Sunday, February 21, 2010

Student loans: look towards the future before you take them

If you haven't read my previous post about student debt, I suggest you have a look at the post and especially at the comments, which provide a lot of material for thought and in fact prompted me to write this.

Several women who commented confirm a trend which I have already noticed in comments and emails I received from blog readers: young women invest time, energy and especially money (for which they often have to take loans) for a prestigious degree, and then realize a few years down the road that in truth, that they just want to be wives and mothers. They then face the agonizing choices: should they postpone starting a family? Go to work despite having little ones around? Stay home even though they know that paying off debt will be difficult on one income?

Here are some quotes from my readers:

One of my largest regrets is that I didn't keep my student loan debt down. When I married a year ago I carried about $25,000 in student loans with me… we know we can't start having children until it's gone because we can't eliminate it on a single income. All this for an education that will be of little value to me as a stay-at-home mother.(Melanie)

I have a lot of student debt, but I decided to stay home with my little one anyway, despite the fact that we have no way to pay. My thinking changed radically at the end of college and at that time I wished I had never gone but it was too late.

I hope to warn others that college should not be viewed as something mandatory to be pursued at all costs; something I was brainwashed to believe. I was scammed. (Catherine)

I was foolish and took out way too much money in student loan and it's adversely impacted my family (e.g. making it impossible for me to stay at home with my son, etc.). We live very frugally, so that we might be able to pay off my loans. But, at 24, when I took out my last loan, I didn't realize my PhD was not going to be that valuable. (Marianne)

I am one of those women who started university without the remotest idea that soon upon graduation, I will meet my husband and become a stay-at-home wife, and then, less than a year later, a mother. Thankfully for me, I passed through with no debt. I'm not sorry for having my degree, it has come in handy a few times and perhaps will be useful in the future if we apply for permission to homeschool, but if I had to get in debt to pay for my education, I'd say the price is too high as practically I'm not working in the field.

Why does that happen? I think the key to understanding this trend is the fact that most of us were indoctrinated to believe that college and career are the only true way to fulfill our potential, and therefore, girls who are intelligent and accomplished simply see no other path ahead of them.

The problem is, what looks glamorous to a young single can often turn out to be not at all practical to a woman once she becomes a wife and mother and re-evaluates the choices she has made so far. If she was careful and acquired no debt, she can usually step off the career ladder (although often not without feelings of guilt and inadequacy heaped upon her for "wasting" her precious education). If she has debt, she might discover that she is in bondage and the "freedom" she was supposed to have as a young, well-educated woman is actually slavery to a huge student loan, which doesn't permit her to go and raise her family in peace. 

We are wired to strongly desire marriage and children; God created us that way, and the false suggestion that wifehood and motherhood are "just one of the options" brings a lot of misery to women's lives. Even women who are caught up in their careers more often than not feel an overwhelming desire to start a family at one point or another, at the cost of an agony-inducing inner conflict, and then many times they discover that getting married and bearing children is far more difficult than it would have been a decade ago – most of the normal, nice men have already married someone who was happy to dedicate herself to family life, and time is running out.

If young girls are brought up with the goal of marriage and motherhood in mind, it is likely they will think far more carefully before leaping into ten years in medical schools and heaps of student debt to go with it. Ask any young girl whether she wants to get married and have children, and the answer will almost undoubtedly be yes. Ask her how she intends to combine family life with the prestigious and time-consuming career path she is about to start, and you'll most likely get a blank look. If you insist, she will stammer, or cheerfully insist that "it will all work out somehow." Not so; not without a careful plan.  

Young women need to take into consideration that the majority of them will become wives and mothers. When this is a background thought, the entire lookout is different. It's possible to choose to study for a degree or certificate that will enable a woman to work flexible hours from home, and/or start her own business. Or it's possible to simply choose broader education that will later help with homeschooling. Those are non-competitive options which do not require lots of debt, and often allow a young woman to continue living at home and being an asset to her family.

I'm writing this because I truly feel for women who are trapped in situations that are bad for them and their families, because of rash choices they made when they were younger. I could easily have been one of them. 


