician, Gabrielle Heinen-Kjajic from the Green Party in Lower Saxony, said the tuition-free policy was endorsed because "we do not want higher education to depend on the wealth of the parents."

In the United States, support for that sort of crazed egalitarian thinking, which promotes equal and fair treatment for all people regardless of background and social status, would get a person quickly exiled to some shark-infested archipelago as a socialist or a communist.

Consider, for example, the uphill political journey of Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, a self-described 'democratic socialist.' This month, Sanders floated the idea of initiating a "tax on Wall Street greed" that would cover the cost of putting America through four years of university.

Although opponents of Sanders' plan predictably argued it would "hurt America's economy," the same critics have never adequately explained how so many immensely wealthy Fortune 500 corporations are able to avoid paying their taxes year after year. Those disappeared tax dollars, much of which is sitting in offshore tax havens waiting for a so-called 'tax holiday,' could easily provide the funds to pay off a large chunk of America's student loan debt. Trimming back military spending would also free up much of the necessary funds, although we have a better chance of viewing Sasquatch on Mars than denying the out-of-control military complex a single copper penny.

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For reasons that remain a mystery, there is something deeply lodged in the American mind that connects any sort of unpaid service –  a 'free' education would in fact be covered by higher taxes, preferably on the free-riding corporations, but never mind – to the teachings of Karl Marx. That is unfortunate, especially when so many college grads, unable to find the high-paying jobs they were expecting upon graduation, are silently suffering the sting of exorbitant student loans that continue to go unpaid.

Much like healthcare, which the United States also refuses to provide to its citizens free-of-charge, a higher education is not a privilege specially reserved for a tiny wealthy elite, but a right for all citizens regardless of class or status. Instead of contemplating dark, self-destructive thoughts, Americans should speak out and demand far more in terms of social services from those free-wheeling, tax-avoiding corporations. Give the captains of industry a free lesson in both economics and equality they will not soon forget.

@Robert_Bridge

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