Student loan debt tarnishes the future of millennials

The challenges of student loan debt and underemployment are affecting the overall quality of life for a generation of Americans. College is a time for transition between adolescence and adulthood, a defining period for many Americans. As the needs for a higher education in the working world rise, so does the price for a college degree.

However, the golden ticket known as a college degree is now marred by worries caused by an increase in student loan debt, an increase in the overall cost of college, and the prospect that a successful career may not be attainable to sustain these costs. A study conducted by Bloomberg in 2012 shows that the cost of college has increased an astounding 1,120 percent since 1978. The average student loan debt across the nation for the 71 percent of graduates who relied on student loans is a steep $30,000. National student loan debt has hit over $1 trillion and young Americans are more hesitant to take milestone life-steps because of accumulating student debt.

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Although a recent report released by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York shows that the return on a college degree still outweighs its costs, Americans are now more concerned with student loan debt than making key investments like buying a car or house, getting married, having children, and starting retirement savings. This is not only going to have a ripple effect on America’s economy, but is going to potentially damage other financial industries such as the housing and auto markets.

According to a 2011 Pew Research study almost 7 percent of adults who took out college loans said they delayed getting married or starting a family because of the debt. The National Association of Realtors found that 49 percent of Americans said student loan debt was a big obstacle to homeownership. Additionally, more college graduates are relying on their parents for financial support. The Census Bureau noted in 2011 that the percentage of men ages 25 to 34 living in their parents' home rose from 13.5 percent in 2005 to nearly 17 percent last year. If student loan debt wasn’t a serious issue ten years ago-it is now. 

A big gap that exists in dealing with student loan debt is information that public and private schools provide to students. Lenders, financial product providers for students, and schools do not look at the return on a degree through gainful employment for different academic majors. With information that gives lenders and schools the ability to look at gainful employment sustained in a certain degree field, lending and defaulting risk mitigation on certain loans can be more easily identified. In addition to giving lenders and schools important information, it gives students who may not be settled on one degree interest further information to make a decision with long term cost-benefits in mind. Better information on colleges, their costs, and the return on a student’s degree choice can make for a smoother landing when transitioning into the workforce upon graduation.

The good news is that student loan debt is finally getting some well-deserved attention both in and out of the government. The national crisis it’s causing has already started to change how millions of Americans live their lives and plan their future. For the sake of a generation of Americans, it’s time to start acting.

Kosmidis is currently a combat engineer in the U.S. Marine Corps and works in veterans and servicemember affairs in Washington DC. He was formerly part of the staff of former Rep. Geoff Davis (R-Ky.).