Thia said...

I absolutely agree with what you've written these last few posts. Furthermore, what has been so very disappointing is that growing up our generation was told that if we work hard, go to school (ie college) then we will basically have a good life, a good job, and those loans won't be so bad. Unfortunetly, what the older folk didn't realize was that one, the economy was going to tank and the amount of money needed to pay for bills and the loan was going to be higher than thought. And two, that the piece of paper stating you had a college degree wasn't going to be worth much. My husband has a double major degree and has yet to find work in those fields. He has been out of school almost 10 years. To say we're disappointed is to put it mildly.

Thursday's Child said...

I couldn't agree with you more. When I graduated from college I had student debt AND credit card debt. I didn't marry until my 3rd year of teaching. When we married we were fortunate that my husband had savings that he wanted to use to pay it off. If I hadn't been paying interest that would have been different. But he didn't want to waste our money on interest so he paid it off in one lump sum. I'm so grateful to him for that.

Unfortunately most young marrieds aren't able to do that. I can sympathize though...when our oldest was born my husband was working on straight commission and we just couldn't depend upon his salary to live on. Mine was the steady paycheck and the benefits. I don't regret doing that for our family but I do regret not being home with my son. Although being a teacher, I had summers with him and various vacations and the occasional, blessed snow day. :)

I wish that I had begun my college years so differently. Preferably by being a much better student in high school so that I could have possibly had some scholarship money.

But hindsight is always 20/20, isn't it?

Jiabaoyu said...

I think student debt should be carefully considered by all who enter higher education, not just young girls who wish for a family. Debt is as much of a burden to a young man who wishes to work as for a young woman who wishes to stay home.

But from my experience, debt cannot always be avoided even for the most frugal.

Take what I'm studying. In the US, a medical degree is very expensive no matter how you try to cut down on cost. Scholarships are extremely difficult to acquire and you cannot work to support yourself during school due to the hours kept. You also can't "work for a few" years to save up for med school since the avg tuition for cheap instate schools is around $30k/yr plus living expenses. The vast majority still take out loans to go to med school b/c they understand the need for delayed gratification. We all have to put off families etc in order to achieve our goals.

I don't agree with the idea that if something is expensive or not perceived as family friendly, then a young girl should not go into it. I believe that many professions, esp the medical profession needs young girls entering it.

Ladies can offer a different approach to treating their patients than men. In fields like OB-GYN, where it is mostly a female patient base, the specialty may benefit from having some female OB perspective.

I'd also wager that a female presence may be beneficial to other medical specialties. And as more girls enter medicine, the hours become more family friendly since more doctors are demanding it.

As for balancing family with a career. I see it done every day at my med school. Many female docs raise families of multiple children alongside a flourishing career.

Is this for everyone?

Most certainly not. But neither is staying home.

The key to happiness is finding that balance that makes one's life feel fulfilled.

I don't condemn someone who decides to stay home, so I hope no one condemns me for wanting to become a physician.

My mother worked fulltime all of her life, and I felt she was there for me every step. As it stands, she is my role model in life.

I hope to have a family, but I also hope to work like my mother.

Of course, I'd like the option of staying home b/c who knows what life can throw at me....but as it stands, I'm happy being a working mother like my own mom.

However, I make sure to keep my debt low so that I will not burden my family with it. I believe this fiscal responsibility should be taught to all young people taking out loans on their they women who stay home or men who want to work.

Anonymous said...

What is this thing about student loans--when I was a student I didn't have a student loan--I don't thinknit existed! I worked six nights a week okay I lived at home but still needed clothes,money for petrol etc. I got married,kept working till I was pregnant with my first child,then stopped work! okay no loss!34 years later husband died i could only get state widow's pension -I was to young to get his private widows pension fund--great! At 53 trying to get a job after being a housewife is just so easy--like hell,sorry but i think a woman once her kids are at school should take a part time job -if they wish and in the case of being widowed young at least they will have steady cash flow

Jodi said...

