Student Loans and the Road to Eternal Poverty

I noticed a SF documentary filmmaker ( is developing and producing a feature about the “student loan crisis.” I wish him great success.

Posing the question to myself, I ask what is the student loan crisis?  This gets my mind whirring. So the following is a response to the student loan crisis.

Just like Erasmus the Educator, Artist, a Wayfaring Stranger, Teacher and Mystic more than one thousand years ago, today’s pursuit of higher education by students, by way of student loans, can compel an unintended future of near-poverty, potentially jeopardizing a hopeful future of health and happiness.

The student loan and its terms nearly guarantee a student, particularly one not enjoying great financial success after graduation, will possibly experience a lifetime of economic struggles in repayment, deferment, or worse.  I don’t know of data that shows a correlation between high amounts of student loan debt and major financial problems in life but my personal experience says both are symbiotically related.

The amount of needed funds for ever-rising tuition and living costs, and the terms of student loan debt itself, virtually forces a student into a vow of poverty for the future, in exchange for the education and degree earned.  A student faced with unemployment or other unexpected less-than-catastrophic turns of events after graduation will be forced to climb (or fall) upon a slippery slope that ultimately goes downhill–or always uphill to nowhere.  The amount of debt, and a partial or total inability to pay off the debt, can quickly and eternally entrench itself in one’s life for decades, or forever and beyond.

Initially, there is great appeal to take the yellow-brick road of illusion, availing of student loans as a saving grace and a vehicle for progress, worthwhile to some, perceived to be imperative by many.  To accept the alternative of not taking a loan will mean that no loan debts are incurred, but with the likely caveat that higher education may have remained fragmented or incomplete.  Student loans might be seen as unnecessary to some, or as a risk too great to bear by others, but the cost is determined by many others to be unavoidable. The loan can open a harsh door into student indebtedness in the future.  Insidiously, student loan debt introduces itself like a siren calls invitingly from the horizon.

I am pleased to know this SF documentary filmmaker is busy at work examining the student loan crisis but whenever I see or read something addressing the topic of student loan indebtedness, I am compelled to ask what exactly is the “crisis” that is oftentimes mentioned?  What is this crisis, in specific terms?  I am trying to see the problem of student debt poverty from macro and micro POVs.

Is it the inconvenience and possible tragic consequences for many people who are facing repayment of a huge old debt when the calculated repayment amount is unaffordable?

Is the crisis about skyrocketing tuition costs that are only paralleled by a student borrowing each year?

Is it the fact that new policy/law for borrowing is multi-generational in its implications and that dependents of debtors in good standing can be denied higher education, based upon the parent’s record?

Take your pick.  Which crisis are we talking about?  The obvious answer is that the crisis reflects all of these questions.

As for the third possible question about multigenerational indebtedness and higher education denied, I have recently learned that the student loan debt held by a parent will directly affect the amount of debt a child of that parent is entitled to borrow.  I thought multi-generational indebtedness was not allowed in the USA?  Didn’t that go away with indentured servitude and slavery?  New policy links a new student’s ability to secure loans with the amount of parental student loan debt outstanding, disallowing some students to borrow any amount based upon factors beyond the student’s control.  Under this new policy, any problem or outstanding debt amount that may exist in the parent’s repayment record can directly disallow a child from any federal loans, based upon the parent’s prior student loans, including those in good standing and not in default.  To my mind, that injustice toward the child of a debtor is a crisis.

I hope the issue of student indebtedness and access to affordable higher education are not going to disappear with Bernie Sanders. The “crisis” is certainly larger than the high price of higher learning these days, or the inconvenience of debt repayment.   The crisis is the tip of a big iceberg of law and policy that reify rigidified notions of class.  The crisis is institutional, systemic and political in scope and nature.  Once one becomes stuck in a debtor-prison-like situation of student indebtedness, an entire family can be held hostage and denied the achievement of higher education.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dr. E Anthony Collins has a vast and unfortunate knowledge of the legal, practical, and historical aspects of federal and state (California) student loan system in higher education since 1979. He also has a contemporary POV, as a recently-enrolled student plus 15 years of teaching and leadership experience at several public and private institutions in the USA and abroad.

Published by iefilmmaker

I am a filmmaker, teacher, and consultant, based in Los Angeles, California. I am working on projects and assignments worldwide. Please visit my website ( to consider my creative, scholarly, and professional work as Producer, Writer, Editor and Director.

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