The Restless Project: Were Your Student Loans Worth It?

Photo (cc) by yomanimus

I once wrote a story about a man who, crushed under student loan debt, said he wished he’d gone to prison rather than college.

“[College] was the biggest mistake of my life,” Hernan Castillo told me. “At least I would have learned a trade or two [in prison] and started being independent once I got out.”*

Listen to the radio or watch TV long enough, and you’ll hear claims that going to college has a massive positive impact on lifetime earnings. That claim is not incorrect, but it’s A) incomplete and B) based on past performance that does not predict future outcomes.

Today, student loan debt is a bigger problem than credit card debt. Think about that for a moment. There’s more total debt for a (supposedly) four-year experience from our youth than entire lives of credit card spending. Some compare the student loan bubble to the housing bubble, though that’s a very inexact comparison.

More to the point: Monthly student loan payments of $500, $700, even $1,000, are crushing the dreams of many young people. Financial commitments made by kids who are barely old enough to vote (or not!) have gravely altered the direction of a generation.

One-third live at home into their 30s now. They aren’t buying houses, they aren’t buying couches, they aren’t getting married, and they certainly aren’t saving for retirement. It’s a big mess that impacts everyone, even older folks who went to college decades ago, when it was nearly free.

It should be no surprise, then, that many young people regret their college choices.

A recent survey by American Consumer Credit Counseling makes this point. The admittedly nonscientific poll conducted of users at ConsumerCredit.com found that 17 percent of those who wish they’d done something different “would have avoided college altogether” given their level of student debt.

Fully 57 percent said they didn’t understand the repayment process before taking out the loan. Some 19 percent would have attended a different school, and 25 percent would have pursued a different major if they knew then what they know now.

That’s why they’re restless

Student loans, even more than unaffordable housing, contribute to the perpetual nauseous feeling so many Americans experience, which I continue to describe in The Restless Project.

I don’t recommend skipping college. I definitely don’t recommend prison over college. I do think skipping a year to understand its real value is a smart idea.

And I think brand-name colleges need to be taken down a peg. They fool people just like brand-name handbags. You can get just as good a college education from a local community college as an Ivy League school. It’s the teachers that matter, not the logo on the sweatshirt. Universities are known for their graduate school programs, not their History 101 classes anyway. So save the money on college and invest in your graduate degree, if you must.

And I’ll ask: Were your student loans worth it? Was your college experience worth it? What would you do differently? You can reach me at Bob at BobSullivan.net.

*This story was published on MSNBC.com under the Red Tape Chronicles. Sadly, like most of my Red Tape posts, the original has disappeared, but the story is posted in numerous other places.

More from Bob Sullivan:

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

Read Next
9 Genius Storage Solutions for Your Home
9 Genius Storage Solutions for Your Home

These creative products on Amazon will hide unsightly clutter while saving space.

Could You Give Up These 7 Expenses to Save Thousands of Dollars a Year?
Could You Give Up These 7 Expenses to Save Thousands of Dollars a Year?

You could save more than $30,000 by setting aside these costly expenses for just one year.

12 Ways to Maximize Your Social Security Checks
12 Ways to Maximize Your Social Security Checks

You may be eligible for more retirement income than you realize.

These Are the 4 Best Medicare Advantage Plans for 2020
These Are the 4 Best Medicare Advantage Plans for 2020

Medicare Advantage customers themselves rate these plans highest.

5 Ways to Put an End to Junk Mail
5 Ways to Put an End to Junk Mail

Here’s how to keep unwanted mail from clogging your mailbox and trash can.

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Most Popular
7 Kirkland Signature Items to Avoid at Costco
7 Kirkland Signature Items to Avoid at Costco

Even if it seems you save a bundle buying Costco’s Kirkland Signature brand products, they may not be the bargain they appear to be.

Am I Eligible for My Mother’s Social Security Benefit?
Am I Eligible for My Mother’s Social Security Benefit?

Can an adult daughter tap into her late mother’s benefit?

9 Things You’ll Never See at Costco Again
9 Things You’ll Never See at Costco Again

The warehouse store offers an enormous selection, but these products aren’t coming back.

3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free
3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free

With a little ingenuity, you can cut Office costs to zero.

This Surprise Factor Can Raise Your Risk of Dementia
This Surprise Factor Can Raise Your Risk of Dementia

Nearly half of U.S. residents may face this threat.

Organize Your Home With These 10 Thrift Store Finds
Organize Your Home With These 10 Thrift Store Finds

Resolve to be clutter-free in 2021 with these secondhand purchases.

This Gas Station Scam Is Victimizing More Drivers
This Gas Station Scam Is Victimizing More Drivers

For the second straight year, a growing number of Americans believe they’ve fallen prey to this scam.

11 Laws You Could Be Breaking Without Knowing It
11 Laws You Could Be Breaking Without Knowing It

Seriously? Fibbing about the weather is a crime? This and other little-known legal traps await the unwary.

These Major Appliances Got the Worst Reviews in 2020
These Major Appliances Got the Worst Reviews in 2020

Consumer Reports says these home products got the worst ratings from experts.

These Are the 3 Best Used Cars You Can Buy
These Are the 3 Best Used Cars You Can Buy

These vehicles boast reliability, safety and long-lasting value.

13 Things Seniors Can Get for Free — or Almost Free
13 Things Seniors Can Get for Free — or Almost Free

There are many ways to get cheap or free services and goods after reaching a certain age.

6 Legal Documents Retirees Need — but Don’t Have
6 Legal Documents Retirees Need — but Don’t Have

Few retirees have all of these documents that are crucial to their golden years — especially during a pandemic.

Is This Treatable Condition Causing Your High Blood Pressure?
Is This Treatable Condition Causing Your High Blood Pressure?

Researchers say too many doctors are overlooking this potential source of hypertension.

11 Generic Products You Should Buy at Costco
11 Generic Products You Should Buy at Costco

Not all generics are worthwhile, but these are among the best from Costco’s Kirkland Signature brand.

Internet Providers Can’t Charge You for This Anymore
Internet Providers Can’t Charge You for This Anymore

Starting this month, your ISP no longer can bill you for this fee.

8 Tips for Retiring Comfortably on Social Security Alone
8 Tips for Retiring Comfortably on Social Security Alone

It’s never too early to start learning how to live well while living on less.

3 Cable TV Companies Hiking Prices for 2021
3 Cable TV Companies Hiking Prices for 2021

Still married to your cable company? Hold on to your wallet!

15 Painless Ways You Can Cut Costs in 2021
15 Painless Ways You Can Cut Costs in 2021

Follow these tips to save, so you’ll have money for things that really matter.

9 Small Expenses That Are Bleeding Your Budget Dry
9 Small Expenses That Are Bleeding Your Budget Dry

Keep more of future paychecks by eliminating these budget-busting unnecessary expenses.

View More Articles

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Add a Comment

Our Policy: We welcome relevant and respectful comments in order to foster healthy and informative discussions. All other comments may be removed. Comments with links are automatically held for moderation.