Well said, Anna. I feel the same way you do. I could have been one of them, too, and I'm so glad I chose the path I did. I was in graduate school when I met my husband and against almost all advice, I dropped out and got married. I don't regret it one bit. I am also thankful that I had only one very small loan that was paid off quickly.

Here in the US, we seem to think that college is the magic ticket. It's not. College is not for everyone. Yes, there are certainly situations and people it is appropriate for, but not everyone. College does not automatically equal an education or a good, stable job.

Bethany Hudson said...

Anna, I agree with this completely. As others have said, I think this advice is applicable to both sexes, as well. Not to say that student loans are an evil--but they are not a necessary evil. You should weight very carefully how long it will take to pay off your debt in your prospective career path, etc. Taking out $30k in loans to be a school teacher when you think you might want to stay home after a year or two is probably not wise. Taking out $30k to be a surgeon when you plan to work for many years is not an unreasonable thing, however.

S. Belle said...

This is such a thought-provoking topic. I do think that all students should carefully consider taking on student loan debt. Some people consider it "good" debt, and feel there is nothing wrong with it. But, debt is debt, and has the same affect on your life.

I do think it would be more responsible to apply for scholarships and grants, work while attending school, and attend a cheap state school.

I attended a prestigious private university, and while I don't necessarily regret it, because I did receive a lot of grant money, I still incurred a nice amount of student debt. Had I gone to a much cheaper state school, I probably wouldn't have any debt at all.

I just feel that so many people make these huge mistakes as young people, and they spend their late twenties and forward trying to repair the damage done from earlier years.

Wouldn't it be great if students were educated more during high school about real life? Properly handling finances, how to choose a good husband, how to properly run a household and train children. Where would the world be if we were all truly educated in what mattered before we began our adulthood?

The Stay at Home Wifey said...

Thank you Anna for these posts. Both my husband and I are college graduates and neither of us have any debt. My husband chose to take 6 years to get his 4 year degree by working and taking classes as he had the money to pay his tuition. I had a small student loan with my first degree, that got paid off, and worked my way through my second degree.

We are expecting our first child in a few months and we have already discussed this topic many times. It is our intention to raise our children to take responsibility for providing for themselves once they are adults. If they want to go to college then they will be expected to either work to study like my husband did, or find creative business opportunities that will finance their education. This is such a stark contrast to many of our friends with young children, who even while they are infants are making payments into a pre-paid college fund. It is a reflection of our society when the expectation even from infancy is that every child will get a college education, regardless of the desires or gifts of that child as they grow.

It is my prayer for my future children, especially daughters that they meet and marry their spouse at a younger rather than later age, and that they are able to be stay at home wives right from the start. We know that as parents we won't ever assume to know what God's plans are for our children, but that we train them and encourage them to be all that God plans for them to be.

Val said...

I have to say that I both agree and disagree with you on this one. I do believe that student loans can be ridiculously crippling....but they are not necessary, in many cases. In the States, many conservative families refuse to send their children to public universities, where they might become "indoctrinated" by the evil liberal culture. Instead, they send their children to extremely expensive private universities, thereby building up a huge debt.

Personally, I'm glad that I attended a public college. I was forced to stand up for and defend my faith there on a regular basis, which taught me a lot. In the end, I left college more conservative than I began it....and I left with no debt, because I attended a public university that I could afford.

While I agree that not everyone must go to college, I think it is a mistake to say that an education is wasted. Learning is never, never, never a waste of time! Will I ever receive big money for my degrees? No! But I learned so much along the way...things that I can pass on to others, in either a professional, volunteer, or home setting. Education is never a waste.

Analytical Adam said...

I do have to say on one of the talk show hosts in the United States John Gambling had a guest on and they did discuss college and this idea that you earn a million dollars for this degree and that the claim is exaggerated and many people base their decision on this claim. The problem also is that many of the courses aren't really helpful in the real world. Maybe 50% or less are useful. This is what I found for my own college education. This is a problem for men as well. My parents paid for my college so I don't have this problem but some men do especially since the gov't pays companies now and uses tax dollars for affirmative action and men's tax dollars are used to discriminate against them. I did go to a state college that my parents paid for. This speaker felt there does need to be a return to trade schools although sadly this doesn't look like it is going to happen although college prices are rising at much higher rates then inflation.

