You'd have to be living on the moon not to know that the United States finds itself in tremendous financial turmoil. In recent years, the home-mortgage debacle led to a long recession that only just began to reverse its course when the debate over the national debt prompted Standard & Poor to downgrade the nation's credit rating (from AAA to AA+).
As if that weren't enough, more financial storm clouds have gathered on the horizon, taking shape as a higher-education bubble that has been inflated to the point of bursting by student loans.
An August 23, 2011 New York Post article depicts the situation in rather dismal light.
Total student debt is at an all-time high -- and may top $1 trillion this year. Meanwhile, default rates are rising alarmingly. Skyrocketing tuition, lax lending standards and high rates of unemployment have created the perfect financial storm."
In little over a decade, tuition rates have doubled, an increase that dramatically outstrips inflation and that strains household finances as parents search for ways to finance their children's postsecondary education.
These factors have contributed to a deteriorating situation. "Tighter lending standards for auto loans and mortgages have vastly improved loan performance," the New York Post article continues. "Yet student-loan-default rates are getting worse, not better."
Numbers from the past few years give a sense of just how much worse things have gotten. In 2005 the student-loan default rate hovered around 2.4 percent. By 2008 the rate had jumped to 7 percent.
Student-loan default carries with it some pretty severe consequences. These debts cannot be discharge through bankruptcy proceedings, and tax returns and Social Security payments may be withheld in order to service them.
Though student-loan debt is widely considered good debt to get into, the reality of the higher-education situation presents a more complicated picture. The New York Post article reports that "not all degrees provide an equal return on investment. A degree in chemical engineering, for example, produces an average starting salary of $64,500. Someone with a degree in culinary arts, however, can expect to start out making less than $30,000 -- a salary they might get without a degree. Yet despite such differences, the government subsidizes loans as if all majors were equally valuable."
Compounding these uneven returns on investment is the negative return realized by those who fall by the wayside. Some 40 percent of matriculants fail to complete their degrees. These unfortunate individuals find themselves saddled with debt and with no credentials to show for it.
Present circumstances in the student-lending domain have one major ratings agency worried. Moody's has recently voiced its concern, counseling prudence and reserve to current and future student-loan borrowers, especially as the outlook concerning timely debt service begins to look doubtful as a consequence of a lethargic job market. "A study showed that among 2010 graduates, only 56 percent had managed to hold at least one job by this past spring," the New York Post article reports.
In an economic climate rife with pessimism and uncertainty, reducing the amount needed to borrow ought to be every university student's primary object. Whether a borrower studies medical assisting or criminal justice, he or she should consider sound financial planning a curriculum-wide prerequisite.