The other problem is once the girls are finished with college many are brainwashed with much liberal propaganda. I'm sure Israel is not different then the US that most professor's are left wing.Here in the United States a very high amount are left wing. Plus teachers get tenure and they therefore unlike other jobs don't have to keep their skills current.

My girls after college are brainwashed in one way or another after college and even if they wanted to start a family they have been brainwashed with such untrue propganda about men that they will likely not be able to know what to look for in a good man. A traditional man today would be considered an abusive man by many people who are on the left (and sadly today even on the right as well.)

This propaganda against men is the biggest problem and the issue of college is a big problem for many men now as well as to many women and feminists (as I have a woman on my own blog in which her whole identity is based on a college degree) college is everything and they don't care that college as an institution is very inefficient and if a company ran this way it would be out of business.

Melissa D said...

I was just thinking that having women docs, especially in the OB/GYN area, was crucial. How to reconcile being a doctor with a family-centered life is a problem for just about all those in the profession, women or not.

And calling college a perceived "magic ticket" is spot on. I went to undergrad on full scholarship, as did my siblings (we were smart but poor)... but I wish I'd known to major or at least minor in something that would be useful to me as a mother and wife or to my family in general in the future.

Leah Burks said...

Wow, you are so right. Saying that young, intelligent women see no other path before them is right on. Looking back now, I seriously regret all the loans I took out, especially having to pay them back now that I'm the stay-at-home mom and my husband brings the income. I carry a burden of guilt, and will until it's all paid off. On another note, you mentioned your degree coming in handy " if we apply for permission to homeschool". I did not know there were restrictions and permissions to be had to homeschool in Israel! I thought we were stifled here in America! It's your child/children, and you should have the freedom to educate them as you see fit. I can't imagine having to ask permission to educate my child myself. I'm praying for courage and success in that area for you!

tarynkay said...

I agree- if you are young and in a position to avoid making rash choices, you should. If, however, you have already made rash choices, you should read this:

I hate debt. But it is not the worst thing in the whole world. Student loan debt in particular can be dealt with in many ways. There are all kinds of programs now, at least in the US, including income-sensitive repayment, where your loans are forgiven after a period of time. I would encourage anyone struggling with student loans to contact their loan officers and ask for solutions. They are required by law to help you. And I would caution anyone who has debt to be careful to avoid making that debt an idol.

Marianne said...

Hi Ms. Anna -- I just sort of feel the need to qualify what I wrote about MY student loans. When working on my graduate degrees, I had *NO* intention of staying home with my children. In fact, I was unsure if I would have them. Over the past four years, God has changed my heart tremendously and I have a 2 year old son. Being a wife/mom is my vocation. I just didn't know it at age 24.

So, I do believe that caution should be exercised when taking out student loans - no matter your calling. I just know that I could not have done what I've done without taking out loans. And at the time, that was okay.

Elle Bee said...

I married after my second year of college, when I was twenty, which is quite a young age in the United States, especially for a couple that was not forced into marriage by pregnancy. I have a four-year college degree. After graduation, I worked for three years instead of continuing with school, due to health issues, and I just returned to school in fall 2009 to pursue a law degree.

Scholarships, grants, and earnings from work funded my college education. I have a renewable scholarship for law school that covers 75% tuition; I have taken out student loans to cover the rest of my tuition and a modest living stipend.

A law degree is a three-year program; thus, becoming a lawyer requires seven years total after high school graduation (four years for the bachelor's degree and three years for law school). Because I have worked hard and performed well in my first semester in school, I am eligible to apply for several more scholarships for my second and third years. Due to my exceptional academic performance, by the grace of God, I anticipate receiving more scholarship funds for the next academic year than my current 75% scholarship.

My husband and I are Christians. He is called into the ministry and is in the credentialing process. A life as a clergyperson is, unfortunately, not usually very well paid. Therefore, as an attorney, I may end up out-earning my husband. That bothers neither of us. We know he is still responsible for providing for our family in a way that I will not be.

For the past four and a half years, we have not used any form of birth control. In that time period, I have become pregnant once, but unfortunately lost the baby. It does not appear as though we will be able to have children naturally. In large part, my pursuit of a higher-earning law degree is a step toward having children, either through fertility treatments or through adoption, both of which are expensive. If I were to become pregnant right now, I would of course welcome a baby with open arms, but it looks as though that is not to be. I am fine either way; God's will be done.

The law employment rate upon graduation is very high at my school (96%). The median income is several times what I would need to make to be able to pay back the student loans I anticipate having to take out. Further, if there is a period of time where I am unable to pay, there are several options for help with repayment. For instance, there are economic hardship forbearances, where for up to 36 months, the borrower will not be required to repay his/her loans. There is also something called income-based repayment, where your monthly payments are based upon your income. Thus, with very low income, payments will be very low. Due to all these factors, I feel that I'm in a very decent financial position.

Yes, debt is (in general) evil, and people should be very careful in doing the math and looking before they leap into things. However, for certain educational pursuits (law and medicine come to mind), it would literally be impossible to work and save enough money to go. For me, it made sense to go ahead and take out loans for three years to triple my income when I got out. Every year I waited was a year of lower income that could have been a year of higher income on the other side of school.

However, this was only a decent risk to take because I knew how likely I would be to find a job and how much I would be likely to make after graduation. For those who don't know or realize that the increase in income may not be substantial, or for those who plan to have children and stay home with them soon after graduation, it might not be such a good risk to take.

The bottom line is that the borrower is a slave to the lender, and people should be very careful and do a lot of soul-searching and research before they sign on the dotted line...whether they are male or female.

Mrs. Anna T said...

Marianne, that is *precisely* my point. When I went to university I, too, had no intention of getting married and becoming a stay-at-home wife and mother. Like you, I had a tremendous change of heart. Most women have that change of heart regarding having a family. I understood truths that I should have been taught BEFORE university. I could have easily heaped debt upon myself without thinking about the future.

Anonymous said...

So very true! There are many ways to attain an education without acquiring massive debt. There are online programs and community colleges that offer 2 year degrees in applied fields, leading to jobs with reasonable wages that do not require spending years in a desk. My advice to women is to find a trade or use a talent toward something that can be done at home-arts, seamstressing, etc. without having to take a job elsewhere.

Mrs. Anna T said...

Leah, homeschooling is almost unheard of and severely restricted in Israel.

tarynkay said...

Elle Bee, I also went to law school. I had a full scholarship all three years, so I only had to take out cost of living loans. I am very thankful for this, b/c my debt payments are only a couple hundred a month instead of a couple THOUSAND, which is common among my classmates. Nearly everyone I went to school with was counting on making grand amounts of money upon graduation, so they were happy to take out large loans. But even if you make $100K immediately upon graduation (which is pretty rare) you're then in a higher tax bracket, so you're taking home maybe $60K. Then you have your debt payment. If you're paying $2K (which is very common among law grads) in interest every month, suddenly, you're making only $36K a year. If you avoid the nice-suit-nice-car-nice-house race, you'll be fine on that. But $36K is pretty much what you could make before getting the pricey degree. I do think that it often makes more sense to get a job with a four year degree if possible and just work up. Paralegals, for instance, need only a brief and inexpensive certification and they can work up to making large salaries.

My school also has a nearly 100% employment rate upon graduation. Then the economy crashed. Very few of my classmates have found full-time law work as the market is now flooded with extremely experienced attorneys. Many who had work upon graduation lost their jobs within a year as firms dissolved and government offices laid off the newest lawyers first. Many of my classmates are working as contract attorneys, which is like temp work for lawyers.

I am lucky to have a found a government job with good benefits. It doesn't pay that well, but I do know a girl who was on law review who is currently waitressing for lack of any better work, so it could be worse. That employment rate statistic, by the way, is based on ANY type of employment. The school gets to count Lisa the law-review waitress as being employed as well as those working for prestigious firms. The point is, it's impossible to really know or adequately plan for the future. Sometimes, people take on "smart" debt and end up in horrifying debt situations.

I don't regret my education, and I try not to feel trapped by the debt that I do have. We live frugally, and we are doing all we can to pay off our debt (my husband also has significant school loans.) But it is possible that we will never manage this. It is possible that we will die in debt. The important thing is that we remember that God is sovereign. Our debt is not our defining characteristic. We are not going to stop tithing, we are not going to prevent or put off children. We are not going to put any children we have in daycare. In other words, we are not going to compromise our beliefs for our debt. Debt is not bigger than God.

Terry @ Breathing Grace said...

Our Western minds, particularly in the U.S., are so debt-conditioned that even among Christians, we cannot concede the point that is scattered enphatically throughout the Bible (especially in Proverbs):

Debt is bad. Always. A Slavemaster. Always. Whether for college, or for our house, or for whatever. To go into a debt for a degree that you might never use is, in my estimation, particularly heinous.

We have a mortgage and I can't tell you how often my husband and I have discussed the freedom we would enjoy if but for the fact that we have to make the house payment.

If you wish to be a doctor and you (or your parents) aren't wealthy enough to foot the bill and you can't earn scholarships, as a believer, you must conclude that God doesn't want you to be a doctor.

Do I sound harsh? Yes, but debt is harsh. And it is a very serious matter. Once we have it, of course we need to make the best of it. But we should never, as people of faith, encourage ANYONE else to incur it.

Pendragon said...

I just don't see any reason why this is some sort of uniquely female issue.

Men want marriage and children every bit as much as women do (probably even more than we do, I suspect).

Men change their minds about what they want out of life as much as we do.

But the fact remains that debt is a valuable tool for people to get an education that might not be available to them otherwise. For people who go into the process with their eyes open, available loans are a door to knowledge, career, and the fulfillment of dreams and goals.

Anonymous said...

At 19 years i moved away from home to study a 4 year degree in nursing. (For those who may say i should have stayed home to study, with no disrespect intended, moving away saved my life). My parents were unable to support me financially but i had saved a small amount of money in the preceding years, received a grant which helped, lived very frugally and worked hard! God was so faithful to me and i completed my studies without any debt. During those 4 years i went abroad 3 times on missions and as God called, he also provided! Why would that surprise us?

If i had been able to have my way i would have married young and become a homemaker for my family. God has had other plans and i'm now 32 and serving God in the capacity He has me right now. If i had put my life on hold until i met my husband i would have wasted all that God has called me to right now as a nurse, in my church and among the people He has given me to serve and walk alongside.

My heart before God is still for marriage and family. I am purposeful in living in a way where my resources will contribute blessing to that future. I got a mortgage for a small home 2 years after i'd been working (up to that time i'd lived in lodgings which had turned into a nightmare situation - long story!) My home was a blessing from God. More recently i have been looking for ways to pay my mortgage off more quickly. My home has become not just a haven for me but also an investment for the future. I now own over half of my home and hope to have paid it all off in the next 7-8 years depending on where God takes my life in this time! It will bring me joy to along with all else be able to bring significant financial resources to my marriage (and not financial burdens).

Anonymous said...

I am in that boat of women with student loan debt looming over our heads. I am a month away from getting my bachelor's and about 30,000 in student loan debt. I am going to graduate at the top of my class and happen to have very good grades so everyone is pushing me to go to grad school. But this is not what I want to do! I want to get married and be a homemaker and wife! Everyone keeps telling me I am too "smart" to do this and should not "waste" my knowledge. I think this is ridiculous I read everyday and am continuously learning on my own. I do not feel the need to continue my education and acquire more debt when that is not what I want. I am glad you have this blog it helps me a lot, I guess I just wanted to thank you :-)

student loan calculator said...

I hate debt. But it is not the worst thing in the whole world. Student loan debt in particular can be dealt with in many ways. There are all kinds of programs now, at least in the US, including income-sensitive repayment, where your loans are forgiven after a period of time. I would encourage anyone struggling with student loans to contact their loan officers and ask for solutions. They are required by law to help you. And I would caution anyone who has debt to be careful to avoid making that debt an idol.